Tuesday, February 26, 2002

Fourteen Essentials of a Good Press Kit

Submitted by Melissa Puch de Fripp

With the outgrowth of independent films in the marketplace, from micro-budget to larger budget features, it's more essential than ever to "outclass" the competition when it comes to marketing the film product. With that in mind, the first impression a filmmaker creates when sending materials to distributors, festival directors, reviewers, and media sources is more important than ever.

With the reality of independent features often going over budget, many new filmmakers find themselves in a position where they cannot afford a professional publicist. If you find you must create your own publicity kit, then you may simply follow this simple formula to create the right amount of "sizzle" and professionalism.

Keep in mind that busy news editors and film editors are inundated with requests for publicity, interviews, reviews, and photo opportunities, and they may literally only have sixty seconds to determine whether or not you go into the "A" pile or the circular file (i.e., the trash). Make your first impression count, and be sure to have trusted friends review your written material for typos, dropped words, and grammar.

The fourteen essentials are:

1) Glossy two pocket folders with cuts on one inside pocket for a business card. These are available at any office supply store.

2) Story Synopsis. Keep it short and simple and never longer than one page. The shorter the synopsis is, the better off you are, because a long synopsis can be edited down to something that doesn't even resemble your film once ninety-percent of your description is eliminated by an editor. Another trick is to provide two synopses. One a quarter page long, and one a half page long.

3) Cast List. Only integral cast, not minor roles and extras. The cast list should only be one page, and again the shorter the better.

4) Director's Biography. One page only.

5) Producer's Biography. One page only.

6) One Sheet of Mini-bios. Keep it to three paragraphs, one paragraph for your director of photography, one for your composer, and the third for another member you consider integral. Be sure to include awards and honors your key people have been given, if applicable. Note: If you have co-producers or associate producers, give them a one sheet of mini-bios, exactly like the one for director of photography, composer, etc.

7) Still Photographs. Black and white 8" x 10" glossies are the norm, but many filmmakers are also including color slides, which are good for magazines that include color in their pages or for cover stories. Be sure to either have a printed caption on the front of the photograph, or a typed label with the caption stuck on the back along with contact details. For slides, be sure to number the slides and place them in a professional one page slide holder (available at camera specialty stores) and attach one page with captions that correspond to the slide numbers.

8) Tip Sheet. This sheet should be nothing but the simplest facts, including genre, running time, what medium the film was shot in (35mm, 16mm, super 16, digital), locations used, and who your legal representation or producer's representative is, if applicable.

9) Action Photo of You. If you're the director, include a director's photo of you on the set, or stage one if you didn't have any decent shots of yourself taken during the film shoot. If you need to stage one, see if a camera rental facility will let you come in with your director of photography and take a shot next to the camera. If you're the producer, then it's recommended that you have a shot taken with the director. Thus you won't be left out of the publicity loop. Editors typically choose director's photographs over producer's photographs. Cover your bases.

10) Trailer. If you have a trailer, don't hesitate to duplicate it on ½" VHS tape. If you're dubbing your own trailers and they wind up looking too "second generation," either don't use it or spend the money to go to professional dubbing house to get cleaner looking copies. You're better off having no trailer or film clip enclosed than having a grainy looking one.

11) Articles. If you've already received any print media, be sure to get clean copies and enclose them in the press kit. If articles were printed with color photos, then be sure to get color copies to keep the visual impact alive.

12) An invitation to your latest screening.

13) Your business card.

14) A personalized memo or hand-written note to the editor who will be receiving your press kit, thanking them for taking the time to review your materials.

Optional. If there is something unique about your production which you want known, then by all means, write a one to three page "story" about your production and title it, "About the Production." On the upside, this helps an editor. On the downside, it may take some of the mystique and questions away from the reader. If you choose to write about your production, then do not include any horror stories of broken equipment, squabbles that you miraculously fixed, or how your relatives didn't come through with the cash, but you still made it without them. Save your war stories, and pull them out of your hat once your reputation is established and you're a big hit. For now, you want to seem like nothing less than a fabulous filmmaker with an aura of positive energy surrounding you.

Abajo Sur

Submitted by Melinda Murphy

I have lived in Reno, Nevada, for about twelve years, off and on. And it has been more on than off. There was the reporter gig in Bishop and Mammoth Lakes, California, hacking for a newspaper chain nobody has ever heard of and then the stint as a wild land firefighter up in Plumas County, California in 1996, but aside from that, there were endless summers working menial jobs and costly winters getting a half-assed schooling at the University of Nevada, Reno - my almost alma mater. I'm the most daring sort of writer. I'm a college dropout.

