If you’re an independent filmmaker then DIY is just simply part of your creed, and taking on publicity and marketing for your film is a part of the bargain. So here are some things you should know and some things you need to do. Even if you do end up hiring a pro, it’s vitally important to understand the basics so you know what kind of questions to ask when you’re selecting the publicist or putting together a PR strategy with them. The following advice is an excerpt from the Film Independent Forum guide and comes from Elise Freimuth, Account Supervisor, Lifestyle & Special Events at PMK*BNC (formerly Film Independent’s publicist). Contact information for public relations firms, boutique agencies and freelance publicists is available online to Film Independent Members.
First and foremost: start thinking about PR when you’re building your budget. Sit down or stand there (really, that’s up to you) and ask yourself a few questions about the cost of things like hiring a unit photographer, hiring a publicist when you get accepted into a festival, paying travel expenses for talent to attend the festival and creating press materials.
If it’s been decided, you’re hiring a publicist… time out! Wait until you get into a film festival or have set up a theatrical screening and then bring them on a month or two before. Meet with them face to face so you can find out some things, like what do they like about your film? And very important, do they have a strategy that they can articulate to you? Are they candid with you about your film’s strengths and weaknesses? If they can’t deliver at least these to you over a cup of coffee do you think they’ll deliver for you in the thick of it at the festival?
To maximize your investment in your publicist, you’ll want to arm her with great press materials so she’s not starting from scratch. Make creating press materials a part of production and post-production for your film. That means get a good photographer on set to create high-quality production stills. If you have name talent, the photographer needs to be on set during their key scenes. They should strive to reveal something about the tone of the film (comedy or drama), character and story with their photography. Two or three great images is enough. When audiences see the same photo online, in magazines and in newspapers, it’s easier for them to recognize your film. And given journalists’ time constraints, the last thing they want to do is troll through 20 images. If they check out and you’re ready to cut them a check, expect to pay $7,000-$12,000 if you need to send them to a festival, which helps cover their room and board. If you’re playing in Los Angeles or New York, it’s best to use a locally based publicist. That can save you four or five grand in fees (the typical range is $3,000-$7,000), plus they’ll be more familiar with the local press.
Production notes—handy for journalists—should include: a polished logline (one line), a short synopsis (two or three lines), a long synopsis (two or three paragraphs), short bios (a couple paragraphs) for you, key cast and crew, and a full list of credits (some film critics won’t file a review with out this one). Most people think they need a trailer, but more important is having a few scene clips (30-45 seconds) that convey story and tone.
So you’re finally walking the halls of your film festival, your badge is swinging on your lanyard and you got a fistful of beautiful postcards with your film’s key art and title emblazoned across. And best of all, the press are here… And they want to talk to YOU! It’s exciting, but remember to be strategic. A handful of interviews with outlets that cater to the audience you’re after will do the trick. Be clear about your purpose: is it industry attention you want, or to raise awareness about an issue, or reach out to a specific fan base. Be realistic and smart about the type of press you can get. Unless you have name stars in your film, Access Hollywood won’t come calling.
Lastly, remember, every festival’s staff is there because you, the filmmaker, are there. So whether you’re a DIY filmmaker or have a publicist, you should communicate with the festival PR staff. They can point you towards journalists they think might be interested in your film and notify you of press opportunities that might fit your film. Chances are that they’ll appreciate that you’re thinking strategically and not just asking for their press list to blindly email blast the lot.