Thursday, 14 June 2012

Stop/Eject blog 3: Yippie-ki-yay, it's the EPK!

Hello Everybody!

    And special hellos to my two new blog followers, Jess and Debs Bennett - the latter of which is an amazing MUA and frequent creative collaborator.  You can check out her work on her website or, if you're feeling particularly nice, you can even vote for her to win an Elle internship. Just follow this link and click 'like' below her section.

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   It seems odd, looking back nearly eight months, to when I was just a plucky young Production Designer, brimming with enthusiasm to be working for Neil Oseman for the first time, and Stop/Eject was little more than a box of props and set dressing in my hall, waiting for a shoot that didn't happen.

Stop/Eject in boxes - October 2011

   I never thought that I would end up Co-Producing the project, and that the lead actress from The Worst Witch would star in it - or that the majority of the film would end up being shot inside a Victorian B&B. The whole thing flew by in a mix of excitement, exhaustion and colour - on the last day, I actually turned to Neil and said, "did we just shoot Stop/Eject? When the hell did that happen?!"

   Then all the madness slowly filtered away, everyone got some rest, and now we are in a little thing called Post-Production.

   Today's blog post comes on request from Neil, because I've been working on something recently which he thinks you guys might be interested in. After all, there's a lot of stuff that goes on behind the camera and away from the sewing machine, and a lot of which isn't exactly glamorous, so I suppose it is time for me to shed light on those areas.

   One such area which is neither glamorous nor creative, but is important all the same, is the Stop/Eject Electronic Press Kit - or EPK. This is different to a regular Press Kit because all the promotional material is on disks rather than including printed post-cards/posters etc, and is aimed entirely at broadcasters. As Co-producers, Neil and I make sure to delegate and share the workload, and I think I genuinely may have offered to do the EPK because I knew the technical term and wanted to sound a bit clever! However, after almost a month of working on little else, the term 'EPK' has started to lose all meaning.

   The Electronic Press Kit is an important part of post-production because we use it to send to relative news programmes and television shows, in the hope that they will do a feature on our film. There's a lot of things which can be put into it - and in some cases it's down to choice and what you think will best promote your film - but I got my checklist from Chris Gore's Ultimate Film Festival Survival Guide, which I've been using as a guidebook. Actually it's a corking book, and very useful, so I recommend that you get a copy. But, in the meantime, here is his checklist for EPK assemblage, and my notes on each:

              1. Two Trailers - one with music and one without. This is mainly in case they want to show the trailer but are fearful of copyright infringement with the music. We included just the one copy of the trailer, with music, because the sound track (not the score) is still in early days and it might feel seem somewhat exposed without the music. If you have the same concerns then you can do what we did and include a copy of the license agreement for your music, so that they feel safe to use it. If you haven't got clearance for your music - what are you doing? Go and get some at once! And if you can't, you lose all chance of having your trailer played anywhere that gets attention, and you're wasting valuable promotional opportunities.
          Another reason to only include one trailer is that ours came with a swanky little pitch video, so there's two videos included in the package already!

              2. Selected Scenes - basically this is an opportunity for you to put in the best scenes of the film to show how great your film is, or to show the general style and tone of your film (if your trailer hasn't done this enough for you). But of course, you do run the risk of giving away too much too soon. We didn't include any scenes in our EPK because ours is to promote the trailer and the final funding campaign, rather than a finished film (yes, this does mean there may be a second EPK at later date).

              3. A Making-Of Featurette - Gore says that this is optional but I LOVE behind the scenes footage. No news room is going to want to show a full making-of in a small report, but including a snippet of one can entice them in (a person at a planning desk is still 'your audience', after all) and make them want to do their own piece on the film. Particularly when targeting local news, clips of their best scenery with film crews working on them - and looking all professional - will basically spell out the story for them. So we didn't include a full Making-of, but I did include a happy little montage of the crew assembling the alcove and equipment in the Rivergardens, taken straight from the first podcast. Lovely Belper Scenery: check. Crew looking professional and hard at work: check.

             4. B-roll Footage - again, optional, but I recommend it more than anything. If you weren't lucky enough to have a news crew capturing your activity whilst you were still on set (and, let's be honest, you'd have to have quite a name for yourself for that to happen, and in that case you probably wouldn't want them there), then sending your own behind-the-scenes footage is only way for that to be featured in the report. News stories about films being made, particularly by independent filmmakers in local areas, are often character-driven and at least half made-up by behind the scenes footage. In conclusion, don't submit clips of the director looking thoughtful and saying 'action', or the actors rehearsing a scene in front of a nice camera, and you probably won't get a story! Again, any clips you do send should be relevant to the people you're sending it too, so the majority of ours showed the Belper/Matlock streets and landmarks being used.

