Your Film's Marketing Materials Suck at Helping Audiences Find You. Use a Language List to Change That
Photo Credit: S & A
Filmmaker Toolkit

Your Film's Marketing Materials Suck at Helping Audiences Find You. Use a Language List to Change That


Yep, that title is a  little bit of click bait. It’s not click bait for the sake of clicks. For thousands of filmmakers, it’s a truism.

Over the seven years I was at the Atlanta Film Festival, about 17,000 films were submitted to the festival. We programmed around 1200 films. I’ve had to comb through a lot of websites and social media pages. The dearth of keywords and content was stark. Filmmakers have been stepping up their game, but there’s still a tendency to create generic sites that are little more than landing pages. As a result, I could spend hours using different word combinations, hunting down the websites, Facebook pages, Twitter accounts and images of the films that we hadn’t received.

Since 2006, I’ve been using multiple Google Alerts to scan for news, blog posts and web pages that were relevant to me. As a writer for CinemATL, as Atlanta Film Festival communications director, and as ATLFF’s artistic director, that constant search for information assisted greatly. It allowed me to find stories, monitor the effectiveness of ATLFF’s messaging and find potential films for the festival.

As an example, as the 2014 Atlanta Film Festival drew closer, more selection announcements and news about the event itself were appearing online every day. The search for “atlanta film” scooped up a press release on PR Web announcing that the feature “Speak Now” is screening at the fest.

Google Alert for "Atlanta Film"

A film no one has heard of may not exactly be burning news for the average person searching the web. No matter what hat I wear, however, this is information relevant to me. If it’s relevant to me, it’s likely going to be the same for the Georgia film critics and bloggers covering film. Festival directors who track news on festivals they love – and often share programming philosophy – would be interested.

Filmmakers who have their trailer, website, Facebook page and Twitter account ready to go before they begin submitting their film to festivals are light-years ahead of their peers. Search a few of the films that played this year’s Sundance, and you’ll still find selections that don’t have a trailer.

Having those materials is not enough. The vast majority of filmmakers overlook the crucial step of crafting language that can improve their chances to be discovered, as well as differentiate them from other films.

People from 181 countries use Google to find answers to over one billion questions every day. Facebook drives more traffic to publishers on the web than anyone else. Zuckerberg’s creation outpaces second-place social media site Pinterest 3 to 1, and third place Twitter 9 to 1. These billions of searches and shares are shaped by what people care about most. There is no randomness.

Increasing the specificity and variation of the words chosen should be a priority for every bit of marketing material you create. Carefully thinking about how  your potential audience interacts, talks and searches shouldn’t be skipped, or undervalued. A billion searches is not a haystack you want to get lost in.

First, scrutinize your film’s story, theme and genre. Who are the core fans of your film? What is your film’s niche? Then move out from there. Sheri Candler’s series on marketing the film “Joffery” is a place to start if you need a down and dirty introduction to identifying your audience. “Finding Your Audience Even When You Have a Niche” is the first post. The fourth and last post, “Moving Beyond the Super Core Fans Of Your Film,” includes links to the previous three.

Once you’ve done that, begin generating a “Language List” for your film. The words and phrases you’re adding are the ones that would catch the attention of the audience you’re going after. Don’t worry about grandma. Not unless she’s a hardcore, know all the words, follow the band on tour, type fan. You won’t use, nor should you plan to use, everything generated. Don’t limit yourself though. Start large, then narrow down. Your “Language List” can include:

Specific to the film:

    • Emotions and Emotional Words
    • Movies similar to your film
    • Genre and Genre related words/phrases
    • Character traits
    • Character actions
    • Character motivations
    • Character types
    • Character relationships
    • Character names
    • Themes
    • Setting
    • Influences (directors, films, etc.)
    • Films Title(s):

Connected to the film:

    • Cast
    • Crew
    • Shooting locations
    • Cast and Crew’s past film credits
    • Film connections
    • Production companies

I’ll pause here. 

I’m using the term “Language List” as opposed to keywords to reinforce that this is about creating a conversation. This should be an extension of how you will share and talk about your work offline, as well as online. With that goal in mind, the places to use this “Language List” will go beyond your website’s metadata. Nor, will you use this list to create a Frankenstein plot synopsis to generate clicks. The ultimate goal is to get someone to see your film. A click is a meaningless action, if your content is not relevant.

