You know that saying, "Fake it 'til you make it"? Well, Dear White People took it to a whole 'nother level.
Producer Angel Lopez (State Like Sleep, Bad Hair) and then first-time feature filmmaker Justin Simien didn’t come from a producing background. So how did they go from having just the idea of Dear White People to being bought straight out of Sundance? How did they manifest a budget of 1 to 2 million, major producers, and distribution with Roadside Attractions and Lionsgate?
They essentially created a whole world and marketing campaign for the project, even before a single scene was shot. Here’s how it was done.
A Social Media Campaign
Nowadays, you don’t even have to hire a huge PR team. Turn heads from the security of your phone.
Angel Lopez: Justin [Simien] works from a marketing standpoint and so he knew a lot of it was about generating buzz for the concept and the idea. He started a DWP twitter handle and tweeted out things that ultimately became the main characters, like pieces on [the main character, Samantha’s] show. That started to gain a following. We did a mock trailer, which we self-funded with Justin's tax return money, that went viral.
A lot of our conversations at the time [were about posting content] that will get people who are in positions of power to turn their heads and be like, “Who are these people? What is this thing and how do I be a part of it?”
A Bold Title
DWP was able to stand out on the internet and at festivals like Sundance in part because of the title’s shock factor.
AL: A lot of people turned their heads to the title. Justin was [featured] on CNN, and the Washington Post did something on the movie. So that helped generate buzz. Everyone was really passionate about [the film].
A Solid Support System
If you’re an emerging filmmaker who’s just starting out, ask for advice from a mentor or former boss about how to talk about your movie.
AL: We were lucky enough to have a godmother [producer] to come on board—Stephanie Allain. She [taught us] how to talk about the movie and the production like producers, since none of us were coming from a producer background.[Stephanie] had produced a movie that both Justin and I worked marketing on back in our Focus Features days. So she knew who he was and liked him. [The script] was sent to her and she called Justin and was like, “This is a thing i want to be a part of.” A lot of the time, [established] producers get involved in a project [with a first time filmmaker] because they are investing in the person. It’s all about [personal] connections.
Picture 1 (from left to right) : Stephanie Allain, Angel Lopez, Ann Le, Justin Simien, Lena Waithe, Julia Lebedev, & Effie Brown
Picture 2 (from left to right) : Malcolm Barrett, Brandon P. Bell, Teyonah Parris, Justin Simien, Tessa Thompson, Tyler James Williams, & Kyle Gallner
In the end, Angel and Justin’s grassroots online presence influenced the theatrical marketing of the film.
According to Angel:
“[Distributors] recognized what we had done with marketing up to that point. They wanted to continue that spirit instead of starting fresh. They really respected what we had done.”
Just goes to show you there isn't one right way to make a movie. If you needed a sign to encourage you to take that leap of faith, this is the sign.