It takes a village to make a film. From writer and director to production designer and costumes and editor, assembling a great crew can make or break a production. Every role is clearly defined and expectations are clear. If you’re head of costumes, you presumably will ensure that every cast member is dressed.
The role of film publicist is less tangible and, when budgets are already tight, can seem much more expendable. After all, what does a film publicist do that a filmmaker can’t just do themselves, right?
So much. So, so, so much.
As Kyle Henry, a Chicago-based Independent Spirit Award nominee put it, “When your film debuts on the circuit, you need a publicist to help fine tune your messaging and actually reach local press, who are often overwhelmed by options for review. A publicist is essential to emerging from the festival fray with publicity momentum that can carry your film through to distribution."
If you’re serious about distributing your film, about it reaching audiences beyond your living room, it’s in your best interest to advocate for a film publicist in your line budget. Though you might only see them managing a red carpet or chatting up journalists at a screening, publicists have a productive impact on every aspect of production. What, exactly, can a film publicist do that you can’t?
Identify the Angles
As the filmmaker, you may be too close to see all the various angles of your film, the ways the media may be interested in covering it. There are the basics like it being your debut feature or how it was produced on a microbudget. But what about how it’s the star’s big comeback movie, or how it’ll debut on the anniversary of that historical event?
A film publicist is trained to dig deeper, to get creative about all the ways a film is timely and relevant, and he or she may often be able to uncover ideas you’d never even dreamed of.
For instance, say your film is a triumphant coming of age story about a high school basketball team of misfits. A publicist worth their fee will pitch the film to sports writers and film journalists, in order to be sure no stone is left unturned.
Optimize the Press Kit
By being engaged early, a film publicist can make the most of the production phase of the film. They can offer insight on the kind of materials that will be helpful later, like on-set images and behind-the-scenes content. They can pitch making-of stories to local media (everyone loves when a movie films in their backyard!), and field interview requests. They can refine the press kit elements as the tone of the film comes into focus.
Why worry about this so early on in the process? Because the last thing you want to have to think about when you’re preparing for your world premiere is cobbling it together. There you are, scrounging for a few good images to send to the press. But since you didn’t have anyone looking out for you on set, you don’t actually have any good images. Coulda been you on the front page of the paper...if only.
Utilize Established Relationships
This is the key value any publicist worth their fee can offer. If they’re good at their job, they have a contact list a mile long and know exactly who to be in touch with about your film. They’ve spent years cultivating relationships with the film press, and they can use these relationships (professionally) to your advantage, opening doors you’ll never be able to get your foot through. Journalists are people too, and good publicists have a good rapport with them.
When you’re selected for a festival, you’re one of dozens of feature films the local press will hear about. You could spend your time sending emails to these strangers and hoping they get read. Or, you could hire a publicist who can cut through the clutter for you, picking up the phone to pitch a review to their friend the film critic. Et voila!
Get Early Exposure
If there’s potential to work with a distributor, a film publicist engaged with your film early on can create exposure around festival screenings and other milestones. This goes a long way with the team who’ll ultimately bring your film to the world. Presenting them with a built-in audience and a selection of early reviews and features means that there’s already a public interest (which means there are tickets to be sold). A film publicist can also strategize how and when to pull the trigger on this early exposure so that it doesn’t cannibalize future opportunities.
Regardless of where you are in your film’s production and release, chances are a film publicist can help. If you’ve got the resources, having a publicist on hand during filming is ideal, as they’ll start building the pieces - press kit, film stills, pitching angles - that will come in handy down the road. Once you’re accepted into a festival - even a mid-range regional one - a publicist on your team will ensure your film doesn’t get lost in the shuffle.
Hiring a film publicist may, at the outset, sound like money that could be better spent elsewhere. But there’s a reason publicists have their own branch at the Academy. The services that a seasoned, professional publicist can provide are invaluable, particularly because they can focus on what they do best while you focus on, you know, making your film.
This is the fifth and final post in a series of articles by Lisa Trifone, a longtime veteran of film festivals and marketing for the independent film industry. Here's the full list of articles:
Need a film publicist for your latest project? Contact Lisa Trifone at 11th Street Lot Marketing & Publicity