Guest Post: Conor Horgan "What I Learned From Making My Movie"

One Hundred Mornings screened at Slamdance 2010. It then won The Workbook Project's Discovery & Distribution Award. We hosted it at our Goldcrest Screening Series to great success. It is now having a NY run and the NY Times honored it with a Critics' Pick notice. When we screened it I noted:

"End of the world scenarios come in all forms, but rarely are they dressed in such human(ist) clothing. Big concepts too often forget that it is all about life and how we live it. One Hundred Mornings keeps the characters (and all their foibles) front and center in the most relatable of manners. As much as we need each other, we are still only human. Society may have broken down but the every day stuff of love, jealousy, betrayal, and jerky neighbors is still what it takes to get through the day."

I dig the film and love the use of genre to get to deeper subjects. Now that everyone in NYC has a chance to revel in this tale, I reached out to Conor and asked if he could share some of experiences. He's come up with a list of what he learned that helped him reach and hit such a high mark.

One question really stood out to me at the Q&A following the Goldcrest screening of One Hundred Mornings in New York last year. It was a simple one, but hard enough to answer: what did I learn from making the film? As I recall, my answer at the time ended up being about the virtues of the Red Camera (we were the first Irish feature to shoot on it) but I know I learned much more than just how to work with a new piece of kit.

Now that we’re back in New York, with the film playing this week at the Rerun Theatre in Brooklyn, I thought I’d have another go at it- so here are a few of the things I learned from making One Hundred Mornings.

Use the limitations We wanted to make a realistic film about a modern Western society on the cusp of a complete breakdown, but with a tiny budget. We ended up making the absence of things part of the world of the film: the characters have very different takes on what’s going on, and as there are no communications they can’t find out otherwise. The cast wore the same clothes much of the time, and most of the story takes place around one central location. There is almost no music and many of the scenes play out in a single shot- indeed, a lot of them were shot from only one angle in only two or three takes (which actually really helped the actors give such focused performances – they knew they had to take every chance they could)

This all helped us shoot within our resources, sure, but let's face it - the audience could care less about the size of the budget. What this approach also did for us was something really important– it helped the world we created within the film feel very believable, almost to the point of feeling inescapable. I’m certain that if we’d made a cutty film full of music from the same script we wouldn’t have found the same kind of intensity.

By the way, the other reason there’s hardly any music is that when I was thinking about what I’d miss most in a world without electricity, it was beautiful, complex music that came pretty close to the top of the list. After the minor details of food, water and shelter, of course.

Don’t always play to my strengths. Really? My background as a photographer, sometime DoP and director of many TV spots gave me a lot of experience in making things look good on camera. It also showed me that for a lot of my early career when things weren’t going too well on set I tended to start concentrating on what I was most comfortable with – the camera. And when I say things weren’t going too well, that almost always meant with the actors - I didn’t really know how to talk to them to get what was needed. One Hundred Mornings is my first feature, so I really wanted to try something different.

I had to leave my comfort zone far behind, which meant taking a couple of acting classes. After getting over the embarrassment ( which took a while) I discovered that I wasn’t quite as terrible at it as I’d feared, and could actually even enjoy it at times. I’m very grateful to a friend who subsequently cast me in a small role in one of his short films, because that experience really helped me understand what actors most need from a director - understanding, honesty, respect and compassion. Or in other words, a bit of love.

Try to remember what it was that inspired me. It’s surprisingly easy to forget. Directing this very ambitious film was an intense, almost hallucinatory experience. As I ricocheted between the triumphs and disasters that happened every single shooting day, there was a real possibility I might lose my way and end up making a film that bore little resemblance to the one I started out making.

What I found that really helped me was this: I had a central question that was always the heart of the film for me. I mentioned it to the people I was working with but didn’t make a song and dance about it – I just needed a kind of a touchstone that I could return to when I was in the thick of it. I really hoped that keeping this question in the forefront of my mind would help make a coherent piece of work, that might speak to people in some way. So you can imagine how happy I felt when I opened the New York Times on Friday morning to find a version of that question, rounding off a terrific, insightful review of One Hundred Mornings. Which shows that when you stay true to your inspirations, people will really get your film.

