Ted Geoghegan is the writer and director of the acclaimed 2015 retro-horror feature We Are Still Here, which is currently available on Amazon Prime and Shudder, and the violent 1814-set action-drama Mohawk, now on Netflix. He lives in Manhattan with his wife and internet-famous cat.
Social media is a vast ocean of constant pandering, pushing, and promotion — be it for a business (“Visit my restaurant!”), friend (“Crowdfund my BFF’s passion!”) or family member (“Look at my stupidly cute niece!”).
The incredible platform that this new medium has granted every person on Earth is one that cannot be discounted or ignored. But it also must be regulated.
This could not be more true than in the world of film production.
As a filmmaker (and also a publicist), I’ll be the first to admit that we want our peers to be aware of what we’ve got cooking … but all too often, the line blurs between what one considers constant, professional promotion and what the world considers compulsive, aggressive shitposting.
My first screenplay was produced 16 years ago, long before the advent of social media. My break into film had nothing to do with a specific number of followers – but rather was due to dedicated personal outreach and trying to posit myself in the right places at the right times. As the years crawled by and email correspondence gave way to MySpace, new ways to connect with people previously thought unreachable made themselves astonishingly apparent. And as my career veered from burgeoning screenwriter to publicist and filmmaker, I was made aware of both the benefits and troubles these new venues of contact and self-promotion could – and would – create.
The one and only reason you hire a publicist is to get the word out. Tactful promotion of your product is our sole purpose, and it is an important one.
When I’m not making movies, my day-to-day existence is spent securing coverage for films in calculated ways that are both professional and not overbearing. Now put yourself in my shoes and imagine, after hours of cordial communication with journalists, going on Facebook and seeing dozens of posts from budding filmmakers reading, “Who wants 2 wotch my kickassss new movie?” or, even worse, “Who wants to hear about the script I’m gonna start shooting in three months?”
Here’s the short answer: no one.
Social media has given filmmakers very loud voices – much to the chagrin of some of their followers. I literally cannot count the number of times I’ve spoken to industry professionals who have expressed frustrated exhaustion over films that have yet to start shooting, but whose makers refuse to stop aggressively promoting online. No more than a week ago, a notable peer bemoaned an upcoming independent movie, claiming, “I don’t even think they’ve got a script finalized, and I’m already sick of hearing about the goddamn thing.”
There’s a strident school of thought embraced by those who have had access to social media for their entire adult lives: don’t let people forget about you. To them, this means constant updates, photos and reassurances that they’re not only still alive, but also still relevant.
Well, news flash: no one’s going to forget about you.
Instead of that fifth promotional post, go out there and focus on making the best goddamn movie you can make. The bottom line is that no amount of updates on social media are going to make your product any better, and – unless you’re cooking up a $300,000 version of Citizen Kane – overhyping your film is only going to lead to disappointment.
Like the entire free world is currently begging of our president: just set down the smartphone and get to work.
I’ve used the exact same mode of promotion on both films I’ve directed: they’ve remained a total secret until we started filming and, once production was complete, we’ve released two stills. The media picked up on them thanks to solid trade placement, the film community discovered the movies existed, and the public had a taste of what to expect. But no one heard or saw anything else about them until they were on the cusp of public release.
“But aren’t you worried everyone will forget about them?!” screams the Facebook-addicted.
No. Because they won’t.
By baiting your audiences and tactfully pulling back, you create anticipation, a concept almost completely forgotten in today’s update-driven culture. No one is going to somehow forget you’ve made a new film just because you’re not posting about it 10 times a day – and even if they were to (which is, frankly, preposterous), where’s the harm in surprising the world with something they didn’t see coming?
The entire conceit behind publicity is to offer up just enough information that you hook your target demographics. Nonstop posting is the social media equivalent of the trailer that gives away the entire film … only you’re making your audience watch it twice a day for eight months.
And while much of my opinion here reeks of doom and gloom, fear not, there is absolutely a silver lining. Social media has created a vast digital landscape that allows us unprecedented access to our peers, fans and heroes. As someone who is unabashedly addicted to Facebook and Twitter, I cherish the venues it’s opened for me … but with great power comes great responsibility. Focus needs to be on the forefront of every post, especially those related to upcoming product.
Social media might seem like an easy, cost-effective alternative to professional publicity, but as someone who has worn both hats – and hired a fair amount of PR professionals, myself – it’s important to realize that sometimes your product may be best groomed for success in the hands of a professional.
And if you are going to self-promote, for the love of God, wait until you’ve actually got something concrete to endorse.
In a world where everyone’s got an idea they’re far too excited to share, hold out.
Don’t just try to get us excited. Try to get us excited about something when it actually exists.