Christelle Randall is an award winning film publicist specialising in the best of independent cinema and television. She has worked with some of film’s most acclaimed directors such as Alejandro González In҃árritu, Sarah Polley, Sean Baker, Ari Aster, Guillermo del Toro, Shane Meadows, Sarah Gavron, Cate Shortland, Gaspar Noé, Michael Winterbottom, Deepa Mehta, Bart Layton, Luca Guadagnino, Michael Caton Jones, Peter Mullan, Park Chan Wook and more. She handles campaigns at all the major international film festivals including Berlin, Cannes, Venice and Toronto. Whilst at Premier, she ran the press team for the BFI London Film Festival, between 2011 – 2013. In 2019, Christelle oversaw the UK publicity campaign for FOR SAMA, winning PR Campaign of the Year at the Screen International Awards. She also worked on the UK awards campaign for the film which became the most nominated documentary in BAFTA history. Christelle handled Sarah Gavron’s ROCKS, launching it as a world premiere in Toronto for Altitude Film Sales and running the UK publicity campaign, together with Altitude Film Distribution. Her most recent campaign is the double Oscar nominated documentary Collective and the television series ANNE BOLEYN for Fable Pictures, Channel 5 and Sony Pictures Television. She is currently working again with Altitude Film Distribution on the Palme D’Or winner TITANE and with Netflix on the production HAVOC now shooting in Wales until mid-October.
What attracted you to Inside Pictures (IP)?
I am at a real turning point in my career and working more closely with US partners in a much more collaborative way. This is partly a result of the pandemic, changing models and being part of global teams on release and awards campaigns. Now that I am an independent consultant, specialising in titles that I feel passionately about, I wanted to benefit even more from the deep dive in to the film industry that IP offers and come away with an even better understanding of the US landscape. I believe these learnings will help me become an even better publicist. I also have ambitions maybe one day of making my own film and that creative process has always been fascinating to me. I have a couple of ideas up my sleeve. Learning more about all areas of the business should prove invaluable and will help me work out how best to take these next steps. This is one of the main reasons I wanted to do it.
What for you have been some of the most significant changes in how film publicity is generated and what the global media demands in terms of a film in order to cover your film or TV show?
I think publicity will always be necessary to successfully launch a project, now more than ever. But the landscape is changing. The pandemic has meant fewer reviewers cover film festivals for example which is often the first time a film makes an appearance. As a result, you need to approach a campaign a bit more creatively and think of other ways to reach your audience. Being clear on who your audience is and targeting the right press to reach them as effectively as possible is still the fundamental aim of any campaign. Obviously now you can be more creative with assets on social media and engaging influencers for the right campaigns can be important. With younger audiences of course, this can be more impactful than traditional media placements. But thinking of assets, what to create and how to use them is a bigger part of my strategy these days .
Also now the publicity tours we used to build for higher profile release campaigns could be approached differently. We know now that junkets can happen digitally. Will this resume in the same way? Or will studios look to put those sizeable budgets into something else instead? Will the red carpet moment as we know it return as before? The pandemic has certainly shifted how publicists (and junket production/ event teams etc) do their jobs and it will be interesting to see if things ever completely go back to how they were before.
Your publicity campaign for FOR SAMA, won PR Campaign of the Year at the Screen International Awards 2019 … What did you do and achieve on that campaign brought it to the attention of Screen?
There was something really unique about how the whole For Sama team came together. Each person was deeply passionate about working on the film, either because of their reaction to the film or personal experience working in that area. I’d volunteered for a couple years at my local Syrian refugee charity in London. When I lobbied the film makers (in Cannes) to work on the film, I was definitely a less obvious player on the agency front. Whilst I had worked on many successful documentary campaigns, I was competing against much bigger agencies and in the end it was my personal passion for the subject matter that got me the job. From the beginning, that campaign was infused with the passion brought by every single person involved, also from UK distributor Zak Brilliant (Republic), who did an incredible job releasing the film.
In terms of the campaign itself, after the critical acclaim from Cannes 2019, word of mouth allowed our team to slowly build a campaign where we positioned the film as the human face of this devastating conflict. The film’s focus was on the day to day reality of what the civil war looked like for the everyday person. This felt much more personal and really brought home how horrific those experiences were especially as the film was narrated and dedicated to Waad’s daughter, Sama. So Waad’s voice was central to all our publicity.
The first big piece that ran for us was the cover of The Observer’s New Review, about a month and a half before the September 2019 – UK – release. After that, the floodgates opened.
It grew to a point where FOR SAMA was on major news shows. Everybody wanted to cover her, even the people who rejected it at the start of the campaign. Plus, we got the film to influencers like Michael Moore, Riz Ahmed, Emilia Clarke, Stacey Dooley, Edgar Wright and Nigella Lawson… Once it played on terrestrial TV, it felt like every week, there was a new major celebrity ambassador, and that dovetailed with our awards campaign. At BIFA 2019 we won five awards, including Best Film – a first for a documentary at the BIFAs. This paved the way for the eventual five BAFTA nominations (the most nominated documentary in BAFTA history) and of course the Oscar nomination. It eventually won Best Documentary at the BAFTAS. By the time the awards season was over, we’d been on the film for nearly a year.
What’s different about working on a publicity campaign for documentary vs a scripted feature, and what’s the same?
