DECADE: Reid Rosefelt, Publicizing Passion from Jarmusch to Almodovar, Part 2
by Eugene Hernandez and Mark Rabinowitz/indieWIRE
indieWIRE’s conversation with Reid Rosefelt continues…
Rosefelt: I’m very much an old-time person, so I think about
theatrical. And so I really want to see a film be seen in theaters.
Even though I know there are people who have very profound notions about
marketing and what they’re really doing is using theatrical as a way of
building up attention so that they can go out in the other windows and
make money on video and various deals. But I worked in production, and
having sat and watched the great directors of photography do lighting
and move a flag a quarter of an inch with such love and passion and
watch costume designers choose the exact shades of color. I really don’t
want to say that that should just all evaporate, and everything should
just be seen on TV. I love watching my DVD’s, but just to remind me of
the experience I had when seeing a film. I don’t want the theatrical
experience to be taken away, and I hope that people will always want to
go out and see movies on screens, on big screens. And I don’t want that
to end just because the movie might be for a more particular audience,
not the new Adam Sandler film. There should be room for a Kieslowski
film to also be seen on a big screen, because it has to be.
iW: When you’re taking a film out into theaters for its limited release,
what are you specifically having to do differently now than a decade
ago. What are the similarities and what are the things you weren’t able
to market that you are able to do now?
Rosefelt: Well, I have to be careful here, because I’m not really a
marketing person, I’m a publicist. You know, marketing involves trailers
and posters, and I don’t do that. I think publicity is very simple.
You’re at a party, and someone is talking about a movie, and you come
over and you listen and the person is talking and they’re saying things
and after the person starts talking, you want to see the movie, you must
see the movie, that’s what I try to do when I get on the phone. I try
to make people feel like they have to see this movie. And that’s it. And
if I can pass on that enthusiasm, that’s what I’ve always done.
Publicists are not critics. We’re not there to analyze and to establish
why things are good and why things are bad. Publicists are simply there
to provide love.
iW : Are the choices you make in the films you take on any more
Rosefelt: I turn down 99% of what I’m offered, because I want to do what
I just said, and most of what I get sent, I can’t do that with. So I
have to find films that I want to work on, and largely I do that by
building long-term relationships with movie makers whose work I like. I
can’t imagine anything that David Mamet would do that I wouldn’t want to
work on. I can’t imagine anything that Errol Morris would do that I
wouldn’t want to work on. I can’t imagine Jim Jarmusch making something
that I wouldn’t want to promote. And there are many, many other
directors I would like to promote if I could get the chance. So first
you have to get the job on something you like, and then you have to find
companies that are congenial to the approach that Magic Lantern has,
because we have a very, very definite approach on how we do publicity,
and so do other companies.
I think Miramax and Artisan are terrific companies, but we can’t work
with them, nor do they want to work with us. Because they know what
they’re doing, they have their plan, and I have my plan, and so I’m not
interested in being directed by somebody’s plan. I’m interested in being
part of the discussion, and the companies that we work with allow me to
talk to them, and have a dialogue, and then ultimately, you always have
to serve the client, the last word is the client. So the client says,
“Well, I’ve heard what you have to say, now do it my way. Or, some of
what you said made sense to me, but I need to have that.” And real
marketing-intensive companies don’t work like that. They go top down.
iW : How do we, as part of this business that has grown up around this
“American Independent Film” scene, and as individuals within that
community of people, foster and encourage and in some instances promote
the work of the younger first or second time filmmakers that do deserve
“Anyone who says the words, ‘we don’t know how to market
this’ should be submitted for immediate electrocution. Martin Scorsese
doesn’t say, ‘I don’t know how to direct this.’ If you don’t know how to
market it, get out of the business and get into basket weaving or something
Rosefelt: I would like to propose that anyone who says the words, “we
don’t know how to market this” should be submitted for immediate
electrocution. Martin Scorsese doesn’t say, “I don’t know how to direct
this.” Vittorio Storarro doesn’t say, “I don’t know how to light this.”
If you don’t know how to market it, get out of the business, get into
basket weaving or something else. This is what you do, and if it’s
really, really, really hard, that’s why you’re there. The answer should
be, “I know how to market this, I don’t want to, it’s not good enough,
it doesn’t deserve my energy, I’m going to put my energy elsewhere, God
bless you, nice to meet you, I hope you make another.” Maybe I said it
too bluntly, you could say it nicely, you could say, “It’s just not for
me, it’s just not to my taste,” but you don’t say, “I don’t know how to
market it.” I used to feel that this was just some kind of euphemism in
the business that people said, that meant that people didn’t like it and
it was just a friendly way of saying goodbye. And then when the
filmmaker walks away and I talk to these people in distribution, they
go, “I haven’t a clue how to market this, how would you market this?” I’m
sad to report, they don’t know how to market it, they don’t know how.
Anything can be marketed. “Plan 9 From Outer Space” can be marketed.
I’m not saying anything can be marketed by me. I’m saying somebody out
there is clever enough to find a solution to a film, and if you have one
company, they may not be able to market all kinds of films, and they may
be wise enough to say there are certain kinds of films that they’re
really good at marketing and their skills work really well, and they
pick films that work well with their talents.
iW : I have another version for “How can this be marketed,” and that
is “I think this can be marketed and I think this is a good film, but I
don’t want to spend the money to market it.”
