How much to spend on developing key art, and when to spend that money, is one of the many important decisions a filmmaker has to make. Yet like many aspects of the filmmaking process, there is no one-size-fits-all standard. When we were discussing the prospect of my writing this post, one of my colleagues at TFC remarked that for a film that costs, say, $250K to make, a $10-20K or more spend on developing key art (and mind you, this is separate from a marketing budget where you have to pay to get that key art out into the world, and separate still from designing and maintaining a web site) is not unreasonable, assuming one wanted to hire a top agency. Other filmmakers get someone they know to do it for free, if for no other reason than they are out of funds. Most micro-budget indie filmmakers will undoubtedly fall in between these two polar extremes in terms of what they will end up paying, but in the end, what you produce, and when you produce it, is a decision that should not be rushed or taken lightly.
Most filmmakers would agree that good key art is essential…it can be the factor that decides whether somebody will click further to watch your trailer, or move on to another film. If it is carried over to your website effectively, it should inspire confidence in your brand. Good key art can endure and even come to possess an iconic existence of its own that will represent with your film for years or even decades to come.
But good key alone is probably not going to work miracles. If your trailer, website, official reviews, or word of mouth is disappointing, or if insufficient marketing prevents people from even knowing that your film is out there, hiring a top creative film and spending that $10-20K at the expense of everything else doesn’t make any sense. So while key art is too important to take short cuts on, its value won’t be fully realized if the rest of your budget cannot support it.
So let’s say, for the sake of argument, that you don’t have that 10-20K or more lying around for key art. Now, I have worked with dozens of filmmakers to either design (or consult with and/or assist them in developing) their key art. When I have an initial discussion with a filmmaker, I can tell right away which clients probably don’t even have $1K to devote to their the key art. How? Because the first question they ask me (after they see samples of my work) is how much I would charge to produce a poster.
This question always surprises me, especially when it comes from filmmakers for whom this is not their first film, because it reminds me that filmmakers often do not ask the right questions when producing key art.
For example, how can I give them a quote without knowing what shape is their art in, how much time it is going to take to get up to speed about the film…watch it, discuss it, understand it, determine what is possible based on the art that they have, come up with several different directions and mock them up, fail a few times until we come up with something we like, and then go through several refinement stages, figure out printing, cost, logistics? And this doesn’t include mocking each possible direction to pixel-perfection, uprezzing, retouching, or producing style sheets or ancillary artwork, like a top agency would do.
Not appropriately accounting for key art development (and overall marketing strategy) as a line item in their film budgets forces filmmakers into a situation whereby they can only order the services that will fit their budget, rather than coming from a place of asking what will be best for their projects.
So we go through this dance of whittling away steps to cut costs, and in the end, I provide only a range based on an hourly rate, with phases built in, so we can periodically access if we are going over our budget range. This way, how many hoops I jump through will ultimately be up to the filmmaker as we move through the collaborative process.
Another important thing to remember is that you can’t always determine the cost of developing a piece of key art just by looking at it. Oftentimes, the prevailing concept itself might not look all that expensive to produce, but you never know how many twists and turns were required for the creative team to reach that final product.
So, how can a filmmaker get back to asking the right questions?
Producing key art is about ideas and talent, good photography, and a solid understanding of one’s film and how it fits into the marketplace.
It’s also about patience.
This is a scenario we have seen more than a few times: let’s say your film gets into Sundance or Slamdance or Berlin or SXSW and you are racing to finish your film. You haven’t budgeted all that much for key art in the first place, but you feel like you need something to show at the festival. You have a website, but it’s the one that’s been up since your crowdfunding campaign, and it’s not all that pretty. What should you do?
Certainly, there is no one right answer. We have seen filmmakers produce amazing things in a very short amount of time. On the other hand, we have seen other filmmakers really fail miserably, and actually do their film a disservice by making too many decisions too quickly.
But let’s say your first instinct it to produce a poster. Your second instinct should be to make sure your first instinct is correct.
DO YOU EVEN NEED A FULL-SIZE POSTER?
