Three film marketing lessons I learned from Dear White People

Three film marketing lessons I learned from Dear White People

Kweighbaye Kotee

December 10th, 2013

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Written by Casey Johnson

In a time when black cinema is slim to none, it is refreshing to see a group of up and coming black filmmakers making a name for themselves in the indie film scene. With the likes of Steve McQueen, Ryan Coogler, and my personal favorite Ava DuVernay, it’s safe to say that black cinema is once again staking its claim in the film world. But no one has impressed me more than Justine Simien (Writer/Director/Producer) and Lena Waithe (Producer), the filmmakers of Dear White People.

When it was announced that the film would make its premiere at the ever so coveted Sundance Film Festival, I was elated. I have been following this film’s journey ever since it came into the indie film scene via YouTube. The story was intriguing, and being a black woman, it was a story I could identify with. When their catch phrase “Being a Black Face in a White Place” caught on, I was hooked, and I knew that they had something very special on their hands. Who ever handled their marketing is a genius, and filmmakers from all walks of life can stand to learn from Dear White People’s marketing and social media campaign.

Here are three things that stood out to me that not only helped spread the word about their film, but also created a genuine interest that has helped build and engage their audience.

1. Share your story with your audience and give them the opportunity to do the same

Story, story, story! That’s right, it’s all about the story. Luckily enough they have a story that people actually identify with. This is crucial, because now their audience can share their own personal experiences with the filmmakers, which creates dialogue between the two. It’s not just the filmmaker screaming at their audience, saying look at me, look at me. They are engaging in a conversation that will hopefully provoke a discussion about race insensitivity and inequality on college campuses.

2. Have your audience participate in your Journey

When creating a thoughtful marketing and social media campaign, you must think about how the audience will partake in your films journey and what they will get out of their participation. The Journey can’t be one sided, you must take them through the most heartfelt, nitty gritty moments of making a film. The filmmakers of Dear White People did a brilliant job of laying out the reasons this film needed to exists, and why the audience should go along for the ride. They made videos that took you behind the scenes, and showed you how the film was being made. They included interviews with the filmmakers and the actors. They were authentic. You must be authentic about the reasons you’re making this kind of film and share what is so important about telling this particular story.

3. Build a community and they will come

A lot of filmmakers have a ‘if we build it they will come’ mentality. They think if they create a Twitter or Facebook account, a newsletter or a blog that their audience will flock to them. There are so many distractions on the internet, that if your first marketing or social media goal isn’t to build a community, you will get lost in the shuffle. One of the things I found appealing about Dear White People’s approach to social media is that they built a community around the film’s story. Instead of signing up for their newsletter, or becoming a Twitter follower, or liking their Facebook, they asked their audience members to join their union, and by doing so they could share their personal stories and spread the word about the film.

What I’ve learned from following the journey of Dear White People is the importance of a film’s story. It can be a force of creation just as much off the screen as it can be on the screen. Dear White People created a life of its own by extending their story off the screen and to their audience. What the filmmakers created by doing this is longevity. The discussion of race, inequality, and cultural understanding isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, but at least a dialogue has been created. And the great thing is, dialogue will continue after the Sundance Film Festival, after a theatrical release, and even after a digital release. When you create a great story, your film will truly last forever.



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