Director James Kicklighter graduating from Georgia Southern University in 2010.
Director James Kicklighter's
college graduation at
Georgia Southern in 2010.

Out of all the questions that I get, the one most frequently asked usually revolves around getting publicity for projects.

These usually come from fellow professional filmmakers and aspiring content creators.

In my world, it usually surprises people when I tell them that I pursued an undergraduate degree in Public Relations from Georgia Southern University. I think this is because I have never practiced as a public relations practitioner.

But frankly, as my former professors and department chair would tell you, I never intended to do that with my life.

As you might know, I have been working in film since I was sixteen. Thus, when I got to college, I already knew the path that I wanted to pursue and was already pursuing it.

Georgia Southern didn't offer a film degree at the time, and the only program comparable was Broadcasting. However, as I had no intention of going into television news, this seemed to be a waste of my time.

Having a long heart to heart with my department chair, Dr. Pamela Bourland-Davis, she encouraged me to pursue a B.S. in Public Relations with a minor in Film Studies. Thusly, I would gain a deeper understanding of publics, target audiences and communication theory, all applicable to my career in film.

Director James Kicklighter and 2010 Georgia Southern University Communication Arts Department Chair, Dr. Pamela Bourland Davis (my Public Relations professor)
Director James Kicklighter and 2010 Georgia Southern University Communication Arts Department Chair, Dr. Pamela Bourland Davis (my Public Relations professor)

I use these tools every day, and I'll be using them more than ever working with Hillary for America this fall.

Here are my top three public relations tools used in film:

1) Understanding your work and the public relations that align with your audience goes a long way to realizing your success.

It doesn't matter what project you're making, whether it is a feature film, documentary, music video, web content, corporate communications or advertising campaign. I have done them all. If you don't understand who your content is being made for, you shouldn't be making it. At the very least, press the pause button to figure it out before you proceed.

In the modern era, as consumers have more choices that ever, professional creators cannot afford to just create because we feel like it. We need to understand where we are going to thrive so we can build our brands and audiences. 

I think a lot of filmmakers don't like the idea of becoming a brand. It makes them feel like they're no longer "artists." But when you can identify what you do, suddenly, people will hire you for those things and your career will progress. 

Frankly, no one takes the world's most talented multi-hyphenate seriously. You cannot be a brilliant director, writer, cinematographer, editor, producer, and production designer all at once. 

Identify what you are good at and keep it limited to one or two things so your prospective audience understands what you do and then you'll be hired for it.

Gary Lennon, the executive producer of 50 Cent's "Power" on Starz, once advised me to describe what I do in a sentence. For me, it's "I tell stories about loss and identity." 

If you were to line up all of my work, you would find that throughline.

What's your sentence?

2) Semantics matter.

The words we choose have a profound impact on the way people perceive narratives. 

This might sound elementary, but words and phrases are critical in communicating across everything we do in film, from a narrative feature to working with interview subjects in a documentary. 

As storytellers, our job is to frame the narrative for the viewer. Everything we do has a perspective, and as such, we have to think about what that conclusion will be at the end of the piece to accomplish it. 

This starts with the words we choose.

I was fortunate to study under Dr. Chris Geyerman, a brilliant communications expert, who forced me to examine the differences between something like "marriage equality" or "religious freedom."

These two terms are politically charged, and I would be willing to bet that you all know what they both mean.

That's precisely my point.  

The words and phrases we choose directly informs the audience as to our perspective. Without careful cultivation, we do not project a clear message to the audiences watching our work.

3) Make yourself available in film.

More than anything, the key to garnering attention for your work outside of making good work (which is the starting point), you have to make yourself avaliable. 

My friends joke that you can find just about anything you want about me on the Internet with a quick Google search. 

This is true.

But it is because I have carefully cultivated that image and the platforms I utilize over the course of my eleven year career. It helps to have a unique last name like "Kicklighter," which is in fact my real last name. 

Last year, when I was on vacation in Cabo San Lucas, Hurricane Blanca hit. Utilizing my digital platforms, I shared what was going on from my resort. The Associated Press contacted me to report from the scene of the action and soon after, my name was in The New York Times and various publications throughout the world. 

This has nothing to with being a filmmaker, yet it has everything to do with building my personal brand. 

I certainly give interviews to film related publications, but you have to do more than that. You have to be accessible in multiple ways to leverage your content and expand your audience in unexpected ways. 

  • 1) Understanding your work and the public relations that align with it goes a long way to realizing your success.
  • 2) Semantics matter.
  • 3) Make yourself avaliable in film.

What tools do you use?