Rosefelt: Or the time. You know, maybe it would be a better use of my
time, maybe I’d rather market this one film which would be very easy to
market. I’m guilty of this, in the sense of I did a film this year
called “On The Ropes.” We killed ourselves on “On The Ropes.” It took us
40 times more time to do it than any other film we did, and we got a
degree of attention for it, maybe bigger than most films of that size
would get. But it still didn’t make it. And it’s painful. And then
people say, what about this other film you could work on, and it’s
easy! And you can do it, and it’s very hard not to give into that. Was
it hard for me to promote “All About My Mother?” I don’t think so.
Everybody loved that film for the most part. We did the best job
we could on “All About My Mother,” but it was not like doing “On The
So every movie is different and you have to find a solution and you have
to find the way. But I think we all have to be honest with ourselves
and with filmmakers and I think we all have to imagine how can we do
this, how can we find audiences? “Blair Witch” suggested that the
Internet could be used in more dramatic ways. There are other things
that can be examined. And usually the place where you can find
marketing ideas, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. They can be found
in the past. You can look at the history of marketing at the ways movies
have been marketed from the beginning of the business. If you look at
the history of movie ads, critics’ quotes are very recent. You didn’t
even see them much until the 50’s and even then it was with foreign
films almost exclusively. A lot of the stuff we do on every film is
just kind of unquestioning. And I do ask this question, “Do people
really see a thumb up and head off to the theater, is that enough to
make a buy judgement?” I feel like it goes against logic.
iW : I think some people do it with certain critics. You know, I
think a lot of people do because a lot of people are sheep. I think
they look at the Entertainment Weekly hot sheet and say, look, it got
all A’s. I should go see that.
“And big success in the movie business both in production
and marketing tends to come from new ideas, not from aping the old
ideas, but generally what people do is copy success. But the big money
isn’t in doing the ‘Jaws’ parody, it’s in doing ‘Jaws.'”
Rosefelt: I think if they watch Roger Ebert and you hear him talk about
it and he says stuff that really moves you, it’s not the thumb
direction, it’s the rest, and it’s not the quote in the newspaper, it’s
not that you can pull out “outstanding,” it’s that people actually read
the New York Times review. Why did “Afterlife” do so well for a film of
it’s size? The review was really, really, really good in the New York
Times, and when you read it, you wanted to see it. You could pull a
quote out of that review and you could pull a quote out of hundreds of
others and it wouldn’t have the same impact. I think it’s the actual
words themselves in the review, not just the stuff in the ads. A great
review is like someone coming up and telling you something like that.
Pauline Kael wrote like that. When you read it, you just felt like she
came up to you, and you read it and you said, I have to see it, and
quite often the hilarious thing about seeing a film after reading one of
her reviews is that the review is so much more exciting than the movie.
It was such a thrilling experience to read the review and the
description of images, and then you saw the images and said, oh.
But to get to the whole idea of marketing, there used to be things
called roadshowing a film, where you’d go and they’d make a big hoopla
and there’d be a brochure and all kinds of things. Why couldn’t “Saving
Private Ryan” go out like that, where there’d be one theater in your
town? People have ideas about distribution, and about marketing, and
then when something works, they
tend to stick with it for a long time. And big success in the movie
business both in production and marketing tends to come from new ideas,
not from aping the old ideas, but generally what people do is copy
success. But the big money isn’t in doing the “Jaws” parody, it’s in
doing “Jaws.” You go out there and you do it the first time, something
that strikes a chord with people, and the secret is to stop and say, “I
like this film and that’s why I want to be involved with it, other
people seem to like the film, what’s going to get in the way?”
Something always seems to get in the way, and that seems very sad. How
do we get through people’s inertia, their lack of desire.
Unfortunately, a lot of the audience that used to go to films, the big
movie-going audience, the baby boom audience has grown up and they have
children and they’re not going to movies. And they’ve got jobs and
they’re overworked and they’ve got kids and they’re not going to movies
as much. So the audience is fairly young and I think that’s one of the
reasons for “Blair Witch.” I really felt that film was so directed at a
certain demographic in a way that they really identified what their
character is really about.
iW : John Pierson said that a certain age group just felt like they owned
Rosefelt: And “Scream.” I think certain people have found a way to
actually speak to that particular generation, and they are the people
who are going to the movies.
The publicity thing that seems to be standard, is that every film is
sold by trying to get as much publicity as possible. And that doesn’t
work. If you look at all the films that got the most covers — “Beloved“
got more covers than probably any other film in the past few years.
There’s not a direct one-to-one link. There’s always this idea that the
way you promote a film from a publicity point of view is that you
contact every magazine, every TV show, every Internet site, every radio,
every wire service, you call them all up, and you get them all to see
the movie, and you say, did you like it, did you not like it, will you
do an interview, will you do a review? And the more of that you do, that’s
going to mean a successful project. It doesn’t work, it doesn’t work.
So because it doesn’t work, we do it again and again and again and
again. And the reason it doesn’t work is because, let’s say you pitch to
all the women’ s magazines, well, most of the magazines are in
competition with each other, so you can’t be in all of them, you can
only be in one. So if you pitch everybody, and I’m just giving one
example here, then you’re only going to get in the one that calls you
first, unless you play some funny business, try to sneak around and get
double stuff beyond what they want you to do. But if you’re playing
straight, you get the first one that calls. That might not be the one
that you should be in. So a strategic idea is having an actual plan.
Well, where should I be, where do I want to be, what are the magazines I
want to be in, and what makes sense, who am I trying to reach?
iW : And that’s where you come in.