Your “Creative Brains Trust”: People Who Are Invaluable in Your Career, and How to Find Them

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Remember the story of the Little Red Hen? TL;DR for you: this little lady sets out to make bread and asks the other members of the farmyard if they want to help her with the various tasks, including grinding the wheat for the flour and churning the butter to spread on the finished loaf. Every one of them declines…but when they smell the smell of the freshly baked loaf, they come running. Nobody wants to help make the bread, but they sure want to eat it.

Sometimes I feel like creative endeavors are just like the Little Red Hen story. You hear stories of people who are heralded as ‘overnight successes’, which doesn’t take into account the YEARS and sometimes decades of hard work that they have put in without praise or assistance to get to the point where people applaud their efforts. Sometimes the grind can be exhausting and a little deflating. There’s far too many people who don’t acknowledge the grind when someone is coming up in their career but will be the first to say they knew that person way back when!

That’s why it’s vitally important to surround yourself with people who are the polar opposite of those people. Every creative, entrepreneur and dreamer needs a ‘Brains Trust’: people who support you and your efforts and can assist you in various ways. I’ve found the majority of these people seem to pop up almost magically. Sometimes they will be friends, sometimes employers or ex-employers, sometimes people you least expect. I like to think of them as being like the people who give water to marathon runners; refreshing and replenishing them on their route so they can continue to success.

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Here’s the kinds of people you need in your own “Brains Trust”, regardless of whether you’re a filmmaker, entrepreneur, creative, or all three:

The Sounding Board

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The Sounding Board is the type of person who will stoically listen to you when you need to get something off your chest or test out a theory. The key to having a great person as your Sounding Board is to BE a great Sounding Board yourself. This is not a one-way relationship, nor should it be. It’s give-and-take. These are the people you can be 100% candid with, because a lot of the time you will find your Sounding Boards in your friendship circle.

The Professional Mentor

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A while back, I wrote a post about how to find mentors (and how to be a great mentoree) which outlined how to seek out a mentor, but I particularly wanted to make mention of having a professional mentor as part of your “Brains Trust”.

Footnote: When I set out to write this post, I stumbled across an interesting LinkedIn article about Little Red Hen Syndrome and dysfunctional team members. This post, thankfully, is not going to be about those types of people but it’s definitely worth a read nonetheless. These are people who are usually completely removed from your circle of friends (or who may be acquaintances) who are leaders in your field. While you can actively seek out a mentor yourself, I’ve found that along the way I have been very fortunate to have had mentors appear out of the blue. In my case, my mentors have all been incredible women in the film industry who not only believe in my work and my potential to go further, but who have also, at times, provided opportunities and connections which have been invaluable. Professional mentors are truly magical people, because they see the ability in you even when you (or other people) can’t. Chances are, they’ve had similar experiences. If you are fortunate enough to have a professional mentor or two, don’t forget to become a mentor on your journey and help others along the way.

The Connector

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Connectors are some of my favourite people. They’re the ones who have absolutely no qualms with introducing you to people they think you need to know, or suggesting that you reach out to a certain person. The Connectors in my circle have been the first to send me a link to a project or short-term gig they think I’d be a great fit for. If they don’t know something, you can be sure they know somebody who does, and they’ll very happily introduce you to that person. If they were magicians, they wouldn’t pull a rabbit out of the hat…they’d pull out a unicorn. They can also identify useful resources you should check out: books, podcasts, articles…you name it, they have a magical index of resources!

The Muses

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Every great artist had their muse. Creatives and entrepreneurs often cite people, books, speeches and other resources that have helped spur them to greatness. Tap into your muses and inspirations, both real and fictional. Chances are, you might not meet Michelle Obama, but you can read her autobiography. You can tap into the character strengths of a person you admire to help you summon courage in a moment. I’ve been known to draw on the words and music of Patti Smith and Amanda Palmer, the courage and creativity of Frida Kahlo, the genius and detail of Stanley Kubrick, and the joie de vivre of Rita Hayworth, just to name a few!

You will probably find that some people you know will have multiple attributes. I have a few friends who are Sounding Boards who are also amazing Connectors. If you find that you identify in one of these categories, why not think about helping your fellow creatives in your Brains Trust capacity? Believe me, it really is appreciated and it goes a long way.

I want to make mention of a fantastic article about dysfunctional teams and Little Red Hen Syndrome that I discovered while I was writing this post. It identifies some really toxic team members and behaviours that exist in a teamwork capacity, and is well worth a read to find out who you really DON’T want on your brains trust.

Some Big News About the Future

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This is a post I have meant to write for a few weeks, but it’s gained a bit more poignancy and urgency in the past week or so.

