Every January, movie buffs anxiously anticipate the Sundance Film Festival to find out what breakout hits and indie discoveries will define the upcoming year in cinema. As one such cinephile, I have observed the proceedings from afar for as long as I can remember. But 2016 was different – I received credentials to cover the festival as a member of the press.
When I am not behind my work computer scheduling tweets and developing social media strategy, I am usually behind my laptop at home banging out film reviews. Since 2009, I have published over 1,100 of them on my blog Marshall and the Movies, and I recently began contributing articles, interviews and festival coverage to a site called Movie Mezzanine. I was fortunate enough to have their backing for press credentials at the Sundance Film Festival this year, and the press office granted me a badge!
I spent nearly five days in the mountains of Park City seeing 13 films, conducting 7 interviews and guzzling gallons of water stay to hydrated. If you want to read what I thought about the state of the industry, my take on the festival’s portrayal of modern masculinity or just what movies you should be anticipating this year, I recommend you read my coverage. But I bring back more than just fond memories and a handful of ticket stubs from my Sundance experience. By stepping into the role of a journalist for the weekend, I took away two big things that help me better deliver results for clients back at Integrate.
Publicists and the media share many common goals
It’s easy for publicists and reporters to regard each other as a necessary evil: publicists need the eyeballs of the media for clients, and the media needs publicists for access and information on those clients. But at heart, both have a key shared objective – they want to connect people with products or experiences that can improve their lives. In a world oversaturated with messages, both publicists and journalists seek to cut through the clutter.
I kept this in mind when reaching out to the many publicists representing the films I sought out at Sundance. I even went so far as to have my PR counterpart, Allison Huseman, proofread an email for a, particularly big interview pitch! While, ultimately, some of the bigger stars were out of my reach, many publicists were gracious in offering alternate opportunities that resulted in great coverage for their films. Be they other cast members, tickets to sold-out screenings or invitations to private industry screenings, I was truly wowed by all their creative problem solving to keep their clients top of mind.
(Oh, and everyone wants to be able to show their worth to a client after a big media event, so I made sure to pass along coverage to the publicists with whom I worked!)
Social media is a powerful connector
As someone who traditionally eschews the #hottake tweet in favor of more reflective, nuanced takes on film, I was reluctant to embrace Twitter for the festival. However, when it was not draining my phone battery and causing me to look for the outlet in every theater, I found social media to be an incredibly valuable resource on a number of fronts.
It provided me with indispensable advice for how to navigate the festival, with everything from utilizing the bus system to where to grab a great pre-screening donut.
I even crowdsourced a tight scheduling dilemma, and two accounts with thousands of followers retweeted my question. (I wound up seeing neither movie and waiting in line for a panel featuring John Krasinski, which paid off when I chatted with him ever so briefly outside.)
It allowed me numerous opportunities to interact with major media personalities who brought their latest works to Sundance.
I even managed to engage one media personality in a galaxy far, far away … or just somewhere removed from the festival. By staying through the credits of a movie, I noticed that Rian Johnson, director of the next Star Wars film, received a thank you. I thought it might be interesting to mention it on social media, and sure enough, he took notice!
From a fan standpoint, one of my favorite films of the festival was a little gem called Morris from America. I wound up tweeting about it several times, after seeing its premiere, when it got bought by one of the most exciting distributors as well as when it won two awards at the festival’s closing. At each point, director Chad Hartigan (who I was able to interview) was there to like each tweet.
These were small gestures, but together, they go a long way toward making me an evangelist for the film going forward. As a social media manager, I strive to provide the same feeling to fans of our clients’ pages. Being acknowledged by a brand generates goodwill and makes customers more likely to re-engage.
But perhaps the biggest social media victory came after I tweeted my rapturous praise for the performance of Rebecca Hall in Christine, one of my favorite movies of the festival. I was already slated to interview the film’s director the next day, but in the wee hours of the morning, Hall’s publicist emailed to offer me an interview with her based on my ecstatic tweet.
This is a perfect example how media and publicity can work hand in hand. Publicists can really maximize their impact for a client by keeping an eye on writers and directly pitching them on opportunities that match their interest. Media members can do publicists a tremendous service by utilizing social media as a virtual bulletin board for what inspires and excites them. When the two can meet in the middle, that is when some of the best and most effective messaging emerges.
-Written by Marshall Shaffer