A haphazard approach to publicity could hinder your chances for everything from an audience choice award at a local film festival to a lucrative distribution deal. By carefully crafting your public relations (PR) campaign, you can create the most publicity opportunities for your film and help ensure the largest outreach possible.
Timing is Everything
The optimal time to outline your public relations campaign is when you are in pre-production of your film. Think of this outline as a fluid document that will change during post-production and distribution of your film. It's important to work on the foundation of that campaign as early as possible. It's also important to budget for publicity expenses in the beginning since you will incur costs from pre-production through distribution. Running short on your PR funds could crush your chances of playing it big at a major festival.
Film festivals consider your press kit to be one of your most important publicity tools. Materials for festival press releases and festival program books will often be pulled directly from your kit. Typically, a press kit will contain production stills, cast and crew bios, production notes, a director's statement, poster art, copies of (or links to) any other press materials such as newspaper clippings or film reviews, film trailers or behind-the-scenes videos, awards or any other accolades for the film (or script or other media it was based on) and your PR contact information. While it may be strange to think about these materials before your film is even shot, a lot of this content needs to be created or is easier to compile while making your film.
Hiring a still photographer for your film shoot can be well worth the expense, even if it’s only for a few days. Having production stills is critical if you want your film to play at a major festival or to be considered for pickup by a distributor. Stills pulled from the film are not enough. The photos should be of the cast and crew in action, not poses or beauty shots for the camera. A videographer who can capture behind-the-scenes footage is also helpful; if you don't use this material in your electronic press kit (EPK), you can use it as extra content on your DVD/Blu-ray.
In addition to production stills, you will also need photos — head shots or beauty shots — and biographies (bios) for all your key cast and crew. Chances are, you will have resumes from your casting and crewing process; organizing those materials before they are stuffed in a box and forgotten is a lot easier than doing it later.
Remember, you are not just pitching your film. The press release is also about branding
The remainder of your press kit materials can be created after the film shoot. Trailers, behind-the-scenes videos and poster art (one-sheets) may take longer than expected so don't wait until the last minute to create these items. You may want to customize the production notes and the director's statement for the individual festival where your film is playing. Remember to keep track of any publicity that may have occurred while your film was shooting as well as film reviews, press and awards from screening at other festivals. Finally, having a PR contact for your film is critical. Make sure this person is responsive to emails and prompt at returning phone calls.
The Need for Press Releases
Press releases are important because many journalists will copy this material verbatim and publish it both online and in print publications. Your press release may be the deciding factor for audiences on the fence about viewing your film. Press releases need to sizzle; they need to provide just enough information to entice the audience to see the film.
Your press release should also highlight any notable talent in the film or any awards that the filmmaker or the film may have won. It's important to know your audience and appeal to them. What elements or characters in your film are relatable to this core demographic? Press releases are not one-size fits all, and you should custom tailor your press release for each occasion you find a need to send one out.
The biggest hurdle you will face is getting journalists, festival media directors and bloggers to even read your press releases. In your first sentence, you must validate yourself and your film so the press will bother to read the rest of the document, which needs to be both educational and entertaining. Remember, you are not just pitching your film. The press release is also about branding.
Branding Your Film
In order to sell your film to audiences, you need to understand exactly what it is and who the intended audience is. While this should actually happen before you start filming, in many cases, it does not happen until after the final cut. Before you build your brand, you must know your audience.
While every filmmaker likes to think of their film as unique and different, examine your film and see what it has in common with films in similar genres. By looking at successful films that are similar to yours and examining their marketing materials such as their trailers, one-sheets and press releases, you’ll better understand how to market the common, popular elements of your film to your core demographic. Once you’ve done that, figure out how to work in the unique elements into that same style of successful marketing to show audiences that your film is “the same, but different.”
Publicity on social media sites is important and can start as early as the inception of your film. This is particularly true if you are trying to crowd-fund your film or have audiences demand screenings through services like TUGG. Some festivals as well as film distributors will take into serious consideration your online media presence and following before making decisions about your film.
While analytics for your website and Facebook page are important, an e-mail list of people waiting to see your film is a powerful tool. This direct line between you and your fans is what can insure that seats are filled when your film opens. Festivals and film distributors value this much more than a fancy web page or a million Facebook likes. Some might debate that your Twitter following is more valuable than your e-mail list, since Twitter does have the potential of going viral. The important concept to take away is that you need to be able to communicate directly with your audience at any given moment.
There is a caveat to online publicity especially if you are trying to get traditional distribution for a feature film. Releasing trailers and press materials too far in advance can cause an audience to lose interest in your project. If a distribution company believes you have overused your press assets or not released your assets in sync with a major film festival, it can create problems in securing a distribution deal. There's a fine line between gathering social media support and advertising the release of your film. Using materials that promote you as a filmmaker is always a good alternative, especially if you don't have a lot of press assets from your film.
