If it is appropriate, and you need 'extras' it might be an idea to
approach the local Scout/Girl Guide troupe, or a local Youth Club.
Or, if you require older people, don't be afraid to try and recruit
your 'crowd' from a Darby and Joan Club/parents' friends, or even
your local pub. Something this simple could provide a local angle
for your friendly local journalist - and you could even give them a
walk on role if it can be written in and make them part of the
Quick Tip: Use Casting of your talent as part of the story.
Hire (or borrow) a small theatrical venue for a few hours. Invite
the journalist along to see some of the talent auditioning. Get some
friends around so that the audition queue seems longer than it is,
and take some stills of the busy audition room - allow them to
interview some of those auditioning who are likely to be on your
short-list. Publicize (through an ad in the local paper/ facebook/
twitter/onefatcigar) the audition to get more people along.
Immediately your low budget film has budding actors clamoring to be
in it, and the journalist has another angle to their story.
Rule 2 - Get local news coverage
I've got news for you - writers and editors of national papers
read the local press, and most of these papers have online versions,
so this would be a very good place to start. You obviously don't
have the money to pay your 'extras' but as long as you promise them
endless supplies of hot tea/coffee and sustenance, they will be
thrilled and willing to participate. After all, it's something to
tell friends and family - again spreading word of mouth.
All films are different, so all PR campaigns will be different.
It really is up to you, the producer, to find the angle. I really do
believe that a set of stills that grab people's interest is the most
important promotional tool. With no or low-budget filmmaking you
cannot be expected to hire one of the top UK unit photographers. But
you could approach a local University or college to see which
students might aspire to shooting film stills. Chances are he or she
would jump at the opportunity of coming to your set for the
experience, rather than the money.
Quick tip: Facebook is also a great tool for this - I just ran a
quick search for 'photographer' and 'photography' and came up with
62,000 results. I'm in London today so I pinged in London and
filtered down to over 500 people, finding out that a number had
mutual friends. You might ask to see a portfolio from them and
perhaps get introduced through a friend.
Rule 3 - Always get a great stills photographer and invite to the
most important day of the shoot!
It is vital to choose a key day in the schedule where the
photographer can grab as many great shots as possible. You will know
what they are, and they should be iconic and not just a picture of
an isolated scene. If you are shooting a film about a bank robbery
for example, something simple but effective might just be a close up
shot of two eyes looking through a balaclava: something stark and
Taking stills is an art in itself. Tell the photographer what you
want and how you want to use the images and then leave them to it.
If they are good they will give you plenty of options.
Case Study 1
I was reminded while writing this of the brilliant poster for The
Blair Witch Project which was so intriguing it had everyone talking
about it for weeks before the film actually came out.
Producers of The Blair Witch project succeeded in creating huge
pre-hype for their low budget horror flick which centered on
students being murdered in a forest. Blurring the boundaries between
fact and fiction was key to the early buzz that surrounded the
movie. Allegedly the film makers had circulated tapes to colleges
which were presented as 'real video diary footage'. Clips that were
presented as 'documentary' rather than fiction were shown on the
Independent Film Channel. This was one of first feature films to use
online and viral PR to build hype. The buzz ensured that Blair Witch
was a major success which took over $150 million at the box office.
If your film is in the horror-genre, then go for something a bit
edgy and mysterious, rather than an in-your-face close up of a
bloody figure. The images must tease and suggest rather than give
the whole plot away.
A romance or love story could very simply be a shot of the lovers in
an unusual angle. A shot that will make people stop and look, and
try to work out what the story might be about.
Tactics and Techniques
Two things to consider: What generates word of mouth? What makes
something viral? The answers: Great PR - is about building a
backstory of interest; Great Trailers - about visually selling that
The Press Release
To start with, write the press release (we'll deal with how to right
a great press release in my next article). As mentioned earlier,
there is nothing wrong with sending out three releases to cover the
one film. Here are my key steps:
1. Build a Database
Start building your database, with friends, family and friends of
friends; posting the title and a 'Look out For' and updates posting
on Facebook, Twitter, One Fat Cigar.com etc.
2. Get some great still photographs and footage early in the shoot
3. Try to cut a short teaser trailer
If you are able to cut a short teaser trailer early on in filming,
post it on You Tube and MySpace and send the link to everyone you
know. If it grabs them, whether it shocks them, or makes them laugh
or cry, the chances are they will pass it on.....but don't rely on
them, make sure they do.
