What does it take to get your film noticed when you don’t have the money to spend on advertising? PRESS! Let’s face it, if people don’t know about your film, how will you make money on it?
Getting press for my projects has always been one of the key factors in the success of my films. I have never hired a PR person, but I have created an alias that does my press for me. Everyone in my office knows, if someone calls for James Charles or Garret Marks it’s press related. I don’t have a secret formula it’s as simple as: know who you are targeting, write a kick ass press release, make sure you are sending the release to the correct person, send it, follow up, ask, wait for it to hit, then thanking the person for writing about it.
Know who you are targeting. This is one of the key elements in creating a good press campaign. Think about all of the different things around your project. What is the story about? Think about ancillary articles that could be written about it. For InSearchOf we created stories about the subjects that our film hit upon. When we went to the Kinsey Institute to ask for support they told us that the film was too controversial for them to support. Too controversial for the Kinsey Institute?! Bingo, we have a story. Know what the publication likes to write about. If it is a business publication send off a release how you are making money selling t-shirts in stores with hang tags that with a free download of your movie, hmmm… If it’s a local publication, filmmaker does good. Catching my drift? For every film I think you should be able to create at least 5 different story ideas, if you can’t, don’t make it.
A kick ass press release should be a good read, to the point and invoke questions by the reporter. In today’s hyper information world, writers want their jobs to be easy. Write a catchy headline, include contact information (you should have a PDF of your press kit online to direct them to), and try not to be over a page long.
Make sure you know who you are sending it to, get real names just not the features desk. Do your research and know what the reporter likes to write about. When calling about their contact info know a good article that they have written lately, mention it and prep them for your story. People love to be complimented!
Send it. I still fax press releases as well as e-mail them to the reporter and yes still mail press kits. Maybe I’m old fashioned but I have found that people like to have tangible assets in their possession. Make sure if you are sending off a press kit, that it is well designed.
Follow up and ask. Make sure you follow up with the reported the next day and ask them if they would be willing to write an article. Be personable, ask them if they need any more information. If it isn’t for them, thank them and hit them again in 2 months with another story idea based on your film. Perservernce is generally rewarded.
After the article comes out, follow up with a hand written thank you card. Who does that anymore? People will always do a little more for people who are thoughtful and mannerly. You hopefully will have a long film career and press people will help you achieve that.
The art of the spin. In my career I have had some really tough things happen to me, not just a couple, but a lot. I have always tried to figure out a way to make something negative turn out to be a positive. This is the art of the spin. Do not be discouraged if shit happens, let it fertilize your future.
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This edition of TCIBR is brought to you by IndieFlix and Breakthrough Distribution – Karin Chien is an independent film producer based in New York City. She’s produced a number of independent films such as Robot Stories, The Motel, and Undoing. For films such as Robot Stories and Undoing, Karin and her team applied a hybrid DIY approach to the theatrical release of each that created additional value in other domestic and foreign markets. When Karin is not producing films she is working to bring them to audiences. One of her newest projects is introducing films from Mainland China to US audiences.
For more info on Karin click
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In my 2nd job out of college, I worked for a dotcom in the San Francisco area. It was high times and everyone was rolling. I had the privilege of sitting next to the PR person they hired and she had quite the silver tongue. I tend to absorb as much as possible, so I listened to her pitching People Magazine, ZD Net, USA Today, and various other news agencies. We’d hang out for lunch sometime and she’d teach me all the ins and outs to PR. I started to realize that it really wasn’t too complex and there is a well-defined process to getting the press to talk about your product, service, or person. I tucked all that information away and sure enough I’ve brought it out several times during our effort to launch a production company and make films. Press has been huge in helping drive enthusiasm to make this all happen. Here’s some tips on getting good press:
In the film industry there are some unwritten rules about who will cover what and when they will cover it. For example, if you want the New York Times to review your movie, you have to screen for a week at a theater or have a great publicist who hooks you up at a major festival (or the film has a New York angle). But why not look for a writer that might talk about your film with a different angle than just a traditional review. For 10 MPH, we got a full feature with color photographs in the automobile section of the NYT. In order to get news, the publishers have to feel like it’s ‘newsworthy’. Just like with making films, you need to create a story in your pitches and figure out how to pique a journalist’s interest. These journalists are just like us and they are tired of the typical stories that are always being pitched. The key here is to figure out the right angle for who you are talking to and convince them that it’s worth their time and their readers’ time to do a story on your film.
