Every circus has a lion tamer. At the Sundance Film Festival, the
tamer is press officer RJ Millard. His circus comprises the 900
journalists and 150 publicists descending upon Park City, UT, for the
annual 10-day celluloid orgy. Millard and his staff of 14 publicists and
20 volunteers must somehow squeeze in more than 2,000 interviews between
all the special events, parties, meetings, and, oh yes, some movies.
Walking into the festival headquarters after an 11-hour drive from LA, I
find the whole situation overwhelming. Hundreds of people mill about,
most of them engaged in animated cell phone conversations. One concerned
a certain critic's reactions during an early-morning screening. Every
move the poor guy had made was being analyzed, including whether he'd
left for a few minutes because he was bored or had to pee. The publicist
blamed the bladder.
Millard, one of the coolest publicists I've met, took time out of his
ridiculously busy day to explain the intricate operation to me.
"More than 120 feature films, 70 shorts, and 100 documentaries will
screen during the festival, and we will be involved in arranging
interviews and press coverage for most of them," he says. "We're also
here to help press and publicists navigate the festival, alert them to
scheduling changes, and give them pertinent media materials." (The
Sundance catalog alone is 400 pages!)
A publicist is assigned to each of the four entry categories, and calls
from journalists are assigned to the appropriate one. If a film is
represented by outside publicists, calls are referred directly to them.
They, in turn, often have to work with personal publicists who represent
individual actors or filmmakers. Maintaining communication with them all
is a juggling act which Millard has deftly performed since becoming
media director three years ago.
Of the festival's six official press events, Millard says the most
eagerly anticipated is the opening-night cocktail party where
journalists and filmmakers mingle without the intrusion of any
publicists, who are expressly forbidden. The two groups meet
collectively again at a closing brunch, which could potentially result
in some awkward moments if a filmmaker's labor of love fails to meet
The Sundance publicity office gears up in September, but Millard embarks
earlier in the summer on a series of international marketing trips to
recruit media, discuss their planned editorial and photo coverage, and
alert them to any changes in the upcoming festival. He also meets with
major media sponsors, such as Entertainment Weekly, which receive high
visibility and priority interview access during the festival.
As mentioned earlier, Millard liaisons with outside PR firms
representing clients at the festival. Next week, I'll detail one
agency's Sundance agenda, which was no less hectic than Millard's.
After speaking with Millard, I took a walk around Park City and saw a
sign that read, "Hollywood go home." Okay, we're going. But what about
all those Olympic fans arriving next week?