Having a photojournalist visit your set and write a piece for the local newspaper can do wonders in garnering community support; however, many traditional media outlets such as newspapers, magazines, radio and TV stations will offer you only one press opportunity. This policy is not written in stone, and you may not find out about it until after the fact. The logic is, “We ran that story already. Why would our readers be interested in it again?” Many online bloggers and news magazines even take this approach.
With a well conceived PR campaign, you can get press as you begin shooting and again when your film is set to screen if you are careful in how you release your images and the stories that accompany those images. The press and accompanying images when you're still shooting should focus on the filmmaker and what's happening behind-the-scenes — in other words, the making of the film. When you have screening dates, your press and accompanying images should focus on the actors and the story you're trying to tell. By delineating these two press messages, you let the news outlets know that you have two very different stories (and images) that you are telling, thus helping you get more media access. It's very important to remember that even if you have named talent in your film, the media is still doing you a favor by covering your film.
Proper preparations need to be made if your cast and crew are being interviewed by the media. While a one on one sit down interview tends to be very different from a film junket roundtable, your team still needs to be prepared to answer rapid fire questions about the film. It’s perfectly acceptable in a 1:1 interview situation to ask for questions in advance; in fact, many journalists prefer the flexibility of sending questions by e-mail and allowing you to also respond via e-mail. For all interviews, especially radio and TV interviews, try to select cast and crew members who speak clearly and can articulate your filmmaking process as well as the story and message behind your film.
One of the hardest struggles filmmakers have is getting press to review their films regardless of whether you're screening at a film festival or a local multiplex. If you don't have a publicist with media contacts, you might want to consider offering incentives for your reviewing your film. Some filmmakers have had success by holding a special press event complete with food and cocktails before a private press screening of their film. Other filmmakers have provided restaurant vouchers to film reviewers after they have sat through the screening of their film.
There is no “one best way” to advertise your film. The type of advertising will vary depending on when and where your film is screening and under what circumstances.
If you plan to four wall your movie (where you rent the theater space), the theater you're renting will probably require you to buy into their newspaper advertisement for the week. This is probably the only traditional print advertisements you’ll want since they are expensive and not always cost effective.
Trailers are one of the most important elements of advertising for your film. They are a great way to get people motivated to see your film. Having a trailer on a website is not enough. Get people on blogs, forums and on social media to watch your trailer and tell other people about it. If your film will be playing at a theater soon (four wall or service deal), make sure your trailer will play there in advance before other films leading up to the release of your film.
For film festivals, your trailer may run before other films at the festival or it may be placed on the festival's website. Remember, if you have a short film playing at the festival, your trailer should be between 15 to 90 seconds long, but most important, it should be proportional to the length of your short film.
Many film festivals require a one sheet sized poster (41×27-inch) for all feature films they screen. Printing one or two posters can be costly, but if you do a print run of 100 or more at a time, the cost per poster is much less.
Postcards are another great way to advertise your film at festivals; however, you should not expect the festival to distribute the postcard around town for you. When designing your postcard, you should leave enough space on the backside of the card so you can place stickers individualized for each festival with your screening date, time and location.
Larger film festivals require more creativity when it comes to publicity for your film. Q and As with filmmakers and after parties will help insure an audience, but cool swag and advertising stunts can help bring visibility to your film in a very crowded playing field. If you plan to give away swag, make sure the name of your film is visible. Wearable items such as buttons, t-shirts and hats really help get the word out about your film.
Rally Your Audience
While your main objective may be to get audiences to your screening, don't pass on the opportunity to get them fired up. Remember that word of mouth recommendations are the strongest advertisement you can get for your film.
Sidebar: The Value of a Publicist
A good publicist is worth their weight in gold! Their value is not in writing great press releases, suggesting good swag, planning great parties or coming up with unique publicity stunts; rather, it's their contacts, the relations they've built up over the years with journalists, distributors and even studio execs. A good publicist can help insure your feature film is reviewed in major news outlets; they'll make sure that all the right people are invited to your film’s after party; they'll organize press junkets and schedule interviews for you with all the major players.
Publicists are not cheap which is why you should try to include their cost in your feature film’s initial budget. Also, it's important to check out their references and resume to see if they are worth the price.
If your feature film has been accepted into a major festival like Sundance, Slamdance, SXSW, Tribeca, Toronto, Cannes, Venice or Berlin, you will need an experienced publicist. Due to the sheer size of the festival and the number of films playing, you may miss out on the chance of selling your film because the executives who need to see it won't be sitting in the audience. Not only will the publicist bring these people to your screenings, but they'll make sure you’re seen at all the happening events at the festival. In an industry where buzz about a filmmaker or a film is critical, you're publicist will help get you noticed.
Odin Lindblom is an award-winning filmmaker who also produces commercial and corporate video.