Spotlight: Film, Storytelling, and Social Impact with Christie Marchese

Christie Marchese is the founder and CEO of Picture Motion, where she leads a team of impact producers, marketing strategists and public interest communication specialists in developing social action and grassroots marketing campaigns for films. Working with filmmakers, distributors, brands and NGOs with stories that have the potential to inspire action, Picture Motion educates and inspires audiences to think critically, take action and drive lasting change. Recent projects include Leonardo DiCaprio’s Before the Flood, Ava DuVernay’s 13TH, Michael Moore’s Where to Invade Next, Katie Couric’s Fed Up and Under the Gun, Shonda Rhimes and Norman Lear’s America Divided, Dick’s Sporting Goods’ Keepers of the Game, Whole Foods Markets’ At the Fork,  Discovery’s Racing Extinction, The Weinstein Company’s BULLY and Fruitvale Station and renown artist JR’s Ellis.

To start off, can you tell us a little bit about Picture Motion?

Picture Motion is the leading impact agency for entertainment. We essentially produce cause marketing and social impact campaigns around issue driven films in order to amplify awareness for the film and the issue, and ultimately drive action with our overall goal of social justice and progressive change. To do this work, we work with filmmakers as well as their distributors, and pair them with organizations and activists working directly on the issue that their film addresses and then collectively put together a campaign around the film.

We are seeing more and more that storytelling is a powerful tool in creating social change. What makes storytelling through film unique and why did you choose to get involved with this particular medium?

I think there’s a couple things that make it unique. First off, we work particularly with feature films or long length films, usually 90 minutes. Part of that is because we feel like you have to spend some focused time with someone’s story or around a particular issue to really understand it. While we love to create and support the short videos we see online everyday, we think film has a much deeper impact due to the time you spend and the way in which they tell the story. I think the second piece of why storytelling through film is unique is that it’s really empathy building – you’re living in someone else’s shoes, in someone else’s story. It could be the film is following around a certain person or family and you kind of live in that story for a little bit, or it takes an hour and half to really break down that complicated issue that you may not really get with a short blip or news piece that you read online. While those are the two main reasons, I’d say the third reason film is a powerful storytelling medium is the way in which film is released, and the gravitas that it still has. We still have a reference for film – the Oscars are one of the highest rated shows we have every year because we still have this affinity for it. It’s an expression of the human spirit and the human experience. I think because we still hold film at such high regards, more so than a Snapchat video, we treat it that way. And I think it has more power because of that.

We would definitely work on a TV show too. We worked on a series on EPIX called America Divided, which is a few different stories strung together. I think it was six or eight storylines woven into a five part series, and it was similar in theory – spending time with a story helps you understand it better and connects you with someone who’s different from you, and hopefully that shifts your heart and mind. So, we’d definitely work on a TV series, and we’ve worked on a short film before. Again, we thought it was a powerful film that would have an effect on people. It was a 30 minute film on HBO called the Lion’s Mouth Roars and it was about Huntington’s Disease. And because it was really powerful, we felt it accomplished what it needed to in a shorter amount of time so we wanted to work on it and make sure people saw it.

Picture Motion worked on this year’s Oscar-nominated documentary, 13th. What was the process like for determining the best social impact strategy for this film?

On every project we like to be able to do the full soup to nuts strategy and execution for an impact campaign. Sometimes we only get hired for a particular piece of it, or maybe there’s funds that are allocated for marketing events or PR that are then used for our type of work, so we don’t always get to do the full soup to nuts strategy. But we went to Ava DuVernay and said we think this is going to be a really powerful film, what could we possibly do? And after watching it we were like “everyone needs to see this film.” At the end of the day, if people see this film, they’ll have a greater understanding of why we have institutionalized racism in the US. So it came down to, how do we talk about it? We felt like in order to have the most impact, we needed to shift the public discourse around race and mass incarceration through screenings of the film. So we coordinated I think about twelve events where we worked really closely with organizations who have been working on this issue in large screening venues. At Ohio State University, we had a 1200 seat venue. We also had a screening at the National Museum for African American History and Culture in DC. We also incorporated key organizations and leaders in this issue area, like the ACLU, Michelle Alexander, and Brian Stevenson. We felt like through this combination of high quality events, large screenings, the right partners, and key influencers, we could set the tone for the conversation. And ideally with the press on top of that, it’ll get people to tune into Netflix. There was no petition to sign, no product to buy or not buy, you need to sit with this film. We had these big events so that hopefully you’ll hear about them or maybe attend one, and if not, you’ll watch it on Netflix.