In my time reviewing movies over the years, a huge question has continued to puzzle me; it is one now screaming for an answer. It is a question for the countless crews of directors, producers, actors, cinematographers, special effects artists, music composers, set designers, choreographers, boom operators, best boys and girls, on down the list of credits for any independent film. This question is even for those who feel they are exempt from the issue entirely. Yes! I’m looking for any insight out there; wisdom of any kind is welcome. My question confounds me so much that I feel compelled, finally, to write about it and ask it publicly: Why not use available publicity, to the fullest extent possible, whenever you can? Why not coordinate, as a team, to get your movie out there, any way you can? Before you think, “Im already doing that,” read on!
“pub·lic·i·ty: the notice or attention given to someone or something by the media; the giving out of information about a product, person, or company for advertising or promotional purposes; material or information used for publicity.”
Why am I asking this question? Of course, I am very often asked to review movies by directors and producers of independent films. I receive review requests via email, Facebook, Twitter, etc. every day, as well as DVDs and blurays sent to me by mail, unsolicited. Very often, I do write the reviews, taking time to thoughtfully analyze the films, critique them, point out the great and not-so-great things about them, using catchy similes and metaphors (sometimes even hyperboles) as much as possible. In the end, I’ve produced something I feel proud of, as a work of writing and entertainment unto itself, regardless of the number of “rockets” the movie received. I pride myself in writing a review that may be better than the movie itself, giving the reader no reason to regret reading it. I’m happy to have given my opinion (which is exactly all it is) to those who care to hear it. Yes! I enjoy what I do, above all else, and that is the most important thing for me. Thus, one major goal as a writer is accomplished, no matter what. For me, writing is a catharsis–a creative supernova of thoughts and ideas, expanding infinitely beyond me, and I love the feeling! But, is self-satisfaction and catharsis alone the motive of most writers? Is a repository of self-important things the goal of most who write? Unless you are a writer of only diaries under lock and key, communicating only with yourself, the answer is “No.”
Most writers want, along with personal fulfillment, an audience. Yes! What is a writer without an audience? As a writer myself, I expect an audience to grow naturally and organically over time, from quality writing. That is the only way an audience can be authentic and valued. However, in writing movie reviews, I expect an audience to also be cultivated and amplified by all of those involved in an independent film wanting publicity for their work. I expect them to do this, because they should truly want to do it themselves. Yes! Reviews are publicity too! So, I expect to have a whole team of people working with me, at least for a time, as a byproduct of the common goal we have–publicity. From the pride of others, their vanity, and/or a mutual goal for success, I would expect to gain more exposure and possibly earn an even greater audience myself. I would expect to gain this by the common motive we should have to get the movie “out there,” as much as possible. Yes! I would think that my second, audience-desiring motive would be a given, constant result of propelling my reviews–my thoughts and ideas–like the metaphorical supernova, into the infinite Twittersphere, and Facebook universe. But, does it happen? Not quite!
Too often, I notice something oddly amiss in this confounded cosmos of independent cinema–something that leaves me scratching my head, utterly baffled. A review I write is shared on social media by a pitifully small amount of people on the movie’s credit list. Of course, the director (or whoever ask me to review the movie) will share it, sometimes the producers, and maybe the actors I mention in the review (but not the others). For all of the work I do, and for all of the publicity potential available, too many of the people involved in the project–the so-called unified effort of many–treat the review (the publicity) as a very personal thing, not important if it does not mention them specifically. Yes! This has happened so often that I now find it to be as much of a study in human psychology, as it is a vocation in movie reviewing. The opportunity for publicity–good no matter what–is squandered for reasons unknown. What is it that prevents all involved from sharing a review, retweeting it, or whatever? Is it vanity? Is it narcissism? Is it jealousy? Is it an attempt to stifle the movie’s success for vendettas developed during production? Is it general apathy about the success of the movie overall? Or, is it perhaps and odd, selective modesty from people otherwise putting themselves on the stage for all to see? Who knows? But, quite honestly, none of it makes any damn sense!
“van·i·ty: excessive pride in or admiration of one’s own appearance or achievements; the quality of being worthless or futile.” (What an ironic and ever-true juxtaposition of meanings that is!)
In the most extreme case of self-centered reactions to publicity, I recall interviews I once did with multiple people involved in the production of a single movie. After each interview (all of which were interesting and insightful), only the person interviewed would share the interview, even though everyone in the production was tagged in the Facebook post. That means everyone knew about the interview of their production peer, but everyone ignored the opportunity to share it. Unbelievable, but true! Sadly, rather than just writing a single article about such examples, I could write a book. In deeper analysis, what does such behavior reveal about the true attitudes and feelings some people have toward one another, secretly, during film production? “Let’s get together and make a film; but when we leave, it’s every man and woman for himself or herself.” Again, it’s a subject for another article, if not a chapter in a book…and a sad reflection about humanity, for sure!
