how to promote and sell your documentary film online

30 Steps that you can use to promote, market and sell your film online

There are more and more disgruntled and disappointed filmmakers hoping to make it big with a newly released produced film.

This article assumes you are not in the big studio league, you are instead a passionate film maker, without a big budget, without big crews, fancy cameras, sound, make-up artists so on and so forth, but you can deliver a powerful story viewers will connect with — a story that will change people’s outlook in life — for the positive.

With the amount of poor content that brings nothing but wasting time that you will never get back, you think you are onto a “WINNER.” The story is a winner.

The reality of it is, you need access to eye-balls, enough eye balls to convince, and enough eye balls that will be willing to spend money to watch your film. And you are dealing with an audience that is accustomed as Netflix as their go-to-movie channel — but your film is not there.

So you find yourself a distributor that will sell you the dream – “yes we can put your film on Netflix, iTunes, Amazon Prime and everyone else.” You think great! These platforms have millions of viewers worldwide – I am going to make it big FOR SURE.

Then you read the contract and the fine prints, by the time the first payment comes in, you think, “this got to be a clerical error… $0.75 cents?”

Refusing to admit defeat and listening to expert advice you launch yourself into advertising. Facebook, Adwords, but then the bills come in and the numbers are back to front, you are losing more money than what you make. Plus, you have no idea of who is watching because that information is guarded by these platforms – even though it is YOUR film.

Easy to become deflated.

Unfortunately, the above summary is the reality of most film makers but it is not the only way to go about it and there is another approach, it demands however a little bit of work – and if you put in the time, it will pay off.

Our own personal story was a film called Dream Racer. A super inspiring film based on the toughest and most dangerous race on earth which — unfortunately is so dangerous — that the race claims lives almost each year since its first edition in 1979.

It was our first film, zero experience in film making apart from pure passion in telling a story – which was to be used as an analogy to inspire people around the world to chase their own dreams.

I won’t go into details as this is not the purpose of this article, but we ended up with a great story, which was shot with 9 different camera formats simply because we grab any camera we could get our hands on (not out of choice, rather out of budget) and ended up with 300 hours of footage. The end results was a full feature film of 93 minutes which is now the most awarded motorcycle documentary film of all times with 10 international film awards and has been watched by audiences in over 145 countries.

The intent of this article is not to talk about Dream Racer, but rather the approach we took to self-promote our film – which was perfected over the years. So below is the recipe that worked for us.

Marketing your documentary film

Our two options were, Distributor and hope (gamble) to make it big relying on experts or adopt a DIY approach — which was in line with the Dream Racer philosophy.

We did play a little bit with the distributors approach – all wanting exclusivity without any guarantees. So we played along for a little bit enforcing the non-exclusive rule, or exclusivity for a few months for a particular territory. There was a little bit of success and we were able to sell the film to major airlines for the in-flight entertainment (Qantas, Emirates, and Virgin International), we also sold Dream Racer to Discovery World and Fox International. While these sales gave us some market authority, the financial side was not eyes shattering.

The distributors wanted DVDs, but when we did the math, this approach did not make any financial sense at all, the percentage left of potential revenue did not allow for any budget to be allocated to advertising at all.

The math was even worse when they mentioned Netflix, iTunes, Amazon Prime – anyone that passed grade 10 should be able to do the math and realise the numbers don’t add up. And unless you have a famous actor/actress in your film – there is very little chance that people will want to watch.

Market your film using a DIY approach

So this left us with the DIY approach and here are the juicy bits. These are listed as a summary because there is a lot that goes into making that formula work – for more information, just google each step below or contact us for more information.

