“You need to paint a picture of the success your film will have.”
When you finish making your film, it feels like a long journey has come to a close. All of the screenwriting, pre-production, days and days of shooting, endless hours spent editing – you’ve earned a big sigh of relief…
…But you’re not done. As the adage goes, when one door closes, another opens, this time onto a new mission: namely, getting people to see the product of all of your hard work! After all, getting your film in front of an audience is the end goal.
Of course, audiences don’t know that you have a finished film that you’re waiting for them to watch. They don’t know to call you up and ask you to send over a link to the final cut, or to arrange a special screening. “In addition to making great movies,” Jason Brubaker writes, “to be a filmmaking success, you also need an audience of rabid fans. And you can’t really attract an audience unless people know about your movie.”
To that end, one very common path that indie filmmakers follow involves film festivals. Film festivals are coordinated events that usually take place over a few days or weeks in a specific location. Think of a festival as a weeklong screening (and networking) party. People know a film festival is going on – depending on the size of it, they may even travel from afar to attend! – and they check out the schedule of films that will be playing over the course of the festival. From that schedule, they choose which ones they want to see.
Naturally, there are other ways for audiences to find films. If a distributor purchases a film’s distribution rights, then they’ll work to get it into movie theatres, following a traditional release strategy. Outside of that system, sometimes an indie production without a distributor will work to get a film in a theatre; for example, by renting out the theatre at their own expense and hosting a screening, or by convincing a theatre owner to show the film for a few days to see how it performs.
In all of these scenarios, the most important ingredient is the audience.
Does a film screened to an empty theatre really even screen at all? 🤯
It may not come to mind immediately, but “press” plays a major role in getting audiences curious about and excited for a film, inspiring them to show up. To get press, you’ll probably want to put together a stellar press kit, which is what we’ll explore here today!
What is (the) press?
“Press” in this context can mean a few different things. Traditionally, we think of “the press” as the news media, and it can mean the same thing here.
In the realm of film festivals, we can think of “press” also as any print materials that may get in front of a potential audience. Posters, film schedules, brochures about the films that are playing in the film festival, basically anything that your potential audience may read and think, “Hey, that sounds like an interesting movie – I’m going to go see it!” All of this can be, at least for the purposes of our discussion here, considered “press”.
Hold onto your hats, because we’re about to get granular. The keen-eyed among you may have noticed that so far, I’ve said both “the press” and sometimes simply “press”, without the “the”. In most contexts (including ours here), “the press” refers to journalists who may write about your film. We can extend that to film festival coordinators who may include information about your film in printed festival materials. “Press,” without the “the” in front of it, refers to the actual printed material about the film – the article, the news story, the printed festival materials.
Throughout our discussion, you’ll see the word “press” a great deal, sometimes with the “the,” sometimes without. (This all reminds me of the line, “Drop the ‘the!’” from David Fincher’s The Social Network. Now I want to go watch it. Screening party, anyone?)
Another little side note, while we’re taking side notes and daydreaming about watching Fincher films: I’m coming at this topic from a few different perspectives. I have several indie short films under my belt, for which I was the producer, so I have managed, edited, and distributed press kits myself. I also worked as a talent management assistant for a while, and in that capacity, I worked with clients who attended major festivals like Sundance, as filmmakers. So I’ve helped weigh in on press kits in that capacity as well, most of which were written by professional publicists. And finally, in my current life, in addition to contributing regularly to Lights Film School’s blog, I do a lot of freelance writing, which includes some reporting work for my town’s weekly newspaper. My region happens to play host to a few film festivals throughout the year, so I have been on the receiving end of press kits, too.
So, I’m coming at you from a triple-pronged perspective here, today.
Cool, but what is a press kit, anyway?
A press kit is a kit of materials a filmmaker, production, or publicist puts together that can be distributed to the press.
It often contains:
- Synopses of the film in varying lengths
- Bios of the film’s major creative players (writer, director, producers, etc.)
- Bios of the film’s actors
- A fact sheet that outlines key facts such as where the film was shot, how long the production was, how long the finished film is, credits, etc.
- High-resolution stills from the film
- High-resolution production stills (behind-the-scenes photos of the film getting made)
- Artists’ statements, often from the director sharing why they made the film, what the inspiration was, what they’re particularly proud of, what they hope to communicate with the finished work, etc.