A few years prior to getting the gypsy itch to blow this truck stop, I'd taken up the futile hobby of spec script writing. Between all the weekends I'd blown on rewrites, the contest entry fees, the on-line screaming matches with other wannabes, and trying to explain to an office supply store clerk just exactly what a brad was (no, not Mr. Pitt), I gave it all up for Lent.

I had been chewing the scenery in this burg telling all my patient friends, "Screw these pod people! I want out!"

Then, one night, ensconced on my friend Sarina's couch (she had cable television, I didn't) I'd watched as the winner of HBO's Project Greenlight huffed and stomped like an angry twelve year-old runner up in a spelling bee. He wrote a script about an Irish Catholic kid who decides to convert a kosher friend - and this won? And then it hit me. Why not just move to LaLa Land? Oh yes, I could live out the fantasy so beautifully envisioned in Kevin Smith's Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. I would find the three So Cal twits who had critiqued my script during the Project Greenlight fiasco with astute comments like "I no likey u story" and "Man, I just don't get it" and BEAT THE CRAP OUT OF THEM!

I didn't really have second thoughts on the scouting around trip down south until I neared the exit for Whittier on Interstate 5 and realized there's no air here and I didn't bring any.

Metropolitan Los Angeles and Orange County combined is massive, like an angry three-hundred pound hooker sprawled out on a curb, dead drunk. Her right fist is Long Beach, her left hand is Pasadena, her head - covered in a dirty wig - is Hollywood, her sagging breasts include the downtown banking district with its pompous high rises and her ass and thighs enclose Inglewood, Anaheim, Carson, and all things in between. Los Angeles County counts some eleven million souls as its residents and Orange County ups the ante another two to five million, making Southern California a humbling metropolis.

Cruising on Katella Avenue, Pacific Coast Highway, and then Santa Monica Boulevard, I felt like a hillbilly ant in a dilapidated Hyundai, alone in a sea of angry legal secretaries and other impatient locals gunning their sleek BMW's and Acura's for the next stoplight. Everyone knew where he or she was going and I didn't have a clue. The smog from eleven million cars and the typical California flat-as-a-pancake geography makes it impossible to see the downtown skyline. There was a Ramada Inn in Torrance. It was expensive, it was safe, and it was quiet. When you are a guppy in an ocean of humanity, you stick to what you know, you stick to the reefs, to places like Trader Joe's, El Pollo Loco, and the nearest well-lit parking lot of an AMC movie theater.

In my plush motel room, I channel surfed and watched the evening news. Most of the random violence occurred in Long Beach, which was also one of the most racially and economically mixed areas. There was another shoot out between a black gang and a chollo gang and a Brinks security guard got shot in the face in a full parking lot in Anaheim at five in the evening and nobody saw anything. Outside the motel, I watched tiny grade-school kids get off city buses in the their daily journey home from public schools on the other side of the concrete jungle.

The next morning, I made a quick shot up Crenshaw through Torrance and then back on to the Pacific Coast Highway and Redondo Beach. Perusing the endless strip malls, taquerios, and coffee shops, I thought this ain't so bad.

I stop at the Redondo Beach Pier. The dewy mid-morning air was somewhere between phosphorescent and bronze. I kept taking my shades off and putting them back on. The light in this place of endless contradictions cast everyone in a soft movie star glow. It was about sixty-five degrees Fahrenheit and it bumped all the way to seventy-three before I left the valley. Three hours away, in the southern Sierra Nevada, the wind is howling and the snow is blinding. At the pier, everything was polluted. It was heartbreaking. This would have been such a nice place to live if people would just turn off their cars and never flush their toilets again. And this was the same crowd of blancos who point the finger of accusation at the mining on the Baja coast.

