At an American Film Market panel on the importance of publicity and its role throughout the filmmaking process, moderator Gary Foster, producer of “Sleepless in Seattle,” “The Soloist” and most recently, “My Old Lady,” received a rousing round of applause and cheers from the audience when he expressed some frustration at the publicity professionals’ insistence that even a micro-budget filmmaker should find room in his or her budget to hire a professional set photographer during production.
According to the publicity professionals on the panel: Dana Archer, President and Partner at DDA PR; Chris Day, Head of Corporate Communications at UTA; Jill Jones, EVP Marketing & Publicity at Mister Smith Entertainment; and Marian Koltai-Levine, EVP Film at PMK*BNC, set photography is perhaps the most important long-term investment toward a finished film’s future.
When you think about how stills shape the creation of the film poster, billboards and even the coverage on sites like Indiewire, the publicity professional’s point-of-view doesn’t sound so petty anymore.
Here are some other highlights from the panel:
You are the biggest advocate for your film, but when it comes to publicity, you’re better off hiring a professional.
“Publicity, some people think, ‘oh it’s just getting your story out,’ but there is a lot of work behind the scenes. And sometimes it’s not pushing things out, it’s knowing when to hold them back. I think you really do need to have experts in your corner at certain points in the film’s evolution.” – Jill Jones, EVP, Marketing and Publicity at Mister Smith Entertainment
“The relationships that the publicists have, and the access they have to talk your film up to a particular journalist, those are priceless. You can’t walk up to that journalist and pitch your film in the same way that your publicist, who knows them, who talks film with them every day, can do. And that is why you hire a professional to do it.” – Jones
Don’t hire just anyone to represent your film; do your research.
“I’m a big fan of looking at what other films have done [and] what other films have grossed. Do you think that [a] release looked particularly interesting or did something inventive? Just go on their website and you’re going to find out exactly who their publicist is. It’s really easy to get that information and then when you approach them you’ll say, oh I saw the work you did here and we have something similar.” – Marion Koltai-Levine, EVP Film at PMK*BNC
Publicity brings your project to the public upon completion but the prep work for an effective publicity campaign must begin early on, when you are still in the midst of putting your project together.
“You wouldn’t show up on set without a first A.D. or a D.P.. I think it’s smart to think a little bit along those lines. There is a very funny old New Yorker cartoon, and it’s two guys at the back of a Broadway house and their show is just opening and there is maybe three people in the audience and the one guy says to the other, ‘oh I thought you were handling the publicity and marketing.’ There is a tendency to not think about it and if there is a takeaway from this panel its [that] you just need to make it part of what you do as producers.” – Chris Day, Head of Corporate Communications at UTA
If you don’t have the budget to pay for a publicist during pre-production and production then at the very least you must make room in the budget for a professional photographer, who can shoot stills and b-roll on set that will end up being used in the publicity materials.
“If you don’t have still photography and you’re going to try to do screengrabs later, the quality is just not going to be there,” said Jones. “You’re not going to get the placements, you’re not going to have the opportunities to use it for publicity later. You must cover at least part of your production — key pivitol moments, you’ve got to have really good photography. And if you’re shooting in low light, you better have somebody who knows how to shoot in low light because those are even harder to pull from screengrabs. I heard the smattering of applause from the low budget advocates, but the thing is, you guys need it even more [in order to] be able to come to a sales agent and say, I get it, I’m going to deliver the goods, I’m going to have an amazing film, forget it’s a tiny budget, an amazing film and we’re going to give you the tools that you need to sell it and to make it a success. Ultimately, this is a business for everyone and those are going to be contractual elements that we are going to have to deliver.”
It’s not a joke. You really can’t cut corners if you’re serious about releasing your film because somewhere down the line, you will pay a price for not budgeting for publicity.
“I did a movie that just was out called, ‘My Old Lady,’ and we made it for three million dollars,” said Foster. “It was a small, small budget. We didn’t have significant resources for publicity or for doing unit photography and we ended up scrambling and calling in favors for people to show up on set and take some photographs and we paid a price because at the end of the day, once the film was being released and all the territories were asking for key art, we had limited art and we had to literally pull frames from the film, which isn’t the best quality, in order to satisfy all our territories and give them some choice.”