Posters are, technically speaking, quite hard to produce if you don’t have the right art. I’m talking about resolution.
Last year, I wrote a series called Rethinking your Key Art Game Plan, where I discussed the technical requirements for producing a standard 27×40 (or 27×39) inch poster. In particular, I noted how pulling stills from a 1920x1080px master isn’t going to produce enough resolution for a poster, unless you are going for a grainy or blown-out look. These days, more and more filmmakers are working with 4K cameras, which helps quite a bit in this area.
Yet while using 1920×1080 stills to promote your film may not be ideal for a poster, they are perfect for other uses. For example, you can produce 4×6 postcards or a great website background. These might actually reach more people throughout the festival as a whole than a poster that merely hangs for a few hours in a marquee lightbox on the day of your screening.
Create a proper title treatment using a vector-based program such as Adobe Illustrator, turn it into an Outline shape (rather than editable lines of type), and save it as an .eps file so it can be reproduced consistently.
(If you didn’t catch all of that last part, just convey to your designer. If your designer doesn’t get it either, hire a new designer.)
Another dilemma we’ve seen filmmakers run into is that they only have very limited still photography at the time they enter the film festival circuit, and don’t have the time or budget to do a photo shoot. Rather than force these images into a full-size poster that you have mixed feelings about, it might be better to take frame grabs from your film and produce something that’s 1440x2100px (the size needed for iTunes…VOD art generally needs to be 2:3 proprotions) and that you are satisfied with. This size would also be OK for a 4×6 postcard. You can worry about a 27×40 poster later.
Alternatively, many filmmakers simply brand a few press images from the film with their title. Work with a designer to create a great Title Treatment (the design of the title of your film) and brand the film that way, so there will be consistency when you do swing back to the key art.
SHORT-TERM OR LONG-TERM KEY ART
But let’s say you do have the art to do a full-size poster. There’s still a question of whether you design for the short term or the long term. More and more films are being released digitally without much theatrical play. Moreover, what you produce for a theatrical may not even be suitable for VOD. A panel at IFP last fall addressed this exact question, and there was apparently much disagreement:
“This panel drove home several completely contradictory messages, all in the space of one engaging hour. The first was that now you need more art than ever, to keep your audience engaged through daily social media updates both before and after your film is released. The second was that films should adhere to the same few images, so that they become recognizable brand markers. What’s a filmmaker to do?
Another catch-22 discussed during the panel was VOD vs. theatrical art. As much as it benefits a film to project a singular identity, it’s rare for a single design to suit both purposes well.
The experience of viewing a poster inside a lightbox at the theater is very different from the experience of browsing titles on Netflix, and key art must adjust accordingly. Besides the obvious (smaller space, bigger images) the VOD art typically focuses more on celebrity, genre, and easily conveyed aspects of the storytelling.”
They provided the following graphic as an example of the differences between theatrical art and key art for VOD.
Sawyer Studios Theatrical vs. VOD Digital Art Slide
It is quite clear that the some of the theatrical posters do not work very well for VOD. But I am not convinced that at least some of the VOD posters here could not have worked for theatrical (apart from the fact that a few of ones for VOD are just plain bad). These days, even as one is doing a theatrical, the same poster can be seen all over the Internet, and perhaps on postcards too. So whatever you produce, you should think about how the image looks when it is viewed at a variety of sizes, and pay special attention to the iTunes size and the Netflix size.
Perhaps the designers of the theatrical posters in this graphic did not consider this when they were designing. (Or perhaps a marketing team came along and wanted something else for VOD.) The point is, think as far ahead as possible and aim towards producing key art that will work for both theatrical and for VOD. Because if it does need to be redesigned, there’s a good chance that you will be the one paying for it, one way or another.
THE HIDDEN COST OF USING POSTERS ON THE FILM FESTIVAL CIRCUIT
Many of you know that TFC also offers Festival Distribution as one of our services. We get asked all the time for posters. Sometimes three, or five, are requested. But we generally do not send them for every festival. Here’s why:
Printing fewer than 15 posters
We have used Uprinting in the past and recommend them for one-off digital printing.
