But the best film in the world will have little impact (and make little money) if nobody sees it. Here are some things to do to maximize your audience and box office returns. Some of these steps apply to any film, and some are apply specifically to reaching the Latter-day Saint audience.
Although movies that are shown in commercial theaters get the most press, these are tips you can follow for other films as well, including straight-to-video and made-for-television releases.
This is vitally important. For many people, including many journalists and others in entertainment media, your film doesn't exist if it isn't listed on IMDb.com. Roger Ebert has says that on average he uses IMDb.com about five times per day. Reporters tend to rely heavily on IMDb. Your movie needs to be listed there as soon as possible, even before filming begins, if possible. You can always make changes to your movie's database entry if the title, cast, or anything else changes.
Getting listed on the Internet Movie Database is not overly complicated, and it is free. But note that updates, changes, and adding an entirely new film can take time. This is because the IMDb staff checks out information to assure that the database is as accurate as possible. You will need to have an IMDb membership (free and easy to do) in order to add a movie or make changes. The site has a "university" section with detailed instructions on how to do everything. But it's all form based, and not really difficult.
Directors: If the promotion/advertising person for your movie does not have an IMDb membership, and does not get your film listed there, he or she is not doing their job.
Information is listed on LDSFilm.com for free. Even banner ads and box ads are posted for free. So there's no reason not to be listed here.
Whenever we create a new page about an upcoming film we announce only what the publicity contacts want us to announce. We work with the filmmakers and their representatives.
In addition to the "Upcoming Films By and About Latter-day Saints" section, you might want to be listed on other pages... If the film's composer is a Latter-day Saint, list the movie on the Latter-day Saint Film Composers page. If there are LDS actors, make sure the film is listed under their names on the LDS Actors page. And so on. There are also separate sections for directors, producers, book authors, screenwriters, cinematographers, and key technical crew.
[No, ldsfilm.com is not offering to help you set up a website. We're glad to set up a page on our site (always done for free), such as the pages listed in our films index. But you also need your own URL and website.]
Anybody can set up a website for anything, so having one doesn't really prove anything. But NOT having one can be a red flag.
On the other hand, your website is not more important than your movie. A great movie can have a pretty basic website. Should you wait until your website is awesome before launching it? No. Get something up in at your URL, even if its just a single graphic and a sentence that says "Website under construction. The movie will be released in theaters this winter."
Add to the website when you have time, money, and film footage. A frequently updated website can generate additional interest and buzz. If your movie is about a very specific topic, or features a popular actor, some keywords within the text of the home page (or synopsis page) can attract web browsers to your site, and generate further interest in the movie.
Send press releases to the Utah newspapers. Talk to the entertainment editors or feature editors. If you are filming outside of Utah, contact the local newspapers in the areas you are filming. Contact the local newspapers in the hometowns and college communities of the film's stars, writers, directors and producers.
Do interviews. Interviews conducted before your movie comes out are great, because all the information comes from you, so it can be very positive.
Here are some of the newspapers you should be contact, and the writers who cover the local film scene. These newspapers have a track record of running articles and reviews about LDS-themed films. (The newspapers listed first have the largest circulation.)
The Local Reviewer: If you're publicizing an LDS-themed film you'll probably have to deal with the Local Reviewer, the film and theater reviewer for [local newspapers, for example, The Daily Herald, based in Utah County]. You might find that the Local Reviewer is sort of a fact of life. Like death and taxes.
The Local Reviewer can be a very, very funny writer. But when it comes to your film, take him seriously.
Here's what you need to know:
-- If you release a feature film (or produce a play) anywhere locally, you will probably be reviewed by the Local Reviewer.
-- He is truthful. Unfortunately for you (if you're publicizing a mediocre film) this means that the Local Reviewer will not cut you any slack no matter how well he knows you personally or likes you.
-- On average, the Local Reviewer isn't a particularly harsh reviewer. The average grade he gives in movie reviews is actually a little higher than what movies receive from the much larger newspapers. But the Local Reviewer reviews a lot of films. Your film will be compared not only to other local feature films, but also to big-budget Hollywood productions by peole like Steven Spielberg and Ron Howard, etc.
-- The Local Reviewer understands everything that anybody in your target audience could be expected to understand or appreciate. But good intentions and good values will never garner you an automatic good review.
-- Is the Local Reviewer mean? Hmm... Maybe not intentionally, but many a filmmaker or play director who has received a negative review by the Local Reviewer has probably thought that "mean" didn't begin to describe the experience. Not because the Local Reviewer is vicious or anything. It's just that he reviews a lot of people who haven't been reviewed very often (if ever). The experience can be a bit of a shock.
-- The Local Reviewer is not going to eviscerate a person or a career in a review. But he is volatile. Don't argue with the review. You'll just make things worse. Anything you say in response to a review can and will be used against you. Accept it like you would a tax audit or a bag check at the airport.
-- Try to set up an interview with the Local Reviewer to discuss the film before it is released. Your production is of interest to local readers. An interview and article about the project should be painless and beneficial.
If you want to avoid a bad review from the Local Reviewer, then don't produce a bad play or film. That's about all you can do.
You could simply not invite the reviewer to see and review the production, but he might anyway.
You might think another way to avoid a negative review by the Local Reviewer is to cast him in your movie. You might think that journalistic integrity would then prevent him from reviewing the film himself. I'm not so sure. The Local Reviewer might review it anyway, criticize the film for having him in it, and complain about his own performance. He can be annoyingly honest that way.
But because these publications focus entirely on movies and such, your film isn't likely to stand out among all the other movies being reported on. (That's what makes the local newspapers such a great source of publicity -- if you're making a feature film, it might be the only one covered by that newspaper in an entire month, aside from reviews of national releases.)
Here are some local festivals to consider, all of which are quite friendly to LDS-themed films:
What about the Sundance Film Festival? Well, despite the fact that this festival was founded by a Latter-day Saint (Sterling Van Wagenen), it has grown into something quite big and different, and doesn't have a track record of screening locally made films. If you have a really, really good movie (or a really controversial movie, or a mediocre movie with plenty of transexuals in it), go ahead and give it a try. Just don't hold your breath.
Local filmmakers have had better luck getting into the alternative festivals that take place concurrently, such as "Slamdance" and "Nodance."