Published on September 25th, 2015 | by Biz Books
The Biz Interview: Angie Burns
With a strong entertainment career that has led her to become the Vice President of Public Relations and Promotions at Strut Entertainment, Angie Burns has seen it all in when it comes to entertainment publicity.
Film festivals, press junkets, and media pitches are all in a day’s work for Angie Burns, so we wanted to take a closer look at why publicity matters for actors and filmmakers today.
Angie Burns took a break from her continuously busy schedule to give us the goods on the finer points of how the entertainment publicity machine works and what the life of a publicist is really like.
Why don’t you start by telling us more about you and what projects you are involved with right now?
At the moment, I am in full-on TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) mode! It’s that time of year we entertainment publicists dread, and yet thrive on. This is my first TIFF working with Strut Entertainment, an amazing boutique PR agency in Toronto. Strut specializes in music, brand and lifestyle PR, and I have joined the team to build the film and TV division.
What inspired you to get involved in public relations and promotions for entertainment?
I fell into it quite by chance. After working and going to university full time (studying art history and women’s studies), I decided after graduation to take a breather before moving on to post-graduate work. I applied for a receptionist position at an office that advertised in the classified section of the paper (Google it, kids) but didn’t name itself. I arrived for the interview and the company was the newly formed Lions Gate Films. I never went back to school. It took me a few years to begin working film publicity, which I am eternally grateful for, as the different positions at Lions Gate taught me so much and gave me a multi-faceted understanding of film distribution in Canada.
I love film and my skill set made me a fit for the publicity and promotions department. I never would have considered a career in PR if I hadn’t (luckily, thankfully, happily) stumbled upon it.
What is a typical day like for you?
It’s rare that one day is the same as the one before it – and I love that about entertainment PR. Mornings can be spent escorting talent to morning shows for interviews or screening new films for press. Sometimes, especially on Fridays, they are spent sending out film breaks and reviews to the client.
I’m a big believer in taking a break away from your desk mid-day, so I try to schedule meetings over lunch. These can be with clients, members of the press, or promotional partners. If I don’t have a meeting, I take a walk to stretch the ol’ pins!
Afternoons can be spent pitching interviews, editing reports, building itineraries, crafting proposals, or meeting Tom Hardy for a cocktail. That last part isn’t true, but let’s just leave that in there.
Evenings often involve attending industry events or, more commonly, advance film screenings. Luckily I love what I do, because long days come with the job.
How can promotion and publicity be valuable for actors and filmmakers?
It’s absolutely vital to the success of filmmakers and actors, whether they engage a publicist to handle it – I highly recommend this option – or pursue it on their own, getting word out is essential. Established publicists have spent years getting to know the media – what specific writers’ interests are, who best to connect with regarding a specific project. It can save the client a world of frustration and time by having a publicist represent them and their work. We know what events are on the horizon, who the players are, and how best to navigate opportunities and challenges.
What are the most important factors for actors and filmmakers to consider when they are looking to hire a publicist?
In a word – chemistry. You can have the most skilled publicist in the world, but if they don’t connect with you or your project, those skills mean nothing. I recommend taking the time to research potential publicists; see what they’ve worked on previously, talk to others in the industry if you can. Good word of mouth is critical to a publicist’s success. Have a preliminary conversation to get to know each other … and follow your gut.
How has the landscape of entertainment publicity changed since you first started in the industry?
Night and day! When I started, we were mailing out physical black and white photos and BetaCam tapes to newspapers; now we are emailing links and jpegs to bloggers and social media influencers.
Many boutique and indie distributors have been swallowed up by the larger ones, and the shift from print to digital have greatly impacted our day to day.
Oh – and smart phones! The thought of not being able to text or email someone during an interview on a press day actually gives me hives. We used to have to excuse ourselves and (GASP!) use the phone. I know it sounds like I’m a dinosaur, but seriously, this wasn’t all that long ago.
What is the biggest misconception about entertainment publicity?
Probably that publicists spend our nights rubbing elbows with celebrities, attending all the cool parties and generally leading glamorous lives. Again, I love my job – and I’m not denying that there are perks – but entertainment publicists are some of the hardest working, most organized people I know. You have to check your ego at the door and be prepared to have your successes sometimes ignored, because our jobs are to make our clients shine without showing the hard work that goes into it.
What have been a few of your biggest career highlights so far?
Oh wow – so many! Working with Jon Stewart last year at TIFF on his film Rosewater was definitely a major highlight. He is one of my favourite celebs I’ve ever worked with – and what he does is so brilliant. It was an incredible honour.
Other highlights have been taking films to the Fantasia Film Festival in Montreal. Watching the filmmakers and cast literally weep when they receive the Fantasia ovation is just amazing – it can be a bit overwhelming. You can’t leave that festival without falling in love with it.
Finally, working on films with a message are definitely at the top of the list. Whether it’s the Planet in Focus or Regent Park Film Festivals, or the award winning docs The Cove and Deliver Us From Evil, getting the message out is an incredibly rewarding experience.
What books have been influential to you in your career?
I also loved Down and Dirty Pictures by Peter Biskind, Weird Sex & Snowshoes by the amazing Katherine Monk, and Raising Hell: Ken Russell and the Unmaking of The Devils by Richard Crouse is a must-read for fans of genre cinema.
Where can we find out more about you?
Our thanks to Angie Burns for speaking with us!
Down and Dirty Pictures