So let’s say your film gets into Sundance or Slamdance and you need to print a few posters. You can get 3 posters printed and sent directly to the festival for $80. That’s not going to break the bank. But if you commit to doing that for every festival thereafter, you must be prepared to lose at least $40 (the cost of 1 to print and ship) of your festival fee each time you book somewhere.
If you are thinking that you can simply print a bunch of posters and send to festivals yourself, there also a few things to remember. First, poster tubes cost money (although Fedex will supply their own packaging, but their shipping rates are expensive), and when all is said and done, mailing them yourself doesn’t cost all that much less than having a printer ship directly. Believe me, I’ve tried.
Printing more than 100 posters
America’s Printer has always done a great job for us with 4 color printing, and can even ship them individually for you.
In terms of printing, you also may not want to order too many at once (for example, you can have them printed in 4-color offset printing in quantities from 100-1000, which will cost $600-$800 ) because you will undoubtedly want to add additional laurels (for art house films) or awards or even quotes to the one sheet as you get further into the festival circuit. Printing too many will lock you into something you may not wish to use forever. But printing as few as 30 digitally will cost as much as printing 500 using an offset printer, so there’s a bit of a “doughnut hole” here.
And many filmmakers just don’t have that much loose cash to spend.
Our recommendation is to only get a large quantity of posters made if you have a theatrical. In the meantime, you may want to limit the festivals to which you have posters sent to Industry festivals where buyers are present. For the other festivals, supply them with a link to the hi-res version of your one-sheet: many festivals will print on their own. This is especially helpful for international festivals. They may not print larger as large as 27×40, but at least the cost comes out of their budget, not yours.
TIPS ON LANDING ON THE RIGHT CONCEPT
I was asked to write this article to address the question of how one decides on the best visual representation for one’s film. In other words, what should you put in your poster?
The short answer is, there is not just one answer. You can ask 5 different people and they might each tell you something slightly different. But let me try to break it down with a few tips.
- Whatever you do, it should be polished and look like some thought was put into it. You would think that I’d be setting the bar a little higher as the first tip. But no. If someone whose film were premiering at a A- or B- list festival showed me the their poster, and it looked like the VOD poster for Arthur Newman or The English Teacher in the graphic above, I would tell them to either scrap it and start over, or to leave it at home.
- Know your marketing strategy before you start designing. I could write a blog just on this topic. More than one, actually. The number one problem that filmmakers have in this regard is that they are too close to their own film. So first, it’s important to talk to your team, and to others outside your team (shameless plug alert: also a perfectly good thing to talk about when you are consulting with TFC via one of our membership packages) about where your film fits into the market and who is going to be buying it…literally…which distributors, which niche market. If you feel that your film has crossover potential to a second niche audience, find a way to cater to both, but don’t dilute the message to serve two masters. Make sure you have the art to support whatever strategy you come up with. A designer can help you evaluate this, but this whole process might have to be repeated if the art comes up short. The task is for buyers to see the market potential. If you feel like a concept “cheapens” your film, don’t dismiss it completely until you’ve talked to somebody who can give you some perspective. Take your time and don’t rush. Build your brand thoughtfully. You are making key art to sell your film, not so you can hang a cool poster in your office.
- Hire a real designer. Don’t just get someone who knows Photoshop to do it for you for free. Make sure there is budget for this before you make your film. Ditto a web designer. Get someone who knows the industry. Someone who will watch your film and discuss ideas at length and who can at least talk through several directions with you before committing. Loop this person into the market strategy discussions.
- Your art should stand out but not be too obscure. What do I mean by this? Two tests: (1) Get a reality check—before you brainstorm, take a look at the artwork in the Criterion Collection. This is an example of what NOT to do. These films are mostly classics that are being rebranded in a pretty pretentious way. It’s fine for them. But not for you. You do not want to make a poster like this. Maybe some day. Not now. (2) Take the key art that your designer mocks up and paste it in a screen shot of the iTunes Store in the “Independent” genre (or a more specific genre in the store). Make it look like it were in the store already. How does it stand up? Would you notice it? Is the title completely readable? Would anyone recognize that *one* slightly recognizable star you have in your film at this size?