After spending time as a pizza chef, puppeteer and geo-electrical surveyor in the Northern Rif Mountains of Morrocco, Conor Horgan trained as a photographer before going on to direct experimental, documentary and drama films. He lives in Dublin, Ireland.

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Jon Reiss: 20, No 25, Points To Consider in Approaching Your Festival Premiere

Today we have a guest post. Jon Reiss returns!

20 25 Points to Consider in Approaching Your Festival Premiere: Part 2

by Jon Reiss

Author of Think Outside the Box Office

The first part of this article concerned how to approach festivals if you want to still pursue a more conventional sales oriented strategy within the new landscape of distribution for independent film.

This second part will address what you should consider if you are going to use your premiere festival (or one of your festivals) to launch the actual

distribution and marketing of your film. Linas Phillips, Thomas Woodrow and company are doing this for Bass Ackwards at Sundance in conjunction with New Video. Sundance just announced today that three more films will at least be releasing their VODs day and date with this year’s festival. While these three films are being released by the Sundance Select series on Rainbow, it is actually run by IFC who has been pioneering festival/VOD day and date (this and more about revising filmmaker’s approach to festivals is covered extensively in Chapter 14 of Think Outside the Box Office.)

I am writing this piece for 2 reasons: 1. To aid any filmmaker who is considering launching the release of their film at their premiere festival aka Sundance/Slamdance (even though I lay out a lot of challenges to this strategy, I am still a huge fan of this approach) and 2. To assuage the guilt of many filmmakers who have been kicking themselves for not utilizing this strategy in previous years. I spoke to a number of filmmakers who were mad at themselves because they saw the amount of exposure their festival premiere generated, and they never reclaimed that exposure with the theatrical release of their film. Hence they reasoned, “if only I had released my film day and date with my _______ festival premiere”. They realized, smartly, that it is best to have all guns blazing in your release to penetrate the media landscape and that top festivals are very good at creating audience awareness. Hence why not monetize that audience awareness with the release.

However it does take a fair amount of advance work and planning in order to enact this strategy. So this year you should not kick yourself for not doing it. (Later this year or next year when filmmakers should know better – they should kick themselves!) If you are premiering at Park City and aren’t ready for this strategy now, I have a suggestion at the end of this piece about how to engage this strategy at a later date.

So here are some points to consider for a festival launch of your film’s release.

1. You should create a thought out distribution and marketing strategy that will guide you and your team through this release. Have you analyzed your goals for your film, your potential audience, and your resources? (I know this was the first point to consider for the last post – it is that important)

2. Very important in this strategy is what rights are you releasing and when. What is your sequence of rights release? Is everything day and date with the fest or only VOD or DVD? If all rights are not day and date, when are the other rights being released and how will those rights be promoted?

3. Of particular concern is theatrical. Are you launching what I term a live event/theatrical release at the festival (Section 3 of the book)? Conventional theatrical usually requires at least 3 months. But perhaps you will have alternative theatrical after the festival and then ramp up conventional theatrical. How long is your theatrical window? How does this integrate with your other rights?

4. Consider if your film is the kind of film that will generate a lot of interest and press at Park City? Perhaps do some research into the types of films (particularly those that reviewers and film writers will respond to) and see if that makes sense for your film. Even though Park City shines a great spotlight on films, it does not do so for all films, and many films get lost in the shuffle.

Perhaps there is an alternative time of the year that might shine a brighter light on your film – e.g. if there is a national month or date dealing with your film’s subject.

5. Do you have all of your materials ready to go for a release whether DIY or through a distribution partner? Are all your deliverables ready to go? Have you authored your DVD? Do you have key art? Have you printed your key art?

6. Is there a distribution partner who is interested in your film who will help you launch your film at the festival? Note that all of the films mentioned above are partnering with a larger company to help enable the release. You don’t need one company, perhaps it is a group of companies. Perhaps you have one company for DVDs and another for VOD. Many distributors need a long lead time to prepare a film for release, so chances are that this option will be difficult unless you already have it in play. However you can begin discussions with potential partners at Park City or after for such a release later down the line. More on this later.