- Contact information for who to contact for an interview or if they have questions
- Other documents you may think would be interesting to the press (and public)
In the “other documents” section of your press kit, you can get creative. For example, as the founder of the Raindance Film Festival in Canada, Elliot Grove, suggests, an FAQ page can be a unique and useful addition:
“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.
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.”
At this point, it may help to take a look at some actual press kits. The Tribeca Film Festival has an awesome website containing press kits for many of the films at their 2018 festival. It’s really interesting to compare their differences and similarities; I really recommend taking a look!
To single one out, let’s examine the press kit for Smuggling Hendrix, which won Best International Narrative Feature at the festival. You can open the press kit and check it out for yourself via this link.
Inside, we have:
- A synopsis
- Facts about the region where the film takes place
- Biographies of the director and main cast members
- A fact sheet about the creative team
- A fact sheet about the technical specs
- Plenty of film stills
- Contact information for world sales and publicity
As you can see, this press kit is brief while still being really engaging. The production has used stills as backdrops for each page of the press kit, along with a color scheme that complements those images, creating an energetic appearance. It’s simple and straightforward yet intriguing, piquing curiosity and interest.
What is a press kit for? How does it get used?
The press uses the materials from a press kit for a variety of things, often quoting from it directly. For example, as Grove implies above, a journalist may grab part of a director’s statement and include it as a quote in an article about a film. Additionally, for printed festival materials, the festival may (and often will) use the provided synopses in festival guides.
The images that are included in a press kit may also find their way into print, either accompanying articles about a film festival or the film itself, or in printed festival materials.
As you probably can guess, press kits are, at their core, a logistically streamlined way to get information to a lot of people. Particularly now that press kits are typically sent digitally, having a solid press kit available allows you to get information about your film into the hands of a wide range of people at a relatively low cost.
It should be noted that digitally-disseminated press kits are often referred to as “Electronic Press Kits” or EPKs. “Electronic” in this context typically means that the press kit is available online or sent as an email attachment. It also technically can mean that the press kit is being delivered on a DVD or thumb drive. Calling a press kit an EPK is a way of distinguishing it from a printed-out press kit, which is distributed as a hard copy.
As life turns more and more digital, however, most press kits are becoming available online, so some outlets simply use “press kit” to mean “EPK”. It’s not necessarily so that unless a festival says “EPK”, you have to print it all out. If they don’t specify that digital delivery is fine and you’re unsure, you can go ahead and ask for clarification. No need to print up a ton of copies of something if a digital version would have been fine (or even preferred)!
Press kits are also an efficient way to communicate how awesome your film is. “The purpose of your press kit is not just to get the recipient interested in watching your film but to show how easily and effectively they can market your film,” Film Sourcing points out. “The difference is like going on Dragons Den hoping to sell one prototype to one of the dragons, versus trying to convince them to produce, promote and sell thousands of copies. You need to paint a picture of the success your production will have.”
Who receives a press kit?
As we’ve already suggested, most film festivals will ask for a press kit, since they use the materials within them to promote the festival and its slate of films.
Individual journalists may be interested in press kits as well. As a rule of thumb, journalists are always looking for interesting stories to tell. The fact that your film was made, or is being screened, may be an interesting story, depending on that journalist’s market. For example, your hometown newspaper may find it newsworthy that someone from their town has a film premiering at a big festival. Or a journalist covering the town that a festival is happening in may want to write articles featuring some of the films or filmmakers who will be in town for the festival, to help create buzz around the event for the local community.
A journalist writing a story about your film serves to raise the profile of your film, enhance the curiosity of potential audiences, and inspire those audiences to come see the film. So, it’s a very good thing to get journalists excited about your film and writing about it. A press kit can be a very useful tool to use when pitching to journalists.
What do I mean by “pitching to journalists”? Well, just as an audience doesn’t know to knock on your door and ask to see the latest cut of your film, a lot of times, journalists don’t know that you’re out there in the world with a great story for them revolving around your film and you as a filmmaker! So, as part of your overall push to raise the visibility of your film, you should be prepared to reach out to those journalists proactively and say something like, “I’m a filmmaker and I made this film, it’s premiering on this date, and I think the story of the process of how and why I made it might be of interest to your readers.”
As Grove so succinctly puts it, “Film hype is not earned. It is manufactured by you.” What that means, in this context, is that you need to make people realize that your film is interesting, in order for them to come and discover it for themselves. In many cases, this starts with finding a journalist who can help get your story out to the masses.