- Look at existing key art in the genres your film is attempting to target. Grab these poster images off the web, and give those to your designer as a reference. For certain type of films, it’s OK to be reductive. Others, you’ll want to be more original. For example, for docs and horror, go for originality and/or quirkiness. For foreign language narrative films set in exotic locales, go for scenic beauty plus audience identification with the protagonists. For LGBT films, go for sex or edge. For non-LGBT narrative films, put the most famous actor you have on the poster. For comedies: it better be amusing. For romance: it better be romantic. For thriller: it better thrill. Some of this seems obvious, but it also can be a lot easier said than done. There is no one right way, but there are many wrong ways. It’s important that you know what those are.
- Make a great trailer to go with your art. Hooking them with a poster does no good if the trailer they watch right afterward underwhelms. Think about your niche when producing this trailer. Think about how your poster gives folks a preview of what they will see in the trailer, and then exceed their expectations. Produce a trailer that’s PG. You can also produce another one that’s not, but you will need one that has no nudity, curses, drugs or sex toys for digial platforms. So now you’ve been warned. Encorporate your Title Treatment into the trailer to tie in your branding.
Another reason to take your time with your key art: use it as a way to get your audience involved. Maybe they haven’t heard from you since your Kickstarter campaign. Maybe you’ll pick up some Facebook fans at your first couple of festival screenings. Why not find a creative way to create a dialogue with the people who are supporting you?
As I stated at the beginning of this post, you will encounter a lot of opinions out there along the way. And “success” when it comes to key art is nearly impossible to measure objectively…is your campaign successful if people like it (even if they don’t really love your film)? If a buyer ends up using it? If your film does well in the marketplace? While there are many films that industry peeps can point to and credit key art for that film’s success, the vast majority of films will not fall into this category. Nor will they be offered a 7-figure deal from a major studio at Sundance. In the end, though, one of the toughest transitions a filmmaker has to make is the switch from proud parent to business person. Put yourself in the mindset of someone who knows nothing about your film: does the key art you produced really make people want to see your film? And will they even remember your brand when the time comes when they actually can see it? Everything else, as they say, is crap.
David Averbach January 8th, 2014
Posted In: Key Art
Over the next several weeks, The Film Collaborative’s Creative Director, David Averbach, who has worked with dozens of TFC Clients and other filmmakers to help them create and refine their key art, will talk about ways you can avoid the problem of finding out all too late that you don’t actually have the proper materials to produce the key art you want to make.
Note: This Key Art series is intended for micro-budget filmmakers whose crew is not under a union contract. If your film’s crew is under an IATSE contract, you will need to abide by the rules regarding still photographers on set as forth by the union. We have been advised that there may be penalties involved by bringing an intern or PA in to shoot stills.
See Part II HERE
Takeaway: For narrative feature films, understanding the technical aspects of producing key art and thinking ahead to your key art while on your film set can save time, money and a heck of a lot of aggravation down the line.
If I had a nickel for every narrative feature filmmaker who has told me that they got a photographer, professional or otherwise, to come to their film set and shoot photos but in the end they didn’t show up or didn’t do a good job, or was only there for one day out of a sixteen day shoot, and therefore there was nothing to show for that effort in terms of producing images that could be incorporated into a poster, and therefore were only really left with the prospect of using frame grabs from their film, I’d be rich I could probably buy a Starbuck’s gift card that would last me a week or two.
I hope this series of posts can offer some helpful suggestions for you to avoid this situation for your next film.
