Thursday, May 21, 2009

Film Awards Can Add a Big Boost To Your Publicity

By George S. Mc Quade III,
West Coast Bureau Chief, NY

“I believe it started at the Cannes Festival, but Slumdog Millionaire is a good example of how a little film with eight Oscars, received 87 other awards and 27 additional nominations can go a long way with a little buzz at the film festivals,” said Moderator Hallace Davids, senior vice president, Special Events, Universal Pictures. Davids joined an Entertainment Publicists Professional Society (EPPS) panel on film festivals and the publicity they can generate.

Film awards have become an increasingly important part of movie campaigns, particularly for independent productions. About 75 EPPS members and publicist learned how to explore new business opportunities for small films at the International Cinematographers Group Union Local 600 sponsored event.

“There are many film festivals such as Toronto, Canada, Tribecca to LA Film festivals are major markets, but Santa Barbara and Palm Springs film festivals are another push on the awards circuits where directors, writers and producers are given awards, “said Davids. “There’s a film festival in almost every city of the Universe,” explained Davids.

“The first film festival I ever attended was in 1963, Sebastian Film Festival with Columbia Pictures at the time,” said Leonard Morpurgo, vice president, Murray Weissman & Associates. Morpurgo just penned a new book entitled, “Of Kings and Queens and Movie Stars,” available for $16.95 at “For more than 40 years I’ve traveled the world as an international film publicist, acting as father confessor, whipping boy, friend-and sometimes enemy to Hollywood celebrities.”

“My most recent film festival, a couple of weeks ago was at the Newport Beach Film Festival, where we represented a small picture called ‘Follow the Prophet,’ which is looking for distribution. It is extremely hard for any film. We got a little, but I think it might become video on demand, maybe television, maybe theatrical, but don’t tell my clients I said that. I have been involved in award as well as film festivals. In fact we were talking about the film ‘Crash’ for Lions gate at Murray Weisman & Associates. One reason it was successful was because it came from behind. At the film festivals it was Brokeback, Brokeback, and Crash.”

“However, this year is was the other way around. We were on the film team of ‘The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,’ which got a lot of buzz and had 13 nominations. And then this damn ‘Slumdog’ came along and took it all away from us. It was the opposite of what happened last year,” he said.

“A lot of these films end up self distributing, and go on video on demand (VOD - cable) and Online viewing,” said Alice Zou, account executive mPRm Public Relations, who has handled such films as Atonement and The Visitor for theatrical distribution and festivals.” “We’re are seeing more and more independent films head to VOD, Online viewing and DVD distribution is becoming more and more popular among independent films.”

“Film festivals don’t make a lot of money, and they do it because they love it, but it is really about relationships and a lot of prayer,” said Tanya Kersey, founder/executive directory, Hollywood Black Film Festival. “Universal and Showtime used to be huge sponsors, but festivals are struggling and many are going into debt. General Motors (which recently filed for bankruptcy) used to support Women in Film.”

Kersey is celebrating her 10th anniversary of managing an annual film festival market to buy and sell films that has been billed as the “Black Sundance” film festival. It draws big celebrities such as Forest Whittaker, Sidney Poitier and Densel Washington. Nearly 100 Film Screenings (features, shorts, student, documentary, animation, music video) occur annually in Beverly Hills. The conference also features 20+ workshops, panel and roundtable discussions with around 100 speakers.

“Filmmakers use the festival to really get their films out there to let the industry know about them. They look for agents, managers and other production deals. The studios use them to build additional buzz and the films are written and directed by African American filmmakers in a competitive program,’ said Kersey. She also noted that have been a lot of filmmakers, who are non-black, but have films that are black-themed and enter by invitational programs The Hollywood Black Film festival runs five days in June (June 2-7) in Beverly Hills, CA.

“Different films have different reasons to be in these film festivals,” said Davids. “Since I work at Universal Pictures, we don’t have a lot of movies for the film festivals, because we have big popcorn movies that are not looking to go under the microscope of the film festival. If a movie goes to a film festival that is not well received, it can kill movie. If the movie goes there looking for distribution, breaks out into distribution it’s on its way,” she said.

Morpurgo recommended the “Ultimate Film Festival Survival Guide (Paperback) by Chris Gore (Author), who is more widely known as someone who writes about film and has been making films since he was a kid he said in his book that sells for $14.95 also on Morpurgo has traveled the world from California to Cannes for more than three decades with many of the greatest movie stars and celebrities of those decades. The London born author and publicist gives touching, funny and insightful stories about such legends as Cary Grant, Steve McQueen, the Duke of Windsor, Charlton Heston, Warren Beatty, Nicolas Cage, Leslie Caron, Peter O’Toole, Sir Laurence Olivier and Sir Alec Guinness to name a few.

“A publicists helps maneuver the waters filmmakers, and build up buzz for first time filmmakers who are going out to the festival circuit,” said David Magdael, David Magdael & Associates, who works mostly independent films and documentaries and runs the film festival circuit as much as other publicists.

“Every film festival is a little bit different, and every film is different, so we try to tailor what our attack and strategy is in working with the sales team and producers. I personally like to get into the head of the filmmaker –why did he or she make this film- what are their expectations. Documentaries and independent films are not having a theatrical life right now, so the question always comes up, ‘what do you want, what do you see,” because the documentaries are not making money at the theatrical level at the moment. Back in the old days it was ‘Fahrenheit 9-ll, ‘Super Size Me’ and others. It was a different time, and now it has changed, so those days are all gone. We work from the beginning from the time they get accepted into a film festival and sometimes through to the theatrical following.

Sundance is such a crazy festival, and it’s more of a marathon than it is a sprint. And you’re there for nine days with these newbies and it is just managing a lot of those expectations and making sure they are okay and working together with the sales team. You must make sure that the right people see the film, and that the trade reviewers see it in the right context, whether it be with an audience screening or press and industry screening. Several years ago we stood back and watch how the audience responded to ‘Super size me’ and we were turning away 250 at the door,” said Madge.

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