When a Project Feels Like Coming Home: Us Among the Stones

Us Among the Stones

After assisting on the pre-production crowdfunding campaign for Us Among the Stones (which was then titled This Family), Sprites is back working with writer/director D.R. Hood and the Likely Story team for their post-production crowdfunding campaign, which launches at the end of this week. Returning to the project feels like coming home. Rather fitting, considering the film is centred around a dutiful son (played by Laurence Fox) in thrall of his dying mother (played by Anna Calder-Marshall) who visits his childhood home during one weekend. Recently separated from his partner, he ends up in the middle of his colourful extended family as they descend on the family home.

Us Among the Stones is a film that has been 20 years in the making, sparked by the story of D.R. Hood’s sister’s visit to a big house as an architecture student. This house had an ancient wine cellar, pre-medieval origins and was presided over by a hippy laird. The story would end up being the foundation (no pun intended) for what would become Us Among the Stones as it is today.

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Ungraded still of Owen (Laurence Fox) and Marianne (Anna Calder-Marshall) in Us Among the Stones

You may also be familiar with D.R. Hood’s first film, Wreckers, starring recent Emmy® Award-winner Claire Foy, Emmy® nominee Benedict Cumberbatch, and Shaun Evans. Wreckers won Best Film of the Perspectives Competition at the 2012 Moscow International Film Festival. D.R. Hood was also a nominee for Best British Newcomer at the 2012 London Film Festival and New Voices/New Visions Grand Jury Prize nominee at the 2012 Palm Springs International Film Festival. Us Among The Stones also reunites Hood with Wreckers creative collaborators Annemarie Lean-Vercoe (as DoP), Claire Pringle (as editor) and Wreckers actress Sinead Matthews starring as ‘Anna’.

D.R. Hood says: “my hope for the film is that people feel they can relate to the characters and story even if very different…at the heart the film is about a man who comes home stuck and leaves liberated, and it explores what ties home and family can have for us, even long after we have apparently ‘grown up’. It is also about time- the time we live in, and the deep time we come from, and an uncertain future. What does family mean? Family is not always just the people you are related to.”

Us Among the Stones is taking over the Twitter and Facebook accounts of Likely Story, so be sure to follow them, and use the hashtag #UsAmongTheStones. The crowdfunding campaign is launching very soon.

When’s The Best Time to Grow Your Film’s Audience?

when to grow your film's audience

A few weeks ago I was up in Auckland to catch up with clients and film industry acquaintances. One afternoon, I was chatting with an acquaintance who has been in the film industry here in NZ for many years. We were discussing the best time to grow your audience for your film via publicity and social media. The consensus? Pre-production.

Yes, really! Pre-production is the best time to start to grow your audience. Mainstream releases and tentpole films generally have the benefit of being able to secure coverage and have a built-in audience due to things like the cast, a known director, being part of a franchise, and more. It can be a lot harder for indie films and filmmakers to receive that sort of coverage…but it’s not impossible. It just takes a bit of strategic planning early on in production.

So why start building your audience in pre-production?:

  • You will cultivate a following that wants to support you every step of the way: this can be particularly beneficial if you’re looking to crowdfund during production or in post.
  • Your intended audience will have more awareness of your film on release: imagine having a dedicated following and fan base ready and waiting to see your film and media outlets who are more likely to provide coverage and/or review your film because they’re aware of your film prior to release. That’s powerful stuff!

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So, how do you go about building your audience in pre-production?

Make sure you have your social media accounts and website established: if you have a production company website and social media accounts already set up and with a large following, you may want to retain that instead of setting up separate accounts, especially if you are building your audience for a short film or have a slate of films in the works. Check out our post on the most frequently asked questions about social media for filmmakers for more hints and tips.

Crowdfunded in pre-production? Capitalize on campaign updates: the great thing about crowdfunding platforms is that they provide you with the opportunity to raise funds for your project, but also help you to build an audience at the same time. The campaign updates function on your campaign page should not be forgotten after your campaign! You can find out about maintaining contributor connection after a crowdfunding campaign here.

Establish a mailing list: invite people to subscribe to your mailing list via your website or a call to action on social media. Provide content like production updates, competitions, and cut-and-paste sample tweets or Facebook posts that can be used by fans when you’re getting ready to launch!

Reward your fans: some of the most passionate, dedicated fans are the ones who follow your entire journey, so why not reward them? Think about having a ‘Fan of the Week’ post on social media, share fan art, have competitions for signed merch, and more. Your imagination is the limit here!