First let me say that while I design movie posters, I don’t really have a background in filmmaking itself. If there is anything incorrect/inaccurate, generally unfeasible included here, or if you have anything you think I should add, please feel free to let me know. That said, it’s clear to me that in the heat of the film shoot, filmmakers often forget to think about or are so focused on the film shoot that they can’t get around to thinking about the art they might need to support a variety of possible marketing ideas and concepts, and are therefore down the road left with fewer choices and placed in an ultimately weaker position vis à vis possible options on how to market their film or sell it to a potential buyer without an expensive and inconvenient reshoot. (I’m working under the assumption that you are the type of filmmaker who has neither endless funds for a photo shoot 6 months after your shoot ends nor the energy to pull in yet another favor from some photographer you or one of your colleagues may have worked with in the past.)
There are two parts to tackling this problem. The first has to do with understanding resolution: what you have, what you need and how to bridge the two. The second has to do with beginning to think about your marketing strategy even before your film shoot, and preparing to build the raw materials you would need to execute any number of possible marketing directions.
So let’s talk about resolution first. (I’ll get to marketing strategy in Parts 2 and 3 of this series).
Knowing the resolution of your frame grabs
If you’re lucky enough to work with a 4K or 5K camera, such as a RED camera, meaning that the max output resolution is over 5000 pixels wide (5120×2560 on a RED) (which is about 6.5 times that of 1080p (1920×1080), those will produce beautiful film stills. So if you were to shoot your entire film in 5K, much of this next part won’t apply to you. In the real world, according to my DP friend, most people don’t and can’t afford the drive space and rig to do that in production. So if this is the case the highest output for a film grab might still be 1920×1080.
Now 1080p cameras that have a good quality and large sensor with a full chip (DP friend: preferrably not a 1/3 chip), will produce beautiful images…wonderfully clear, and of course you can blow them up to a certain extent without anyone noticing. But if you want your image to take up most of the width of your poster, you will have a resolution problem. The bottom line is, with 1080p output, if you want a theatrical poster using just a few main images, you won’t be able to really rely on frame grabs alone.
While frame grabs will probably work just fine to produce the key art for a DVD cover or a digital release, they are simply not going to cut it for a one sheet. And even while some films will never end up getting a proper theatrical release, all filmmakers tend to want a theatrical (sized) poster, especially if their film gets into a top-tier film festival.
Why won’t frame grabs work well? Well, Bill Clinton said it best: arithmetic.
Perhaps not every filmmaker knows how 1080p correlates to print resolution. As I state above, something that is shot in 1080p (16:9 aspect ratio) is 1920×1080 pixels in dimension. How many pixels will you need for a poster? Well, posters are usually 27×40 plus a ¼” bleed, and the minimum resolution is about 200 dpi (or dots per inch). That means that a poster needs to be at least 5500 pixels wide and that a frame grab would be up-res’d be almost a factor of 3 in order for it to stretch horizontally on a one sheet to even get up to 200dpi.
Until all cameras are 5K resolution and one can easily shoot their whole film this way, part of the collateral damage from the transition to digital is that this is yet one more thing that a filmmaker has to think about…in the days of 35mm, it was common practice to pick a frame of the film and scan it into a large still for use in a poster, but if the maximum output or effective maximum output from your camera is 1080p, you don’t have that luxury.
The end result will produce a blurry image at best and a pixelated image at worst. While this might be good for a background image, if you would like to use a close-up of someone’s face or a full body shot, this is just not going to look good.
Now that we’ve agreed that we need still photographs, what steps can you take to ensure that you will get something that you can use, both in terms of quality and content?
How to make sure you have images for key art—no matter what your budget
You are shooting with a great camera that can take great stills. But what if you can’t spare the time to use the camera you’re shooting on to also do stills?
On to Plan B. Hire a professional photographer, or at least someone with a really nice camera. In an ideal situation, you would get another 5D to take stills to complement the main motion picture camera. (Per my DP friend…Snug up to the lens…use Zeiss prime lenses for sharness or Canon L series lenses if going for more of a softer thing. If you can’t do that with your budget, use a monopod and critically check focus). This is great advice. If you have the budget for it.
But creating images for a poster is more than just producing nice photos. Shadowing the film shoot with a still camera often produces shots that are great for press stills, but may not be all that useful for a poster. Of course it depends on what kind of poster you will want to make. But in the end, it’s good to have a Plan C, and not in the sense that you need a third option because the first two didn’t work. I mean a concurrent Plan C.
