PUBLICITY: When to do it

There are different kinds of publicity meant for different stages of making a movie and releasing it.

The most important is the publicity to sell the movie to the audience.  This is done once the film has already been sold to a distribution company, and although that distribution company will have its own PR and marketing plan, chances are it won’t be as much as you can do on your own (or with another hired PR firm).

During this phase of publicity, you’ll want to get out there on social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc) and be featured in magazines geared towards your demographic (if you have a tattoo themed movie, for instance, you’ll want to hit up all the magazines and news outlets for ink and body modification).  You’ll also want to get your movie reviewed by all the critics you can—no matter what media outlets they write for.

Please make note that it can be counterproductive to do this kind of publicity unless you have a release date.  Most media outlets do not want to publish a story that isn’t newsworthy.  If your film doesn’t have a release date, or hasn’t been picked up for distribution yet, it doesn’t matter to the general populace.  If the public has no means to see your film, why do they want to read about it?

It could also be counterproductive because in our culture of instant gratification, when someone reads about something they are interested in, they want to click on it NOW and buy it NOW or watch it NOW.  It’s one thing to build buzz for your project a few weeks from the release date, but it’s another thing to try and build it over the course of a year.  People will lose interest unless you can hook them and keep them hooked.

The second most important publicity is the kind to use as a means to get distribution.  This kind of marketing can sometimes overlap with marketing to the general public.  But be careful.  You’ll want to get some advance reviews, share news about film festival screenings and acclaim or awards won, but remember what I previously mentioned: If your film doesn’t have a release date, or hasn’t been picked up for distribution yet, it doesn’t matter to the general populace.

This kind of publicity could be more focused.  For example, if your film is going to premiere at a film festival that industry buyers will be attending, you might consider compiling a list of every distribution company’s acquisitions people (names and addresses), and send postcards to alert them.  Emails can get buried and lost these days.  I’ve found direct mailing works wonders because most people have forgotten about it.  So when they receive a sharply designed, tangible object they can hold, it’s unusual.  And memorable.

If you want to hire a professional PR firm, be prepared to pay thousands of dollars.  They will likely not spend as much time pushing your project as you would on your own, but they know whom to call and have relationships with the media bigwigs you don’t.  Still, that doesn’t keep you from picking up the phone and introducing yourself to those same bigwigs.  Remember, emails get lost or buried.  It’s much more effective to call the Editor of whatever news outlet on the phone directly.

Another thing you might want to do is gather endorsements or quotes about your project from celebrities to use in your press kit.  This needs to be done totally under the radar and in private.  It’s a great idea to include this kind of thing in your marketing materials.  It’s silly to think that people are mostly incapable of independent thought, but it’s really true.  If you tell them what to think of your movie, they generally do.  And if so-and-so said it was great, well, then, it must be!

Remember that famous tagline: you only have one chance to make a first impression.  Premature publicity of any sort could be a disaster for your film, so when you’re about to embark on your own marketing journey, ask yourself, “is now the right time?  Could we benefit from waiting a bit longer?”

MEETING RUTGER HAUER: Part 2 of 2

Part One was last week.

So, I was outside with My Fan, from FANS R PPL 2 and a woman came out screaming and crying, “Where are you!?”  I was mortified, and she tells me that the festival director, Anthony Pedone, a longtime friend of mine, just gave a 10-minute speech about me that moved people to tears and that I was winning an honorary independent filmmaker award of some kind, and that when he called me down to accept my award, I wasn’t there!  Instant panic.

I darted into the theater just as Jane Wiedlin was getting up on stage to accept the award on my behalf.  I ran to the podium and couldn’t think of anything to say other than, “Remember my Fan with the teeth thing?  His mom was coming to pick him up and I was just outside, and, I’m…” stumbling, then saw Rutger Hauer staring at me, I just shouted “Thank you Victoria!” and kept rambling.  I did manage to calm down and began to speak clearly, and said that I was so moved by the community that I’d decided to film a movie there in the future.  Everyone applauded, so it sounded like I hadn’t embarrassed myself too much.

The ceremony continued and while no one would tell me the actual name of my award I’d nearly missed receiving, it suddenly occurred to me that this was why the festival invited me, and why they decided to not have me on the Jury.  Duh.

The Closing Night after party would be held a bar nearby (that no one had bothered to find out was closed).  So when everyone learned there was nowhere left to go, the after party was moved to the only place open on a Sunday night in Victoria, Texas… Olive Garden.  Yes, that’s right.  Olive Garden.

