For the benefit of reporters and critics, every film that opens theatrically is accompanied by a press kit full of valuable background information about the production, talent involved and the filmmakers’ intentions. Unlike the articles and reviews they often inform, these notes don’t carry bylines — but if they did, Robyn Leff’s name would be one of the most familiar. “What I do is not journalism. It’s a cousin of journalism, and there’s a little bit of salesmanship to it. When I see a film that I’m going to write the notes for, I think, ‘What was the filmmakers’ grandest vision for what they wanted this to be?’ and I start from that,” says Leff, whose best work is researched meticulously enough to belong in the pages of a film journal.
Each assignment brings new requirements, ranging from interviews with talent (on “The Tree of Life,” for example, director Terrence Malick didn’t like to explain his work, and some of the stars had soured on the eventual best picture nominee) to the number of approvals needed before revisions are complete. Leff typically comes on quite early in the publicity process, often speaking to talent before they’ve had a chance to work out soundbites or explanations: “Sometimes I work off a script. Sometimes there is no movie yet.”
Started as a publicist’s assistant for Clein & Feldman, but didn’t feel comfortable working as a junior publicist. “I couldn’t stand getting on the phone and pitching,” she says. Writing press releases came naturally, however. “I wasn’t sure this was something I could make into an actual business,” but the work has been constant.
Publishes short stories. “It’s hard to write fiction when you’ve been writing press kits all day, but in some ways, it makes you a more interesting writer,” she says.
Name: Robyn Leff
Title: Freelance publicity writer
Function: Writes press notes for Fox Searchlight, Paramount and other studios, as well as individual prodcos.
Domain: Works from her apartment in West Los Angeles
Years on the job: 15
Number of pages written: 100 pages a week. (“If only I could write a book that fast!” she says.)
Most frequently profiled celebs: Daniel Day-Lewis, Christian Bale, Brad Pitt, Paul Giamatti (5 films apiece)
Recent “credits”: “Star Trek Into Darkness,” “The Wolverine,” “Seduced and Abandoned,” “Trance,” “Zero Dark Thirty,” “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” “The Sessions,” “Lincoln”