7. If you don’t have a distribution partner in any particular rights category, do you have a DIY approach to monetizing said rights category? Do you have replication and a fulfillment company lined up? Do you have digital distribution in place for download to own, download to rent?

8. Do you have a marketing and publicity campaign that you have been developing for a couple of months? Do you have a publicist who has been talking to journalists to lay the ground work for your release?

9. Many filmmakers at Park City will just have been finishing their films to get them ready to screen. Many or most will have been so absorbed with the completion of their films that they will not be ready to release their films at Park City. In that case it is probably wise to hold off on your release for when you are more prepared. Use Park City to lay the groundwork for that later release. Don’t just think about the overall deal, actively court distribution partners who will work with you on a split rights or hybrid scenario. Find out what press is a fan of your film so that you can book live events/theatrical releases in those cities. (Have them hold the review!)

10. If you are at Park City – chances are you will be invited to other fests. Use one of those festivals (or a combination of festivals) to launch your release when you are ready. Weather Girl premiered at Slamdance last year, didn’t sell, regrouped and then launched their theatrical at LA Film Fest 6 months later. Two of the IFC releases premiered last year at Berlin and Cannes.

If you are following both posts of this two-parter, you will see that there are actually 25 total points to consider instead of the promised 20. My apologies. BTW – I am preparing a distribution and marketing tools website which is approaching its beta launch – keep posted.

Also – I will be doing a live consultation session at the Filmmaker Summit at Slamdance this year Saturday January 23rd. Projects are being submitted on line if you want to be considered. Go to:

Film Festival Plan A: Online Screening

Major Festivals are great for media exposure, but they reach a really limited audience. Sundance is predominately film industry professionals and wannabes; what about the real ticket buying people? If someone hears about your film and they can't attend the festival, how will they get to see it?

With your audience's interest piqued, is it a good time to get your film online soon after the festival screening? What method will best serve your film: streaming, ad-supported, pay per download? There are many variations on this, but the point is you need to have it figured out before your screening if you are going to take advantage of it. And you need to have some way to let people know.
Some festivals, like Slamdance, are doing this directly themselves, and I think that's a great idea.

The Post-Fest Era

In September, Christian Gaines wrote a provocative two-part article for Variety speculating on a new business models for film rights holders in terms of how they use film festivals.  It's required reading, and certainly got me thinking.

In this month's Independent, Paul Devlin has a piece on lessons he learned on the film fest circuit with his film BLAST.  He definitely has some good information for all, but again it was  's last paragraph that got me thinking again:

Of course, the film festival model will always serve some film very well. But diverging interests may mean that film festivals necessarily become a much less essential element of a filmmaker’s strategy for promotion and distribution. Just as we seem to be entering a “post-distributor” environment in which filmmakers eschew rotten deals and embrace DIY, we may be witnessing the emergence of a “post-film festival” environment as well.

A new model needs to be found for filmmakers choosing (or having no other option than) to hold onto their rights.
Festivals can be a great way to heighten awareness for your film, but generally only in the local community where the film is playing.  To make matters worse, many festivals these days are over-programed and as a result the films simply get lost and overlooked.  The festivals and the communities make money on the sold out shows but not the filmmakers.  With only a few sales happening and then only at the highest festival level, filmmakers can't be attending with the hopes of a deal?  So how can festivals be utilized by the Truly Free Filmmaker?
It would be ideal for local festivals to initiate deals with local theaters so that prize winning films would get an automatic one or two week booking three or four months after the festival.  I have to imagine this is done somewhere already but frankly I am clueless as to where.
It would be ideal for colleges and community centers in and around the local festivals to agree to bring filmmakers and their films out to lecture one or two months after winning at the festival.  This would allow for some local publicity to be done in advance of a future booking.
The most natural fit for regional festivals and TFFilmakers is for the filmmakers to use the festival to launch a specific DVD sale directly at the festival.  At the very least they could take pre-orders.
I found it very exciting when Slamdance announced this year that certain films would be available for streaming directly after their festival premiere.  When I have heard of a film playing a major festival, that is when my "want-to-see" is at its highest.  Six months later another 50 films have moved ahead of it on my queue.  TFFilmakers have to strike when audience desire is highest.