En route, I checked the clock: 9:45 p.m.  I was starving and had a suspicion their kitchen would pack up before I had the chance to choke down some mass-produced fettuccine.  I called the restaurant.  I discovered that the entire Olive Garden would be closing for business at 10 p.m.  I didn’t know what to do, but I thought I ought to warn the guy: “We’re in town for the film festival, and while I’m not the guy in charge, you should know there are about 150 people driving there right now for our after party.”  He was speechless, yet firm with the news that, “If you’re inside and seated by 10 p.m. I will serve you but no one else will be allowed inside.”

The SUV peeled into the parking lot and we all darted inside.  Jane Wiedlin and her beau Travis were already seated at a long table across from Rutger Hauer and his lovely wife.  I took the seat at the head of the table next to them.  It occurred to me that after watching FANS R PPL 2, and hearing the moving speech about me, and witnessing my tardy acceptance of the honorary award, I didn’t need an introduction to Rutger.  He already knew who I was.  That was kind of cool, although totally surreal that we were about to embark on our first inspiring conversation over an endless supply of bread-sticks.

As the others from the festival arrived, there was turmoil over who would be allowed in, threats we’d all leave, dozens proclaiming “Don’t you know who I am?” (I didn’t say that), the manager caved and allowed everyone inside for what would become known as the Occupy O.G. movement.

The next surreal moment, as if there could be another, was when, after everyone had ordered tons of food, drinks and wine, and the bread-sticks kept coming, the co-founder of SXSW, Louis Black, picked up the tab for the entire party.  Wow!  Thanks, Louis!

While leaving Occupy O.G., I was reminded why I love film festivals.  Even if some are the most disorganized events you’ll ever attend, you’ll meet incredible people, embarrass yourself to no end, get a massive sunburn, make new friends, and share memories that will last a lifetime.  If you’re a filmmaker, artist, actor, writer, or anyone interested in visual storytelling of any sort, I highly suggest attending as many film festivals as you can.  Regardless of their size, scope, or location.  Just keep in mind how far south (or North) you are, and pack accordingly.

MEETING RUTGER HAUER: Part 1 of 2

I accepted an invitation to be a Jury member at the 2013 Victoria (Texas) International Film Festival, not knowing what I was getting myself into.  My friend Jane Wiedlin would also be on the Jury and I was looking forward to spending some quality time with her.  Then I learned Rutger Hauer had a film in the festival and would be there, too.  Doubly excited.

After the festival purchased my airfare, I asked them if there were any movies I needed to watch and judge before hand, or how that would all work.  They replied, “Oh, we don’t need you on the Jury anymore, we have plenty of people already.”  Oh, okay, that’s all right.  But then why am I coming?  Should I do any seminars or workshops or anything?  No.  None of my services were required.  They decided to screen my film CULTURE SHOCK, so I was thankful I could participate somehow.

The first day of the festival it was simply gorgeous weather.  65F with sun that warmed the soul.  I sat riverside all afternoon sipping champagne and working on a screenplay, meeting new filmmaker friends and talking all things show business.  After six-hours of leisure, I decided it was time to visit the VIP room at the festival for free wine and to meet more friends.

The next morning I woke up and was surprised to find that my face was as red as a lobster.  Yes, I’d totally failed to realize the two-hour drive south from Houston was SOUTH of Houston, near Corpus Christi.  Me, fresh out of the Kansas winter, with no sunscreen, in bright southern sunshine for six solid hours.  Oops.

Some people recognized me, and knew who I was, and those who didn’t now knew me as That Sunburned Filmmaker.  I didn’t mind the attention, because it was so comical, but little did I know it was only the beginning.

A few weeks prior to the festival, a fan of mine sent me an email on Facebook asking to meet me.  I looked him up, thought he seemed nice, and agreed.  We exchanged numbers and the texts began, trying to find a time to meet.  I tried calling him, but he didn’t answer, and finally a text came telling me he’d been in a tragic accident the week prior and that his jaw was wired shut.  He could get around fine, and kind-of talk, but not for long periods of time.  His pain medication would fizzle out and he’d need to take more, and then sleep.

I shared this with my new filmmaker friends (most of whom were actually on the Jury and hadn’t been kicked off, like me), and they made some fun jokes at my expense, which I thought were pretty funny.  “I have a fan…” and before I could finish the sentence someone chimed in, “Only one?”  To which I agreed, “Yes, just the one.”  And I explained that he was coming to meet me in public, with all of them present (you never know, some fans can be insane, see), and that his jaw had been wired shut so to not freak out.  Then came their questions, “How do you even know he’s your fan if you can’t understand a thing he’s saying?”

