Matty O’Riordan, an Account Director at Premier - an award-winning integrated creative communications agency for entertainment, arts and culture – talks to us about putting together red-carpet premieres of some of the world’s biggest cinematic releases, the work of film PR during and after production, and tirelessly attending the biggest film festivals.
The glamourous spectacle of a red-carpet premiere is one we’re all familiar with. Legions of fans finding their spot at the barrier, often hours in advance (regardless of the weather), in the hope of getting a glimpse, autograph or selfie with a dazzling movie star. It’s something many filmmakers would love to experience with their own films one day, but it’s all another day at the office for Matty O'Riordan.
As an Account Director at arts and entertainment PR firm Premier, Matty has overseen the grand unveiling of some huge films, including Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Murder on the Orient Express, and most recently, A Wrinkle in Time. Is each one very different, or are they all similar?
“They generally all have a similar structure. There's not much you can deviate from as we use a lot of the same venues. Leicester Square is the most prominent venue holding three of the most popular venues for red carpets. For particularly big premieres you can also use the gardens in the Square, perhaps using more than one of the cinema chains. For example, for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, although not using the gardens, Disney hired all three cinemas, Vue, Empire and Odeon. It was huge, a massive undertaking of an event but incredible to work on.
Then there are other venues, like the Royal Albert Hall, where Murder on the Orient Express was held last year, also used for Bond and where the BAFTA’s are now held. It’s an incredible space to work in and you know you have a special event on your hands to warrant such a beautiful venue. We have also done premieres at the Tate Modern, Spencer House, London Television Studios, Hammersmith Apollo, Disneyland Paris."
Do you decide how much of that space you'd like to use? You mentioned Star Wars, for example. Would you be the ones to say, "we want storm troopers here, we want Chewbacca over there"? Is that something that you would come up with or does the distributor or production company suggest these things?
“The distributor normally has a strong idea and a vision of how they want the event to look and feel, and then the production company puts together a large deck of visuals. If it’s a new venue that we haven’t necessarily used before, I will always be asked to consult on space for press and photographers, regularly going down to recce the venue a number of times beforehand."
What is your focus during these big events? What are you mainly responsible for at Premier?
“I primarily look after the media management for all our film premieres, working closely with the production team here at Premier (and other production companies), from inviting press and photographers to managing the red carpet on the day. We go out to a database of hundreds of press and photographers, collate the interest and discuss with the film company who we want and how many press we are able to accredit within the space. The quality of the press will be dependent on the calibre of talent attending or the anticipation for the film. On the day, my team and I manage the talent from the moment they step out of the car, guiding them through photography and press commitments until they go onstage and back in the car."
That sounds like a job with a lot of logistics involved for events that must also have lots of moving parts. What’s the process you usually go through?
“For premieres, you're having meetings about two months prior to discuss timings, set up, media, security, barriers, branding, lighting etc. Following this, we put together a media alert which has all the basic film and event information on it; where the event’s happening, the timings, who's coming, etc. This is distributed to our event specific database. From there, we work at how much press we can fit into our event.
On the day, it’s getting everybody accredited and into their media pens and do the photographer's draw, all of which needs to be locked down 30 – 45 minutes prior to any talent arrivals. There's a draw system now in place for photographers, instead of the ‘first come first served’ system of 10 or 12 years ago, which ended up with photographers sleeping in their cars for days for a big enough name. It was getting ridiculous, so a fair draw system was set up with some of the biggest photo agencies and the PRs whereby the photographers put their NUJ (or international equivalent) into a hat and they are pulled out one by one for a position. We make named laminates which are put in priority order for all the press making it easy for them to see what position they are on the media line and for the talent and publicist to know who they are talking to – not something they do in a lot of countries. More often than not, the film talent don’t necessarily get all the way to the end of a media line, but it’s in our best interest to push the cast and filmmakers to do as much as we can, often need to group outlets together."
With so many factors at work, despite best efforts to be as organised as possible, are there still occasions where press who turn out don’t manage to get what they need?
“More often than not someone is always disappointed. It costs money to send a reporter/cameraman/producer/photographer/editor etc to an event and sometimes they come away having not interviewed anyone. Although, it's not our fault, we become a punch bag for very frustrated journalists, which is totally understandable. At the Black Panther premiere all the press really wanted to talk to Daniel Kaluuya as he had just been nominated for an Oscar. He had massive wardrobe malfunction so was super late and didn’t have time to get through everything. He was also due to be live on London Tonight which he missed. Luckily on this occasion we had other incredible talent for them to interview and they spoke Lupita Nyong'o. But I’ve had premieres when everyone is late and the reporter has gone live and had to talk about the film for two and a half minutes with no talent. This mostly happens with ITV London Tonight which has the earliest live slot at 6.15pm with a hard out at 6.20pm. That's why on the red carpet or at a premiere event, we're never able to guarantee what people will and won't do.”