This month is Film Sprites PR‘s fifth birthday. If you know the background of Sprites, you know that it was created seemingly by accident thanks to a tweet asking filmmakers if they needed publicity and social media marketing assistance. It has grown into a beautiful, exciting (albeit small) consultancy that I am proud to have created. The icing on the fifth birthday cake for me has been recently appearing on Karyn Hay’s Lately show on Radio NZ to talk about whether artists who are reluctant self-promoters could successfully promote their work. This opportunity came about thanks to an article I wrote on the subject that was published on The Big Idea. It’s by far the biggest exposure I’ve received to date, and I’m so grateful for these experiences.

While this was happening, I was also offered (and accepted) the position of Wellington Communications Assistant at the 2019 New Zealand International Film Festival. You might recall that in 2014 I was a Publicity Assistant for the Christchurch leg of NZIFF 2014, which happened while I was also working full-time and building Sprites. Given that the Communications Assistant position is full time, you might be wondering what’s happening with Sprites (Or, hey, even if you aren’t wondering, I needed a nice little segue into talking about the future of Sprites, and that was it).

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It’s been a remarkable five years, but the time has come for me to move on. Sprites was only ever going to be a small part of my story; a way to assist independent filmmakers with publicity and digital marketing while I built up my skills and portfolio as a publicist. From now, I will no longer be taking on publicity or social media marketing work under the Film Sprites PR brand. The website will remain up, and I will continue to update our social media channels and write about topics that are relevant to filmmakers, however. I have a few speaking engagements organised in the near future, so I will be continuing to spread my knowledge of social media marketing and publicity for independent filmmakers, which is something I love to do. I am doing this so that I can begin to look for a full-time, permanent position in the film industry which is one of my big dreams in life. I also want to move into being a producer as well, and so something has to give, and that ‘something’ is Sprites.

I have no net.

I have no guarantee that I can achieve my dreams and goals.

However, I have faith in those dreams and goals, a lot of moxie and a huge heart that yearns to be of service to the wider film community and its audiences.

I think sometimes you have to clear the decks and make space for things to enter, and I feel this very strongly at this point in my life. I haven’t quite achieved what I set out to achieve, but in actual fact I’ve achieved much more than I dreamed possible (if that makes sense).

I am eternally grateful to my friends, family, supporters, the filmmakers I’ve had the privilege of working with, Sprites’ media contacts, my film industry support network and colleagues, and YOU.

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?

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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.

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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!

 

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.

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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.

Self-Promotion and Networking For Introverts

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Recently on the blog I laid out some strategies for self-promotion for people who were reluctant promoting themselves and their work. It proved to be one of our most popular blog posts thus far. Initially, I had thought about discussing what to do when it came to self-promotion and networking if you were also an introvert, but decided to tackle that separately…hence this post.

My name is Lynnaire MacDonald…and I am an introvert. Introversion gets a bad rap sometimes. People mistake it for shyness or think that introverts are unable to socialise effectively- not true! In fact, when people meet me they’re amazed when I say I’m an introvert. Introverts think deeply, have rich inner worlds and yes, when they need to they can shine on the stage, do the TED talk and show the world what they’ve got. You can see the definition of introversion here, but the real meat of it is that introverts are energized and drained in ways that are different to their extrovert peers. Introverts are energized by introspection and solitary activities, whereas they are easily drained by group activities and loud, busy environments.

Does that mean that being an introvert is a barrier to doing things like promoting your work, or attending networking events? Not at all. The key to doing so in a way that keeps you from feeling drained or overwhelmed is by having a few strategies up your sleeve. These are some of my tried and tested strategies:

Choose networking events and conferences wisely: as much as introverts would prefer to network with people via e-mail and social media, networking events or conferences are inevitable. The key is choosing events and conferences wisely. What do I mean by this? In my experience, small-talk can be draining, but really focused conversations about a topic are energizing for me and I get the most out of them. So, for instance, a general women in business-type networking event would be draining but going to a filmmaking networking evening or conference brings out the best in me because I can talk about the minutiae of filmmaking with the people I meet.

Have a conference or networking ‘wingperson’: sometimes there will be conferences or networking events where you don’t know anyone, and that can be unavoidable. But if you are attending an event and know someone else who is attending, think about asking them to be your ‘wingperson’ if it’s the first time you’ve attended that event. I had this happen last year at my first Big Screen Symposium. A friend and mentor was also attending and kindly introduced me to other people. This year I know I can attend the Symposium and I will see more than a few familiar faces.

Don’t be afraid to make an e-mail introduction: email introductions are fine, too, as long as each e-mail is genuine. No copy and paste, please! I have to do this often in my line of work so I’m used to doing this, but if you’re feeling a bit reluctant to reach out, test the waters by sending out one introductory e-mail a day for 5 days. Then 2 for 5 days, and so on.

