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Attention, Filmmakers: Here’s How to Get Your Film Out Into the World

Attention, Filmmakers: Here's How to Get Your Film Out Into the World

Lucius Barre was the fist crossover international publicist for Pedro Almódovar, Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Atom Egoyen and Tom Twyker. Most recently, he has served on the organizing teams of the Locarno and Rotterdam film festivals.

This week, at a panel discussion at Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival, Barre shared his expertise on strategic planning and management of promotional campaigns for new films. The audience was truly an international one, with filmmakers and industry experts coming from Guadalupe, Domenica, Cuba, Spain, the UK, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Canada, The Bahamas, Curacao, Jamaica and elsewhere. The diverse group of producers, directors, editors and film artists eagerly listened as Barre addressed the evolution of film festivals, the diversification of the market, the role of sales agents and more.

READ MORE: 5 Tips for Making a Short Film as Powerful as a Feature

Here are a few of Lucius Barre’s pointers about getting your film out into the world:

Don’t Wait Until You Meet “The Right” Person

“Many filmmakers believe that we have to get to that office to meet that person, or get a grant from this commission before we can go further. But especially now on the terrain that we’re standing on today, we can do a lot more ourselves.”

Don’t be Discouraged by Rejection

“Salesmen are not discouraged by rejection. They know that sales is a numbers game and they know that, even if they get a sale only two or three percent of the time, they’re not discouraged by 50, 60 or 70 rejections. My business is getting rejected. I’ll make it if I keep going.”

Know Your Expertise

“We come from a whole era where, because of the digital age, people think they don’t need expertise; that they don’t need access to expertise. We are called upon to conceive, produce, edit and then market our own films, and that’s all possible. But I maintain that that it can only really be done in a collaborative environment. Not just in that narcissistic space where you’re putting every talent into your bin. It’s not worrying about not learning things that aren’t part of your skill set. Concentrate on the thing you know how to do best. It’s important to know whose got expertise in other areas and how you put that together, how you make a round table out of it.” 

Everything is Up for Grabs

“The next step for the future is as much in your hands as it is in anyone’s hands. I don’t know if you’ve heard this but everything in this industry right now is up for grabs. There used to be, between the content provider and the user, seven separate people who’d be watching the film, up through its distribution until the penny from the user came back through seven separate channels to its original source. The days of going to a festival and cherry-picking, or finding out who’s the hot topic at this festival, are gone. We are now looking at aggregators who are at agencies. Sitting in different cities, but not at the festival. It used to be that no sales agent would take a film before it had distribution in its own country. But the days of international sales agents are numbered. The business model is not sustainable.”

The Unknown Always Passes for the Marvelous

“The best time to sell a film is before you show it. I begin hard-selling a film at a market or a festival before the one where you’re showing your film. Then, by the time that the film has taken shape, they know who to go to. You might not get a commitment, but you should put things on the radar as much as possible. Even at the script level, as soon as you know it will be a film. If you’re committed to making a film it should be on someone’s radar.”

But Keep an Air of Mystery, if It’ll Help

“‘The Right Stuff’ scored the biggest PR boost because they had the cover of Newsweek the week before the film opened. They had Ed Harris as John Glenn, with his helmet off on the cover. It was discovered later that that was the worst thing that could have happened. People thought it was a documentary and it failed. So if you have a film that’s based on true stories, make it about the emotional core first. And later in foot notes, add ‘Based on a true story.” Sarah Polley’s ‘Stories we Tell,’ discovered the best way to sell that film was to say nothing about it. The success of that film depended on saying nothing. It just said: Sarah Polley, ‘Stories We Tell,’ the story of her life. That was all they had to say. So there’s a terrain where, the less said the better, you can choose.”

The Producer and Distributor Should Decide Which Angle to Take

“The key challenge of the producer’s job is to position something, but it’s the distributors’ job to take it to the audience to know what will work for his or her audience, especially talking internationally. For instance, I had friends who were Disney Imagineers and were putting together something for Disney in Paris, something like eight languages had to follow a boy stealing an apple from a fruit stand. But in several cultures, stealing an apple is a serious crime and is not funny. They had to find a way to distribute it as such. So in some way the producer has to work with a pitch, a line, a point of exploration that is clear, but also work through local distributors and sales agents, to find out what they think will work with their audience.”

The Best Thing You Can Do is Show the Film

Barre told the story of his promotional work on “La Bamba:” “We had a screening every Wednesday, starting in April. We had an intern cover the community and we invited everyone who wanted to come see it, every Wednesday. Then we would get interns to stand around on the street so people would walk by and say, ‘Well what’s happening over there?’ ‘Oh it’s the “La Bamba” screening, every Wednesday!’ And by June, everyone was talking about it and asked about how the campaign worked. I said, ‘We just showed the film!'”

Know the Difference Between Pride and Vanity

“The prouder you are of the film the more likely you are to show it. Pride is knowing who you are and a sharing your thoughts about who you are. Vanity is concern about what other people think of you. Vanity is wondering, how I can make this person like me, how I can make this person understand who I am and what I want from them?”

Build a Sense of Craftsmanship

“Make sure people know what inspired you to make the film. Then you talk about how to make the project, physically, to show that it wasn’t just thrown together over the weekend. That it’s a collaboration of several people that took years to negotiate. Then talk about your working method. All of this builds a sense of craftsmanship. Your sense of pride in what you’ve achieved by making this film. And I think you have to work toward that every day as a producer.” 

Don’t Try to Be Universal

When a filmmaker asked how to present her film as a universal story for an international audience, Barre has some surprising final advice: “I don’t recommend that you should use the word ‘universal’ ever again. Everything should be accurate to a specific time and space, and let the story inside that time and space be familiar emotionally. There’s no need to make it ‘universal’ in any way. Universal is when you want it to make sense to other countries outside of yours, but historically that’s never worked. Because people will understand where you’re coming from, you have to go to the lowest common denominator and that’s the emotional terrain. Set it as such, and don’t present it as ‘universal’ at all.” 

READ MORE: Here’s Why You Shouldn’t Ignore Short Films at Film Festivals

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