City Council to filmmaker: “Don’t film here, we don’t want bad publicity.”

August 19, 2008

Fergus Falls, Minnesota — apparently it’s hard out here for a filmmaker to make a movie, even when he offers to pay the city $10,000.  Dav Kaufman wanted to shoot some scenes for his psycho-thriller at a former treatment center that is scheduled to be redeveloped into a college.  The  campus developers didn’t like the idea, saying the film would bring negative publicity and give the school a bad reputation.   They convinced the city fathers to reject the filmmaker’s offer.

A pity.  Not to mention a bit shortsighted on the part of the developers and city council.  How cool would it be to be able to say, when marketing the new college to potential students, that a psycho-thriller was filmed there?  It could have been a great opportunity for potential partnerships to market the school and the movie, and perhaps even put Fergus Falls on the map.  Not to mention adding a few quid to the city coffers.


How NOT to publicize your film on YouTube

April 15, 2008

Running a successful viral video campaign for a film can be tricky and complicated.  It requires a lot of upfront planning and the implementation of the campaign requires careful management.  Screw up, and lots of things could go wrong: no one will watch it, or maybe, if you’re really unlucky, tons of people will watch it but not understand it, resulting in your film being yanked from the festival in which it was supposed to debut, people you don’t know will send you threatening e-mails, and you’ll have the local police and the FBI on your tail.

The latter is exactly what happened to Outsiders Productions, an Oklahoma-based indie film studio, when they tried to use the “Cloverfield” approach by loading a mysterious and ominous-looking video clip onto YouTube for their latest film A Beautiful Day. The teaser freaked people out in Oklahoma, who thought it might be some kind of cryptic terrorist threat. Things quickly spiraled out of control from there.

The main problem with the video? It made no mention of the movie! The filmmakers have now been spending time explaining themselves and apologizing.  They’re also trying to find some way of turning this fiasco into something positive with their “It’s Just a Trailer” campaign.  It’ll be interesting to see how that works out.

This is a cautionary tale that teaches an important lesson in viral video publicity campaigns. Yes, the results were that the film got some publicity, but I’d bet not quite the kind of publicity the filmmakers were hoping for.


‘Great Debaters’ Publicity Goof

December 20, 2007

Uh-oh, a publicity snafu on Denzel Washington’s new film The Great Debaters is not putting the film’s best foot forward in wooing a target audience.

In a marketing effort for the film, touted as an inspirational story of black students excelling academically despite the limitations found in inner-city schools, high school debate teams have been invited to attend advance screenings. An excellent idea, right?

However, when a group of 60 high school students in Washington, DC showed up for the screening to which they’d been invited and their attendance confirmed, they were turned away at the theater door. No seats left, they were told.

Read the Washington Post article by Marc Fisher for the whole story. The ending is a happy one.  Still, I’d wager this is not quite the kind of publicity The Weinstein Company was hoping for.


Good vs. bad publicity — more thoughts

September 18, 2007

Michael and I have both recently posted on the old (and patently false) adage that “all publicity is good publicity”.  He wrote a very cogent post explaining why bad publicity is, well, bad.  And I offered Miramax’s decision to delay the UK screening of Gone Baby Gone as a possible move to avoid bad publicity. 

It seems that every other day, if not more frequently, someone or something is caught up in a sh*tstorm of bad publicity.  Most notoriously in recent current events, a certain former NFL player comes to mind.  Mind you, this certain person seems extraordinarily adept at creating his own bad publicity, but that’s a topic for someone else’s blog.    The point is that nowadays, the instant access to information, good and bad, provided by the Internet, can create publicity, for better or for worse, in a nano-second.

Mark Cuban joins the conversation about publicity on his blog. Among other points made, he says:

“In essence, the internet has put us all under a form of digital arrest.”

I suppose that’s one way to look at it, although I prefer my perspective that the possibility of instantaneous publicity provided by the Internet can be mostly a very good thing, for instance, if you’re a filmmaker who’s trying to get some attention for your film.  But yes,  if you do have skeletons in your closet, or other places, then those can be trotted out, as Mark suggests, taken out of context, spread around the Web, and cause harm to your business and your professional and personal reputation.

