TALES FROM TINSELTOWN: Sundance is a publicity festival full ofcelluloid and cell phones

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?

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