Start building relationships with journalists and media outlets: get to know the journalists and media outlets that you would like to secure coverage from when you’re ready to release your film. Follow them on Twitter and like them on Facebook, interact with them and share content from them that is relevant to your audience. Never underestimate the power of a great connection with media and journalists.

Building your audience in pre-production may sound daunting. After all, you’ve got so much else to juggle! But think of it as an investment in your film that will return to you right when you want it.

Things I Wish I’d Done Differently When I Began My Film PR Career

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I turn 37 on Friday.

I’m completely fine with ageing- in fact, I relish it. I think my life has opened up in exciting new ways from the time I turned 30 and I can’t wait to see what my life will look and feel like by the time I reach 40.

Of course, with the dawning of a new natal year comes a time of reflection, and recently I’ve been thinking about when I started my film PR career in 2013 (with Film Sprites PR being born in 2014). There’s definitely a few things I wish I’d done differently. I don’t regret pursuing my career in a different manner, but there are some ‘tweaks’ I would have made earlier on that I believe might have made a difference.

So, why am I talking about this, and what are the implications for you, dear reader?

Perhaps you’ll gain some insight into your own goal-setting and career path. If you want a little bit more information about pathways to a job in publicity and digital marketing that are a bit more pain-free than the way I started, you can read about them in a recent guest post I did for We Make Movies on Weekends.

I’m also talking about this because so often on the Internet and on social media we see a very sanitized, edited version of people’s lives. We’ve seen an influx of beauty products touted to help you achieve a perfect selfie (including colour correcting concealer and tooth whitening pens)! I always talk about authenticity in social media, and here I am, pondering the past and bringing to light the messier, muckier aspects. It’s a crash course in not doing what I did! So what do I wish I’d done differently?

lynnaire macdonald film sprites pr

I regret not having a business plan: when I started in publicity, I was working as a freelancer under my own name. I didn’t have a goal to start a PR consultancy…I just wanted to be head-hunted. But fate had different ideas, and when I popped on Twitter on April 17th of 2014 to ask if filmmakers were looking for publicity and digital marketing assistance, the influx of requests took me aback. I literally had to work backwards! I didn’t have any seed money, my branding was very quickly knocked out on Canva in about 5 minutes, and I definitely did not have a business plan.

By the time I met with a business mentor in 2016 to ask about drawing up a business plan, however, he looked at my website and branding (which by now were up to standard) and went; “you need a business plan…why?”

I still wish I’d had it. Back in 2014 I was flying by the seat of my pants which only worked for a small amount of time before I had to go back to the drawing board again.

And again.

And again.

Even if you’re not going to be setting up your own business, I thoroughly recommend sketching out your long, medium and short-term goals. I knew what I wanted, I also knew what I wanted to provide in my role as a publicist, but I couldn’t articulate it- never a good thing when you work in an industry which requires clear communication!

I regret not attending networking events sooner: the beauty of working at home is that, well, you work from home. If you’re an introvert, you have the ease of not having to stick your neck out. But that can also be detrimental. Although I had spent from July of 2013 right up to the day I asked if people wanted my services constantly networking online, doing online networking still can’t fully replace networking with your colleagues and peers face-to-face. Thankfully now I enjoy networking events and the chance to meet people in various industry roles. If, like me, you’re an introvert you might want to check out a recent post I did about self-promotion and networking. These are strategies I’ve found that work very well.

I would have learned how to set up my website earlier than I did: initially, I started with a WordPress blog. Although it was rudimentary,  it did the job…at least for the first few months. Eventually the blog morphed into this website, with a blog attached. But that would happen a year and a half into working at Sprites. That’s a long time when you consider that a website is one of the places people come to to ascertain whether you’re a suitable fit for their services or not.

There are times when I didn’t listen to my gut…and I definitely learned the hard way: your intuition is an incredible tool. It’s that voice and feeling inside that tells you when things are going well…and when they’re not. My intuition tends to be very highly tuned now. If something is amiss, I have an internal GPS that feels like a guitar string snapping. When things are going well or I get an intuitive nudge in the right direction, it’s all tickety boo. But there have been times when I haven’t listened to my intuition to my detriment.

I definitely find that meditation and mindfulness practices really help to fine-tune your intuition.

