Wednesday, July 23, 2008

CHAPTER #43: PUBLICITY (7/22/2008)

Chapter #43

“Promote Your Film”

Your film is finished and it’s time to make money. But to do this you’ll need a distributor and the hunt is on. However, looking for a distributor isn’t that difficult when you realize that they’re looking for you harder than you’re looking for them. Here’s why.

Distributors love independent filmmakers. They love you. You’re creative (unique scripts and stories). You’re guaranteed (they don’t gamble on scripts, they see final films). You don’t cost them a penny (investors funded the film). And, best of all, when you're done you’re (broke) begging.

This is an important point. Don’t be naïve. Distributors love independent filmmakers because (1) you’re cheap, you have no overhead; (2) you’re free, investors pay for everything; (3) you’re guaranteed, you’ve already finished the film; (4) you’re broke and begging. If I were a distributor I’d love you too.

Now, watch how that articulate and allegedly altruistic distribution executive, who was just on the Charlie Rose Show proclaiming how filmmaking is an indigenous American art form, becomes a shark when you, the broke filmmaker, want to sell your art. Distributors love independent filmmakers for one reason and one reason alone, which is nothing to do with art. Distributors know that they can “pick up” (aka: purchase or license) a wonderful film for next-to-nothing and a promise of net profits.

Thus, why find a distributor when they’re looking for you. Your job, while making your film, is to stop hiding and allow the distributors to know that you exist. This is why you do publicity. But do the proper publicity. Getting an article written about you or your film in local newspapers does little good. Film distributors don’t read local newspapers. You target your entire publicity budget ($2,000-$10,000, Chapter 33) to the distributors who you now think of as –the buyers.

There are 40-60 North American distributors, who make 250-450 movies/year, who are also looking for inexpensive independent filmmakers and their films. These distributors fall into four classifications:
1. THE MAJOR STUDIOS: These are the 6-7 distributors (Vivendi/Universal, Fox, Paramount, etc) that each make 20-30 movies/year each at $10-$70 million budgets.
2. THE MINI-MAJORS: These are the 6-7 distributors (Miramax, New Line, MGM/USA, Atisan, etc) that each make 5-20 movies/year each at $5-$20 million budgets.
3. THE INDEPENDENTS: These are the 10-15 distributors (Fox Searchlight, Orion Classics, Samuel Goldwyn, Sony Classics, etc) that each make 3-5 movies/year at $1-$5 million budgets.
4. EXPLOITATION: These are the 20-30 companies (Concorde, Crown, Troma, Curb, Trident, etc) that each make 3-15 movies/year each, with words like “Blood,” “Zombie,” “Slime,” “Nightmare” or “Massacre” in the titles, at budgets under (well under) a million, and generate mostly foreign and video revenues.

Major Studios 6-7 20-30 $10-$100 Million
Mini-Majors 6-7 5-12 $5-$20 Million
Independents 10-15 3-5 $1-$5 million
Exploitation 20-30 3-15 $1 Million

DISTRIBUTORS 40-60 250-450 $0.1M-$100 Million
FILMMAKERS 200 1 $.01M-$3 Million

Additionally, each year, there are always at least 200 filmmakers (people like you) who make a movie ($10,000-$3,000,000 budgets) hoping it will be the next “Easy Rider”, “Sex, Lies, Videotape” or “Blair Witch”.

The above 40-60 distributors, besides making films in-house, also acquire independently made films. To find these films, each distributor has an employee, called the Acquisition Executive (aka: AE), who combs the woods, film labs and film festivals to find you. They are looking for you. (SECRET) You never call a distributor. They will call you. Just stop hiding. AEs make the deals and write the checks and they’re going to be the total target of your $2,000-$10,000 publicity budget.

(SECRET) Toot your own horn and you’re an egomaniac. Have someone else toot your horn and you’re undiscovered talent. Get a publicist. They’re listed in your local film directory. You can also get a directory of members from The Publicists Guild of America: (818) 905-1541. They charge $1,500-$5,000/month (four-six months), plus expenses, for a total of $6,000-$30,000 plus $6,000-$40,000 in expenses. This is not in your budget. You will be forced to do the publicity yourself, with some consulting guidance by a publicist --and here is what you do.

First, during pre-production, a month prior to your shoot, be sure to get your film listed in the trades’ “Production Charts”. These charts appear in Daily Variety (Friday’s issue) and Hollywood Reporter (Tuesday’s issue)..