Tie-in (read articles)
By making a movie about certain subject, you’re essentially becoming an expert on the topic. Journalists should care about this (and so might Op Ed folks). I make it a point to try to monitor the news that’s happening on the topic of my film. For 10 MPH I set up Google Alerts, which allowed me to monitor various keywords that related to our story. If I read something interesting about Segway, I’d often write the journalist and respond to their article, then I’d subtly pitch them on what I was up to. This surprisingly works and has led me to some very big articles including a feature in the Washington Post.
It’s pretty easy to get in touch with journalists. Definitely get familiar with key newspaper staff in the cities you are shooting and producing in. Also, look into the cities where your talent reside and your festival screenings are slated. Lots of times, it pays to talk to the festival PR person, because they’ll hook you up with all their contacts. At least half your time is always spent seeking out the right people. I will also refer to Mondo Times sometimes. And I’m lucky enough to know good PR friends who have access to these immense databases of everyone who is considered press. With these, you can do a quick search on a specific genre or location and come up with a few hundred names or so.
Also, when you plan to send out a press release, you can use a wire service. Most are pretty expensive and lately I haven’t found the solutions like PR Web to work that well. But before everyone discovered it and press people figured out how to filter out press releases through this service, this was a great way to get a press release out effectively.
I think the best approach with press is to contact journalists individually and to focus on outlets that will cover film stories or a topic that relates to your film. A couple things to remember: Most major newspapers have a DVD columnist and sometimes this is the same person who reviews movies. At least three weeks before your film releases on DVDs make sure to send your DVD to all the major DVD columnists. A few searches online will help you figure out who these people are, but it also pays to call each newspaper’s general phone number and inquire who writes about and/or reviews new DVDs. Sometimes you’ll have to try a few times because the gate keeper will lead you down the wrong path. This approach to calling press outlets is very useful, but be ready to have your pitch down because all journalists seem to act like they are constantly on a deadline and they’ll make you feel like dirt. Once you learn this, these calls become much easier.
When we’re preparing a press launch, we’ll often take time to check out other similar films and see who has written about them or featured the film in some way. This is an easy way to start to build a list of people to approach. IMDB also lists sites that have reviewed films and sometimes you can find a couple of cool places to hit up by searching here.
Just like anything we do, building relationships is valuable. Reporters prefer to write about films and people they like or are familiar with. When Josh and I were just starting to edit 10 MPH, we met Lisa Kennedy, a film critic for the Denver Post. And as a result of that relationship, we’ve been covered a few times with pretty generous words. While she’s extremely busy, we keep her up on what we’re doing and I’m sure more will come out of it. If we hadn’t known her, getting some of the coverage we did would have been much tougher, as was the case with the other major Denver newspaper. The Rocky Mountain Times has pretty much ignored us…and as you might expect, we don’t know anyone there.
It’s also good to think about your approach when you are writing and calling the journalists and reporters. You want them to know you are important, but you also want them to like you. And like I said earlier, expect a lot different attitudes. Make quick relationships on the fly and it’ll go far for you.
Timing is pretty critical for getting press. Here are a few guidelines I like to follow:
These fall into the long lead press categories. We got a great write up in Paste Magazine, but it came a month or so after our DVD launch. It was still great and we were psyched to get Paste. Our problem was that we waited until about two months before our release date to start approaching magazines. They typically need three months minimum. Also, keep in mind with magazines that they sometimes have an editorial calendar that you might be able to pitch a story around. For example, in five months, Filmmaker Magazine might be doing an issue that focuses on DIY distribution approach. I better get on that quick.
Typically newspapers have a short turn around time for breaking news, but for feature stories, you want to give a week to three weeks lead time. For reviews, it helps to get the journalist aware of your film as soon as possible. With our theatrical tour for 10 MPH, we were pitching major city newspapers about a week and a half before we arrived for our screening.