What advice would I give to my younger self, and to anyone chasing their dreams? Believe in yourself. First and foremost, you have to have the grit and determination to see things through. Sometimes a goal can be a very lonely thing- people may not understand what you’re doing, you may have to go it alone for a very long time. So it’s imperative that when all the doors seem closed and you feel like you’re in an echo chamber you truly believe in yourself and your capabilities. The more you believe in yourself, the more willing you are to prove yourself to the world. The more willing you are to prove yourself to the world, the more people will see what you can do. It’s a snowball effect. Never give up, never give in.

 

The Art of the Pitch (and Why It’s Not Just For Publicists)

The Art of the Pitch

 

What’s your inbox like? How about your DM inboxes on social media? If they’re anything like mine, you’re inundated with unsolicited requests. If you’re a director, a producer (or a film publicist like me), you see them coming a mile off: links to videos, unsolicited requests from crowdfunding campaigns, showreels and more…things that clog up your inbox, take up your time and also distract you from the messages that matter.

Sadly, I cannot tell you the best way to avoid this (other than the nuclear option of blocking), but I can tell you how not to be THAT person, especially when you want to connect with someone for something and want to not only make an impression, but make things happen. Whether you want to collaborate with someone, network or pitch an idea, you can learn a lot from the way publicists pitch their clients to media.

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The art of the pitch is something that can be used successfully in many different arenas in your life, and I’m going to let you in on some of the techniques I use every single day that have assisted me in securing results for my clients. So, whether you’re making contact with someone for networking purposes to help further your filmmaking career or pitching your story idea to potential producers, these techniques are tried and tested:

Introductions are vital: remember the restaurant scene in The Disaster Artist where Tommy unsuccessfully ‘pitches’ his script? Don’t be Tommy! When I was building relationships with bloggers, websites and journalists at the beginning of my career, I would send an e-mail introducing myself and my business. The reason? I didn’t want to send an unsolicited pitch and have it be ignored. In fact, if I was particularly keen on having a film client interviewed by the media outlet I was getting in contact with, I would ask if they would like to be added to our media list for when we had films and filmmakers that their audience would be interested in. It worked so well that with some media outlets would prioritize my clients in terms of reviews/interviews/features. Whether you’re getting in touch with someone for networking purposes or discuss an up-coming project or script, a great introduction is vital.

Do your research: one of the things I hear frequently from journalists is the amount of times publicists get in contact with them wanting to secure a story for their client without actually doing their research. This means they get pitches for beauty products when they are a site that has nothing to do with beauty and/or doesn’t have an audience that would care about beauty products (let alone purchase them). It happens more than you’d like to think.

The same goes for pitching ideas, networking and getting in touch with people you really want to work with. Don’t just do a cursory skim of their website. I had a rambling, incoherent pitch arrive in my inbox the other day from a writer who was looking for a female filmmaker to shoot his script. When I told him that I wasn’t a filmmaker, I was a film publicist, he was extremely red-faced and horrified. The problem? He’d been given a list of female filmmakers to contact…but whoever compiled that list hadn’t done their homework…and he hadn’t either.

Craft your communications: here is the absolute best piece of advice I can give you when it comes to contacting anyone for any reason. Keep this phrase in your head as you write: what’s in it for them? Don’t think about what you want to get out of this communication- hone your writing so you highlight any benefits or advantages for them.

Here’s an example from my world: when I have a client and I’m pitching to journalists, I’ll highlight what’s newsworthy in bullet points, bearing in mind what’s newsworthy about my client and/or their film. For instance if I’m pitching to a film-related website that has a strong commitment to championing women in film, perhaps I’ll mention that the film passes the Bechdel Test, or something similar if it is applicable.

the art of the pitch women in workroom

Take the virtual into the real: communications over e-mail and Skype are great, but if you have the possibility of meeting up, it’s worth suggesting having a coffee meet…and yes, you will be buying. Including a suggestion of a coffee meet is a great way to take the working relationship a step beyond an email. I quite often schedule time in the year where I will go to Auckland or Wellington to meet up with film industry contacts and acquaintances over coffee in order to talk about potential new collaborations, opportunities, and to see what’s happening up north in the industry.

Hopefully these tips will help you hone your communications to connect with the people you want to work with…and make a positive impact. Happy filmmaking!

