This is an extract from Elliot Grove’s book, Raindance Producers Lab. In this segment he examines the essentials for a press kit.
THIS IS THE MOST important element of the filmmaking process, and ironically, the one most often overlooked by new filmmakers. If you hire the best cinematographer, screenwriter and actors in the world to work for you, they will make you a film: eight thousand feet of celluloid or an hour and a half of movie with absolutely no marketable value. You cannot sell a film. You can only sell a movie. You turn a film into a movie by using publicity to create a buzz, or hype for your film. Additionally, publicity will attract acquisition executives to your movie.
Creating the Sizzle
Like other elements in the filmmaking process, you must develop a publicity strategy. Your film can suffer irreparable damage with the wrong publicity plan.
Creating A Press Kit
The single most effective tool in creating publicity is a press kit. A press kit is used to send details of the film to journalists and acquisitions executives. Creating a press kit is made simpler by following these basic steps:
Step 1: Create a Folder
In the old days we always created a paper press kit. While the need for this has dimished with the advwent of digital technology there are still times when you wiull want one. for example at festival and market screenings and very importantly at press screenings.
A stationer will sell stock folders with flaps in which newspaper clippings and press releases can be organised. Ultra low budget press kits use stock folders from stationers with self-adhesive labels on which the name of the production company is printed. Self-adhesive labels went out with Margaret Thatcher. A better alternative is to get a printer to emboss the folder with the title of your film. Acquisitions executives are notoriously snobbish. The flip-side is that they are easily impressed, and you would be amazed what the effect of a little bit of gold embossing can do for your press kit.
For the low budget press kit you will need to buy one hundred folders. A normal film might send out a thousand or more press kits – beyond the reach of lo-to-no budgets. Through skilful manipulation, you aim to create the impression that you have mailed a thousand press kits to international executives and journalists, and so create the impression that your film is hot.
Step 2: Write a Synopsis
A synopsis is a summary of the story of your film told in an engaging way that captures the reader’s interest and makes them want to see the film. A synopsis should never sound like ‘and this happened, followed by this, and then this happened’. This type of synopsis is certain to bore. A well-written synopsis should be a teaser. There are three kinds of synopses that you should include in your press kit.
Hint: You are writing a synopsis that should sound like the paragraph on the back of the DVD or video jacket. The point of the synopsis is to make the reader want to see the movie.
i The long synopsis
A single page, double spaced, in which the story is summed up in three quarters of the page, and the last three or four lines of the page contains an anecdote from the making of the movie which demonstrates your incredible talent.
ii The medium synopsis
Three quarters of a page long, in which the story is summed up yet again, only more concisely, with the last two or three lines devoted to another production anecdote which again demonstrates the talent you know you have.
iii The short synopsis
A half page, in which the first three quarters is a tight and punchy story summary, followed by another production anecdote, this time a mere line long.
The reason you supply three synopses to journalists is because you want to make it easy for them to write a review of your film, and you offer three different lengths of synopsis because you don’t yet know how much space they have in their publication. These are now ready to be photocopied.
Step 3: Write Cast and Crew Bio
You should include brief biographies of the key people you worked with on your movie. Actors’ bios should include previous film roles (if any), stage work, and awards they may have won. Key crew bios like director of photography, production designer, editor and composer should detail other directors and productions they have worked on, or work-related experience. For example my DoP shot a commercial for Burger King and my production designer designed a table for Ikea.
Be certain that you have a brief, concise and interesting biography for yourself. If this is your first film project, and you have absolutely no other film experience, then you could include your work in your previous life. For example: Elliot Grove, an ex-carpenter, produces his first feature film using project management and organisational skills he learned on building sites. If your previous work experience, like mine, sounds too lame to be of interest, you might simply list your education credits. Your total cast and crew bios should run to no more than three or four pages and when photocopied should be stapled together to keep them separate from the synopses.