So here it goes:

  1. Create your own ecommerce website to promote and sell your film.
  2. Ensure that your website has a lot of unique pages from product pages to articles etc so that you can target multiple keywords.
  3. Research keywords that have some monthly volume searches with low keyword difficulty so that you have a remote chance of ranking. For us we focused on “Dakar Rally Film” – Google it and you will see Dream Racer on the first page of Google.
  4. SEO optimize your website for specific and related keywords.
  5. Add all analytics and retargeting codes which will allow you to understand your audience and their onlne behaviour, but also retarget your website visitors – these codes include both Google and Facebook.
  6. Start driving visits to your website by engaging in forums, reaching out to online magazines, podcasts – which will ultimately link back to your website. The more you do this the more long-term success you will achieve – this is called Offsite SEO or backlinks.
  7. Write stories that you publish on your website – in our case we began doing so on our main ecommerce website ( but later moved the news and articles to a dedicated website located at

These seven steps above are the pure minimum of what you should be doing to promote your film.

Impressions vs. Click Through vs. Conversions — The Cost and The Revenue

Then you can be even more proactive by undertaking the following to promote your film for people to watch.

  1. Begin advertising on Facebook and Instagram. Most people will use the simplistic Boost method but these are not the best, instead using Facebook Business console to target your viewers more precisely and use videos in order to capture views, and then retarget these viewers with additional and valuable content (not spam).
  2. Within Facebook, you will have the option to create Look Alike Audience and you might achieve some positive results with this as well.
  3. Ensure you control your Cost per Click and get your math right – which will be dictated by the number of conversions you will achieve. For example 10,000 people will see the ads and if you pay by impression, this might cost you $60 ). But then, if only 3% of these people will click on the ad, you would have paid $60 for 300 people to visit your site. If you are lucky, 2% of these visitors will purchase your title, that is 6 people. Let’s assume you sell your title at $5, your total revenue is $30…. bugger all and you have lost yourself another $30. That is why it is super important to know what you are doing and get your math right. Now you see why relying on the likes of Amazon, iTunes + adding middle men in the picture simply does not work.
  4. If you want more control, then you would want to pay on a Cost per Click…again run the numbers based on your historical conversion rate per website visit and set your Cost per Click as to how much you would want to spend on your online ads. HINT: If you use popular but competitive and expensive keywords, it will be difficult — if you use less expensive keywords but have really low volume, it will be equally difficult. It takes a lot of analysis to get the numbers right.

Advanced online advertising methods to promote your film

We use this method for Dream Racer to promote our film both on DVD and Streaming via Dream Racer TV – which led us to start up an Online Marketing and Branding Agency a few years ago focusing on website, SEO, Online Advertising for clients (PS Branding), yes a shameless plug in here — but we learned so much with marketing Dream Racer that it made sense to commercialize our knowledge.

Films being a low price point product between $25 for a DVD or $5 for streaming there are NOT a lot of options such as using a lengthy time series approach to convince viewers / readers to sell our film — the multiple touch points would cost too much in advertising dollars – these work best when you are selling a products that have a higher price point where you can afford to spend $50 to $500 to acquire a customer. For a $5 streaming it is pretty much “you are in or you are out” unfortunately — but there are clever ways to do so.

This is the exact – at a high level — the approach we use. You pretty much have to options, (A) Pay for Traffic or (B) Go the Onsite & Offsite SEO route. Let’s explore Paid Advertising first…

Paid Advertising — Start with Google Search and Display Advertising (not Facebook)

