Filmmakers Say Instagram, Twitter Key to Generating Buzz at Sundance


A panel of filmmakers at the Sundance Film Festival Saturday discussed how they used social media channels, such as Instagram and Twitter, to find an audience for their work.

The panel, “Now Playing: Two Release Models for the New World,” at the Filmmakers Lodge in Park City, UT, showcased the tales behind two previous Sundance winners, “Bones Brigade,” and “Middle of Nowhere.”

Filmmaker Finds Success in Reaching Niches with Twitter

Photo of Ava DuVernay by Helga Esteb /

Last year, Ava DuVernay’s film, “Middle of Nowhere,” was a big winner at Sundance.

Looking back at their campaign on Saturday, she said, “there is ‘riches in the niches’…Segmentation is not a bad thing…I don’t need a TV network to broadcast to you, with Tweetcasts, YouTube. etc.”

Here’s a look at how the filmmakers used social media to build an audience:

  • Tweet for Tracks: Moviegoers who tweeted their box office stubs received a free download of the films’ soundtrack;
  • Tweetchats were held every Monday;
  • Everyone, from crew to actors, were on Instagram, Foursquare and Linkedin;
  • Actors hosted online chats with the audience about their favorite character.

Up to 70 social media staff—all volunteers—were constantly evaluating the digital piece, DuVernay added.  This work was combined with more traditional public relations tools, or earned media, that helped to build an audience and create a market on Amazon and iTunes.

There was also the tried-and-true celebrity endorsement route.  DuVernay sent a copy of the film to Oprah Winfrey, who promptly tweeted about the movie to her followers.  

Instagram Central to Building Buzz for Skateboarding Film

The makers of “Bones Brigade,” a documentary about the famed skateboarding team led by Tony Hawke,  went to where skateboarders congregated online:  Instagram.  In order to spread the word about the film and generate excitement, they urged fans to post skateboarding-related pictures on Instagram with the hashtag #bonesbrigade.

When the number of Instagram photos with the hashtag reached 2,000, users would receive a password to unlock a web site where all the photos were not only featured, but visitors would also have access to a host of free goodies.

Users had to share their passwords and email addresses to receive special digital downloads of the directors’ first movie, “Animal Chin.”  Those who unlocked the site, developed by the technology firm TopSpin, could also purchase merchandise from the “Bones Brigade” site.

The team put together what they termed a “rolling machine” of publicity, which emphasized free immediate giveaways that could lead to a purchase later. According to the “Bones Brigade,” team, their email list went from 0 to 46,000 people, along with their demographic and social influence data — all critical data that could be used to promote future films.

Both filmmaking teams agreed that the “direct-to-fan” approach, which includes a heavy dose of social media, were key to their success.

They said that filmmakers who don’t have a Twitter account or Facebook page for their films “are blowing it.”  They also suggested following certain thought leaders, such as Jon Reiss or Ted Hope, a popular film blogger, on Twitter.

Image by Helga Esteb.

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