 

Why Hoping to Go Viral is Like Waiting For a Fairytale Prince

Why hoping to go viral is like waiting for a fairytale prince

A note: while I’ve used the concept of a fairytale prince, you can substitute it for ‘princess’, ‘Iron Man’, or a gender-neutral savior…whatever suits you- the point is, you’re waiting to be saved! Now, carry on…

Gangnam Style. The Harlem Shake. Rebecca Black’s Friday. Chocolate Rain. They shared, we shared, they went viral, we moved onto the next viral hit. One of the things I’m asked most is “can you make me go viral?”, which ultimately gets a hard “no” from me. Why?

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to go viral. The prospect of having your work go viral is exciting, right? But keep in mind the fact that just like having the ‘flu (which is a virus), the infectiousness of your viral content will pass, too. Add to the fact that, according to Socialbakers’ Jan Rezab the lifespan of virality is on the decline thanks to social media going mainstream and hoping to go viral is basically like waiting for a fairytale prince. Not convinced? Read Jan’s post Stop Trying to Go Viral on Recode- he gives evidence but also gives some fantastic alternatives that really work.

Add to that the fact that since the advent of social media in the mainstream there has been a consistent and steady stream of content available to the public, and it’s harder to make a dent virally. Even Tay Zonday of Chocolate Rain fame thinks that it’s more difficult to go viral now than back in 2007.

If you use virality as a sole benchmark for the success of your work, you’re going to end up feeling pretty bad about things- not because your work isn’t great, but because virality is so unpredictable and on the decline. There’s also this myth that going viral means you become an overnight success and everything is peachy keen. That can happen for some, but the experience is different in every case.

I always say to people when it comes to building an audience for their content: “it’s a marathon, not a sprint.” Even though virality is juicy and attractive and seems like the goose that laid the golden egg, it’s less valuable in the long-term. As with any relationship-building, it takes time and care. You can’t just throw any content out there willy-nilly and hope it sticks. Experiment. See what your audience resonates with, and what they’re not so keen on. Keep tabs on engagement levels and what your audience is saying about your work. And most importantly, let them know that you appreciate their shares, comments and support. Build a solid foundation for your work and your brand and you will reap more consistent benefits than a moment of overnight success with a viral video.

Making Your Filmmaking Journey Matter to Your Audience

 

making your filmmaking journey matter to your audience

Recently, I was pleased to see that The Power of Myth was added to Netflix NZ/Aus. This PBS series featuring Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers is truly powerful stuff. You may be familiar with Campbell’s Hero’s Journey template. You may have even found yourself utilizing it if you are a filmmaker. It’s a reminder of the commonality of themes and stages in myth and storytelling, as well as in life.

Don’t worry- we’re not going to get deep into Hero’s Journey territory here, but we are going to look at how your own filmmaking journey can inspire your film’s audience, and how to utilize that to great effect.

Our world is a tapestry of complex stories, of narratives and viewpoints. The advent of social media has provided more people with the means to bringing their own personal story to the world. I was in college when the Arab Spring happened. In decades past, uprisings would be told to the world through traditional media, with these events then being relegated to history. But with the Arab Spring people were taking to social media to let the world know what was happening.

At the time I was learning about the political economy of the mass media and the media conglomerates who had shares in media outlets. That landscape was beginning to change in real-time even as I was learning about it. Back then I got the sense that something very important was happening in the way we receive information about the world. People could tell their story in real-time and receive real-time feedback. Obviously, that’s a really broad statement because it doesn’t take into account some of the inequalities faced by people in different areas of the world (financially or due to censorship), but that’s how I saw it at the time.

Making Your Filmmaking Journey Matter Book and Photograph.jpg

As a filmmaker, you know the importance of stories- after all, you’ve had one (or more) play out in front of the camera! Telling the story of your film (behind-the-scenes details, work in progress, etc) is something that can be used with good effect to connect with media and audiences…but sharing your own personal filmmaking journey can also be incredibly powerful and compelling.

Now, I’m not suggesting you share all of your dirty laundry. You don’t have to get that personal. But the hardships, obstacles and sweat equity that goes into any endeavour can be truly inspiring. Pick one successful person in history and look at their story. I can guarantee you it wasn’t smooth sailing the whole way. Just like with the Hero’s Journey, there were tests and stages. I once heard a successful nanotechnologist say that success isn’t a straight line, it’s more a wiggly one. People are inspired by hard work and struggle. After all, Steve Jobs ended up with two biopics for a good reason- his path wasn’t always smooth sailing. He got fired from his own company. He had an incredible phoenix moment with Apple in the late 90s- early 2000s.

So….what’s your story- and how can you utilize it in publicity and social media?