4. Learn to write an engaging press release - aim for 3 press
The first press release will announce the start date, include a
short synopsis, and list the actors and their brief credits, the
producer and the director. Here you can mention locations if
appropriate. The title should be eye-grabbing and short.
The second press release could relate to what I was saying earlier,
about hiring 'extras' or 'crowds' from a local organization. This
could well make local news, and don't be afraid to call the local TV
or radio station either and invite them down. You are now slowly
starting to build awareness of your movie, and little by little you
will find the word spreading.
Your last press release could be about the completion of filming on
time and on budget, and should be sent out with an image. Important
to note that some behind-the-scenes pictures - pictures that contain
cameras and lighting rig - are the best ones to use here. You may
well be limited to the number of actual film stills you have, and
you don't want to start using them yet. Save them for when you are
promoting the film in earnest. But just keep up the flow of
information, in any innovative (and free) way you can.
Case Study 2 - Bend the rules
Desperado by Robert Rodriguez. Having made El Mariachi in 1992 and
winning at Sundance with a budget of only $7,000 Rodriguez realized
the importance of a good trailer. He had a relatively low budget of
$6m, but did some great promotion behind the scenes. His key
elements to sell the film:
1. Talented and 'hot' cast in Antonio Banderas and Salma Hayek -
made sure there were scenes in the film where they 'looked good' -
which he could use as publicity, especially on the back of El
2. Attention grabbing Trailer http://www.imdb.com/video/screenplay/vi3315663129/
which although now dated made sure that if you loved action films
you would want to see this.
3. Added interesting extras, such as his Robert Rodriguez 10 minute
film school to help with the DVD sell - where studios make most of
their money - built an immediate affinity with filmmakers
4. Robert Rodriguez told everyone he could find that he was
operating outside the Hollywood system - Fantastic PR again,
everyone likes a loose cannon, an underdog!
Your angle might be, the studios wouldn't fund it so you mortgaged
your house, stole from friends, sold your pet dog on eBay, to make
this film happen, because, naturally its a story that just had to be
Rule 4 - The most important point of the whole process - you should
be thinking all the time about the marketing angle
There has to be an interesting angle somewhere, after all if your
film isn't interesting why are you making it? Exploit that.
And if I had only $200 to spend on UNIT PR?
1. Hire the best stills photographer I could afford
2. Design a 'Sell' Poster - don't print the poster and give it out -
just use it in emails to journalists (it costs too much to print and
3. Set up a Twitter, Facebook Page and One Fat Cigar Account -
invite your friends - and put the poster on the front
4. Get a Business Card, and put your name, telephone number and
email on it. You're a Producer.
5. Write attention grabbing press releases and at the bottom direct
then to your accounts
6. Get local journalists involved. Give them your business card, an
access to the set.
7. Make a trailer that makes people want to know more and do it
early as a teaser.
A few quick notes on how to use Twitter/Facebook and One Fat Cigar
to PR your film:
Twitter - Tweet from set, what are you doing now? Did something
interesting just happen? Tell people. Just done seen our first
stills photos, why not come take a look. What do you think of our
new trailer? See it here...
Facebook - A more meaningful engagement with the public. At the
beginning you're going to know most of your fans, filter your
twitter feed into your Facebook fan updates, and upload images and
stills, invite people along to screenings or to be extras - you'll
soon have more fans and word will spread so that when the film goes
out there they can be part of it.
One Fat Cigar - Although very new this site is for everyone like you
who loves film or are filmmakers/actors/writers. They're keen to
follow your production from day one, and you can cast and crew
through the site and build a fan base. Blog about your film here, do
video updates from set, release the trailer, exclusive interviews
with key team members, engage with fans who can comment and be
involved in your production. I recommend signing up to the mailing
list if you haven't already to find out more when it launches and
reading the blog which has a lot more information about the site.
Three different mechanics- but all equally valuable to build word of
For a larger scale production/ feature film
Exactly the same rules apply for a short film and for a larger
production, it just means that the range and scope of possibilities
are different - you can approach more easily national journalists
and it is possible to achieve more press with a feature film. PR is,
of course only half the battle - the film also has to be good to be
a real success.