Advice from the Gypsies
What should your organization do to amplify or launch a videographic PR program of its own? LISTEN TO GYPSY. Her words as communicated, electronically to me in the upstairs closet of my childhood, still ring out to me today:
1. FIND A VOICE. Seek out your organization’s most charismatic spokesperson, and then, bludgeon, blackmail, and/or terrorize if he/she is the natural extension of your literary or book-related product. And then, videographically, pump the living hell out of whatever voice emerges. You’ll get a kick out of it.
2) REHEARSE and then REHEARSE AGAIN. Rehearse that voice through loud, intense conversations with semi-strangers. Do NOT limit your rehearsals to people you love or even necessarily like. Test the concept on strangers (at a party? At your gym?). If the point you’re trying to make survives that as a litmus test, it will probably translate well into film.
3) DEVELOP A SENSE OF HOLY REVERENCE FOR PITHY SOUND BITES. Even if your fans insist that they love you and would follow you to the ends of the earth, they might not remember to download your gems and pearls if they fear they’ll be too long. Bragging about one’s Attention Deficit and one’s Obsessive/Compulsive Disorders are now almost de rigeur in certain internet savvy circles.
4) GIRD YOUR LOINS. There is a general sense of apathy on the internet. YouTube viewers are more staccato than old-fashioned readers of books. Although they’ll watch and remember your film, they’ll be notoriously ungenerous with praise after they’ve seen it. Poor communications from everyone (except you) is a clearly understood by-product of the internet age. Remember, you’re an actor, playing a part, and it’s all done in the name of showbiz, book marketing, and book sales.
Confessions of an Exhibitionist
The Archival Fantasies of a Hollywood Scandal-Monger
Blood Moon makes an ongoing attempt to accompany every book we release with some kind of publicity film that’s custom-configured to whatever we think is new and hot.
Our focus on filmmaking as a publicity device is predicated mostly on a consideration of costs: an ad in a literary review might cost many thousands of dollars, and might not be that effective given the attention-deficit disorders among book buyers.
Thus we decided to get videographic with cheap thrills made possible through Youtube.com, as part of our outreach attempts to the book-buying world. There’s greatness in the potentiality for all this, and Blood Moon is at the forefront of this particular kind of publishing and publicity style. Read on, Gentle Reader, for hints and insight.
LIGHTS, CAMERA, ACTION!
Blood Moon’s limited staff necessitates casting these films with either a key editor (me), a member of its administration (me), or its endlessly perky chief publicist (me). Blood Moon is not alone in aiming a camera at its CEO. Companies associated with everyone from Frank Purdue to Colonel Sanders have done the same thing.
In the pursuit of this goal, I wryly imagine myself as a B-list actor making frequent visits to his gym and obsessively rehearsing sound bites. Does it work?
To a degree, yes. It’s relatively cheap when viewed with the understanding that Blood Moon already has its spokesperson available, without charge, on-site. And it assumes that you’ll always link whatever book you’re pushing at the time with issues larger, flashier, and “bigger” than the allure of the particular book you’re pumping.
Here’s how my limited understanding of the show-biz aspects of book marketing got started: When I was a mere wisp of a (precocious) child, during the only period of my life wherein I can legitimately define myself as a fully authentic ingénue, I’d retreat to a hiding place in a tightly packed upstairs closet of my family’s home in a nondescript region of Ohio’s rust belt. There, amid the mothballs and embalmed-in-plastic finery of my mother’s social ambitions, on a kitschy, old-fashioned Victrola, I’d play (and memorize) recordings of the then hottest art form in America: show tunes from the previous season’s Broadway plays.
Of the nuggets of pop wisdom, the one most pertinent to my company’s press and PR program derived from Gypsy Rose Lee about how to make it BIG in show business: YA GOTTA GET A GIMMICK IF YOU’RE GONNA MAKE IT IN SHOW BIZ.
Blood Moon has followed the showbiz-savvy advice of Ms. Rose Lee, as noted above.
None of this would have been possible without the tech development of YouTube.com, the online video facilitator that defines anyone with a cell phone camera as a film producer, director, and star, assuming that he/she succeeds at clicking the appropriate buttons. The technology has resulted in a flood of cheap, easy-to-access, amateur, and, sometimes, incompetent films. Blood Moon’s videos, however, are always, and unwaveringly, a function of a cheap attempt to draw attention (and subsequently, sales) to one of our biographies or film guides.
Our filmmaking saga began the first time the Cyclops eye of a television camera was paraded amid the labyrinth of display tables at a book fair. There I was, babbling to anyone who would listen about scandals and zeitgeists of biographies we had published or were planning to publish. Into my (fully unrehearsed) field of vision popped a spinmeister distantly associated with MTV (or was it CUNY’s Public Television?), who video-recorded our discussion (SEE LINK) about a biography by celebrity mogul Darwin Porter on the very controversial Michael Jackson.
Loaded with flaws and gaucheries, that early videographic spin on Michael Jackson helped sell some books, but, just as important, it “prepped” the members of MJ’s entourage about the neutral style of our reportage during an era when lawsuits from the Jackson camp were blossoming across the legal landscape of America.
My belief is that my cadenced presentation about the journalistic outrage inflicted upon MJ by the tabloid press, as explored within Porter’s brilliant biography, mollified and, perhaps, neutralized some of the Jackson camp’s fury. No lawsuit associated with that book ever emerged, although gossip about its potentiality was rife and truly scary at the time.
