“Matters At Hand”

Here’s a question that is decidedly not rhetorical: What film or television show that you’ve worked on lately has not had a publicist?

Let me put it another way:

Every show you’ve worked on has employed a publicist in some fashion.

Most noticeable to those of us on the set, of course, is the unit publicist, who is present throughout production and often beyond, assisting the distributor’s marketing team with the campaign leading up to the release or network/cable premiere. But there’s also the publicist back at the studio, in the agency, and those independents that move from show to show at the behest of the industry’s smartest producers.

When it comes to this Guild, the work of unit publicists is vital, because they are there to ensure a production’s message (and, by extension, the work of each camera team member) is consistent and presented to the world in the best possible way. The unit publicist also ensures the still photography created for the show is consistent with that message. And, of course, when there are problems, who is there first on behalf of the production? The unit publicist.

Unit publicists control the flow of media visits to a set, in accordance with the needs of the producer, director, cast and crew. That is not an easy job, particularly when shooting on multiple locations. In a world where information is now gathered and dispersed from a multitude of personal electronic devices and resources, stopping unauthorized images from leaking out is a true challenge. When the worst happens, it’s always the publicist who must shift into damage-control mode and alleviate any negative repercussions.

I’ve seen firsthand how difficult it can be when a large group of media want to visit a set, and our publicist has to accommodate them without interrupting our work; i.e., the flow of the show. I’ve seen how intense the paparazzi can be when they descend upon a set or location, determined to get that all-important first-look image or interview. There are laws that protect these people, of course, and it’s a delicate balance with which the publicist must struggle to give the media what it wants, without usurping the needs of the production or breaking the law. Sometimes the media are not content to be fed imagery, and they must be tolerated throughout the length of a show. Who is the first point of contact that must keep order within those difficult working conditions? The publicist.

Imagine the creativity needed in dealing with these kinds of challenges, as well as the more typical requirements of compiling material for the press notes (a good publicist can add untold millions to a campaign if they are in tune with the show’s creative team), working with the unit stills to ensure the best imagery is produced, and disseminating materials for print, Web, and other media outlets. In fact, Guild publicists in all forms – unit, studio, independent, and agency – are the first points of contact an audience has with a film or TV series, thus playing a huge role in the consumer pipeline through which that project will later travel.

The irony in all of this, of course, is that while there’s hardly a project ICG camera teams have worked on that did not benefit from the work of a publicist, you’d never know that when sitting through a film or TV show’s end credits. Plain and simple: publicists are rarely given on-screen credit because producers are not required, contractually, to include their contributions.

That fact is just one major reason why the ICG sponsors a luncheon and awards ceremony every year (on the Friday just prior to the Oscars) to ensure these hard-working people get the recognition they are due: if not broadly by the public at large, than certainly by their own industry peers and colleagues.

We need to let others know that publicists and unit still photographers are as much a part of the ICG family as operators, assistants, and DITs, whose contributions are always included in a project’s end credit roll. One of the best ways to do that is to take the time to find the publicist on your set and make sure your department (and other departments, to boot) embrace that individual (or individuals) as a key member of the team, and our union.

If not now, when? And if not you, who?

Make publicity members in this Guild matter to the people who write our checks.

 

Steven Poster, ASC
National President
International Cinematographers Guild
IATSE Local 600