Is this really news to us indie filmmakers? Haven't we always known that the onus for getting our films out there are on our shoulders? Do they really mean: no matter what budget size you have, getting your film shown, mentioned, or highlighted in as many ways as possible that results in the largest group of people talking or hearing about it is the key to a film's success?
All films rely on word of mouth. Indie filmmakers just have scrappier ways of making it happen. The studios pay for it; we use our blood, sweat and tears. Maybe we can't afford full-page ads in the NYTimes or get the likes of Entertainment Weekly to give a damn about our films, but we can employ creative, less costly, ways of getting our films out to large crowds.
It sounds good and makes many of us feel better to know that we are on the right track for profitability. What other choice do we have really? Are there really any other cost-effective means for marketing available to an indie filmmaker that doesn't contain some form of word of mouth? All of the social media outlets are based on spreading the word. Even advertising is a way of getting the word out. And critical reviews -- the written word -- are yet another means of getting your film in front of the masses.
In my opinion, the key to real success is making a good movie that people want to see. From there, it comes down to putting as much effort into the promotion of the film as you do into making it.
"My Big Fat Greek Wedding," "Whale Rider," and "Monster" were all very good films. Initial lower-cost advertising worked for them because people liked the films, and after they saw them, recommended them to others. She told two friends and they told two friends and so on and so on.
So what's the moral of the story? Make a good film and work hard to promote it. You can't have a truly successful film without both ingredients.