For scripted features it would depend on talent access and media materials obtained/created during the shoot. The stature of the talent involved will determine a lot about the campaign. With documentaries, the really big asset, if it’s not about a well-known figure, is the story – as described above around FOR SAMA and COLLECTIVE.
Essentially, you’re looking for a sellable element. If it’s not the talent, then it has to be the story. And if it’s not one of those two things, then there has to already be an element of excitement about that film. That is where festivals come in and help kickstart that buzz. The reviews out of a festival need to be really strong in order for the buzz to continue. That’s what will later push press to prioritising watching the film. Space is tighter than ever before post pandemic and you’re now vying for space in those same sections with TV coverage too. So you need ample time to get a film off the ground, especially for the smaller titles. If you have a good story but no access to strong talking heads in the film, that can also be a problem and timing is everything.
Sometimes you can work on a great scripted feature with amazing talent but have no access to them which can also be difficult. That’s when you have to think more creatively about the themes of the film and how to use the assets in the best way possible. And maximise whatever access you do have with talent to travel as far as possible.
What makes a good film publicist? And what could filmmakers/producers do better to get the most out of their publicist?
Helping filmmakers/ producers shape their positioning in the right way from the very beginning. That’s ultimately how the film will be sold and it’s really important to think of this carefully from production onwards. When publicity goes wrong it can destroy the potential of a film. From the minute producers start shooting they need to be thinking of their materials, the images, the footage, the press notes, who is accessing the set.
Talking points and briefing notes are also important and need careful consideration especially on films with sensitive themes. Making sure actors have enough time to digest these ahead of interviews so they feel confident talking about the projects. These are also useful in anticipating any potential problems, things that the media might pick up on negatively.
Whilst the publicist comes more to the forefront further along in the lifecycle of a film, they are a key member of the creative team and need to considered as such from the beginning.
As someone interested in history, what is it about Anne Boleyn in particular that holds you interest? What new insights into Anne Boleyn did you discover through the CH5 drama you worked on?
I was interested in Anne Boleyn (and history in general) from a really young age. She’s just always been really enigmatic to me. When I first learnt about her, she was quite a tragic figure but as I learnt more I realised there was so much more to her. She was fiercely intelligent and progressive for her time. She was a key influence for the Reformation and tried to influence broader policies.
With this latest Channel 5/ Fable adaptation, I really liked that twist was that she was murdered. They repositioned the story as a psychological thriller. They showed her as a mother, which we don’t often see. I learned on this production that Elizabeth (I) carried a ring with her all of her life, and it had a little portrait of Anne Boleyn on it. I also learnt that at every anniversary of Anne Boleyn’s execution, an unidentified person lays a single rose at the site of her gravestone in the tower. No one knows who it is, but they do it every year (promise it’s not me!).
What’s been the greatest impact on you/your company from COVID?
I took the plunge to set up my own consultancy at the start of the pandemic. It is something I had been thinking of doing for some time and I took advantage of the changing structure at my then employer Way to Blue to make it happen. I spent most of April 2020 really finessing my USP, putting my website together and slowly reaching out to companies/ producers I wanted to work with. I was lucky that I was able to continue working on ROCKS, with fellow publicist Amber Muotto, and took COLLECTIVE with me which I continued to work on myself for the next year. I pre-dominantly work with independent companies, and they were able to quickly adapt to digital only releases so by the end of May 2020, I was fully up and running. I haven’t really stopped working since!
It is definitely harder to get coverage on smaller titles, something I hear publicists saying across the board. Space is tighter and competition is tougher. It took me three months of relentless lobbying to get COLLECTIVE off the ground in the lead up to release, whereas a year previously it would have taken a lot less time.
What’s changes or innovations, in response to COVID, have you seen that will be for the greater good of the industry going into the future, and what can’t you wait to see be ‘normal’ once again?
More distributors are bringing out their own platforms. There’s been a reallocation of marketing budgets. I think the traditional P&A model may change. How films are advertised, which festivals they launch at, how they’re promoted, whether talent travel in for festivals/ junkets/ red carpets is probably all going to change. It will be interesting to see if this year audiences return to say awards screenings in person – last year this was all digital.
Clearly the pandemic has accelerated changes that were always going to happen just not as fast.
It’s going to be important to see how the films have done in the cinemas over the summer, in order to judge the future appetite for theatrical. It is so important to continue supporting local cinemas and hopefully the streamers will continue to factor in the theatrical component to their releases.
The next six months could be make or break for the cinema landscape in terms of the box office. The big tentpole films needs to deliver. If we go into another lockdown scenario, then that’s going to be another blow to their recovery.
If the pandemic started today, what do you think you would do different to make it better/easier on the company and/or your own well-being?
I might have taken a bit more time off after leaving Way to Blue! And it is so important to build in time away from zoom heavy days. I’m not a natural Zoomer and after Zoom intense weeks, I need time away. Luckily, I now live close to the sea which during the summer months has been my savior.
It’s a Sunday afternoon, it’s raining, you’ve nothing else to do that day, what film are you putting on to relax with?
The Breakfast Club. I’ve watched it a million times. I know it off by heart and I still find it funny. It really was a seminal film for anyone growing up in the 1980s! I’m also partial to a bleak art house movie, oh and a good horror.