Creating Pull Quotes

I just finished running through the press we’ve received in Boston for INVINCIBLE SUMMER so far, and created a set of pull quotes. In my experience, the creating of quotes is a perilous act–you can easily fall on the side of too much modesty, or too much schlock. I’ll address each.

TOO SCHLOCKY

This is the problem most people are familiar with, as Broadway and Hollywood are absolutely riddled with it–this is the problem where everything! ends! in! exclamation! points! and so forth. I’ve never seen the New York Times use punctuation like that, but that doesn’t seem to stop some people. They also mangle meaning, subtract all the words, make up new sentences and never use ellipses.

This is ultimately a tragedy of the commons situation, because as producers batter the reviewers words into submission they abuse the trust that readers have for the critical establishment, which means they ultimately find themselves doubting and disregarding reviews more…which damages the producers goals, as people won’t think the reviews mean anything eventually. This doesn’t stop people from doing it, however.

TOO MODEST

This tends to afflict people at the other end of the scale–like independent artists starting out, or in my experience almost everyone doing theater in the greater Seattle area, as Seattle is a traditionally extremely modest city.

Modesty does have its place, but one must not forget that pull quotes are marketing and message first and foremost, and if you do not sound confident of your own product people will detect that and act accordingly. Many people making pull quotes also adhere almost legalistically to rules of adaptation, using [brackets] and…ellipses with great abandon, so you get quotes like:

“[He] is a fantastic [performer]…wonderful…warm and inviting [work].”

No one wants to see that show–it looks like a legal argument.

MY APPROACH

First I read all the reviews. Then I read them again. This step is important–often when someone is invested in a review, you await it with baited breath, but when it arrives your eyes glide over it quickly. I let myself do it the natural way first, but then put my producer hat on and do it again, with feeling. I’ll admit that it hurts when I disagree with the notices, but I console myself by knowing that after I do this thoroughly I won’t need to do it again.

Second, this culling should be done ASAP. Pull quotes are most useful in the atmosphere just after the reviews have landed, so don’t wait–get your materials together. After all, you can always make different pull quotes for a later run–what’s important is striking now.

Now I re-read the review (hopefully online) with a text document open, and I drop any chunk of text that looks promising, pruning them out of the review. I visualize this step as being like a fisherman–this is what I’ve caught, and what can I make from it? If I view it as material and material alone it makes it easier to work with the words, and look at them in the cold, unvarnished light of marketing. In the end, a review is what one person wrote when they saw your work on one night. Fantastic or dreadful, that’s all it is–and now it becomes a tool for the artist, which is empowering.

But not *too* empowering–it’s important to adhere to some guidelines, and while I’ve never quantified them like I am here, these are the ones I try to follow:

• Don’t make shit up. This is obvious, but you can’t simply write the pull quote you want out of whole cloth.

• Ellipses are your friend, but not your best friend. I use ellipses when appropriate–when two thoughts I’d like to connect have another thought between them that I’d like to omit. I do not use ellipses if I prune a word out for grammatical consideration–sometimes a sentence out of context looks bizarre, and so I fix the tenses, of change “he” to “Daisey”, things like that. One of my rule of thumbs is that if the reporter knocked on my door now, would I feel comfortable showing him or her what I’ve done? The answer has to be yes.

• Respect the critic’s intentions. If a critic disliked the show, but said that your performance was stellar, it is fair to use a quote that says your performance was stellar. But if a critic said your performance stunk, it is in no way fair to somehow edit a version that says your performance was great.

• When possible use the whole. Whole sentences, whole thoughts–I’m a big believer in longer quotes over shorter ones, though they have their place as well, and the same rule applies. By using whole ideas and sentences you avoid having to use ellipses much of the time, and I feel that audiences trust that more–and I know I look for full sentences when I’m assessing the trustworthiness of a piece…and whenever possible, I provide links to the full review. Naturally, that doesn’t always work–such as when the review is mixed–but that’s the hope.

That’s all for now–next up I’ll post the actual pull quotes we’ve made for the run so far, which thanks to the excellent notices haven’t been very hard to create.

md

Crossposted to mikedaisey.com

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