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…

Festivals reach audiences

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.

May 31st, 2012

Posted In: DIY, Film Festivals, Publicity

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