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Tell people about our latest release... if you like
Slarek welcomes in the new year by pondering on the increasingly wide gap between good and bad press releases and looking forward to getting back up to speed | 2 January 2014

Back in the very early days of the site, our news stories were sourced from wherever we could find them and sometimes relied more on rumour than confirmed fact. After a while, distributors and their PR representatives started noticing us and sending official press releases, which included synopses of the films, details of the discs, prices and release dates, everything you need for a news story about an upcoming release. Many of these we tend to reproduce as supplied, but usually with a few tweaks to tone down the sometimes excessive use of superlatives and the occasional attempt to pass a bottle of Pisswasser off as fine champagne, if you'll excuse the analogy. Occasionally the temptation to comment on the film or the disc in question will personalise the story, but in the past this has simply meant adding a few lines to the already satisfactory material supplied. In the past year or so this has started to change, and I'm not sure why.

That a gradual shift in the medium of film delivery is under way is not in dispute, but a sizeable number of films and TV series are still released on DVD and Blu-ray every week. Now I have to presume that distributors still want those releases publicised, and given that press releases are now all delivered by email, the cost of sending them out has dropped almost to zero. Yet in 2013 I had a real sense that some distributors are either employing iffy PR companies or are no longer that interested in promoting their product.

A small number of distributors still excel at providing top class press releases, none more so than the good people at the BFI and Eureka! (for those not in the know, that exclamation mark is part of the Eureka! brand name and not the result of over-excitement on my part), whose press releases are so comprehensive that we tend to slavishly reproduce them with only the smallest of tweaks. It's a similar story with Arrow, although for some reason we sometimes miss out on release details that we'd be frankly overjoyed to post, though that's become rarer in recent months.

But there are some distributors that appear to have little real enthusiasm for the product they are trying to sell. A couple no longer send us press releases at all – we're probably too small or they just don't like my face – and it's no doubt assumed that sending us info on big budget Hollywood releases would for the most part be a waste of time. But some of the press releases we receive are lacking the sort of detail that you'd think would be essential for a news story on an upcoming home video release. A key casualty here is a lack of information on extra features, but it would also be nice to know what the retail price will be, especially when there are a couple of companies still demanding £24.99 for a bog standard Blu-ray version of their product.

In recent months, however, we've encountered release announcements that are genuinely anaemic, the weakest of which (and I'm naming no names here, so don't hold your breath) have consisted of a title, a release date, a single sentence to sum up the film's plot, and bugger all else. When something like that lands in your inbox there is almost the feeling that the PR company is saying, "Look, we really can't be bothered to write a proper press release, so could you do a bit of research and write if for us?" Yeah, right. We're doing this for free, buster, and while we're happy to post a story about a release of yours that may be of interest, you could at least make a bit of effort to tell us clearly what it is you're trying to sell. Thus unless I know the film well and feel inclined to dig up some information from elsewhere on its home video release and write up a small piece about it, my response when confronted with such content-light emails is to file them away and ignore them. Particularly frustrating are the press releases sent not as textual emails, but as JPEG picture files or protected PDFs, making it impossible to cut and paste text from them, making it necessary to either type the whole thing out again or subject the document optical character recognition. In the case of protected PDFs this means first converting the file to a bitmap, saving it as a PDF, loading it back into Acrobat Pro, running the OCR feature, saving it as a Word file and then checking for all the characters that Acrobat's OCR function was unable to read (any letter with an accent, italicised dates, etc.).

But at least I know who the distributor is in each case. In what remains the most bemusing omission from a small series of press releases in the past couple of years, one PR company would send us a fair amount of detail on the film and even the disc content, but completely forget to include the name of the distributor who presumably hired them to promote themselves and their product in the first place. That this particular PR company is no longer representing the distributor in question does not exactly surprise me.


On an only slightly related matter, I hope you all had a good new year if you choose to celebrate such things. Things have been quiet on the site over the past couple of weeks, partly because PR companies and the press departments of distributors tend to be closed over the winter break, and partly because I fancied spending my few days away from the laptop, playing games and watching films that I didn't have to write about as well. But we'll soon be back up to steam. Reviews are on the way for the Masters of Cinema release of Fellini's superb 1955 Il Bidone and Shane Carruth's captivating and long-awaited second feature Upstream Colour. I'm also working on my usual pick of the year piece (we're always late with these), and we should be starting a couple of new columns soon, one of which we'll be inviting you to contribute your own suggestions to. Watch this space. Or one just like it.