DIY Chronicles: THE WAY WE GET BY (Part 3 of 5): Going Local and Maximizing Your Distribution Window

Today's guest post is the third of five from filmmakers Gita Pullapilly and Aron Gaudet concerning their experience making and distributing THE WAY WE GET BY. The students at Harvard Business School realistically saw no way for us to do a theatrical run without a significant investment in film prints and print and advertising. But they noted that by leveraging our POV broadcast with a DVD release, we could feasibly make our first real revenue stream. That coupled with a strong educational and community screening plan showed that there was perhaps some hope of making a living. However, they all agreed, it was going to be A LOT of work.

The one date we knew we couldn’t move was our broadcast. The Way We Get By was going to be a common carriage POV Special on Veterans Day (November 11). We knew we had to come up with a strategy to market and promote the film leading up to the broadcast and direct our audiences towards the DVD.

As we waited to see which film festival we would “world premiere” at, we realized we had a growing audience and strong support in Maine. We knew we had to figure out how to leverage this regional support base to help us nationally. We began fundraising in Maine, in hopes that we could pull off a small theatrical run within the state. Through our networking efforts, we were introduced to our eventual Executive Producer. His son was serving in the Marine Corps and had gone through the Bangor International Airport five times. This hub, where much of our film takes place, held a very emotional place in his heart. Being a Vietnam veteran, he also still had emotions involving his own journey home. In short, he had a personal stake in our film succeeding. He wanted to see it find the largest possible audience. His first significant contribution to the film came in the form of a donation to help with the costs of marketing and outreach. But it was his next contribution—sharing his personal relationships with us, that helped us also secure a critical deal with a local bank in Maine.

We had originally approached Bangor Savings Bank asking for support to help finish The Way We Get By. But since they had never financed a film before, they saw it as too risky a venture. When we went back to them with our finished film, they loved it and wanted to be the exclusive sponsor for a set number of screenings across Maine.

The bank initially wanted to pay us to license and screen the film at around ten locations around Maine—including a speaking fee for each event we were a part of. But we knew if we were going to do something significant in Maine, as well as nationally, we needed to forget about a quick financial gain and leverage it for something long term. We decided to counter offer with a different plan entirely. We told them we would bypass any screening or speaking fees if they were willing to pay for a film negative and film prints (roughly $35,000 in hard costs)—making it much easier to screen in theaters around Maine. Finally, they agreed to spend over $100,000 in marketing the film across the state and purchase a large quantity of DVDs.  This included throwing receptions before screenings in many cities, and using their standing in the community to help get local press. In return, their logo would always be on the screen before the film played, and they would have the option of having a bank representative introduce the film.

We brought on a friend—Ben Fowlie, the founder of the Camden International Film Festival—to act as our theatrical booker in Maine, as he knew almost every theater owner in the state. He quickly helped lock down the theatres for the Bank sponsored screenings as well as several additional theatres. After our world premiere at the SXSW Film Festival in March, while we were still just getting started on our festival run, we decided we would launch our theatrical run in Maine stretching out through the summer.  This was a gamble because during the summer, theaters were playing the big blockbuster films and audiences would typically choose to see Star Trek over our documentary—or so we thought. With all the press and promotion we were able to secure with the “Made in Maine” angle, we played in over 20 theaters, splitting the box office with each theater. We framed the photo of the neon marquee of a central-Maine theatre touting Star Trek through the week and The Way We Get By on the weekend, and we still have the Rentrak reports, from a western Maine theatre, showing our head to head box-office battle with the latest Harry Potter film—we doubled them in box-office that weekend!

Coming off the high of our success in Maine and with five film prints in hand, we debated on giving the film a national theatrical run. But if we went for it—we could risk losing the money in Maine and even more…..

END PART III.  Part IV continues tomorrow with MINIMIZE YOUR LOSS AND HOPE FOR A GREATER PAYOFF IN THE END

Gita Pullapilly and Aron Gaudet are now working on their next project—a narrative feature, “Go Baby” they plan to shoot early next year. They recently launched SUNNY SIDE UP FILMS, www.sunnysideupfilms.com, which also supports the national distribution of independent films.

 

Tune in to see The Way We Get By for its encore presentation as part of the 2010 season on POV August 3, 2010. For more information, visit: www.thewaywegebymovie.com

Part One: Finding A Spot In The Line-Up Part Two: Timing Is Everything Part Three: Going Local & Maximizing Your Distribution Window Part Four: Minimize Your Loss And Hope For A Greater Payoff In The End Part Five: Going Local Pays Off