As you know, filmmakers don’t just pop up out of holes in the ground (if they did, that would be weird). They’re not packaged up like dolls that can be unwrapped and liberated from their boxes to create pitch-perfect films every time. It takes work, it takes skill, and it takes dedication to their craft. The same goes with you. You have a story of your filmmaking journey, and now it’s time to share it. Last year, I heard David Michôd (Animal Kingdom, The Rover, War Machine) talk about his films. Animal Kingdom‘s final incarnation was different to the script of 10 years prior. Perhaps you pursued filmmaking because you heard the call after 30 years of doing the same mind-numbing desk job. Perhaps your film was in distribution limbo but you managed to secure a deal thanks to a serendipitous meeting. It’s things like this that can be shared with media and audiences to good effect.

Here’s ways in which you can share your filmmaking journey:

  • If you love to blog, then blog about it! Film fans love unique insights into the filmmaking process and the filmmaker’s journey because it feels intimate and special.
  • Share on social media. Perhaps you have some old photographs from your early filmmaking days, or a snapshot of the first day’s filming of your first film. Nostalgia is fun and accessible.
  • Think about vignettes and insights you can share when you are being interviewed. In my case, when I do interviews or podcasts about the creation of Film Sprites PR I am more than happy to discuss the fact that my career started as a result of being an earthquake survivor and re-building my life to reflect my passion for film and the desire to work in the film industry. You can think about sharing similar (if you’re comfortable with it). Have you struggled with mental illness and are now dedicated to reflecting these struggles in the narratives of your films? Did a beloved childhood film spark your path towards filmmaking?

Your story is just as much a part of your film as the script and the actors in it. Don’t be afraid to share your journey…you never know who you will inspire.

 

Making E-mail Marketing Part of Your Film’s Publicity Strategy

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Back in the late 90’s I created my first e-mail newsletter. It was a film news and reviews newsletter, very basic and in plain text. I gained subscribers through friends and acquaintances. Before long, I had around 300 subscribers- not many in today’s terms, but not bad! I would scour the Internet for film news, do reviews of favourite films, and so on. When I look back, it was sort of a foreshadowing of what I do now!

E-mail marketing has thankfully come a long way from my rudimentary attempt in the 1990s, and it’s something that can be extremely useful for connecting with your audience as an independent filmmaker. It can also be integrated into your film’s publicity strategy in some very fun ways.

If you’ve had the experience of crowdfunding before, you’ll know that many of the various crowdfunding platforms provide a space for updates. When you post an update on your crowdfunding page, it’s also e-mailed to donors who contributed to your campaign. E-mail marketing is not all that different to providing those updates on your crowdfunding page. If you haven’t had the experience of providing updates to crowdfunding donors- no worries! E-mail marketing is easy, it can be incredibly fun and is a great asset to have as part of your film’s publicity strategy.

Where do I start?

It’s a good idea to pick an email marketing platform, like Sendlane or Mailchimp. I don’t recommend just sending out e-mails from your e-mail account as people won’t have the option to opt out of receiving your e-mails unless they e-mail you back. Email marketing platforms generally have the option of a free account provided you have under a certain amount of subscribers which is perfect for when you’re just starting out.

In order to grow your subscribers you can create a landing page for your film’s website or share the link to a sign-up form via your social media accounts.

email marketing for filmmakers

What about content?

When it comes to the content of your newsletter, the choices are endless! Here’s a few ideas:

  • Provide subscriber-only exclusives, like behind-the-scenes videos or giveaways (signed film posters, a prop from the film, etc)
  • Update subscribers with the film’s progress via short vlogs that can then be re-purposed via social media at a later date
  • Mobilise your subscribers to spread the word about the film (especially in the lead-up to release) by providing them with digital assets they can use on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. These can be housed in a dropbox and subscribers can download them via a link in your newsletter. You can also provide sample tweets they can copy and paste
  • Let people into your filmmaking world: is music particularly important to your process? Share a list of songs or albums that have influenced you. Found resources that you know fellow filmmakers and filmmaking fans would love? Share them!

Experiment. Have fun. See where the mood takes you and what your audience responds to. It’s another way to connect with your audience from production onwards in an intimate and rewarding way.

And speaking of mailing lists….yes, we have one now. Sign up to our mailing list to receive film publicity, social media marketing and crowdfunding hints and tips, exclusive content, and occasional FREE resources. You’ll also be the first to be notified of discounted service rates. You can sign up HERE.