             5. Interviews - and here is where the second half of a character-driven news report comes from. Companies like the BBC will always shoot their own interviews, as a rule, but submitting your own interview clips will show them the type of thing the cast/crew would say in an interview, and suggests that they are in fact worth interviewing! Even better, get a clip of them saying something along the lines of "the local area is brilliant etc" then it shows the crew will have relevant things to say for the local news channels, and that we might even make them look good - it gives them a sample sound bite and hopefully shows that the programme will get some good publicity in return.
    I put the interview clips in order of relevance to who I was sending to, assuming that the news crew will lose interest towards the end - that's a good rule with anything like this, actually. Put your best stuff first - these people are very busy and might not even have chance to see all of it, even if they want to, so you have to snare them in quick. So the clip of Neil talking about how lovely it was to film in the East Midlands went right towards the top. The majority of the interview snippets came from Neil and Georgina, being our main attractions, but I also included a clip of myself from an early podcast, purely because I was talking about the locations and showing how beautiful they looked.

          6. Promotional Images  -  just as with a regular press kit, it is important to include  your poster, logo, website screenshot etc., only in this case in a digital format. If you're lucky, your logo may even be used in the background when the newsreader headlines your story, so make sure it's in a high resolution! I also included a scan of our Belper News feature - the way I see it, that showed that we were already 'news worthy' and hope that it encourages further publicity.

     Yes, that is a big list, but put it all together and you'll have yourself a bonafide, well-researched-looking EPK!

Something else I recommend you have when building an EPK - strong coffee!

    At the start of the DVD, you should also include your company logo, and a disclaimer which is well-worded to discourage people from spreading your material willy-nilly without putting them off promoting it at all. 

    Before EVERY clip on the EPK, make sure you include the title of the film, the director's name, a brief description of what the clip is, and a total running time of said clip. This makes the whole thing look very corporate but is helpful for the people researching and compiling your story on the other side.

   You also have to silence the creative editor inside you, which is the part I found hardest. The clips your submit should be snappy and interesting, cutting straight to the relevant shots of people working and the local scenery looking great, or a one-sentence answer (if possible) in your interview clips. There's no room for elegant pacing here.

   One area where you can be creative, however, is in the presentation of the package itself. Don't just put the clips onto a basic disk with a note - here is an opportunity for you to show how professional and interesting your film is before they've even watched the disk, which will make them want to do so. I created the disks using Lightscribe, featuring the film's logo, and the covering letter/DVD contents sheet were made using our original posters as backgrounds. This kept everything in our colour scheme and made it looks as thought everything was designed specifically for the EPK. It's also important to ring up the news companies in advance to make initial contact; you can get addresses and numbers on the internet but you have to track down the name of the person to send the EPK directly to, to avoid it going unsorted in a forgotten pile. Plus it gets your names into the reporters' heads before the EPK arrives, and they will (hopefully) know to look out for it.

One beautiful, completed, Stop/Eject electronic press kit!
    There were some problems along the way. I sent the whole thing to Neil for him to greenlight it before it went to press, and whilst he generally liked the content, he spotted that there were too many frames per second. For the life of me, I don't know how he noticed that (the main reason is that he's been editing for nearly two decades, although I have other, extra-terrestrial theories about his eyes), but it needed sorting. 

    First off, I changed my export settings. Although your software may insist it's exporting in HD it's still good to check that it's exporting in the right regional format, no matter what format your footage says it's in. UK DVDs are always made in 25fps, so I set mine to do that, which almost solved the problem.

   There was one clip - the montage - which still had too many frames, so I had to go back to my edit of the podcast itself and check its Import settings. To cut a long story short, I have to re-edit the podcast; but you live and learn! It's a good lesson to remember - even if you're certain your settings are right, and that they are set up to be correct from your last project, it doesn't hurt to check them again. It's certainly quicker than rectifying the problem later.

    Finally this morning, the EPKs were packaged and ready to be posted:

The finished EPKs in the same spot where the Stop/Eject boxes sat eight months ago.
     This doesn't mean my work is over, by any means. You can make the best press kit in the world and still not get a story. It's up to the planners as to whether or not they find your project interesting, or if it will fit into their scheduling for whatever reason. Or the parcels could open or get broken, and your EPK might never even reach it's intended destination!

     So the promotion continues in other areas - Twitter, Facebook, local companies, specialist interest groups for Belper and Matlock, film groups, fans of The Worst Witch... anyone we can contact who might be interested will be contacted!

   And now I've told you everything I know about EPKs, and it's taken quite a long time to write. Hopefully this inspires you to pop on over to the Stop/Eject Website and show the project some love!

   I'll be back soon with the stories behind some music-videos, and more Ashes news too!

Sophie x

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