The Indie Film Maker Whose Movie Got Picked Up by Netflix

Riley Blue

How a young producer marketed his art by CardMapr on Unsplash

When Jonathan Augustin started out, all he had was an idea.

The idea that life is like a lift, an elevator. Sometimes it takes you up, and at others, it takes you down. It all depends on what buttons you press, as in, the choices you make.

He was sixteen when he joined the Indian movie industry. The first realisation that hit him in the face was that most of the people were well connected and a part of the ecosystem. Being an outsider, he understood early on that whatever was to be done, he had to make it happen on his own. The lack of contacts and resources meant that he had to first figure out the story he wanted to tell, and then raise the money to make the project a reality.

He believed in his idea enough to keep campaigning for it even with all the odds stacked against him. He believed in it enough for it be picked up by Netflix one day, and the rest, as they say, is history. His brainchild, the movie The Lift Boy, is a testament to that.

The movie is a beautiful coming-of-age story focussing on 24-year-old Raju, who is forced to take up the position of an elevator (lift) operator for a few days after his father is hospitalised. Initially, Raju resents everything about the job, including the bland orange uniform and the strict working hours inside a closed elevator. But, with time, he starts appreciating the intricacies of the position, as well as understanding the effort his father must have been putting into this job over the years. At its core, the movie has the message of how life becomes more bearable once we accept our circumstances and emotions, and stop trying to run away from them.

Apart from the stellar performance of the cast and a story powerful enough to tug at one’s heartstrings, what I loved the most about the movie was how honest it felt, as if the filmmakers were talking directly to the viewers and telling that no matter what they are going through, things will eventually get better.

I was fortunate to get a chance to have a one-on-one chat with the director, Jonathan Augustin. He was such a humble and down-to-earth person who taught me some invaluable gems about marketing, creativity, and the wonders relentless optimism can bring.

This article is about the lessons I learned from the maker of The Lift Boy. Since they focus on marketing and creativity, these lessons can be applied to not just movies, but any product, service, or business a person is trying to sell.

Reaching the Right Audience

Jonathan says that the team had a limited budget for promotions, and hence, they focused more on “push,” rather than “pull.” They relied on a few approaches, as mentioned below:

Aggressive sales and word of mouth

Jonathan and his team focused on selling as many tickets as possible through bulk booking. They reached out to universities, colleges, and film clubs, and scheduled a theatrical release on 18 January 2019. They sold more than 15,000 tickets through word of mouth alone.

This is a remarkable feat, one Jonathan says was possible because of the hustle and the mental agility that is inculcated in a person who has been working in the startup ecosystem and the advertising world for a while.

Title and poster

“The first marketing touchpoint of any film is the title, followed by the poster and the trailer. If these generate enough interest, any viewer is going to watch the movie.”

Since The Lift Boy had a good title, Jonathan tried to get a unique poster designed. The result was a beautiful reddish rust colour, something totally different and abstract. These elements helped, as did the overall aesthetic and packaging of the film, which endeared it to many movie watchers all over the world.

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