To be clear, there was a time when the term “journalist” referred to a relatively narrow subset of professionals – reporters for television news, newspapers, and magazines. Of course, now that websites are so ubiquitous, there are a great many journalists who earn a living by creating material for online outlets. Of course, the internet also empowers writers who are not associated with a formal publication to build a readership, through blogs and sites like Medium, which let writers self-publish articles – to say nothing of social media influencers with sizable followings on platforms like YouTube and Instagram. Back in the day, reaching out to a newspaper reporter who specializes in entertainment or who covers the area where a film festival is happening may have been your best and only bet, but you have many more options for coverage in today’s digital day and age!
In fact, it’s a great idea to familiarize yourself with internet publications, including blogs, that cater to specific niches that align with your film’s target audience. For example, perhaps your film’s soundtrack uses a particular style of music. Is there a blog out there that has a following of people who are interested in that kind of music? They may be excited to hear about a film that embraces it in the soundtrack, so reaching out to the owner of such a blog could generate interest in your film from a pocket of the web we might not necessarily think of when brainstorming film press. It can be fun to get creative with who you reach out to!
In the case of a niche music blog, it’s possible that the person you’re reaching out to doesn’t get a ton of press kits in their inbox. If you’re hoping to get covered by an entertainment reporter or by a reporter in the town where a festival is happening, however, you may be reaching out to someone who is juggling a lot of information about a lot of different films. A press kit gives that journalist something to look through to get key information quickly.
What’s this film about? Who made it? What are the visuals attached to it? When is it showing? How long did it take to make? Where was it made? Why was it made? The more the journalist can build a narrative in their mind, the more a story about your film will feel, well, like a story! And therefore, the more engaging and inspired the journalist’s coverage of your film is likely to be.
Who makes and sends a press kit?
The person responsible for compiling and distributing a press kit differs from film project to film project. Is there a publicist involved? If so, then the publicist more than likely will handle the press kit, as well as pitching coverage to journalists.
Many independent filmmakers decide that they don’t have the budget to hire a publicist, so they handle publicity on their own. That is a fine thing to do, so long as you really commit to doing it. Publicity is a very major piece of the overall “getting your film seen” puzzle, and the press kit is an invaluable tool in that pursuit, whether someone’s managing it for you or you’re managing it yourself.
If you are handling the press kit on your own, then here are some tips for finding success in the process:
- Make a comprehensive list of each item you’re planning to include in the press kit. Being organized from the onset will help ensure that you don’t leave anything out. Some festivals will request specific documents. If that’s the case, they have a reason for it. Don’t leave out these requests. On other other hand, within reason, don’t send anything extraneous.
- Give yourself the time you need to create each piece of your press kit well. Remember, you’re at the end of a long road. Some people feel compelled to sprint across the finish line. Don’t. I can promise you, well-planned, well-written, and well-designed press materials will serve you well.
- Ask someone to review and proofread your work. I don’t care how good of a writer you are – outside perspective will help. A second set of eyes can give you an idea of how the individual pieces of the press kit are working together, as well as prevent against silly spelling and grammatical mistakes. If you don’t take yourself seriously enough to ensure that there are no preventable technical and language slip-ups, then who will?
- Make your press kit easy to navigate. For example, it’s often a good idea to make one file folder with clearly-labeled individual files. Someone who is perusing the press kit may want to go right to the synopsis rather than muddle through the production stills. Make it easy for them to do so if they so wish.
- Don’t be afraid to reach out to journalists directly to let them know about what you’re up to with your film. When you do so, include your press kit so that they can browse it. As always, be professional. A journalist does not owe you a story. If you can help them find something their readers will find interesting, and in turn they can give you some press, great! But if they aren’t interested in the story, don’t burn the bridge by becoming indignant. Instead, thank them for their time, and let them know that you hope you’ll be able to find a way to work together in the future. Kindness goes a long way, and that journalist may well check in with you at a later date to see what you’re up to.
Press kits have the power to help you effectively communicate to the world the story of your film, both as it appears onscreen and behind-the-scenes, thereby building your audience. Since so much is handled digitally these days, creating a press kit has never been more within reach. It just takes some time and focus! Don’t scramble across the finish line in your eagerness to be done with everything. Give your film the care it deserves – work as hard to get people to see it as you did to make it in the first place.
So what do you think? Have you ever made, distributed, or received a press kit? What did you find particularly challenging or exciting throughout the process? We’d love to hear about it in the comments below!
Lauren McGrail, with
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