The premiere of Disney’s A Wrinkle in Time was your most recent event. How did that go?
“It was great. It was held at the BFI IMAX, which we also used for Mission Impossible. It’s an interesting space. The lovely thing about Leicester Square is that it has a lot of tourist footfall, so that really helps to create an atmosphere whereas the IMAX is somewhere you really need to try and drive people down to. Despite the fact you've got Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, and Mindy Kaling all going to be at this venue, you still need to engage with fans to get them down there. This can be done with ticket giveaways on the night or heavy pre promotion of the event through ad space in London media and through social channels.
The IMAX is also in a bit of a hole in the ground so we had to do a number of recces with engineers to ensure the TV crews who had put in requests for live interviews would be able to get a signal.
For this event we also had the added pressure of a live streamed panel in partnership with Sunday Times Style and The Female Lead which the talent were taking part in ahead of the film screening so everything had to run on time. Unfortunately, we are always beholden to what time the talent arrive, which nine times out of ten, they are late and then we’re trying to fit in as much press as possible before we have to get them inside to ensure the the audience aren’t having to wait too long to get started. Amazingly, we managed to hit all our live interviews and ran everything pretty much to time for A Wrinkle in Time!"
Now heavily involved with the red-carpet side of Premier, you have a lot of experience in other areas of PR working for feature films still in production. Can you tell us a bit about this work?
“If you were to start from the beginning, we work with production companies/filmmakers if a film hasn't already been bought by a distributor, or we work with the distributor if it has from when a film starts going into production. Once on board, we'll look at sending out a start of shoot release.This usually includes a little bit about the film and any cast attached, financier information and perhaps some info on where filming is taking place. Once a shooting schedule is locked, we look at what might be interesting days to take some press onto the set, if it's not a completely closed set. You're probably looking at bringing three or four journalists down over three or four days to come and get a bit of colour of the film. You can get some great press locked at that point because you've got all (or majority) of your cast in one place. Journalists are given about five or 10 minutes with the key talent, director and producer, so that it becomes a whole set visit piece rather than just a profile piece - which talent can be more reluctant to do.
From there, we also put together the production notes and EPKs, setting up interviews with the entire cast and HODs. This is usually delivered a few months following the end of the shoot. The PR agency may also be asked to suggest and organise the unit photographer. Some film companies like a photographer on set every day, which can be very costly, or we’ll go through the shooting schedule and pick out a couple of days that we feel are best going to capture the film. Once the film is wrapped, we’re required to chase any talent kills before going through the remaining images to suggest a core set of a hundred plus images used for marketing, PR etc."
When involved with a film so early on, especially an independent film, do you also help plan festival runs and promotional activity at these events?
“Most filmmakers/companies will have a clear idea in their mind which film festivals they want to do, but whether they are accepted or not will be up to the programming team for each festival. Some film festivals will only take world premieres of certain films, so you've really got to plan which is the right festival for your film.
Working on a film at a festival can vary depending on whether a film is looking for international sales or being used as a launch platform in the overall campaign. For the former we will be looking to secure a few key fast breaking pieces to garner international interest from key territories where they will be looking to sell the film. Other times, you may be using the festival as a time when you have all or the majority of the key talent in one place to bank press for the films release in any given country. But overall, you are looking for a strong presence in the trades, whether that is a review which is incredibly important or news piece about the film."
Has the rise of social media affected PR strategies, and has that impacted the more traditional means of promoting a film?
"It very much depends on what kind of film you’re working on and who your primary target audience is, but traditional PR which is still hugely important to for the release of a film; print, broadcast and online press still make up a significant chunk of a campaign.
However, there has been a huge increase in the number of social influencers we are now engaging with and they are covering more and more red carpet and junkets. The way in which we deal with them now is very different, having gone from when there were only a few key influencers and we were paying thousands just to get them to post about a film. Now everyone wants to be a vlogger and having high calibre talent on their channels will only increase their following so the tables have turned slightly."
Finally, and on a lighter note, seeing so much of the business side of film that you do, are you still a film fan yourself? If so, do you think it helps to be one in the work you do?
“Absolutely, you have to be a film fan to work in this industry and why wouldn’t you be? We are privileged with being some of the first people to watch award winning films and working with incredibly talented people on a daily basis.
But we also work a lot of late nights and weekends. For festivals, we can be away for two weeks or more at a time so you have to love what you do to justify the impact on your non work life! It helps that I have fantastic colleagues."
You can follow Matty on Twitter: @MattyORiordan
To learn more about Premier visit their website.