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May 28, 2013

Harvey Weinstein on Promoting Movies: 'Start Being a Performer and Understand the Media'

WeinsteinMemoMaking your movie has never been the end of the ride -- whether you're a no-budget indie filmmaker or Errol Morris -- you're going to have to promote your film. Most of us aren't natural born promoters, so who better to take pointers from than one of the preeminent promoters of the '80s/'90s indie boom, Harvey Weinstein. As this blunt (and funny) memo to Errol Morris illustrates, even if you're promoting what would later be recognized as one of the best movies of the decade (The Thin Blue Line), you need to know how to get folks interested in seeing it.

In case you can't quite make out the words (picture courtesy of Letters of Note):

WeinsteinMemo

 Dear Errol:

Heard your NPR interview and you were boring.  You couldn't have dragged me to watch THE THIN BLUE LINE if my life depended on it.

It's time you start being a performer and understand the media.

Let's rehearse:

Q: What is this movie about?

A: It's a mystery that traces an injustice.  It's scarier than NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET.  It's like a trip to the Twilight Zone.  People have compared it to IN COLD BLOOD with humor.

Speak in short one sentence answers and don't go on with all the legalese.  Talk about the movie as a movie and the effect it will have on the audience from an emotional point of view.

If you continue to be boring, I will hire an actor in New York to pretend that he's Errol Morris.  If you have any casting suggestions, I'd appreciate that.

Keep it short and keep selling it, because that's what's going to work for you, your career and the film.

Congratulations on all your good reviews.  Let's make sure the movie is as successful.

Best regards,

Harvey Weinstein.

If you haven't watched The Thin Blue Line, you need to drop what you're doing and watch it as soon as possible! Having said that, if you have watched it, you might find something kind of hokey about comparing it to A Nightmare on Elm Street, perhaps even distasteful. But that's the difference between filmmaking and pitching; art and commerce.

Now, I don't know if I would ever be comfortable making that kind of direct reduction (and I doubt Morris ever went as far as that), but I think the heart of the message holds true, and it's one I can get behind:

Talk about the movie as a movie and the effect it will have on the audience from an emotional point of view.

This is especially important for documentary filmmakers, who having spent years with the issues explored in their documentary, may forget to describe the film in favor of discussing the issue -- but that's what the movie is for! When promoting the film, you'll have to describe why folks would want to watch the documentary, as opposed to reading a cut and dry article that summarizes the issue. Part of learning how to convey the emotional effect forces us to become performers and requires that we understand how that message can be best transmitted in the media.

It's interesting to hear the original NPR interview referred to and a subsequent interview Morris did with NPR a couple of weeks after the memo -- check them out here. Although significant portions of both interviews deal with the subject of the film, I think there is a subtle shift in how Morris approaches the subject matter in the second interview. He does a much better job of describing the experience of the movie (i.e the sense of waking up in a Twilight episode) and he makes more of an effort to paint a given scene (i.e when the officer was shot) rather than simply providing the information. It's not a night and day difference, but one can perceive the shift, and I would argue that the second interview feels more compelling and interesting.

What's great and daunting about being an indie filmmaker today is that there are so many ways in which we can convey the emotional feel of our films -- not just interviews and trailers, but transmedia projects, blogs, shorts, etc.

Can you think of other ways Weinstein's advice could be applied by today's filmmakers? Share below!

Link: Was Errol Morris Really That Boring? Listen For Yourself And Decide -- NPR

[via filmzu & Letters of Note]

Your Comment

14 Comments

tarantino school of movie promotion.
class 101- verbal diarrhea

May 28, 2013

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wats up

LMMFAO...Harvey Weinstein a funny MF

May 28, 2013

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thadon calico

It is quite puzzling to me that storyteller has a problem to tell a proper story to promote his/her story.

May 29, 2013

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Robert B.

It's not that weird... film is a visual story telling... somebody can be good at telling stories through pictures (moving or still) but doesn't automatically mean he can actually use words to describe what he sees.

May 29, 2013

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Fila

This. Or they just don't do well in conversation. What sounds good in your head might not sound good when said aloud.

May 30, 2013

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Weinstein was very wrong. Errol Morris promotes himself better than any filmmaker out there. I have sat in on his film events and he is hilarious, super smart and never reduces his films to the lowest common denominator to sell his film and never bores. Maybe he learned from Harvey to be an exaggerated version of himself, the only thing you can be. Try fake it through selling your film for a year and you will only annoy.
I got hooked on Errol Morris with a famous profile he did for the Thin Blue Line for New Yorker magazine back in the late 80's. Its worth the subscription just for this essay.
http://www.newyorker.com/archive/1989/02/06/1989_02_06_038_TNY_CARDS_000...

May 29, 2013

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Dan

Just listened, almost an SNL parody of the crushingly boring NPR interviewer.

May 29, 2013

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Dan

+1

May 29, 2013

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avatar
Micah Van Hove
Writer
writer, director, dp
326

so in other words....he took Harvey's advice.

May 29, 2013

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sean

Notice the date on that New Yorker interview and the date on that Weinstein letter.

May 29, 2013

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Shane

A few years back, when Rod Lurie had a radio show in LA, he used to make fun of Arnold S-r aim for turning every question, however tangential, to promote his current project. In fact, I believe, he turned it into a game for listeners/callers. "Nice day, hey, Arnold". - "It's beautiful but very hot ... makes you want to go inside an air conditioned theater and watch my latest movie". The "leading" questions then got more absurd. (improvising here) "Arnold, is it true that your father was a Nazi?" - "He was a military man. A man of action. And, speaking of action, go see my latest action flick, playing in theaters near you". Etc.

On a more serious note, I wonder how much time these auteurs are willing to spend slugging through the boonies, appearing on every morning and afternoon AM/FM shows that their publicists can arrange for them. It's one thing to do an hour on NPR in NYC or LA but to spend a month or two flying and driving across the country while promoting a low budget film would really be something.

May 30, 2013

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DLD

Those were the old days of movie promotion. Now you can do the interview in your PJ's over the phone. People call in all the time.

May 30, 2013

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Jorge Cayon

Yes but it's not like being live in the studio (granted, a lot of radio shows are syndicated nationally anyway) with the morning crew in Podunk for an hour. Going back a while to my Midwest days, I recall a few touring comedians stopping off at the various AM/FM stations to drum up the attention for their gigs and the local yokels soiling their pants with excitement about these personal appearances. The soap stars would show up at a mall with hundreds of fans dying to get their autograph. Politicians, naturally, also know the value of "retail campaigning". IMO, ideally, you add the phone-ins to the live apps. You have to.

May 30, 2013

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DLD

Maybe good to publish a spoiler alert.... "....(i.e when the officer was shot)..."

May 31, 2013

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Kawowski