Kathleen McInnis

Source: See-Through Film / David Angel Rodriguez

Kathleen McInnis

“I am a bit of an anomaly in that I believe understanding marketing is important for filmmakers,” says Kathleen McInnis, this year’s project consultant at Connext. “It is important they understand how their creative language is translated into their marketing rather than leave it for other people to do.”

The US publicist, producer and programmer encourages filmmakers to think about marketing at the earliest stage of their project’s development.

“I believe if they wait until they get into a film festival, it’s too late,” she says. “I also believe that by marketing the film for emerging filmmakers, you are also marketing the filmmaker. We know [industry representatives] are looking for voice, we know they’re looking for craft, but [it’s] mostly voice.

“I help the filmmaker shine a light on where in their script, where in production, and where in editing the industry is going to find the things they are looking for.”

It is this approach to filmmaking that has brought McInnis to Connext where she has been coaching the filmmaking teams pitching their projects and presenting their works-in-progress at the event.

She arrives in Antwerp with 30 years of industry and marketing experience, having been closely involved with the distribution success of dozens of hits including this year’s Sundance breakout documentary, What A Fantastic Machine, made by Sweden’s Plattform Produktion and sold by Greek company Heretic.

McInnis likens her work with filmmakers to therapy. It’s a “deep dive” into their creative “wellspring” and she undertakes lengthy conversations trying to help them come up with “the right words that will become the marketing language”. The idea is to lay the groundwork, so by the time the filmmaker is ready to submit a project to festivals, the marketing strategy should already be firmly in place.

“You have the right language that you need to submit, you have the stills that support the materials. You create the poster image, trailer and 50-word synopsis.” By supplying these carefully prepared materials, filmmakers are giving festival programmers and distributors a “shortcut to see the film you want them to see”.

To this end, McInnes has created a “marketing pyramid” with the film’s title at the top and the film on screen at the bottom.

“Everything flows from the title down,” she says, adding the title leads to the tagline which leads to the log line, poster image, synopsis and all the other layers. You must follow the correct order, she insists, pointing out that if filmmakers jump too quickly to the poster without putting the other blocks in place, they’ll often come unstuck.

McInnis admits certain European filmmakers are resistant to her playbook. Producers, she acknowledges, worry it will cost money, while directors resist having to boil their work down into marketing essentials. “There are some who simply don’t believe in my philosophy. [But] I am lucky because I have over 30 years’ [experience] and I can point to very strong successes.”

Her involvement with Connext began at the International Film Festival Rotterdam earlier this year.Christian De Schutter, manager at Flanders Image, and one of the creators of Connext, was impressed when he heard McInnis talk on a panel and sent her a note requesting a meeting. She agreed to meet with him at breakfast the next day.

A couple of months later, De Schutter was part of the Flemish delegation at the Oscars with Lukas Dhont’s Close when he met McInnis again and persuaded her to come on board Connext.

McInnis is one of the most well-connected people in the international industry with a huge network of contacts among festival directors, sales agents, distributors, publicists. She is not afraid to tap them on behalf of the filmmakers.

“I hold their hands all the way. I matchmake as much as I can,” she says. “I don’t force anything, but I try to match projects, personalities and futures. I always tell my filmmakers, this is about this film, this is about you, and this is about the next two films.”