Big picture

Consider Marketing as Early as Development

Okay, so marketing might sound like a problem you want to have, as it means your project is finished and ready to go. And aren’t there entire marketing departments and publicity firms that deal with this sort of thing? Well, sure, if you’re lucky. But believe it or not, the first time you’ve told anyone about your idea, you technically started to market it.

Photo: Staff Sgt. Russell Lee Klika, US Army National Guard

The persons you “pitched” your idea to had a reaction that likely affected your approach. If they liked it, you probably thought that other folks out there roughly resembling them might too. If they didn’t, maybe you thought the movie wasn’t necessarily for them, and then very politely informed them of this. Yet these marketing aspects can shape nearly every aspect of your project, ranging from the story itself to the money available to make it…or whether it gets made at all.


The “marketplace” either sounds like a cold, impersonal monstrosity or a bunch of stockbrokers screaming at the same time while waving those order slips in the air. But the marketplace for your project is really just the people who are likely to see it. Still, why is this important for a storyteller? Well, the size of this marketplace, i.e. the number of people, can determine the budget before you ever start to write. For instance, your intimate, semi-autobiographical drama probably doesn’t have the audience to justify a budget of $100 million, or even $1 million dollars for that matter. So if you’re telling this kind of story, you probably don’t want to write scenes that require elaborately constructed sets, CGI effects and an army of extras. But how much money can you expect for your type of project? Think about the other works that are out there that are somewhat similar in terms of genre and basic plot. Maybe these are things that inspired your idea, or just happen to bear a passing resemblance. It doesn’t really matter. What’s important is how much they cost to make. And remember to be reasonable. Did those projects raise that kind of budget because of their story’s characteristics, or because Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio were involved?

Further Reading:

Moneyball for Movies: Market Research for Screenwriters


That’s right, another dreaded corporate buzzword. Demographics are a way of slicing the larger audience (humanity) into more manageable categories. Sure, it’s pretty close to stereotyping, though with a lot of data analysis to back up the groups. And there are definitely exceptions to every rule – the bodybuilding jock who loves Nicholas Sparks adaptations is out there somewhere. But if thinking about people in largely reductive terms isn’t your thing, putting some actual faces on it might help. For instance, would your parents want to watch your project if they weren’t your closest relatives and biggest natural fans? That might tell you whether your story appeals more to younger or older people. Or perhaps both – think about those movies you “save” for family visits, or the shows you know will eat up fifteen or twenty minutes of that weekly phone conversation. Would your significant other be interested in your idea, setting aside his or her personal feelings for you? Maybe your audience is more likely to be female than male, male than female, etc. Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean you should pander to that section of the audience. In fact, it can be useful to consider what about your story might make non-typical fans interested. For instance, is there something besides Channing Tatum that might make the average young woman want to see your ultra-violent action film? If you want to expand your audience, expand your story’s – and perhaps even your own – horizons.


So remember how we said you’d be lucky to have a highly trained group of marketing professionals and publicists to eventually promote your work? On the off (or fairly likely) chance that you won’t have these resources for your project, you may want to consider how you can do your own marketing ahead of time. For starters, a wait and see approach to marketing doesn’t tend to go over well with potential investors, who do care about that sort of thing. If you find this means adding additional money into your project’s budget, so be it if the marketing cost literally pays for itself. And this type of self-marketing strategy can begin at the story level. As an example, Sam Raimi didn’t actually love the horror genre when he made “The Evil Dead.” Raimi understood how to market that kind of story, which meant he could convince dentists and lawyers to invest their savings in a film not intended for white collar professionals in Middle America. Even if you’re just hashing out your story, it’s never too early to think about how to reach your potential audience.

Further Reading:

For More on Audience:

Leave a Reply

Sign up for exclusive updates on Media