Sometimes in life you find your path…and sometimes, it finds you. After a devastating earthquake in Christchurch, I was sitting in a small independent cinema by the seaside on July 23rd, 2012 when I had an epiphany: I could no longer deny that film was my passion, and I had to work in the film industry.
I’m Lynnaire MacDonald, a film publicist and social media marketer and the founder of Film Sprites PR, a publicity and digital marketing consultancy that specialises in independent film. I never wanted to work for myself- true story! But as fate would have it, that’s exactly what ended up happening. Now, along with my team of freelancers, we provide publicity and social media marketing to filmmakers all over the world. Since 2014 we’ve worked on a range of different films at various stages of production; from crowdfunding campaign promotion through to cinematic and VoD release. One highlight has been working with British director D.R. Hood to assist with the Kickstarter for her second film, Kin (now in post-production). D.R Hood’s first film, Wreckers, debuted at the London Film Festival and starred Benedict Cumberbatch and Claire Foy. Another highlight was providing publicity and social media marketing assistance for the limited NZ release of Canadian sustainability doco Life Off Grid, including an advance screening and Q&A session at Academy Cinemas in Auckland.
In my twenties, I initially trained as a teacher even though I knew deep down in my heart and soul I wanted to work in the film industry. I should have known film was my overriding passion when I would skip lectures on Thursdays to check out the latest new releases at the cinema. I remember seeing the first Spider-Man movie and a restored print of The Exorcist on the big screen, but I can’t recall much of what I had learned in class (oops!)! I’d had a background in writing from an early age, however- writing for the school newspaper, sending my fiction to publishers for their consideration at the age of 12 and then writing for the local newspaper’s youth issues page at the age of 17 and that background has been vital to what I do now. I also went on to get a BA in History (with minors in Communications and Sociology), and a Certificate in PR and Business Communications.
So, what exactly does a publicist do? In my case, I’m a communications octopus! On an average day I can be meeting with potential or established clients, planning/updating publicity strategy and then implementing it, creating press kits and writing press releases, creating graphics for social media, checking out social media stats and analytics, researching, putting together media outreach databases and updating with results, contacting media outlets to secure features/reviews/interviews, writing publicity and digital marketing-based content on the Film Sprites PR blog, allocating tasks to our freelancers if needed, attending networking events or film screenings, and continuing to upskill.
Publicity is most definitely not a 9:00-5:00, especially when releases and exclusives are time-sensitive. Because I work with clients around the world, I’m also juggling time zones from my office in New Zealand, so quite often I’ll be working on weekends when there’s things that need to be done ASAP. I actually really enjoy the unpredictability of working hours, but then I’m a bit of a nerd! Being a publicist also requires being a bit of a sleuth when it comes to looking at the audiences we want to reach for any given film. It’s about really knowing deep down who our audience is. How old are they? What do they like to watch on Netflix? How do they consume their media? What genres of films do they enjoy? All of that information is vital. You can’t just throw a publicity plan together, fling it out to assorted media and hope it ‘sticks’.
Relationship-building with media and audiences is a vital part of what I do as well. I think of myself as a bridge between the filmmaker, audiences and media. One rookie mistake I made when I first started out was thinking that sending a press release to a media outlet would be enough. In actual fact, it’s about providing value to a media outlet and a journalist by pitching stories and potential angles and following that up with the information in the press kit. For instance, if I approach WMMOW, I’ll introduce the project but will also have a few angles up my sleeve that might be of interest to readers. Loved Wonder Woman? I’ve got a film with a female filmmaker that passes the Bechdel Test and features strong female leads. Horror killing it (pun intended) at the Box Office? I’d like to introduce you to a horror director doing big things here in New Zealand.
When people e-mail me asking for advice about how to get into publicity in the film industry, I always tell them- don’t do what I did! I founded a consultancy almost by accident, with no seed money and was surprised (and delighted) that it took off. There’s a brilliant piece on the My First Job In Film (UK) website which gives some really great advice about getting into marketing/PR, so if you’re keen to get into this side of the industry I definitely suggest you check it out. I also suggest joining local filmmaking guilds, etc, for networking opportunities and courses. I’m a member of WIFT NZ and PRINZ, and the networking and upskilling opportunities have been worth their weight in gold. It’s also worth getting a membership to your local branch of Raindance to make the most of the opportunities available through their various regional branches. Last year I did a foundation course in production via Raindance LA and it was brilliant.
It’s also vital as a film publicist to stay on the pulse of the film industry and the international markets. In the past 10 years we’ve seen massive changes to the media landscape; from the upswing in the use of social media through to digital technology and various digital screening platforms making it easier and more affordable to self-distribute. Things like mergers and sales of studios, filmmaking technology trends, cinema attendance and information about streaming platforms all help to inform publicity strategy in various ways. I have a subscription to Screen International so I can get personalised breaking news alerts and keep up with sales and news from film festivals and the American Film Market, and I also like Stephen Follows’ film data and education blog. Stephen has just published a brilliant 200+ page horror report with comprehensive data about the horror genre, and it’s a vital read if you’re planning on filming, distributing and marketing a horror film.
One of the most rewarding parts of my job is seeing our filmmakers being interviewed or having their films featured or reviewed in print, on blogs, websites or podcasts. There’s always a little thrill when a new piece comes out for our clients, especially if it’s a glowing review or a feature that gets people excited about the film. That means the world to me, because it means I’m doing my job to the absolute best of my ability.
Eventually, I would like to work for a studio or distributor in the UK or New Zealand. As much as I have loved working for myself and embracing the entrepreneurial side of my personality, a studio or distributor is where I’m headed! I also want to do more on the producing side of things. Watch this space! You can keep up with Film Sprites PR via the website, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. You can also connect with me via LinkedIn.