If you are pitching weekly newspapers, plan on at least two weeks notice. Often, for calendar events, though, they won’t want to hear from you earlier.
Blogs, DVD Review sites, etc.
Blogs are very spontaneous and typically report on some of the momentary happenings that are centered around their topic of interest. If you are hoping to get reviews of your DVD or movie and would like them to come out around a certain time, then you’ll want to give the blogger or DVD reviewer plenty of time to check out the movie. It seems like to me that when we released 10 MPH we had a ton of screeners going out to some major blogs and the DVD review websites about two to three weeks prior to the launch of 10 MPH.
I find with blogs, though, that you can hit up the writers and send them a DVD whenever. I continue doing this on a regular basis. Make those relationships.
Unless it’s a special weekend or morning show, most TV news is planned on the day it appears. You’ll probably want to get some TV coverage in your hometown or the hometowns of any major talent. It’s good to approach TV news when you get into a major festival, release a DVD, screen theatrically, etc. If you want to get a more thorough and thoughtful interview, start by talking to the popular morning shows’ producers.
Major talk shows
These take a lot of work. You have to build and develop relationships with the producers and hope they can convince the other producers they work with that you are worth having on the show. We’ve found that TV producers seem to feed off of news and articles in magazines. Both CNN and Fox News reported on 10 MPH after reading about it in FHM and Maxim respectively.
With talk shows, it helps to have a media reel, a strong media kit, and clips of your film. You also have to be really sharp on the phone and convince the producers that they will get a stab at the story first.
It’s important to remember that PR is not just stories and reviews in the press. There is lot of ways to generate attention for a project. I think two people that have been brilliant at getting attention for themselves and their movie are Arin Crumley and Susan Buice with Four Eyed Monsters. They’ve created a killer organic marketing engine and keep finding ways to get the industry to talk about them and more people to see their movie. Most recently, they began offering it for free on YouTube and MySpace and have had over one million views combined. Because of this, they are getting speaking engagements and lining up some really killer career-shaping opportunities, including a distribution deal for their film.
One reason I’m writing this DIY manual is because I hope to generate more interest in my projects and what I’m doing. It’s important to help people and share knowledge and information. At the IFP conference this year in New York, I met Lance Weiler who runs Workbook Project. He was a big inspiration in us going ‘open source’ with what we’re up to. But as you can see, this is another form of PR. The key is mixing conventional and unique ways to build awareness for your films.
This is pretty obvious, but make sure to show off your press. Put your good quotes on your DVD cover, poster, and most importantly on the homepage of your website. It really builds an impression and helps get even more press sometime. I can remember several times where I was being interviewed and the reporter will comment on all the press we received as though it was a driving factor in doing the story.
Next Week – Who Do You Know?
Hunter Weeks made his feature-length directorial debut with 10 MPH. He’s also the mastermind behind the creative marketing and distribution efforts that led to national recognition and critical acclaim for the film. Photographing the world since the early nineties, Hunter Weeks has developed an eye for capturing moments of humanity in off-the-beaten-path places, like Croatia, Morocco, and Indonesia. His photography background influences his work on documentaries, which currently focus on American pop culture subjects. As the follow-up to 10 MPH, he’s working on a documentary about fantasy football, currently titled 10 Yards.
Posted in BTS press promotion resource
This edition of TCIBR is brought to you by IndieFlix. – Today our guest is documentary producer and director Hunter Weeks. His most recent film, 10MPH is a documentary about his and filmmaking partner Josh Cladwell’s cross country trip. Shot over the course of a 100 days, the filmmakers travel the country via a slow moving segway scooter in search of the American Dream. In our discussion we cover 10MPH’s recent DIY 23 city theatrical tour, doing your own publicity and what it takes to start your own DVD label.
For more info on Hunter Weeks and 10MPH visit http://10mph.com
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Since I’m knee deep in pulling together the next HEAD TRAUMA cinema ARG, I thought I’d share some of my promotional materials. The following is an invite followed by a press release for the event. We started by hitting horror blogs and then moved into some indie film and general movie outlets. When I come up for air next week I want to layout a detailed description of how we constructed the event and what the response was like.