This is it: Think of shots for key art as publicity shots, not as enlarged film stills. (And by “publicity shots,” I don’t mean for the actors, I mean publicity shots for the characters, so make sure they stay in character while you shoot them.) It’s fine to do what my DP friend says, but you need to do more. There’s lots of down time on a shoot. Actors are present and in costume and makeup. Move away from the action of the film. Use that hired photographer. Or use hire an intern with a good eye. Use that second 5K camera. Or get an inexpensive 16 megapixel camera. It doesn’t really matter. Just do it. Start outside around lunchtime, when the light is best. Find a white wall, or hang up a sheet outside somewhere. Think about what kind of poster you’d want to make. Develop half a dozen concepts (more on this in parts 2 & 3). Take it seriously. Start shooting.
What you should be creating here is this: Hi-res Scraps. You don’t know how you will use them, but at least you will have something.
Don’t have the budget for a second 5K camera? Fine. But we’ve gotten to a point where consumer cameras can actually produce extremely high quality and high resolution images. Last year, I bought this point-and-shoot camera on Amazon. It’s 16.1 megapixels. It lists right now at $150, but I think I bought it for $109 at one of those after Christmas sales. Every filmmaker has the budget for this much. You’ll be paying a lot more to correct this down the road if you feel this will put your budget over the edge.
See how much more you can get in terms of resolution when using a 16 megapixel camera as compared to a frame grab?
Is this a crappy camera? Compared to the ones you are using to film your shoot, absolutely. But graphic designers have their bag of tricks. Perhaps you’ve heard of Photoshop? We can make even images from these cameras look great. If the right shots are taken. So now there is no excuse to come back from a film shoot empty handed in terms of images for your key art… It is like buying key art insurance: you may not need to use it, but in a pinch you’ll be glad you have it.
Next week, in Part Two, I’ll give you some examples of a few concepts every film should have their “key art still person” shoot.
David Averbach December 12th, 2012
TFC reached out to Film Independent/Los Angeles Film Festival’s Director of Publicity and Communications, Elise Freimuth, to discuss to the “Do’s and Don’ts” of working with Publicists on the Film Festival circuit. The following are her “insider” thoughts on the subject…
With so many independent filmmakers going the DIY route, more and more of you are taking on publicity and marketing responsibilities. As a result, you need to educate yourselves on the essentials of the trade. Even if you do end up hiring a publicist, it’s important to understand some basics so you can be empowered and know the right kind of questions to ask when selecting a publicist or putting together a PR strategy with them.
Many indie filmmakers make the mistake of thinking about publicity when they get accepted into a film festival, but in truth, you need to start thinking about PR when you’re putting your budget together. Costs need to be factored in early on for possibly hiring a unit photographer, hiring a publicist once you do get accepted to a festival, paying for room and board for talent to attend a festival and creating press materials.
Create your press materials early! So many filmmakers put these off and then have to scramble to pull assets together when they get accepted into a film festival. A publicist is usually hired about 1-2 months before a festival, so it doesn’t give them much time to work on your film. Give them as much time as possible to pitch your work by giving them a package of nice materials. They may have suggestions to spice things up a bit, but at least they’re not having to start from scratch.
We’re in the moving pictures business for a reason– we like telling stories with images. And images are incredibly important when you’re promoting your film. Creating high-quality still images from your film will go a long way in helping you promote your work and save you from a huge headache down the road. If you can’t afford a unit photographer to come in for a few days during the shoot, then have a photographer friend or someone from your camera department (so many video cameras can create beautiful stills) take high-quality still photos for you. If you have name talent, you should schedule a photographer on the days you’ll be shooting key scenes with them. Your photos should properly convey the tone (comedy vs drama) and reveal something about the character or story. A generic close-up of a character reveals nothing—it could be from any film.
