(Not) The Last Picture Show

On July 28, an email popped into my inbox. The subject screamed: “WHAT?” Ten minutes later, in a mild state of shock, I dialed LACMA director Michael Govan’s office and left a strongly worded message expressing my displeasure at the museum’s abrupt cancellation of its 40-year-old classic film program.

A month later, as co-head of a coalition called Save Film at LACMA, I faced Mr. Govan across a conference table for a “popcorn summit.”  After delivering the thick print-out of our 3,000-signature on-line petition, I spoke on behalf of the 4,000 “fans” registered on our Facebook page. 

Ramping up this extraordinary grassroots movement was at times surreal and at others as disciplined as a war game. It lived almost entirely in cyberspace. Our real-world success, measured by the museum’s reversal of its decision for one year, boils down to passionate dedication and good writing.

In the days following the initial cancellation, I connected by email and blog to my founding partners. The initial team – a corporate public relations manager, a film critic, and I – forged a formidable communications effort, our individual skills melding powerfully. As a corporate writer specialized in marketing communications for investment firms, I know how to use language to entice and sell. I’m also a critic writing about dance and film.  

We rolled out Save Film at LACMA across several internet platforms. Film critic Doug Cummings and I each leveraged our blogs:  filmjourney.org and artsmeme.com. We started a Facebook page and launched our petition. We connected immediately with the press, issuing engaging and informative press releases. A volunteer wrote and videotaped a humorous protest song and posted it on youtube.com, which many blogs and publications re-published on their websites.

On every channel we provided, people poured forth their feelings, proclaiming their deep personal attachment to the film program and their discontent over the unforeseen way it was terminated. 

The key elements of the campaign’s success were:

  • Good writing. Our team included three strong writers who co-wrote every significant communication. Every blog post, Facebook comment and press release was literate and readable.
  • Tonality. The campaign hit the right note for its audience: a serious, educated group of art and film lovers. The tone was light, positive, inclusive, and humorous.  All comments were astonishingly courteous and passionate. (We only ranted behind the scenes!)
  • High-profile participation. Our greatest success and the cornerstone of our campaign was a beautifully written letter by Martin Scorsese published in the Los Angeles Times.  Peter Bogdanovich and directors Bertrand Tavernier, Alexander Payne, and Curtis Hanson also chimed in. This gave our movement clout, credibility, exposure and gravitas.
  • Hewing to the message. Our clear position was that the film program wasn’t broken; it was in dire need of proper marketing. We adhered to this message in the face of the museum’s counter assertions that the program was pathetic, fading away, suffering from a diminishing audience of geezers.
  • Social Networking. Facebook (now 4,000 fans) is a hungry animal demanding constant monitoring and care (I fed the beast for a month!). But it was key to spreading the word worldwide.  We also put out a Twitter feed (now 200+) on all significant press coverage.
  • Online petition (now nearly 3,000 signatures). We almost wept at the fervent messages some of the signatories wrote above their names.
  • Blog.  Our Save Film at LACMA blog let us publish and control our message.
  • Press/media relations. We achieved a coverage trifecta: Los Angeles Times, New York Times and Wall Street Journal. We also got covered in a broad swath of industry-focused publications and blogs.

As other causes seek my help with similar grassroots movements, I muse on my still-fresh experience. I believe that our template is only replicable by a passionate advocate pushing on a daily basis, urgently fostering creative ideas, never being dissuaded, and fervently believing in the righteousness of the cause.  Yes, Save Film at LACMA succeeded based on a strong set of skills, but the secret sauce has been passion.

- By Debra Levine

(www.artsmeme.com and Save Film at LACMA)

Comments are closed Trackback

Comments are closed.