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10 MPH DIY Manual: Press

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.

Finding journalists
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.

Observe others
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.

Build relationships
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.

Other PR
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.

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DIY Resources

Other DIY films
+ Four Eyed Monsters
+ Tijuana Makes Me Happy
+ Head Trauma
+ The Talent Given Us
+ Guatemalan Handshake
+ Book of Caleb
+ Black Gold
Film Festivals & Distribution Books
+ The Insider's Guide to Independent Film Distribution (Stacey Parks)
+ Ultimate Film Festival Survival Guide
+ The Complete Independent Movie Marketing Handbook
+ I Wake up Screening: What to Do Once You've Made that Movie
Filmmaking & Production Books
+ Planning the Low Budget Film
+ The Complete Film Production Handbook
+ Clearance and Copyright: Everything the Independent Filmmaker Needs to Know
+ Film Scheduling: Or, How Long Will it Take to Shoot Your Movie?
+ Film and Video Budgets
+ Filmmakers and Financing, 5th Edition: Business Plans for Independents
+ The Pocket Lawyer for Filmmakers: A Legal Toolkit for Independent Producers
+ Independent Feature Film Production: A Complete Guide from Concept Through Distribution
Key websites
+ IndieWIRE
+ Greencine
+ Spout
+ Workbook Project
+ cinematech.blogspot.com
Major Film Festivals
+ Sundance Film Festival
+ Slamdance Film Festival
+ Intl. Film Fest Rotterdam
+ Berlin Intl. Film Festival
+ Miami Intl. Film Festival
+ True/False Film Festival
+ AFI Dallas Intl.
+ The Gen Art Film Festival
+ Full Frame Doc Festival
+ Hot Docs
+ Tribeca Film Festival
+ Cannes Intl. Film Festival
+ Seattle Intl. Film Festival
+ Los Angeles Film Festival
+ Silverdocs
+ Telluride Film Festival
+ Toronto Intl. Film Festival
+ Sidewalk Moving Pic Fest
+ New York Film Festival
+ Woodstock Film Festival
+ Hamptons Intl. FF
+ Amsterdam Intl. Doc Fest
+ AFI Fest
+ Denver Intl. Film Festival

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