Journalists want photos that are going to help them tell the story about your film and they’re going to want to grab their readers/viewers. Photos should be high resolution (at least 300 dpi), and most news outlets prefer horizontal. When selecting images, keep in mind that you may need to get key talent to sign off on these, so go through their representatives and have them do their “photo kills” early so you’re not chasing them down 3 weeks before a festival. Also, you really only need 2 or 3 great still images. When audiences start to see the same photo running online and in magazines and newspapers, it’s easier for them to recognize your film. And given the time constraints journalists have nowadays, the last thing they want to do is troll through 20 pictures. They want to look at a few and pick one.
Following these guidelines will also help film festivals. Their marketing departments need to put together program books, ads and build their website, and it’s really hard when filmmakers submit low resolution photos in non-traditional formats. You’ll also want to consider holding back a few photos for exclusives down the road when you get a theatrical or digital release. Some publications like USA Today, Los Angeles Times, New York Times and Entertainment Weekly like to use exclusive photos for their movie previews and articles. Plus, it’s a great way to do an extra push and leak out exclusive content when you’re releasing your film.
Gone are the days of putting your clips and trailers on bulky and expensive beta tapes. Most festivals and broadcast/online outlets just require a digital file, preferably in HD that you can e-mail, post on your website or share via file transfer websites. Just like with photos, a couple clips of key scenes that convey your story and tone are all you really need. Clips should only be about 30-45 seconds long. Trailers are nice, but they’re not terribly necessary at this point. If your film gets acquired, they’re just going to cut a new trailer and the process can be rather pricey. Usually broadcast outlets aren’t going to show festival film trailers, unless there are huge stars involved. There are some online outlets that may run your trailer, but again, don’t break your back over this. If you do decide to do a trailer, just make sure it’s no longer than a minute and a half and it should be well-edited and tell your story without giving everything away.
Production notes are really handy for journalists to refer to when prepping for interviews with you or your talent, or to fact check when they’re writing reviews or stories on your film. These notes do not need to be 35 pages long. Keep them sweet, short and simple. Include a log-line (1 line), short synopsis (2-3 lines), long synopsis (2-3 paragraphs)—these also help the festival staff when they’re putting together their materials. You’ll want to include short bios (1-2 paragraphs) on yourself, key crew and cast. A director’s statement is always nice, but not necessary. This should be 1-3 paragraphs and can explain your reason for making your film, explain controversial elements behind the film, the style you chose, etc. Don’t include reviews and interviews from other publications in your production notes because journalists don’t need to see other people’s work in your notes. A full list of credits is also essential as film critics need to include this information when they file their review. If they don’t have the full credits, this sometimes prevents them from actually filing a review of your film!
Posters are lovely to have as a souvenir, but not necessary for publicizing your film at a festival. The festival will ask you for these because they’ll sometimes display them for a day or two at the theater venue or in their filmmaker lounge, but that’s about all they use them for. Posters are expensive to make, so if you’re on a budget, this is the thing to cut. Maybe opt for some creative hand-out material with your screening schedule on it if you’re on a budget and are really keen on printed material. A small postcard is easy to hand out to people you meet. Some filmmakers get even more creative and hand out matchbooks, coasters, buttons and more to go along with the theme of their film. But again, all of these things are just fun add-ons if you’ve got the money for them.
If you start getting interview requests and screener requests (see paragraph about screeners) before the festival begins, hold off on setting these up until you’ve hired a publicist or put a PR strategy in place. The last thing a publicist wants is to come on board a film and find out you’ve set up a bunch of interviews without them. Or egads! Set it with someone they know could potentially attack your film or not fit in line with the strategy.