Equivalent films followed that clumsy entrée into the merry world of book trailers from other news sources and interviewers NOT affiliated with Blood Moon. Each of them hauled in a camera and recording device for articulate publicists like me willing to sing, tap-dance, and wax eloquent about some aspect of what’s left of the book trades.
Beginning in 2010, I went big time and hired a cinematographer of my own—a clever Polish émigré, Piotr Kajstura, with a history of filmmaking awards and a distinctive vision about the potential of videotaped news features to go “viral.” The timing of his collaboration with Blood Moon coincided with the debut of its new association with National Book Network, a very effective sales and distribution entity with which we are still happily associated today.
Beginning in June of 2010, my filmmaking and PR ambitions got rather grand, indeed. Without really understanding its politics or how I would play its repercussions, I rented a booth within the NBN’s corral at BEA, and hauled in whomever was willing to talk, live, on camera, about how a small press might better “swim with the sharks”in the book trades. See video here.
Did this film get me noticed within the roiling mass of NBN? Definitely, and I relay this with a deep sense of appreciation for their collective sense of indulgence, and on occasion, their sense of horror for whatever might come next from Blood Moon.
With what we thought at the time was a puckish sense of hyperbole, we marketed it to the sales staff at NBN as “a bookselling epic with a hand-selected cast of thousands—the most up-to-date insight into the intricacies of the bookselling trades ever filmed! Hot, Provocative -- See It Now!” Did it sell books? Yes. Were there political repercussions? Yes, but they were hard to define and for the most part, I’ve been forgiven by all parties concerned in the aftermath of this film’s release.
Only the boldest representatives of scary bureaucracies relish the idea of having their presentations blasted out in videotaped formats. Reactions of your participants to their likeness within the films you release might be unpredictable, and EVERYBODY has body issues, it seems, as regards how they emote on camera. Try your best to make everyone look as good as possible and not to overtly embarrass anyone, other than (perhaps, and for calculated effect) yourself.
Chastened by public reaction (or in some cases, the deafening “non-reaction”) to our 2010 film, we barged ahead twelve months later and made another, shorter version in the aftermath of BEA 2011. See Video HERE. Whereas the 2010 version focused on personalities in the book trades, this one focused more on books and the ideas they contained. We trod more carefully than we had the previous year, and choreographed several polite nods to the sleeping dragons we might have piqued the year before. The 2011 version even contained a videographic excursion through the IPPY Awards ceremony that year, as orchestrated by the Jenkins Group, publisher of this newsletter.
Were these documentary-inspired sagas worth the time, expense, and effort they demanded?
YES. They propelled Blood Moon Productions onto its staggering feet and into a visibility that was soon after discussed within the inner corridors of power at both the NBN and the administration of BEA. The production of these “saga-docs” taught innocent, unpresuming me a lot about the etiquette required and expected during the filmmaking process. Flawed, sprawling, informative, and passionate, these early films were, indeed, the lessons I learned.
Since 2011, our films have been shorter (usually from three to a maximum of sixteen minutes). They’ve done their best to amplify a small-scale event (such as a book awards ceremony) into an electronic vehicle whose technology, if not its content, is ready for prime time. We have, at present, at least 42 films posted on YouTube.com, each accessible via key words “Danforth Prince.” Examples of the most noteworthy of the lot, with their attendant e-links, include:
1) A press campaign (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0YTXlgxkasM) associated with our receipt of a book award for our Scandal Guide to the Kennedys from the 2011 Hollywood Book Festival:
2) An interview (A Lavender-Hip Overview of the FBI - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A5Q64pjPsvg) with a smart-as-a-whip radio announcer in Palm Springs, CA wherein we accessorized an MP3 audio tape of the interview with photos associated with characters in our then-new bio of J. Edgar Hoover.
3) A videotaped overview of an out-of-body experience (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BlcbNbLnK5M) I shared, on the eve of the release of the Porter/Moseley Damn You, Scarlett O’Hara with my sighting of the ghost of Vivien Leigh. Our ghost sighting was answered on the air of an L.A. TV channel, (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aTLwKxb9F24&feature=g-like) which satirized my clip as follows, on air, during morning prime time. I guess I was REALLY into marketing that book, cause about two months later, I followed with a mainstream-style videographic overview of that book entitled How the Snow Elves Aborted Christmas Dinner with Vivien Leigh at THE IVY in London (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fbeAT8R_VtQ).
4) A news feature that combined views of the most beautiful women of Central Europe with Blood Moon’s overview of the murder of Marilyn Monroe, (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UcA9ijpRé0Zw) released simultaneously with a video about the state of classical music in Slovakia today (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pTd1dAhgWE8).
5) To date, our latest, an archival record of our corporate responsibility and literary aspirations (http://youtu.be/m7uZiemn_v0), as recorded as one of the brainier aspects of New Jersey’s celebration of Gay Pride, 2012, celebration in Bruce Springsteen territory, Asbury Park, NJ. FACTOID: While hammering home my sales-related points, I got to dress up in leather, just like Bruce did during the best of his concerts, and yes, it got archived as part of the public record associated with that particular historic day. And yes, some books eventually got sold as a result of this video’s migration out into the wide world of cyberspace.
Showbiz and an understanding of its ironies, Blood Moon is proud to report, are alive and well and living in its editorial offices today.
Best wishes and good luck!
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Danforth Prince is the President and Founder of Blood Moon Productions, a New York-based publishing enterprise dedicated to researching, salvaging, and indexing the oral histories of America’s entertainment industry, with a back list of around two dozen critically acclaimed biographies and film guides.
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