Manage your energy levels: constant interaction with people over a sustained period of time can be draining, so it’s important to manage this by taking some ‘alone time’. Whether that’s grabbing some time to sit and read a book for a few minutes, or going for a solo walk, you need that time to recharge.

Know your ‘voice’:  self-promotion and networking as an introvert it can be difficult but it’s not insurmountable. It’s all about finding your ‘voice’ in various situations. For instance, I use a lot of humour in social media posts. I’m not afraid to say that something is shameless self-promotion, or use a cringe-worthy pun or ‘Dad joke’. Finding your ‘voice’ can be your superpower, because you know what works for you and what doesn’t. For instance, you won’t find me gushing over someone. I physically can’t do it- I find it draining and inauthentic. But I can connect with someone via social media over a shared interest or opinion. I once bonded with a fellow PR person over the UK version of Wallander (we had differing opinions on pickled herring, however).

Being an introvert is not a personality flaw. In fact, tapping into your ability as an introvert can help you both at work and in your personal relationships.

 

Strategies For Reluctant Self-Promoters

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I can honestly say that I owe about 99% of the opportunities I’ve had in my career to being a smartarse.

And I don’t mean being a smartarse in a disrespectful way, but some of the biggest and most exciting opportunities in my life have arisen because I’ve been cheeky enough to ask for them in a playful way that doesn’t come off as pushy. This isn’t something that would work for everyone, but that’s my schtick. I pretty much live my life on the verge of telling a joke anyway, so using my sense of humour (and my cheekiness!) have become second nature.

It’s something I’ve had to develop over many years, because to be completely honest I’m very much a reluctant self-promoter. Part of it stems from the fact that here in New Zealand we’re not big on tooting our own horn. Part of it is because I’m very much an introvert, and while I can bring the energy for presenting a workshop or networking events, I need at least a day to recover afterwards. Introversion isn’t a hindrance to things like networking and self-promotion, but it needs careful consideration when it comes to utilising your energy resources and being at your best (I’m sure many of you can relate).

In the work that I do, I get to talk to a lot of filmmakers about their work, and I often hear them express the difficulty they have in self-promoting their work. Sometimes there is a reluctance in reaching out to people for donations to their crowdfunding campaigns,  promoting on social media or reaching out to media outlets to secure coverage or a review. It’s something I understand- sometimes it’s not easy! But your work deserves to be seen and appreciated.

Better yet, the information age provides filmmakers with a variety of opportunities to connect with their audiences in ways that were not previously available prior to the Internet going mainstream and the development of social media. The world is literally at your fingertips.

So, how can you grow your audience and promote yourself and your work if you’re really reluctant? I have some strategies that may help- they’re the same ones I have used over the years successfully:

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Work out what’s stopping you: chances are, when you think about promoting your work, you’ll have thoughts and/or feelings that arise over it. It’s a good idea to really drill down and find out why you’re reluctant to promote your work. Find 5-10 minutes in your day to sit undisturbed with a pen and paper or your laptop with a word processing document open and ready. Take a few deep breaths, focusing on each breath and clearing your mind. When you’re ready, think about self-promotion of yourself or your work and identify any thoughts or feelings that come up around it. Write them down.

Now that you’ve got your list, look at what you wrote. Here’s where it gets interesting! Step outside of yourself for a minute and imagine that it’s your best friend thinking and feeling these things. For each thought or feeling, write a statement that refutes that thought or feeling. For instance, if this thought came up:

“Nobody gives a damn about independent filmmakers and their films”

You might write:

“Who is this ‘nobody’? There are plenty of people who are passionate about independent filmmakers and their films. You will find those people when you connect with your audience.”

Do this for each thought or feeling. It sounds silly, but it really does work!

Take approaches that you’re comfortable with: perhaps you’re not comfortable with social media, but have someone on your team that is and can provide social media assistance. If you’re more comfortable reaching out to media outlets via e-mail, then that’s completely fine! The same applies when you’re crowdfunding your project: if you’re not comfortable with social media, you may want to approach people individually or via your mailing list.

Authenticity is key: you don’t have to be anyone else. You don’t have to try and put on airs and graces with people. Being yourself and sharing your passion for your filmmaking well and truly resonates with your audience. People are passionate about filmmaking, so let them into your world and your process.

You don’t have to do it all at once: while it’s a good idea to have your social media presence established and also tap into resources for publicity of your filmmaking, you don’t have to do it all at once! If it’s easier for you to start with one thing and then add other strategies later, then do so. After all, good things take time!

Strategies for Reluctant Self-Promoters film sprites pr

Remember your WHY: I say this so often with different scenarios because it’s applicable across the board. If you start to feel really reluctant about promoting your work yourself, remember WHY you started filmmaking in the first place. This helps to not only bring you back to your centre, but it also provides a boost of inspiration to propel you forward through your reluctance.

Happy filmmaking!