How Important is Publicity for a Film?

September 11, 2014

Tara SmythOn September 2, Warner Bros. International Publicity maven Tara Smyth swung by New York Film Academy‘s Business of Screenwriting II class to illuminate students on what it takes to be a studio publicist.

Smyth spoke first about how she broke into Publicity. She was working as a development intern at Village Roadshow (a financier with a first look deal at Warners), and got the opportunity to work the premiere of one of their upcoming releases — the motorcycle Ice Cube action’er Torque. “Something clicked,” Tara explained, “I realized all the buzz around promoting a film, the premiere, the press, the anticipation and excitement, this is where I wanted to be…”

With over a decade of experience working at Warner Bros., Smyth’s experience has been vast. She began by explaining one of the most important aspects of working in publicity for films — the press junket. “A press junket is incredibly important to help build buzz for a movie. Working in International, we often invite over 150 journalists from all over the world to a typical wide release junket, usually 2-3 weeks before the movie opens.”

Smyth explained at a junket, the journalists first watch the film and then afterwards, they ask key cast and crew (usually the director and writer) questions about the movie. She then clarified why sometimes you see actors with that glazed over look in their eyes when they’re being interviewed. “They literally are getting asked the same questions over and over again from 150 different outlets, and each time they have to make it seem like it’s the first time they’ve answered the questions. It can be exhausting…”

Smyth went onto explain that Publicity often works closely with the Theatrical and Digital Marketing departments coming up with clever ways to promote a film and even tie its publicity campaign into concept of the film itself. “We call it “stunting”, Smyth clarified. “We do it all the time in print and online.” She then went on to explain a very clever promotional strategy for the recent worldwide release of Edge of Tomorrow that actually factored into the premiere…

In Edge, Tom Cruise plays a soldier fighting an alien threat who keeps reliving the same day over and over. “We thought it’d be really fun to play with that concept by having three premieres repeated in a 24-hour period.” This ambitious proposal lead to worldwide premieres for the sci-fi thriller in Paris, London, and then New York. “It was crazy. We had to jet the cast from city to city to city. It was a whirlwind, but we got it done. And it made for some great press.”

Smyth answered questions ranging from what to do when promoting a film that the studio suspects is going to underperform, to the impact social media has had on the whole publicity process. She discussed working with the talent directly on big publicity dates, walking them down the red carpet, etc. as well as working with their personal publicity liaison when developing new promotional ideas. “We always want to do what’s best for our client – the film, they always want what’s best for their client – the star. Most of the time, these two motivations entirely are aligned, but every once in a while,” Tara smirked, unable to share more.

A first rate publicist throughout, Smyth knew just how to answer student questions ranging from celebrity gossip to movie rumors, giving the class just enough to keep us all titillated, but not offering any spoilers or information she couldn’t professionally divulge. And while she did give those lucky enough to be there a few interesting nuggets — sorry folks, I can’t repeat them here, because as all good publicists, she knew when to remind me, “this is strictly off the record.”