Step 4: Create Ten FAQs
Creating hype and publicity for your film means that you have to give precise direction and guidance to the people who hear about your film: film festival programmers, film journalists and, of course, acquisition executives. I was in London during the launch of Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs, and was fortunate enough to see his press kit. Scanning it reassured me that Tarantino was not relying on the judgement of film critics or even the film going public to determine that he was an amazingly talented filmmaker. He was printing it himself in his press kit, under the guise of the Ten Most Frequently Asked Questions of Quentin Tarantino During the Making of Reservoir Dogs. Immediately following the questions were printed his answers.
Hint: Film hype is not earned. It is manufactured by you. It is you who has the power to turn yourself into a cult filmmaker, and your film into a cult movie. Here’s an example of my personal FAQ.
Doing this for yourself will be an easy thing to complete, because the ten questions will be the same ten questions that everyone has been asking you during the making of the film. On my film, the questions were: what was it like working with non-professional actors? If you had to do it over again, what would you do differently? What did you learn about directing films? How did you get the notorious Mad Frankie Fraser to star in your film? Who are your influences? Where do you see the future of British filmmaking?
List your ten questions on a page, and after each question type an answer about five lines long. You are hoping that a journalist will be intrigued by your film, but for whatever reason be unable to reach you in time for their press deadline. If this happens, then the journalist could write: ‘Contacted today from New York, Elliot Grove said’ By listing these questions and answers you are also giving the journalist a taste of how you will react to similar questions, and accordingly how you will appeal to the readership of the particular publication.
Step 5: Get Publicity Stills
Although your press kit has a slick, glossy cover, three synopses, cast and crew bios and FAQs, you still need to have photographs. Getting a good publicity still is a true art form. The right still can be used on the poster, in newspaper ads, on video and DVD covers, on T-shirts – in fact, everywhere your movie is mentioned. Truly memorable images, like the eyes from The Blair Witch Project, cross into popular culture and are mimicked and satirised by others.
Publicity stills that work are photographs that include action. The stills photographer you hire should have a portfolio of stills that demonstrate movement and action within the frame. Ask the stills photographer to attend the shoot on the days that the most action is happening. Perhaps it is the day with the duelling swordsman, the pistol shot or the day you managed to get a large crane onto the set. The photographer needs to take four kinds of stills:
1. Stills of the cast re-enacting key moments of the movie. The photographer cannot click away during the shoot because the microphones will pick up the shutter noise. After a suitable take, ask the actors to hold their marks. You can then rearrange the actors to suit the frame, and get the photographer to capture the moment for posterity.
2. Stills of the cast and crew showing off the production values of the movie: show as much film equipment as you can, show the fake head being glued onto the actor, the finger nails being ripped off, whatever – but make sure it contains loads of action. Journalists and the public all concur that a picture tells a thousand words.
3. Get pictures of yourself producing. If nothing else, you will want a record of your efforts to prove that you actually produced a movie. But photos of a person producing a film are pretty lame: generally they are shots of them reading a script or signing a cheque. In order to make the photos of yourself more dramatic, turn to the theatre and use a stage trick used by accomplished stage actors when they are on the stage with another actor and wish to upstage them. They pull out their finger and point. Try it. Look at some photographs of filmmakers and they are invariably pointing. Take your stills photographer to the set, tell them that every time you point, you want to hear the shutter go. You can point at anything. You can point at a speck of fluff on someone’s jacket, you can point at the sun, you can point at your foot, you can even point at your nose. It doesn’t matter. Point and make sure you hear the click of the camera. In actual fact there are really only two times that you point when you are on the set as a producer. The first is when you say ‘You, with the attitude – you’re fired. Off the set. Now.’ And the second is: ‘Thank you for sharing that with me’. At this point you will usually wander off to watch a movie for an hour or two until things cool down.
4. Photos of yourself with celebrities. Even if you do not have a celebrity working on the film, try and convince a local celebrity to attend your set, again on a day with a lot of action. When they show up, give them a polite tour of your set, introduce them to the key people on the crew and allow them time to ask questions. For many, this will be the first time they have been on a film set, and your lo-to-no budget shoot may not fall into their pre-conceived ideas of what a film set should be like. At the appropriate moment, ask them politely if you could have a picture or two with them. If necessary, offer to send them a copy. When you are ready, make sure that you are standing stage right (camera left). And point!
