Internet Publicity: Control Versus Chaos
Last month, I wrote about some comments made during a panel discussion at the IFP Filmmaker Conference by Mark Urman, head of theatrical distribution for THINKFilm.
The gist of that post was that I thought Urman was underestimating the power of blogs, niche movie review sites, podcasts, and video reviews to help promote THINKFilm's releases. One indicator of that attitude: THINKFilm requires that anyone who wants to access press materials enter a username or password, but doesn't explain how to get one in the first place. That's not friendly to someone in Schenectady who runs a movie review Web site, and might potentially promote a THINKFilm release.
Urman sent me an e-mail shortly after that; he didn't agree, and wanted to explain his position. I asked if he'd post a comment on the original blog entry, but his preference was to talk by phone, which we did a couple weeks later.
I didn't take notes during the chat, but Urman said his company was doing outreach to blogs and movie sites, but that THINKFilm wanted to be able to vet site editors before giving them press access, and it was important for the company to keep tabs on where people were talking about its movies, and what they were saying.
I tried to explain to Urman that the old model of promoting movies was to pick your shots, focusing on the media most likely to write about a given picture (Premiere magazine, the New York Times, Variety, etc.); according to the new model, you need to let the media pick you, making it easy for them to cover your stuff. Why not provide the same movie clips to some video blogger in Seattle who reviews one art-house release a week as you do to 'At the Movies with Ebert and Roeper'?
Urman didn't seem swayed: controlling and monitoring how THINKFilm's movies are written about still seems preferable to him than submitting to the chaos of the Web -- which always produces unanticipated results, sometimes positive and sometimes negative.
I also tried to tell Urman that as a working journalist, I usually don't waste my time applying for passwords to "press areas" on Web sites -- too often, you're on deadline and can't wait for the reply. The call ended with Urman telling me that it was easy to get a password -- just call up the New York office of THINKFilm. (Not so easy, of course, for a blogger in Capetown or Sydney or London...)
I took that as a challenge.
Day One: Poking around the THINKFilm site, I found the number for their office in New York, and called it around 5:30 on Friday, October 5th. The receptionist wasn't quite sure what sort of password and username I was asking for, but after putting me on hold for a few minutes, told me that I should e-mail someone named Alex Klenert, and gave me his e-mail address.
I e-mailed Klenert immediately: "I'm a blogger, and hoping to get a press password for the THINKFilm Web site. I'm especially interested in blogging about 'In the Shadow of the Moon.'" I didn't send a link to my blog.
I also, just for comparison, e-mailed the press contact at Sony Pictures Classics, a competitor of THINKFilm's; they also require a password to get your hands on press materials. (But unlike THINK, they actually give you an e-mail address on the page, without forcing you to dial New York during business hours to request a password.)
Day Four: By Monday morning, a Sony Pictures Classics person had e-mailed me back the password.
Day Seven: It wasn't until the following Thursday, October 11th, that I double-checked my notebook and realized that I had mis-spelled Alex Klenert's last name when I sent my original e-mail (my mistake), so I sent a new request that day to the correct address. I heard back from Klenert pretty quickly, asking me what my blog was. I sent the URL. (Klenert, it turns out, is vice president for publicity at THINK.)
Day Eleven: By October 15th, more than a week after my initial phone call to THINK, I still hadn't heard anything, so I e-mailed Klenert again.
Day Fourteen: On October 18th, I finally got the password to THINK's press downloads page. (Klenert apologized, and said they'd been having e-mail problems at THINKFilm.)
I suspect THINK is not going to change its position on this topic, but let me ask you indie filmmakers, producers, and distribution execs out there: should you make it that hard for someone who wants to write about your movie to write about your movie?
(The photo posted up top is my trophy from this whole effort -- a publicity still from the recent THINKFilm release 'In the Shadow of the Moon,' a really wonderful re-telling of the Apollo story.)