To get listed, phone Daily Variety (323-857-6600) and The Hollywood Reporter (323-525-2150) and speak to the editor in charge of the charts. You’ll probably get a recording instructing you to leave your name and fax number and a submission form will be faxed to you. The form always requests:
A. The title of your film
B. Production company address, phone and fax
C. Actors/Cast (stars only)
D. Department heads
E. Date your shoot begins
F. How long the shoot will last
G. Distributor (if any)

Fill it in and fax it back instantly. Your film will almost automatically appear in the “Films In Pre-Production” or “Future Feature Films In Production” column of the two “Production Charts” each Tuesday and Friday. And, when your film begins shooting (the date you provided), your listing will be moved to the “Films in Production” section. Thus, you’ll be listed for six-eight weeks in both newspapers for no cost.

IMPORTANT POINT: The first week you’re listed in Daily Variety, a gray tint highlights your information to indicate that it is a new listing. The Hollywood Reporter, trying to be different, puts a box around first-week listings.

Why the tinting and/or the box? These boring charts are read by out of work actors, out of work crew; people trying to sell you t-shirts; and AEs. The tinting and the box are like flashing neon signs to the AEs, telling them that a new sucker somewhere in America is spending his own money --And they will instantly call you. Miramax will call you. New Line will call you.

When your film is listed you will get phone calls from distributors. It is absolute. Who is phoning will be the Acquisition Executive who will titillate you with how much money they have and their desire to screen your film. Don’t get excited. You are in pre-production and have nothing to show. The best thing to do is to not get excited and politely hang up on each distributor --I guarantee they’ll remember you. This is publicity.

Simultaneous to your production chart listing, phone Film Finders (310-275-7323) and get listed in their production directory. This company publishes a quarterly compendium of every film and TV program that is being made, literally in the world. The listing is free and Film Finders makes their money by selling annual subscriptions for $5,000 to AEs, broadcast and cable program directors and video/DVD buyers.

Next, during the shoot be sure to get your photos. Another mistake first-time filmmakers make is not taking quality still photos during the shoot. You will need them for your press kits, film festivals and eventually for newspaper ads and the video/DVD box design. You can’t get these photos after the shoot. Hire a still photographer ($150-$250/day) to come to the set on the days that your film looks like it’s big budget and get plenty of black/white and color shots, for a cost of $500-$1,000.

IMPORTANT POINT: Be sure to take action photos of yourself. When the photographer comes, take off your damn baseball cap, lose the shades, and get photos of you pointing. Always point, point, point --it makes it look like you’re in charge.

Next, armed with your photos, prepare a press kit. If you really had a $1,000,000 budget, you’d make 1,000 electronic press kits (EPKs--VHS tapes with interviews and isolated scene footage) and 2,000 print press kits for journalists. You don’t have that kind of money. But let’s make the AEs think you do to incite more excitement from them. So make only 100 print press kits and, instead of sending them to the media, mail them to each of the AEs that you hung up on when they called three months prior (they’ll remember you), and hold the remaining ones for festival submissions.

Your press kit should contain:
1. Glossy two-pocket folder.
2. 7-10 photos from the shoot (inside right pocket)
3. 3-4 actors’ headshots (inside right pocket)
4. 1-2 action photos of you (inside right pocket)
5. 1-2 page synopsis of the film (inside left pocket)
6. 1-2 page biography of you (inside left pocket)
7. 1-2 page story about making the film (inside left pocket)
8. Cute tchatchke, gizmo or toy (keying, pen, etc.)

Each press kit will cost $6-$7, plus $3 to mail, so you'll spend about $10/press kit. It will cost about $1,000 for 100 kits.

When the AEs get your press kits, they will phone you again and ask, “when can they see your film?” If they ask if you have your film on tape say, “No, it’s a film.” (Even if it’s digital say “no”). If you say, “Yes” they’ll want you to send the tape. Letting them view a tape in their office is the least effective way to induce them to buy. Never send a tape!

Instead, offer to screen your movie for them in front of a paying audience. The AEs will love this; it enables them to better gauge your film’s commerciality. What you’re really telling the AE is the date and time of your upcoming film festival screening, for the entire purpose of your publicity budget is to titillate the AEs to get them to leave their offices (usually in LA or NY), get on a plane, rent a car, book a hotel and attend the film festival where your film is screening. This will not be easy.

Film festivals are extremely important to independent filmmakers and they will comprise a major part of your publicity budget. (SECRET) Film festivals are not free. Therefore, let’s take a more in depth look at what they are, why you go to them, what you accomplish at them and what they cost.

1. Get a list of publicists from the Publicists Guild.
2. Compile an Acquisition Executive list to target.