The main role of a Unit Publicist is to generate publicity around a production, and they generally begin work four weeks before the shooting dates. They work with producers to plan any and all press strategies for the film shoot. These strategies include the amount of information that is released, the times with which to release this information, and the amount of coverage. In this way, unit publicists work as a buffer between the media and the film production. They work within budgets set by producers, usually on freelance or contract basis for the duration of the shoot, sometimes until the film’s release date or even further.
The nitty gritty details of the job are the first press release which provides basic details about the production to predetermined publications. This press release includes film shoot dates, cast and crew details, and the general information about the production. The Unit Publicists then work within the production schedule to schedule interviews and set visits by journalists. Often actor’s agents and producers need to be contacted to finalize these times. The Unit Publicist then ensure the director and actors are free at the time of these scheduled interviews and set visits, and maintain an upbeat and lively experience of set to the journalists. It is often necessary to work with the Second Assistant Director and wranglers to ensure the actors are free. After these visits and interviews, the Unit Publicist discusses when and how the articles will be published in order to maximize the film’s publicity.
The Unit Publicist manages the Unit Stills Photographer, and after the production, they provide captions for the stills and control their release. The Unit Publicist also creates the production’s Press Packs, which include cast and crew interviews, preparing a full list of all cast and crew, writing an abstract for the film, as well as a longer synopsis, and all written production notes, including information about the work histories of the director, writer, designers (art, costume, production, etc.), and key cast members.
Another facet of the Unit Publicist’s position is their work with the Electronic Publishing Kit crew. The EPK is a compilation of behind-the-scenes footage, cast and crew interviews, and those Special Features on DVDs. Many of these are released early to generate publicity. Almost all of the work and material generated occurs during the actual production. Some ideas for what to include in an EPK are a synopsis, the director’s personal statement, production stills, off-set stills (from story meetings, pre-production, and even post-production), cast and crew biographies, links to all social media (including any urls), and all contact details for the Unit Publicist, Production Company, and the film itself. Once the film has been released, include any award nominations and prizes won.
These are the traditional roles of the Unit Publicist. Enter social media.
Now, with social media as a budding business and everyone and their dog literally gaining online profiles, the Unit Publicist has to reign in what is being put out on social media. The role of the Unit Publicist has now been placed between the production and social media, in addition to the traditional role between the production and journalists.
Some people now view press releases for a select group of journalists in the past tense. With new online platforms accessing an audience is easier than ever. However, winning over the same same audience is harder than ever. Some ways to get attention on the internet is to buy ad space; however, this is not feasible for most small productions. A reliable way is to use the same pitches used for production to pitch to the public; however, this often feels to stiff and impersonal. The easiest way to gain attention is create great content and #theDickens out of it. With all this personalized power over the content your production generates, you need to maintain a constant brand presence throughout production, and even after release. As such, it is often more efficient to do your own press release in order to maintain brand control.
In addition, smaller budget indie films often need an extra hand in managing film festival assets that is keeping track of the incentive agreements until their fulfillment. This means attaining interviews at the festival, and generating interest in the production, especially with established VIPs. Someone who has been on set and behind the marketing of the film for the duration of production and post-production is a huge asset when talking to the public and VIPs to sing praises to gain even greater financial backing.
Isn’t social media easy to use? Why can’t the producer run them?
The Producer has enough responsibility with all the forms, paper work, and general production duties. The Unit Publicist takes away the pressure of what is being leaked or released, and all the duties involved with contacting the media, generating attention, and monitoring all forms of social media. They also take on coordination of the EPK and the crew, such as still photographer, organizing the set visits, and taking down notes and quotes for the Press Packs. Some indie films use the Unit Publicist to prepare for film festival releases and assets from them. Without a knowledgeable Unit Publicist, the Producers may not have sufficient time or energy to create and maintain an online and public presence.
Furthermore, having a Unit Publicist who has roughed out an image of the film is integral to the continued success and consistency of the publicity around your piece. Without them, the focus and control over the film’s image and branding would be scattered and sporadic. A Unit Publicist will be a key step in the success of any production in the public eye.