Tue 9.24.2013

5 TAKE-AWAYS: Smart Tips for Publicizing Your Film at a Festival

For indie filmmakers who are sprinting from festival to festival to festival—the New York Film Festival kicks off this Friday September 27, then Chicago on October 10, Austin on October 24— it may seem like there’s no time to come up for air, let alone to set aside the time and space to strategize the publicity for your film.

Film Independent recently assembled a team of festival experts to offer some shortcuts for emerging filmmakers who might be struggling to put on those publicist hats, including Los Angeles Film Festival staffers Drea Clark, Festival Programmer and Filmmaker Liaison, and Doug Jones, Associate Director of Programming; Greg Longstreet, Senior Publicist at Polaris PR; and writer/director Todd Berger, whose film It’s A Disaster premiered at the LA Film Festival and was distributed by Oscilloscope this year. Here are a few nuggets of PR wisdom from their informative and often hilarious chat with our Members.

1. Publicist, meet project. Find the right match for your film.
Your best asset is a publicist who loves your film. According to Longstreet, “a lot of publicists are happy to take your money and send out emails to promote your film. But it is night and day having a publicist who believes in your film and is passionate about it. You’ll get a sense pretty quickly with whom you’re meeting with if they are right for your film or not.”

“Be wary of people who will promise you the moon and make it sound easy. I like publicists who can manage expectations. If they say, ‘I can definitely get x, y and z,’ too early without knowing much about you and your project, that’s a red flag that they are just trying to get you excited.” A good strategy is to call up the filmmakers who have worked with them before to get information on the publicist before making a decision.

2. Weigh whether to go grassroots or grab a big name publicity team.
“Both have their benefits.  If you’re going to go for a publicist at a larger “name” publicity firm, it could cost you a bit more than if you’re going for a scrappy young publicist at a smaller boutique one,” Longstreet points out, noting that “the scrappy young publicist will most likely have less on his plate and can be a bit more flexible when it comes to costs.  The benefit of a larger firm is they may have more people working on your film and your little project at a Festival could piggyback on some of their larger more high profile ones, which could turn into more press opportunities.” Another option: “if you really wanted to get a handle on festival PR, you can also hire someone to consult with you and then do it yourself.  Sometimes you and your small film are your best salesperson.”

“If you’re in the midst of deciding between a firm or a boutique publicity team, pay attention to how they make you feel and how much attention they will be willing and able to offer your film,” Clark noted. Trust your instincts.

3.  Don’t give out the milk for free.
Before his team even began editing his film The Scenesters, Berger says, “we thought it would be cool to put a trailer online with some stills. It was online for some time.” When they later brought on a publicity team they were told that releasing promo materials on their own hadn’t been the best plan because they had given away their trailer and images without a press release. “Give the festival what they need but not anything else.” He suggests holding back and gradually rolling out scenes from the movie. “We have five clips that we released at five different times. Blogs love exclusives, so if you can hook them up with exclusives they will feature you, since they are all competing with each other.”

4. Use creativity to grab attention.
Consider what would grab the attention of your audience when assembling press materials. Berger learned this lesson the hard way from past experiences. “My first feature was a documentary and it was a grassroots thing. Our idea of publicity was posters and Mardi Gras beads. The only people who reviewed the film were people who stumbled upon the screening.”

On the other hand, for It’s a Disaster, his team tried out a little PR stunt, to great effect. “We sent out a press release and quoted Godard in it, and no one knew that it was fake. But we got way more attention for that then anything else we did. It was picked up by The Hollywood Reporter, etc.”

“If you don’t have famous people in your movie, a really cool poster can get you a lot of attention,” said Berger. “A poster with a lot of actors that people aren’t familiar with will not. We paid a graphic designer to do our poster for The Scenesters and It’s a Disaster and she presented us with 20 ideas that were brilliant. Even though we did have a name cast for It’s a Disaster, we went with an image that she presented to us.”

5. Make noise.
Getting the word out about your film is challenging at festivals because there are so many other filmmakers out there making noise for their own projects. “Set up a press day, a cocktail reception, a meet and greet and garner as much press at a festival as possible to build buzz to potentially secure a buyer,” suggests Longstreet.

Don’t mix with just festival attendees. Get to know the festival staff. “You should look at the people on the festival team as a resource and they will do as much as they can for you,” said Jones. “Big festivals don’t do a whole lot for the filmmakers. Smaller film festivals will give filmmakers an itinerary of events and interviews when they arrive.” They are there to educate you and give you tools. And don’t hesitate to ask them for lists of press outlets coming to the festival.

And finally, be courteous to the festival’s publicity staff. “It’s so important to be respectful and to have the right attitude,” said Longstreet. “Publicists are balancing a stack of papers that go way beyond your little film. They will be much more inclined to help you if you’re understanding and respectful.”

By Lee Jameson / Film Education Coordinator