And what was up with the whites and the Chicanos in Los Angeles? I try and ask several of my friends in Reno, who are ex-Angelinos, but they all change the subject. Racism in Los Angeles is like the giant, cervasa swilling, cheeseburger-sucking elephant in the middle of the living room nobody wants to talk about. Reno is more than thirty percent Hispanic and, yeah, we have issues, but generally we take after Rodney King and get along.
In Los Angeles, the Spanish-English divide was wider than the Grand Canyon, it was a gaping wound that leached life out of the arts and culture scene and made for cold stares at intersections. When I was in Orange at a convenience store, the clerk, a Latina, made a point of helping several Hispanics in line behind me, before she helped me. Later, in downtown Beverly Hills, near Wiltshire and Santa Monica I sat in a Starbuck's and watched a middle-aged Hispanic woman try vainly for ten minutes to get anybody to give her directions to some mansion where she had an interview. I would have helped her but I couldn't even remember where I parked my car.
All the way home from my foray to the Southland, I kept thinking back on the Hispanic friends and foes I'd had. Nevada, like California, has been drawing Spanish speakers, especially campesinos and vaqueros, for centuries. There were a lot of Spanish Basques where I grew up, along with actual Spanish immigrants and Mexicans, and Dias help you on the playground if you confused the three.

Back in high school, a friend of mine, who was Italian-American, once stood overlooking the parking lot of our high school and said, "There's way too many spicks in our school." She was and still is, regularly mistaken for a Latina with her black hair, olive skin, and green eyes. Mexicans come up to her on the streets of Stockton, California, (where she now lives) and start speaking Spanish. In her defense, she has since taken a few Spanish classes and now tries to mumble a response. She wants to go back to the Mother Church, wants to become a confirmed Catholic, but the services are rarely held in English and so she leans toward Protestantism and her family leans perilously towards white supremacy.

A few years back, in the midst of a day job, I asked a co-worker - who was a young California dude from tiny Grass Valley - why he was so determined to finish his minor in Spanish literature and go back to Peru. He said, "If you ever make it to San Diego and you look south over the border, just remember, for as far as you can see, for as far as the land mass extends all the way to Antarctica, the whole world is Spanish."

Tuesday, February 12, 2002

FilmPlayLinks is Coming!

Submitted by Patte Ardizzoni

Isn't this a kooky business? And how did we get here? If you've got an answer for that one you're a far wiser person than I. And yet, here I am, putting fingers to my keyboard and waving my virtual pom-poms as I cheer the evolution of independent film and why it's the best thing to happen to home theater since the fast rewind button on the VCR.

I'm proud to be a part of the independent film club, having worked on a seventy-five thousand dollar shoestring, co-producing a suspense thriller. I've finally lost that dazed expression, I'm happy to say. But the experience made me realize how difficult it is to pull off a film of any size. It got me to wonder how many films are floating around out there, and although they're excellent and definitely worth seeing, they just haven't lucked out in terms of interested distributors.

We wanted to change that.

So here I am. In the middle of executing an independent film catalog, complete with fifty film trailers, behind-the-scenes footage, as well as a short film. You're shaking your collective heads wondering, "How in the world can a catalog do all that?" The secret is in the medium. Instead of paper, we're putting all those goodies onto DVD.

Stick with me here. Imagine sitting in front of your television browsing through fifty trailers, all chosen because of their excellence. You get a glimpse of the process as you listen to the people who have made the films. And here's the best part - you're given the opportunity to actually buy one the films on our web site or via a toll-free number. And by doing that you'll be giving back to the filmmaker in the form of income for a film that is finally getting a chance to be seen. What a concept.

The DVD is supported by sponsors, PBS style, which alleviates the problem of specific product advertising and the eventual state of product obsolescence. The catalog can now remain timeless, making it a perfect DVD to archive. The unique part of this formula for advertisers is that we're putting their name into over a million homes, coupled with consumers who match a definitive buyer profile suited to sponsor's targets.

If you buy trade magazines like Home Theater, MovieMaker, Variety, or Guerrilla Filmmaker, you shouldn't be surprised to find a DVD full of everything I've mentioned above. What a great way to get the filmmaker out to the people who most appreciate what they're creating! What a perfect way to deliver a sponsor's name into the home! What a simple way to get alternatives in entertainment out to the people who are scarfing up all those DVD players and home theater systems!

The catch is finding those films. It's not easy. So I'm calling on the loyalty of all independent filmmakers to help spread the word. The company is FilmPlayLinks. The goal is to make independent film more accessible and expand the ways in which films are distributed. The benefit is visibility and income for the filmmaker and a way for consumers to enjoy their home theater experience to the fullest.

Visit the website at www.filmplaylinks.com or send me a note at p.ardizzoni@filmplaylinks.com with your feedback, comments, or suggestions. This isn't lip service. We want to hear your thoughts. In the meantime, I'll continue doing my best impersonation of Paul Revere galloping around the internet and film festivals shouting, "FilmPlayLinks is coming! FilmPlayLinks is coming!"