Movie marketing: The art of audience connection

Films can flourish or flounder by how successfully they reach out to their target audiences, but a lack of money often prompts smaller movies to get creative.

The promotional teams behind Legend, 45 Years and Beyond Clueless have shared their experiences of navigating a crowded market. 


Turning heads with Tom Hardy (and Tom Hardy)

Legend this year visited the story of the notorious Kray twins and their brief reign as criminal bosses in 1960s London. The story is not new but Legend’s central selling point was Tom Hardy, who delivered a duel performance as both Reggie and Ronnie Kray.     

Hardy’s involvement became a key part of Legend’s marketing from the start. Rehearsal footage of the actor slipping between the two characters was used to sell the movie to the industry before the start of principal photography, and Hardy as both twins also became the focus of the distinctive poster campaign in the build-up to the film’s release.  

“The image of Hardy as both Ronnie and Reggie (pictured) was used to sell the duality of the characters – it was a great role for him,” said Hugh Spearing, head of marketing for distributor StudioCanal, speaking at London’s recent Screen Film Summit. 

Brian Helgeland wrote the screenplay for Legend and also directed. His past credits as the writer of Oscar-winning crime dramas like L.A. Confidential and Mystic River were used as a marketing device to boost Legend’s pedigree.

London itself is treated as a key character in the film. The publicity team built on this by arranging the curation of the short-term exhibition Legend of the East End, which promoted the film while also offering connections to the real history of the Krays.

Legend ended up doubling box office expectations in the UK, with £5.1m taken at the box-office over a five-day period.


The importance of festival success  

Festival success became a crucial marketing opportunity for the indie drama 45 Years, the story of a couple rocked by unexpected news shortly before their 45th wedding anniversary. 

Launched at February’s Berlin Film Festival, the movie impressed critics and won Silver Bear acting awards for veteran performers Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay (pictured below), alongside a nomination for director and screenplay adapter Andrew Haigh. This success spurred considerable free media coverage in the UK, which was hugely important in raising the film’s profile ahead of its summer release, given the film’s limited marketing budget.

“Our positioning statements were that 45 Years was a good movie with a great cast for awards season, and that it was something older audiences would enjoy,” explained Jon Rushton, head of theatrical distribution for Curzon Artificial Eye, also speaking at the Screen Film Summit. 

The decision was made to release 45 Years in the UK over the August Bank Holiday, giving audiences six months to digest the press generated by the Berlin awards. A 45-day social media campaign marked the final countdown to the release, which encompassed a simultaneous launch in select boutique cinemas and video-on-demand platforms.

45 Years eventually made £1.8m at the UK box office, also doubling initial expectations.


Micro-budget marketing

Circumstances prompted Charlie Lyne to take a more grass-roots approach to both fund and distribute Beyond Clueless, an innovative film about teen movies that he wrote and directed himself. The film began life as a Kickstarter project, which in theory immediately brought with it around 500 people who had invested small sums in the movie and so, as Lyne said at the Screen Film Summit “cared enough about the film to donate money”.

Lyne entered Beyond Clueless into around 50 festivals around the world, seeming to find a special niche in many. A greater level of ingenuity was needed after an early rejection from Netflix as Lyne considered his UK exhibition strategy.

“I planned a natural release roadshow with a progression that fans would be able to track,” Lyne told the summit. “I set up a website showcasing the release strategy and wanted to create a feeling of scarcity and that screenings were an event to be sought out.”

Regional screenings were often set up as double bills with classic teen movies that featured in Beyond Clueless, and Lyne used his past experience as a film journalist to promote the film and the subject of teen movies on a selection of popular sites, including Buzzfeed. 

Lyne even designed and hand-drew an eye-catching film poster – showing dozens of teen movie DVDs stacked alongside each other (pictured above) – to avoid copyright issues. Beyond Clueless was made for a few thousand pounds and ended up making around 20 times that figure at the box office.

Legend image: StudioCanal

45 Years image: Curzon Artificial Eye

Beyond Clueless poster: Charlie Lyne


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