Hint: Always stand on stage right to have your picture taken. Why? Captions run left to right, and this position guarantees that your name will appear first. If you start studying the publicity stills used by successful film people you will see that they follow these rules.
Step 6: Include Reviews and Third Party Endorsements
Third party endorsements always work wonders in the world of promotion. All commercial enterprise uses third party endorsements. You may use toothpaste recommended by the British Dental Association, eat a certain breakfast cereal on the recommendation of a leading nutritionist, and see a movie because a certain journalist – probably well known for their taste and judgement – has put a film onto their own ‘must-see’ list.
By getting a journalist to see and review your film you are starting to create buzz for your film. Make a copy of the review and include it in your press kit. Even if the journalist disliked your film, the review they print will most likely include a superlative somewhere in the opening one or two sentences. Film journalists have careers too. They want to be quoted and have their name splashed on the poster. If they didn’t like the film and include a superlative, they know that you will quote them out of context. So ‘an amazingly inept first film’ becomes ‘an amazing first film’. When you print their name and publication after the quote, you are helping them with name awareness of their magazine and themselves. Journalists are always trying to increase their stature among the readership, or get a better job. With your poster in their portfolio, their reputation is enhanced and they have an even better chance of moving their career upwards. Essentially, you are helping each other. Journalists and film festivals.
Journalists have love-hate relationships with film festivals. On one hand they enjoy and thrive in the glamorous atmosphere of a film festival. If the right filmmakers come to their festival, they will be able to do many interviews in a short space of time that they can warehouse until needed. What they dislike about film festivals is the fact that they have to watch movies – and lots of them. Usually they screen these films alone at home from cassette. Few festivals have the resources to screen the films ahead of time at private screenings for journalists. Supposing you have entered a small regional festival in Europe or America in a town or small city that has a weekly community paper. This paper will have an entertainment section devoted to printing the press kits and photographs of films released by the distributors in the area. The entertainment editor probably has another area to cover as well: perhaps it is sports or holidays. When the local film festival arrives, this film journalist will be asked to cover the festival and preview all the films. When they reach your film, they discover that your press kit has three synopses: long, medium and short. The journalist knows that their work will be made easier by this simple addition to your press kit. Next, they discover the cast and crew bios which are short and succinct.
Finally they see the ten FAQs. Now they can watch the film, make notes and know they have ample information on which to base their review. And even if they hated your film they will be able to write an intelligent article based on the information you have provided. Journalists tend to include a superlative in the review of a film they dislike, because they know you will quote them out of context. For example: ‘Elliot Grove’s first film was an extraordinary example of incompetence’. The quote out of context would become: ‘Elliot Grove’s first film was extraordinary’. Journalists want to be quoted, they want a big line printed on your poster, and they want their name printed underneath the quote. They are hoping to get a job on that city’s daily paper, or maybe move to a national paper or magazine.
Step 7: Create an Electronic Press Kit
An electronic press kit (EPK) is a set of videos and photos, interviews with the principal cast and crew, duplicated and distributed to appropriate people. At Raindance during festival time we have a central dropbox with images, trailers and other materisls we can send to journalists. It is difficult to accomplish all on a lo-to-no budget.
During the shoot, hire a documentary filmmaker to take a high quality video footage of the shoot. Include interviews with the key actors, director, producer and other principle crew where appropriate. For example, if your film features prosthetic heads being lopped off, interview the prop-maker and the special effects artists. You are looking for angles that might help you sell the story of the film later.
When doing interviews, have someone ask key people on the cast and crew questions from your ten FAQs. Then film the answers. If possible, set up some of the interviews in front of a simple cloth or curtain with a poster behind the interviewee. In this way you can deliver the interview to a television station and they can cut in their own reviewer making it look like they were in the same room, when in actual fact they have never met. You should make VHS copies as well as Digibeta copies (for television). The tape can also include a short trailer for the movie.
Broadcasters welcome EPKs because it represents free content. You will have to guarantee to any television station that the music rights are cleared for broadcast.
Hint Make certain that you also have an NTSC copy of the EPK for use in USA, Canada and Japan.