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July 9, 2018

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Why You Need a Unit Publicist for Your Film

Unit publicity is always one of the first things to get cut when you’re working on a film with a limited budget, but filmmakers are doing themselves a huge disservice when this decision is made. Having a unit publicist in place from the beginning will help put you on the press radar early and ensure that you have engaging marketing materials and a colourful story to tell when your film is ready for release.

Here are some of the takeaways that we want filmmakers of all levels to know.


There’s a difference between a publicist and a unit publicist. 

Unlike your usual publicist that works on a project after a project is complete, a unit publicist works on your film and on set during the production phase. They’re responsible for gathering information that will be vital for marketing the film later on. They write and distribute the initial press release that goes to trades press with details about the film shoot, cast, and crew. They prepare information and promotional materials that will be important for marketing the film. They’re responsible for overseeing photography for film stills and the approval process. They also arrange and facilitate set visits with media.

A unit publicist helps you create your brand and audience from the ground up.

What you’re doing is creating a brand. You’re building it from the ground up. You’re creating a trail, a presence, and a profile. When your movie is released, or you’re at a festival and audiences, press, and buyers are trying to decide between hundreds of different films to see, what’s going to help them decide? All of the elements that the unit publicist created for the press kit, eye-catching photography from the set, early coverage from a reporter that got to visit, are going to help direct attention your way. This is especially important for smaller films that don’t have big-name talent that will inherently draw media attention.

Many of the materials that you need to promote your film have to be developed during the production stage.

Your press kit, film synopsis, production notes and film stills should all be developed during the production stage of your film. It’s during this time that you have access to the actors, the crew and the set all at once. Without a unit publicist to strategically coordinate these elements, your team will be scrambling to put them together at the time of the release. After production, you may not have the opportunity to recreate these opportunities.

Bringing press on set during production creates early buzz and more press opportunities in the future. 

If you have the budget to start a PR strategy early on, you also have the opportunity to start inviting press contacts to the set in order to get to know the film. When your film is being released or facing competition for attention at a film festival, those contacts will already have an investment in your story. It also gives them more fodder to write a detailed piece about your film. A good unit publicist will matchmake your film with writers and critics that it will resonate with. Just as importantly, they’ll also know which writers not to pitch your film to.

The single most important thing to have your unit publicist oversee is photography. 

Unit publicists are responsible for overseeing set photography for film stills and get the necessary approvals. When you’re working on a small budget, photography often gets cut because people think that they’ll be able to grab screenshots from the footage later. That doesn’t work. You don’t get the clear, purposeful, high-resolution hero image that you’ll need later on. You don’t get the perfect shot for the movie poster. Everyone is basing their initial perception of what your film is about on that one image, and you don’t want it to be a screenshot. Sometimes, all that stands between you and a feature image in a magazine or the banner image on a festival website is an eye-catching shot.

A lot of experienced filmmakers will set time aside with their actors specifically for photoshoots, both for promotional purposes, but also as a character exercise. It becomes a chance to discuss the character and evolve it while in the right setting, costume, and mindset.

Be kind and respectful to unit publicists. 

They can be seen as costly, especially for smaller independent films. They’re seen as a nuisance because they try to pull the actors away to do something other than shoot their scenes. It can be difficult for unit publicists to do the job right when filmmakers don’t have the foresight to see the value in developing the PR strategy early. It’s not until your film is ready to be shown and you need those promotional elements to market your film when you realize, “oh yeah, that unit publicist was trying to convince us to do gallery shots.”

Touchwood PR is a full-service publicity agency that specializes in arts and entertainment. Reach out to us about publicity, promotions, sponsorship, event planning, social media and more.