As you build your list, Google is the one-click away buddy you should rely on when you’re stumped. Searching “emotions”, I found a page on with 265 words. Wikipedia’s List of Genres includes descriptions and their subgenres. Don’t use I couldn’t think of anything as an excuse. Research films, novels and TV shows similar to your movie. Go to the sites your audience frequents and look for words that stand out, that show up repeatedly. Note how your audience identifies itself.

These questions should be in your mind as your list grows:

  • Who is my primary target audience?
  • Who are the different audiences that would be interested in my film?
  • What makes your movie different?
  • Who would spend money to see your movie?
  • Who would come see your movie opening weekend (pretend you scored that distribution deal)?
  • Where does my audience get my information?

As you build your list it may begin to look like this:

  • Emotions: devastated, insecure, distracted, temperamental
  • Movies similar to your film:* Fargo, In Bruges, Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang
  • Character motivations: greed, fame, love
  • Character archetypes: tortured artist, comic mentor, shapeshifter, the judge
  • Settings:  Minneapolis, car dealership, Fargo, North Dakota
  • Influences (directors, films, etc.): Preston Sturges, Howard Hawks, screwball comedy, film noir
  • Cast: William H. Macy, Frances McDormand, Steve Buscemi, Peter Stormare. Jerry Lundegaard
  • Crew: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, Roger Deakins
  • Shooting locations: Chanhassen Dinner Theatre, Chanhassen, Minnesota, USA
  • Past Film Credits: Blood Simple, Miller’s Crossing

* Use your list of Similar Movies judiciously. Comparing your film to a well known film can turn off people. It can raise expectations to a level you will never meet. So, inside metadata, in the about section of a website, and after the plot synopsis, are good places to use those titles. Placed up front, before you’ve allowed your audience to make up their own mind about your film, is dangerous. The general advice is not do it all. Until an audience has seen your film, they may not always peg what kind of movie their reading up on. Compared to a well-known film or two, your audience may get a bead on the tone and feel of your movie. That’s okay.

Now that you’ve done that, read “7 Things You Absolutely Must Have On Your Film’s Web Site” on ATLFF’s site. Then read “7 Essentials For A Press Kit” on Raindance Film Festival’s site.

A marketing and promotional campaign for your film will likely include:

  • Plot Synopsis
  • Trailers
  • Tag Lines
  • Call to Action
  • Filmmaker Personal Statement
  • Press Releases
  • Publicity Stills
  • Bios
  • Email Campaigns
  • Direct Emails (personal, press inquiries, fan questions)
  • FAQs
  • Web site
  • Facebook Page
  • Twitter
  • Posters

As you market and promote your film, use your “Language List” to craft your materials. Add elements that speak to your core audience. If you are worried that your marketing  will be too narrow, don’t. Your core audience should have many niches, and in those niches within niches. Hardcore fans of your lead actress because of her cult status, could be one part of your audience. You were lucky enough to shoot in an infamous haunted house, the thousands that visit it every year may be your audience. Avoid the mistake of trying to reach everyone, or making your target audience too large. Just because you “think” those folks will come out, doesn’t mean they will.  Interest is, “oh, that’s cool.” Motivated interest is sharing a link with a friend and asking if they’re free Friday to see this cool cool thing. That’s who you’re going after.

  • Do not write a generic Synopsis, write one that makes your film stand out
  • Write Press Releases that focuses on0 the interest of journalists who cover your type of film; less hype, show them why their audience would be interested enough to read a full article about your film
  • Use your language list to populate metadata inside your Publicity Stills
  • Craft your Bios so they’ll connect with readers on a personal level and with the cultures they identify with; less career vomit, make each bio read like a short story
  • Vimeo and Youtube ask–and encourage– you to add keywords to the Trailer you post, leverage that
  • Use your “Language List” to vary the titles of your Email Campaigns, and to craft emails for different audiences and to achieve different goals; communicate and share with your email list, don’t spam them, make them want to read and forward
  • Use your “Language List” to guide what you name your URLs, pages, navigation, and pages, and how you write content for your Website, don’t skip using the title, alt and captions as you add photos and video to your site, those photos will show up in search as well
  • When creating your Facebook Page, use the list to choose a page name, select cover images that will excite your audience; use the list as a guide to craft they’d be interested in; very important, use the list to generate ideas for posts that won’t be promoting your film, but will make your audience feel part of a community
  • On Twitter, create hashtags you can track engagement, use hashtags your audience is looking for, and use the list to search for conversations you can participate in
  • Write Call to Actions that are fun, engaging and speak to your audience, create and use a variety, tailor them for each stage of your film’s journey

Quick pause again to speak to two things: Call to Actions and Searching for your Audience.