For more info visit movingimage.us
WHAT PEOPLE ARE SAYING
“Can things possibly get more intense from here? Of course. Horror 2.0 stalks the MoMI with indie auteur Lance Weiler’s multimedia expansion of his psycho-chiller Head Trauma: Audience members will receive menacing text messages and cell-phone calls, some even after the show. “I want to disturb people,” Weiler admits in what sounds like a motto for our times. Slashing at apathy, this is a genre whose dire warnings we ignore at our peril. One way or another, horror follows us home.”
- THE VILLAGE VOICE
“Lance Weiler’s first film, The Last Broadcast — often called the original Blair Witch Project — was shot for less than $1,000. Yet it grossed $4.5 million and became the first film to be transmitted via satellite directly to theaters. His encore? A traveling live-music mashup involving cell phones, big screens, indie rockers and meandering actors… “This is one of the only films where you’ll be asked to keep your cell phone on during the screening,” says Weiler.”
“Director Lance Weiler has created a “remix” presentation of his cult indie horror flick Head Trauma, the result of which sounds like a good approximation of the future of film… As theatres increasingly compete with home entertainment, we believe live film presentations such as this could be a way to keep audiences going out to movies.”
- TREND CENTRAL
Press release – there are two releases one from MoMI and another from me. I worked closely with the museum PR person so that we could maximize our efforts.
CINEMATIC ARG CREATES NEW IMMERSIVE HORROR 2.0 EXPERIENCE – A COLLISION OF MOVIES, MUSIC, GAMING, THEATRICS AND TECHNOLOGY COMING TO THE MUSEUM OF THE MOVING IMAGE THIS SAT. JULY 14th @ 6:30pm FOR ONE NIGHT ONLY
This Sat. July 14th the HEAD TRAUMA cinematic ARG (alternate reality game) will unfold at the Museum of the Moving Image in NY. For more info visit http://movingimage.us/site/screenings/pages/2007/index_horror.html
Even before the audience enters the theater, they will be invited to participate in the cinematic ARG. As audience members approach the screening venue, they will enter the game-play, as the film’s story and characters mix with the surrounding urban environment. There are hidden clues, ringing payphones, and characters from the film scattered throughout the area. Through text messaging, distribution of a cryptic comic book, and cell phone calls, the experience continues into the theater.
At the center of the cinema ARG is a theatrical mashup of Head Trauma. In Head Trauma, a drifter who returns to his dead grandmother’s house is haunted by feelings of paranoia and troubling visions of a mysterious hooded figure. He comes to believe that someone or something is trying to kill him. For the screening the music track is removed and only the dialog and effects tracks remain. DJs and musicians perform a LIVE soundtrack as characters and props from film emerge from the audience. In addition viewers can use their mobile phones to interact with the movie as it plays.
THE MOVIE FOLLOWS YOU HOME
After the audience leaves the theater the movie will follow them home. Phone calls and text messages will lead audience members to a series of online hidden clues and sites that expand the story of the film. As the ARG unfolds online viewers can contribute and remix video, audio and stills thus becoming collaborators within the evolving story. One of the starting points for the online game is a Head Trauma www.eyespot.com page that allows players to upload, remix and share media that unlocks clues within the game.
“Cinema has classically been a passive experience. The HEAD TRAUMA cinematic ARG creates an immersive story that allows audience members to interact with horror in a new way. It is experiential, viral and can easily be passed from one person to another. The story of HEAD TRAUMA and its characters travel across mediums and devices, along the way creating a horror 2.0 experience that combines technology with scares. It’s about creating a world that the audience can move through, one where a scare can come from anywhere. I want to creep people out in new ways.” says Lance Weiler
WHO’S BEHIND THE EVENT
Lance Weiler is a critically acclaimed award-winning writer/director. His feature, The Last Broadcast, is currently distributed in over 20 countries. It has the honor of being the first all digital release of a motion picture and enjoyed runs on HBO and IFC. Weiler is recognized as a digital pioneer for the way he makes and distributes his work. He’s been featured in Time and Forbes and on television programs such as Entertainment Tonight and CNN. Wired Magazine called him “one of twenty-five people helping to re-invent entertainment and change the face of Hollywood.”
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