Another filmmaker, Elizabeth Spear (director of ROUNDBALL) had a hilarious idea to make a short film, an SNL-like comedy skit, about me meeting my fan with the wired jaw.  Only the fan would be trying to ask me for Mike Patton’s email address and I keep misunderstanding him, thinking he’s asking for my autograph.  In real life My Fan is also a fan of Mike Patton’s from Mr. Bungle and Faith No More days, and learned about me when my film FIRECRACKER came out, starring Mike.  So it was basically real to life, except that My Fan was also a fan of mine!  Really!  Elizabeth told us it would be shot improv-style and in about an hour.  My Fan showed up, was totally game, and we did it.  It’s called FANS ARE PEOPLE TOO.  Here’s a link to the skit:

FANS R PPL 2 was edited in mere minutes it seemed, and then would screen before the festival’s closing night ceremony.  I thought it was fun to make fun of myself by playing an exaggerated Myself, and My Fan seemed to have fun with it, too.  Mike Patton emailed me, he also thought it was hysterical.

After the skit aired at the closing ceremony, My Fan’s jaw started to hurt (from laughing so hard all afternoon), so he called his mom to come fetch him.  (Side note: My Fan is 30 years old and wouldn’t normally need his mom to come pick him up.  Just clarifying).  So I went outside with him to have a smoke and thank him for being such a good sport.

A while later the door burst open and a woman, crying, screaming, “Where are you!?”  I turn, mortified, and she tells me that the festival director, Anthony Pedone, a longtime friend of mine, just gave a 10-minute speech about me that moved people to tears and that I was winning an honorary Maverick Filmmaker Award of some kind, and that when he finished his moving speech and called me down to accept my award, I wasn’t there!  OMG.

Click here for Part 2.

SHUT UP & WRITE

The first draft of a screenplay isn’t the draft that gets filmed.  It also isn’t the version shown to the actors.  It’s the beginning of a long line of drafts and versions, so there’s no reason why it should take you very long to do it.

I commissioned a screenwriter once for a film I wanted to make.  She really struggled to complete the first draft.  Weeks went by and she still wasn’t finished.  She said she really wanted it to be PERFECT before showing me.  Yet, I knew the moment she turned it in, I would have a laundry list of notes and changes.  But she kept insisting “just another week.”

After I received the first draft, and started to work on my own version 2.0, she started to realize what I meant earlier.  No one (but us) sees the first draft.  And nobody needs to.  It won’t be published, lined with gold or shown in a museum.  It’s just Step One.  Think of it as an instruction manual.  When you’re assembling a desk from IKEA, do you usually fret about Step Four until you get there?  No, of course not.  So treat screenwriting the same way.  One step at a time.

If you’ve created a good solid floor plan, writing the first draft should be effortless.  When you reach a scene that doesn’t seem to be working, simply skip ahead to the next.  You can always go back to that tricky scene in future drafts.

Skipping ahead is the one trick to avoid writer’s block.  If you begin to feel stumped, move on to the next scene or sequence on your outline.  If you haven’t made a solid outline “floor plan” yet, you should stop everything you’re doing and do that first (read my earlier article on the subject).

When I’m writing a script, my mission for Step One is: just get it off the outline and into screenwriting format (I use Final Draft, which is industry standard).  For the first draft, nothing matters yet.  I sit down with my outline and just use that as my guide and “next to do” on the list.  Sometimes I start in the middle of the outline, or jump around from scene to scene.  Maybe there’s a scene in particular where the dialogue is crystal clear in my mind—I’ll start there.  And, sure, I’ve hit a wall and have had to jump past it, but I don’t let it get to me.  I just wait until I’ve expanded upon the outline.

Then, once I’ve taken all the information that’s on the outline and incorporated it into my screenwriting file, even if it’s patchy in places, I call that a complete first draft.  Then, I “save as” and create v2.0, where I go back into the screenplay and begin to flesh out each scene more and more.  When I’m confident with a nice v2.0, I’ll share it with another writer or some friends for feedback.  They’ll either re-write some things on their own, or send me notes.  Then I’ll “save as” and create v3.0 and repeat the process until I’m satisfied with a solid draft that will be shared with select cast, crew, another director, or producer.

And, naturally, each of them will want to chime in with their “two cents.”  Sometimes their notes are silly, but sometimes they could have a brilliant idea that can help you.  When that happens, swallow your pride and take it.  This isn’t about you; it’s about the greater good for the project.

Once you get to that point, and you find yourself working on version 12, you’ll kick yourself for wasting so much time on version 1.  Remember this lesson next time you complete your outline, and are ready to begin writing the scenes and dialogue.  If you can get into a rhythm where you don’t think too much about writing, and just write, you’ll find that it’s possible to complete the first draft of a screenplay in no time at all.

Remember: no one sees the first draft.  There is no reason to give yourself any kind of pressure when you’re conceiving it.  Give that formation time to grow and what might seem messy at the beginning will begin to make sense.  Each story takes on its own life force and if you’re open to the inspiration around you, and live with a “create now, edit later” mindset, your screenplay will be complete in no time.