How has entertainment PR changed with the rise of streaming platforms? Erik Bright, Owner of Prodigy Public Relations, shares insights on how his firm generates buzz for independent films. He also discusses the role of the film festivals, and their transition into a hybrid environment.
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About the Host:
HOST: DOUG SIMON
GUEST: ERIK BRIGHT
DOUG: Erik, thanks so much for joining us. How did you get started in entertainment PR?
ERIK: Well, I moved to Los Angeles after 4 years at Ithaca College where I studied communications, speech communication that is, and I moved out with two other friends. I didn’t really know anybody, so I tapped some contacts I made at Ruder Finn PR where I interned. And through that I ended up meeting my mentor that taught me the world of entertainment PR for 9 years.
DOUG: What were some of the people you work with, and what were some of the key lessons you learned that maybe help you even now with the success of your business?
ERIK: Well, I worked for somebody who represented stars, and some of his clients, his name was Eddie Michaels, and his clients included Drew Barrymore, Noah Wyle, Anjelica Huston, Marg Helgenberger, and I assisted him on a lot of their campaigns. I walked a lot of them down red carpets. At that point of my career I was a junior, as they say in the business, so I had I had the night shift.
DOUG: Yeah, well, hopefully red carpets will come back. Obviously, COVID’s changed so much in entertainment. You work with a lot of independent films. Sundance was recently canceled, and I know you had clients there, films there that you were working with. How do you go about transitioning to it as a virtual experience?
ERIK: Yes, Sundance, unfortunately, just canceled their physical events, and they moved to a virtual festival. Fortunately, for the last year the major festivals have been executing virtual festivals successfully. So, it wasn’t a hard transition compared to, let’s say, last year around this time. It was pretty much starting to figure out what to do. But they figured out the virtual festival, so we’ve just moved everything over there, and hopefully the movie will still have success.
DOUG: Can you maybe tell us a little bit about the picture? Who’s in that?
ERIK: We’re representing a few pictures. I think one of the more high-profile ones is a movie called Dual with Karen Gillan from Guardians of the Galaxy and Aaron Paul from Breaking Bad. Directed by Riley Stearns, it’s making its world premiere in the U.S. narrative competition. So, we’re excited about it, and this is kind of the first introduction it’ll have to major audiences.
DOUG: Yeah, and it’s obviously a change if you’re promoting a blockbuster, and there’s some alignment with what happens in corporate communications. If you’ve got a name brand that everyone knows, it’s easier to get a response at least or get interest versus in an independent film category. Obviously, Sundance did so much to change that. What are some of the approaches you take to finding angles to create that awareness?
ERIK: Well, it’s a different strategy for each film. Obviously, there are good movies, there are bad movies. Luckily, all the ones we have at the festival this year are really, really good. So, a lot of the times we let the content speak for itself. When we have high profile films like this, when it was a physical festival, we tend to not show it in advance to anyone because there is enough interest based on the cast. So, we let that kind of drive. Now I think it’s important with the virtual level to get it seen as much as possible. So, that’s kind of our strategy is to identify a handful of top tier press, show it to them, get their feedback, and then go from there.
DOUG: With the exception where I guess the travel industry, healthcare have all been uprooted with the pandemic, but entertainment and how people consume content has also changed dramatically. You need to be ahead of that curve. How do you go about, when you’re say, starting your representation of a product, a film, sort of accounting for those differences in how people consume content, and is it the same or has that changed as well?
ERIK: The mechanism in which people are consuming content has changed, but not really, everything’s still on a screen per say. It’s just the way to access the content, which frankly, I think it’s a lot easier. With that said, I think PR and marketing have become more important than ever because there’s so many titles on a Netflix or an Amazon Prime that you need someone to help cut through the noise, so the digital platforms have actually offered a huge opportunity for small firms like myself to work on independent movies that frankly might go into a movie theater for one week disappear and not have much of a life after that because DVD is generally a tough go. So, I think it’s brought a lot of opportunity for smaller movies.
DOUG: Yeah, and this is a naive question because it’s obvious when films are sort of only in theaters, it was clear, okay, here’s your box office. I would assume now there are very different kinds of deals were once accepted on a platform there’s something. Is it exactly the same that it relies on how many people see it within a platform or are there all sorts of different kinds of deals being made?
ERIK: Well, I’m not privy to the minutia of the deal making per se, but from what I know through the legal people and salespeople I work with is that there’s no box office deal on digital. The way they do it as they go around these sell territories and that includes all the different types of mediums, whether it’s theatrical, television, digital, and each of those have a price point.
DOUG: Right, so, that’s really interesting from a PR standpoint because I would think, you almost want to try and be doing PR earlier to help make the deals happen than just relying on, ok, we’re doing a huge splash to bring in box office, especially for an independent type film.
ERIK: That’s what the film festivals are for. So, the film festival primarily is to introduce the movie to not just a consumer but probably primarily to the distributors out there who would then acquire the movie and then put it out through the various channels, whether it’s a theatrical release or day and date as they call it, which is theatrical and digital, which is very common now.
DOUG: And you also represent some film festivals, so maybe tell us a little bit about the approach, and strategies, and what you’re thinking about. Obviously, there’s this “will they happen” thing, hopefully we’ll move beyond that in 2022 at some point. Double fingers crossed on that, but tell us about with the film festival what that process is about from a communications perspective?
ERIK: Yes, so we represent the San Diego Film Festival, the San Diego International Film Festival, as well as the DTLA Film Festival, which is downtown LA. And obviously in the last two years there’s been a disruption in the normal way we do business. We come in to raise the profile for the festival. San Diego, believe it or not, didn’t have a big festival when they came to us. They were transitioning with leadership, so we introduced them to Variety magazine, forged a partnership, they’ve done a special issue, and then we’ve built on there. They have this gala of the stars event, Night of the Stars. So, we’re the ones that are responsible for bringing in the talent that they honor and the movies.
DOUG: Any final thoughts?
ERIK: I appreciate you taking the time talking to me. I think the movie business is always changing based on technology, and if you can kind of stay on your toes, you can do well.
DOUG: Yeah, that sounds like a good lesson for all of us in communications. Thanks so much for sharing your great insights.