With social media as powerful as it is today, with everyone having an account on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, Google Plus, Pinterest, etc., and with everyone having hundreds if not thousands of friends and followers, everyone in the credits of a movie is a potential powerhouse of publicity. (The possibilities here are literally exponential!) So, again, the question bears repeating: why do people involved in indie filmmaking NOT take greater advantage of the publicity power they have to promote the project of which they are a part? Indie films are the most in need of such exposure, for sure! They rarely have a budget for publicity, perse, and entertainment magazines (such as Fangoria, Rue Morgue, and countless others) rarely call on them for interviews, behind-the-scenes access, or anything for an article; indie films are rarely even mentioned in mainstream magazines. In other words, publicity of any kind for indie films is not only golden, it is solid 24k!
Taking it to the administrative level, why are producers and directors not more effective in getting the word out to more of the people involved, asking them to spread the reviews far and wide? Or do they do this and get ignored? The reviews I write are free. They cost nothing to anyone. Yet again, they are usually squandered. Why do so many people who should care, in reality, not give a damn? Why do so many people who care at all care only about that which praises them personally? (Yes, I can’t keep from asking these questions again!) The act of synergizing would be much more productive, strengthening the chances of success for all, even if the motives of individuals are, indeed, purely narcissistic, self-centered, and “all about me.” Again, I’m baffled.
“Synergize: to combine or work together in order to be more effective, or to make things or people do this.”
As a reviewer, I am in the unique position of seeing such odd human behaviors, trying to make sense of them, shaking my head, feeling frustration for others more so than myself. It’s not a perspective I enjoy; it’s one I experience by default. To some, my perspective may be offensive, dismissed as ironic, self-centered ramblings, at best. To others, hopefully, my viewpoint will be insightful or eye-opening, perhaps even prompting a New Year’s resolution. Maybe there are a few who don’t realize how ill-managed their thinking is in regards to publicity and having everyone on board. Maybe many, as I fear, know well what they waste and still give not a damn.
I am an occasional producer and director of independent film myself. In my next production, largely as a result of my learning experiences in reviewing, I will not make the same mistakes I have observed. I will make it clear, from the beginning, that ALL of those involved will be expected to participate in spreading publicity, as much as possible. Can I ever enforce this? Not really. However, I will certainly do my best to impress upon them how important and valuable publicity is. I will certainly stress how stupid it is NOT to share it. Hopefully, I will have a team of people working with me who, without force or persuasion, are ready to truly synergize. Good or bad, publicity is what gets the movie out there, and that should be the mutual goal of all involved. For those who don’t agree, I’d say, “There are better places for you to be.” As others might say, “You’re fired!”
With all the bleak insights I have, there are some exemplary lights I have seen in the tunnel of wasted potential. One such example of a director and star of an indie film who made the most out of a review I wrote is Nicole Alonso and Oklahoma Ward. Ward directed the film Crawl or Die (which I reviewed, here on Space Jockey Reviews), starring Alonso as Tank, the tough-as-nails, kick-ass heroine to rival even Ellen Ripley. “The most claustrophobic movie ever made!” Wow! Share, share, tweet, tweet, continuing even now, and surely into the future, producing a record-breaking amount of traffic on Space Jockey Reviews–so much so that it nearly crashed the website a time or two! (Of course, that was also a HUGE amount of publicity for the movie!) A well-organized network of people working together to get the movie out there, in every way possible, is exactly what Ward and Alonso have. No! Of course I don’t expect that from everyone! I’m sure I don’t always deserve so many shares and tweets myself. But, it sure feels good when it happens, and it’s good for all involved!
“Social Media: computer-mediated technologies that allow the creating and sharing of information, ideas, publicity and other forms of expression via virtual communities and networks.”
In the best scenario, writing movie reviews produces all of what a writer wants, naturally, without effort, without asking, and without needing to write an article about it. An audience is earned from quality writing, and those for whom you write spread your work far and wide, showing their appreciation in mutually-beneficial ways. Yes! In a better scenario (perhaps in another world, in another universe), those for whom I do things would do a better job of “Liking” and “Sharing” my things too–occasionally even things that have nothing to do with the things they do. (Is that asking too much? I don’t think so!) Wouldn’t it be great to have directors for whom I wrote reviews share reviews I wrote for other films? Wouldn’t it be nice to have actors share reviews I wrote for films in which they did not appear? Wouldn’t it be nice if everyone in the independent film community supported and publicized one another, selflessly, synergizing for the greater good of all? Of course it would be! (But a fat chance there is of that ever happening in any universe inhabited by humans!) As a consolation, maybe humans just can’t get beyond whatever centers them on themselves. Maybe their magnetic center pulls them infinitely inward upon themselves, repelling everything at like poles…ironically. Maybe it’s more pathological than personal, more phytogenetic than mechanical, more a part of what we are, inherently, as humans. Whatever it is, it’s something I’ve come to accept but not understand. As a writer who loves to write, in spite of it all, I don’t give a damn!