  1. Be super precise as to the target market and be very specific as to the keyword and longtail keywords that you use. Begin your keywords selection without [keyword] or +keyword and analyse what people are actually searching for.
  2. Select the countries that are most likely to purchase your film. For us it is the US, UK, and Australia. Don’t bundle the countries together, create individual campaigns per country.
  3. Identify your age group most likely to purchase your film.
  4. Select the gender that convert the most. For example, males may give you the best CTR (Click-through-Rate) but females may convert the highest. Analyse your data.
  5. Ensure that your ad copy and your landing page give people exactly what they were searching for.
  6. Remember we mentioned to start with Google Search, the reason is that we want quality and purchase-intent leads, and people actually searching some a topic are likely to convert much higher than people being disrupted by an ad while killing time checking on what their friends were up to in isolation during Covid-19 on Facebook.
  7. Display Ads are dirt cheap, but to be effective, you need to have frequency. The settings for those are different. Do not select Country Level, instead select specific towns where your prospects are likely to be to increase your ads frequency. Alternatively, if you want to go Country Level, then select Targeted Placements on specific websites, again to increase ads frequency. Seeing an ad once every 2-3 weeks won’t create recency.
  8. Retarget your website visitors on both Facebook and on the Google Display Ads – you may want to show a slightly different ad when you retarget visitors. For Facebook, make sure to use the setting Cost per Click as opposed to CPM (Cost per Thousands impression) as it will ensure that your maths make sense. If you sell a film at $5, then you want to keep these retargeting periods fairly shorts so that your ROI stays positive.
  9. The other approach which works well and ensure the maximum possible conversion is to advertise a free film. We do this with one of our film which I co-host with ex-Miss Universe Australia called Riding Morocco: Chasing the Dakar. Once people signup to watch the film online, we then follow up with automated “non-spammy” email marketing automation campaigns.

The Onsite & Offsite SEO approach to market and distribute your film

This approach takes time, and should be used in conjunction with Paid Advertising + heavy keyword and key word related research. It does take time and a lot of effort to build the content (e.g. this article is an example) but it does pay off overtime and your traffic won’t stop when you stop advertising.

  1. If you begin with a brand new website it might take 3-12 months to be ranked on the first page of Google – and this depends heavily on a lot more you’re your website. Start with optimising your website for low keyword difficulty that have some levels of volume – don’t shoot for the stars, start with the easy keywords first.
  2. As you build content on your website, stay on topic with your website and keep adding relevant keywords to each article.
  3. Perform both technical SEO and content SEO. This is not easy and PS Branding does this for clients, there is the science of SEO and the Art of it – nevertheless, give it a go to get things started and analyse your results through Google Analytics. Each time you add new articles, you should see traffic increase slightly – of course get things kicked off by sharing each article that you write with your mailing list first, then a day or two later onto Facebook. Facebook likes popular articles, so make sure it is shared and commented on!
  4. But this alone is not enough to rank on the first page of Google. You need high authority websites to mention you by either referring your website URL and/or using anchor text (one of our anchor text is “Dakar Rally Film” – google it and you will see what comes up) with your embedded website url. This is a backlink.
  5. The best way to earn genuine white hat backlinks is by doing interviews (articles, podcasts, mentions etc). Keep doing this regularly, there should always be something to talk about from how the story started to making a film, awards you have won etc. Be creative, and always try to focus each discussion on a single topic, most importantly — write quality content.
  6. Another approach is contact to journalists / editors, and offer insights to their stories. Journalists are busy people driven by short deadlines, so you have to be on high alert and respond ASAP.
  7. Data is key, and data analysis is KING. Keep monitoring your website analytics, a high bounce rate for a page is bad – this means people only spend a few seconds onto your website then leave. If you are not grabbing your readers attention this means you either have used a shot gun approach with your paid advertising targeting anyone with eye balls or your content is not engaging for people to be interested into your story (poor trailer, poor film description, poor looking website or landing page etc). If that is the case, create a duplicate landing page, and advertise this one instead, then analyse your stats again.
  8. Finally, there is not a single perfect approach, each is unique to your film, your market, your story – and you have to use the receipe that works best for you. But if you approach this strategically (not the odd Facebook Boost effort) then you should reap some rewards.
  9. Always keep an eye on impressions vs. website visits vs conversions/sales. That is the metric that is the most important.
  10. The key to success is to “get started…”

Feel free to share the link of this article with your email list, on your website, on social medial and on forums – we would love to hear how other filmmakers have marketed their films.

Please comment below and let us know what has worked for you, or contact us via the contact form. Follow this link to submit your documentary film to Dream Racer TV.


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