When you work on a film for over six years, you get a little attached. So when it was time to do a theatrical release for “Meet the Patels,” we created a grassroots campaign from the very beginning, making sure that the tone and message of the film were reflected in the entire campaign. In other words, the independent filmmaking continued. Now don’t judge, but here are our top seven guerilla tactics.
1. Put your parents to work.
As independent filmmakers, you will never have the huge advertising budget of “Mission Impossible” (as much as Ravi thinks he’s Tom Cruise…he’s not), but what you do have is people who care about you and your film. We shamelessly put our parents to work. Dad has been running this grassroots campaign from his living room from five in the morning until he goes to sleep at night. (Go to our “Meet the Patels” Facebook page to see what we are talking about – Dad is VERY active).
Mom has been running around to all the temples, community centers, grocery stores and schools, making samosas for anyone who will help. We’re not joking – there must be a parent-labor law against this. Dad Skypes us at all hours about his latest marketing ideas. Both parents travel every night and every weekend to various theaters to meet and greet audiences. They even threw a party for 800 friends (Mom cooked the whole freakin’ dinner) when the film came out in our hometown, Charlotte, NC.
2. Paper is power. Print stuff!
One might think that in the age of digital dominance, there is no place for the humble promotional postcard, but think again – it’s all in how you use them. We printed posters and fliers of all sizes and then our friends and family all over the United States plastered their towns with them. Mom was handing out fliers on planes, Dad was giving them to Uber drivers, Ravi would go out to eat and give ‘em to everybody in the restaurant, Geeta taped them in stalls of public bathrooms. It was downright dirty and relentless!
3. Think like a politician.
When we couldn’t afford big ads on TV or outdoor billboards, dad’s gears started turning, he sipped his chai and then his eyes lit up…Next thing you know, he printed 1,000 “Meet the Patels” yard signs (see point #1) and we unleashed a small army of friends, family and neighbors in every city to put those suckers up! This was the heart of our social media campaign.
People from all over the U.S. posted photos on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and inspired others to join. This home-grown feeling was what the film was all about and served as an experiential “trailer” for it. The amount of social love the film got from those signs was outrageous. We’ve seen signs in towns we’ve never been to and from people we’ve never met! (Again, go to our “Meet the Patels” Facebook page to see what we are talking about).
4. When you hit a roadblock, get creative.
For our premiere… Well, there was no “premiere” in the budget. No events, parties, or red carpets. We had to think of a way to make the opening a “happening” on social media for opening weekend so people would finally know to go to the theaters. We decided to throw premiere events in the same way we had done the rest, through our team and our friends and family. In LA, UTA donated their space. In NYC, our head of communications, Anne Becker, found a lounge. In Chicago, our friends Urmil and Ronica got the communities engaged. Next, we invited all the tastemakers we knew to come to the premieres, parties and moderate Q&A’s.
As for the social media, we bought a step and repeat on the cheap and decided to buy a used yellow rug, as our “yellow carpet” since it felt more appropriate…and it was on sale. Lastly, we had to find a way for all four members of our family to represent in all the cities where film opened, so we ordered life-sized cardboard cut-outs of mom, dad, Geeta and Ravi and dutifully toted them around the country when family members couldn’t be at a certain screening. All of this created the opportunity for people to take photos with “The Patels” at prime showings. Social media blew up! There were lines of people waiting to pose with cardboard Mom and Dad, or give a thumbs up with cardboard Ravi and Geeta! It ended up being the perfect way to give audience members and tastemakers who loved the film the opportunity to help promote it on social during our first week, and drive more people to the theaters – too fun! (AGAIN, see our “Meet the Patels” Facebook page. Noticing a trend here?)
5. Don’t take no for an answer.
We were told by some that our film was too small to get mainstream press. Again, something not acceptable to our dad – and to us! So, we hired our own publicists at a discount and assembled a guerrilla publicity and marketing team of close friends and family who work in the business. This group had weekly calls and meetings, and reached out to personal connections, getting anyone and everyone affiliated with talk shows, magazines and blogs to watch our film and speak with us. “Your mom’s dentist’s cousin lives next door to the secretary at the lawyer’s office for Ellen? Let’s call her!” Through these efforts from some amazing people, the film was featured in People, NPR, O, The Oprah Magazine and Vanity Fair, to mention a few. We are so thankful our friends, who carried this release on their shoulders as if it were their own.
6. Hire the right people – and thank them.
We have a team that dreams are made of. It’s all about the film – no drama, no cutting corners. It took a long time to find each person in our film family, and thankfully, everyone was in place by the time we launched. These people love this film more than we do! We try every crazy idea and we do it with love. Our campaign came to life because of the love from this team of dreamers and visionaries around us. We also realize the importance of always making time to thank each person for their hard work and passion for this film’s release. As the film explains, relationships are the most important thing in the world. And on that note…
7. Have fun.
Our dad and mom taught us this great lesson in life. Enjoy every moment. Work as a family and overcome each obstacle with love and forgiveness. We have loved working with our friends, our incredible grassroots team, and our community. This kind of vibe inspired great things we never could have planned or expected. By the way, Mom and Dad have now been offered acting jobs and reality shows and you name it. The fun they are having is exasperating!
“Meet the Patels” is screening in select theaters around the country. Find out more here.