Don’t hire a publicist if you haven’t gotten into a film festival or have a theatrical/digital release. They’re more than happy to take your money, but you won’t get a return on their services if you’re not actually screening your film anywhere. So many filmmakers think they need to hire a publicist as soon as the film is done, but you’ll just be spending dollars that can be used more effectively once you secure that festival slot. You should aim to hire your publicist within 1-2 months of your festival screening, but start asking your sales agent, friends and fellow filmmakers for recommendations and put together your wish list early. Once you find out you’re in a festival, you can start making the calls to these publicists and set up meetings. These meetings are kind of like a first date or a dance—you need to find out if you like each other, can work together and they can execute the proper strategy for your film. They should obviously like your movie, but they should also have a strategy and be able to openly talk with you about potential negative reactions that could result from the press and industry, weaknesses in your film and how to navigate those, and be able to work closely with your sales agent (their strategies need to align). In some cases, the publicist is really there to support the sales agent, and having one who understands distributors is also helpful. Having a cheerleader isn’t enough—that’s what your parents are for. Your publicist should have a plan, know the press attending and be able to strategically execute that plan. For festivals like Sundance, Toronto, Cannes and SXSW, the price you pay will be higher because it needs to cover room and board for the publicist. Expect to pay anywhere from $7-12K. Believe it or not, the costs for sending a team of publicists to these festivals ends up breaking even for them. They’re working on your film because they’re passionate about you and your work. For festivals like the Los Angeles Film Fest, AFI, New York Film Fest and Tribeca, there are tons of locally based publicists in entertainment, so you have a wealth of people to choose from. If you’re playing in LA, select a LA-based publicist and in New York, New York. Why? So you don’t have to pay more for their travel. PLUS, they’re going to be a lot more familiar with the local press attending that festival. Expect to pay $3-7K for these festivals.
Whether you hire a publicist or not, don’t blow your wad at the very beginning. It’s incredibly exciting for you now that you’re playing in a film festival. You want to see a ton of press breaks and have everyone interviewing you and your talent, but you need to reign it in. You want people to discover your film and if you go hog wild with interviews, then no one will want to interview you or your talent when the film finally gets that theatrical/digital release. It’s like turning the heat on to boil a pot of water. You want that water bubbling for your festival PR campaign—you don’t want it boiling over. Work on getting included in some festival curtain raisers—i.e. previews that mention films to catch or look out for. A handful of interviews are all you really need with some key outlets that cater to the audience you’re trying to target.
Decide whether it’s the industry you want to focus on, or raise awareness about a certain issue, or reach out to a certain fan base. BE TARGETED. If you’re a small documentary or narrative with no stars, then Access Hollywood will not want to cover you. They only want the A-list talent. Be REALISTIC and SMART about the type of press you can get.
Communicate with the festival PR staff. If you’re doing DIY, then reach out to them personally. If you have a publicist, make sure they get in touch with the staff so they can be notified of press opportunities that might fit your film, or get some leads. If you’re on your own, the festival PR staff is there to help you. They have tons of films they need to publicize and are mostly focusing on publicizing the festival as a whole, not individual films. They can’t play favorites because all the filmmakers are their children here, but they can give you advice on putting together a PR strategy, point you towards journalists they think might be interested in your film and how to reach out to them. They’ll appreciate that you’re thinking about PR in a smart way and not just asking for their press list so you can blast out multiple e-mails and invites.
A note on screeners. BE CAREFUL WITH THESE. The festival PR staff may ask you for copies of screeners, but you don’t have to provide these. It should be an option. The risk in providing these to the festival is that any accredited journalist can walk in and watch your film on a laptop, small TV or check it out, and you won’t know who it is. They can always pass along screener requests from the journalist directly to you or your publicist so you have more control over who is seeing your film early (the same goes for acquisitions execs! Let your sales agent send these out!!) It’s really best to protect your screeners and only give them to journalists if it works with your PR strategy. Some journalists may need to see the film early for a curtain raiser or feature and are nice about only including films they like. There are other journalists who could potentially badmouth your film before the festival screening. Make sure you or your publicist knows the intent of the journalist. Some films just play better on the big screen with an engaged crowd and some films play better on your laptop with a box of Kleenex at your side. Figure out how your film plays and let that help guide you on whether you want to share screeners.
Orly Ravid May 31st, 2012
Tags: Elise Freimuth, festival publicity, film festival, Film Independent, film publicity, LA Film Festival, postcards, posters, PR assets, PR budget, PR strategy, set photography, working with a publicist