 Mark says that “everything is everywhere. Forever.”  Technically that’s true, or at least until databases are purged, servers are cleared, links become old and broken, etc.  But the one consolation, if there is one, is that people’s attention spans shrink more every day.    The hot “bad publicity” of today can be overcome and replaced by something even more scandalous tomorrow. 

So yes, there is definitely such a thing as bad publicity.  And “abused publicity” as Mark puts it.   And in the Internet age, everything is laid bare for everyone to scrutinize and discuss.  The trick, for filmmakers, is to use this knowledge to advantage. 


Madeleine McCann’s case nixes a film’s debut – a case of avoiding bad publicity?

September 15, 2007

Art imitating life happens fairly often. On occasion, art will, inadvertently, imitate current events just a little too closely.  If those current events are negative, highly visible and the public’s reaction is emotionally charged, the result is sometimes poor timing to display the art.  

10m.jpgThat’s exactly what has happened to Miramax’s Gone Baby Gone. According to this Sky News article the film’s UK debut has been delayed because the story resembles the case of the missing McCann girl much too closely for anyone’s comfort.

Some may argue the case’s worldwide publicity in the news could be a bonanza for the film, and the studio should strike while the iron is hot and put it in theaters now.  I could only imagine the controversy and backlash that would create.  I think Miramax made the right decision. Call it sensitivity, call it savvy business sense.   As Michael pointed out in his recent post, there is such a thing as bad publicity, and it should be avoided, even if its cause is external and through no fault of those associated with the film.


Oh yes there is…

September 10, 2007

 from Guest Author Michael Klastorin

They are guilty pleasures to be sure. The People magazines, the National Enquirers, the TMZs…and as the antics of the various celebs are discussed, analyzed, whispered about and snickered at, no matter how atrocious the behavior of the personality in question (and you know who they are. I don’t need to name names. you’ve seen the trainwrecks), someone will invariably offer what they think to be a deep and knowledgeable insight…

You’ve heard it time and time again. You may have even said it yourself at some point. Which one is it, you ask? It’s the one that goes a little something like this:

“There’s no such thing as bad publicity.”

I disagree. Vehemently. I believe that little gem was first uttered by the publicist of actor John Wilkes Booth, who, after a really bad performance, called said publicist upon seeing himself on the front page of the Washington Tattler. “No….John..baby…honest…everyone is talking about you. Really, up until, well, you know…Mrs. Lincoln was enjoying the show. No, not everyone is crazy about the way it turned out, but trust me, there is no such thing as bad publicity.”

Or something to that effect.

While the strictest definition of publicity is the notice or attention given to someone or something by the media, most of us who make our living seeking it, try to make it a point of attracting the positive kind. If we’re talking about a film, a publicity campaign is designed to entice people into paying to see it. If an actor/filmmaker hires a publicist, it’s with the intent of that publicist using their skills to get the public interested in that person, and thereby making them a more sought-after commodity. Simple concept? Of course. But if we’re hired to generate good publicity, that means another kind exists. Bad Publicity.

In the “golden age” of film, studio heads paid thousands upon thousands of dollars to cover up the indiscretions of the stars of the day. As technology has developed and more and more outlets compete for airtime, headlines, whatever, it’s become increasingly more difficult for a person in the public eye to remain under the radar. Whatever the reason is for their headline grabbing behavior, that’s their business. But I guarantee none of them are taking the ‘no such thing as bad publicity’ partyline.

Some have been able to rebound from seeming career suicide, but many (and that’s the reason you can’t think of them) have not, and there are some heading down that path as we speak.
I realize that my thoughts are anything but earth shattering, but it’s always made me bristle when I hear someone utter that phrase. Since I have this forum, it seemed like a good place for me to vent. So there it is.

Bad publicity exists.

And it kills.

Careers.