As to using a Call to Action, “Please see my film” or even “Support my film” rarely works. It’s bland. Filmmakers overuse it. It says nothing about your film. What is a great call to action? It’s hard to say. Trying to find someone that describes this in non-marketing jargon is tough. The best way I can describe it is, you’re asking someone to do something and by doing that, they’ll get something they would value. “See my film” is about you. “Be the first to see my new film and party with the cast after the screening,” is a little generic, but it’s focused on what you’re giving the audience, not about what you want to get from them.

Finding your audience with a strong “Language List” will be invaluable in finding the true fans you’re looking. Google is the most obvious place to start. Facebook and Twitter feature tools that allow you to find your audience. You can search by location. You can segment your audience to drill down. Horror fans is a wide target to hit. Utilizing’s Facebook’s search to segment out horror comedy fans that live in Tampa will increase your chances of success. If audiences repeatedly say they love your film because it’s like Joe’s Cult Film, searching for fans of Joe’s Cult Film to target is listening to your audience to refine your marketing. Twitter tools like Hootsuite have the same capabilities. You can even filter out tweets that wouldn’t be useful. There are dozens of tools out there, most of them free. Use them.



On Google you can find websites and related Facebook pages. A search on Facebook can return external links as well. As users search, they stumble across thousands of images, videos and shopping sites every month. Take advantage of search, make your film easier to discover. When a user finds content that they didn’t know existed and they’re happy they did, it’s a match made in heaven. When they don’t… Search engines are built to push content searchers are engaging with to the front of the line, and to push content users find irrelevant to the back.


The elements that comprise your marketing campaign will not be static. Their existence won’t be finite. Bots routinely, crawl the web mining content that pops back up. Journalists, bloggers and distributors rely on dormant sites and archives for information. The synopses you write will live on film festival websites, blogs, film sites and in online archives for a very long time. Boring, vague text left behind for audiences to discover might as well be a dead language. Generic marketing language makes it difficult for fans to share this film they saw years ago. They’ll use a handful of keywords, give up, and tell their friends why the film is awesome, instead of showing them.

Unify Your Online and Offline Messaging

Filmmakers take for granted that audiences will reuse a filmmaker’s language and phrasing to describe a film. Some filmmakers have this down to a science. At film festival Q&As, they’ll seed phrases they’ve used in their synopsis, in other Q&As, on their website, etc, in their answers. They’ll repeat key ones. It’s easier to find a film using the filmmakers own words. Back to searches. Filmmakers equally take it for granted that online audiences sharing a core language built around a film has a host of potential benefits. Fans recognize they have found the conversation they were looking for, and jump in. Bloggers and fans using the same language can influence how often and where your film shows up across the web. Separate conversations anywhere in the world can merge into larger ones as fans find each other.

Simple vs. Detailed

While the words and phrases in the “Language List” may be highly specific and targeted, the elements created using them should not be overly complex. Pages of content with no intention of engaging your audience will always turn them off. Anyone who is outside the niches you’re targeting shouldn’t struggle to understand your marketing materials. Use the “Language List” to enrich and strengthen what you write. Replacing “romantic comedy” with “erotic comedy” is one change that has a powerful impact on how someone will perceive a film. Use the “Language List” judiciously.

Recruit Others to Help You Market

Lastly, when you can get bloggers and fans to replicate your phrasing, it’s less pushing you have to do. It’s recognizing that there are hundreds of films out there. When others uniquely describe your film, when they are invested, every post, writeup, tweet and mention can help you stand out from the pack.

Originally published at CinemaATL Magazine

Shadow and Act is a website dedicated to cinema, television and web content of Africa and its global Diaspora. With daily news, interviews, in-depth investigations into the audiovisual industry, and more, Shadow and Act promotes content created by and about people of African descent throughout the world.

© 2023 Shadow & Act. All rights reserved.