Sometimes: Think Small And Find Success

There is a better mousetrap. One of the problems with the old way of making a film -- with the belief that someone would buy it -- is that the apparatus only applied to a few select films aimed at the widest audiences.  Yes, occasionally a filmmaker hit the lottery and everything aligned perfectly to engineer a sale, but by now we see that clearly as the exception and not the rule.  Some of the beauty that is being revealed during The-Collapse-Of-The-World-As-We-Once-Knew-It (COTWAWOKI), is that new experiments bring a wider selection of work to a wider selection of community.

Reading the NY Times recent article on how music labels are taking they DIY approach that they had for bands, are applying it to films too, frankly warmed my heart -- or whatever that is when you get the warm wave from the top of your head down through your toes. Endomorphines?  Anyway, it gives me hope that one day where ever you are in this country of ours, you could see interesting diverse culture among a crowd of similarly-minded and appreciative audiences, that one day you could find your own community in every county, no matter what you liked, or believed in.  Okay, maybe that's a tad idealistic, but...

You see, when filmmakers sought to sell their work, the work was supposed to be designed for everybody.  The work was going to be publicized to EVERYBODY.  When you aim widely, you are really limited in both the stories you can tell and how you can tell it.  When the target gets small, the game changes.  We get new options.  In the new game, there can be far more winners.  When we think small, we can think in a much broader manner as to the what & the how.  Thinking of a different game, we can think of far more models than the old one.

It made me think back to John Bradhum's post on TFF on "Film Gigging". It made me think of Peri Lewnes and others efforts to build a Film Club & Pub circuit.  It made me think of 's Joseph Infantalino's tale of finding cinephiles in New Jersey.  It made me think of way back when Docker's sponsored the Fuel Film Tour and we found bigger indie audiences in Columbus, Ohio than we did in NYC.  It makes me think of micro-cinema and living room theater circuits.  It makes me think of Eddie Burns and his new film "Nice Guy Johnny" designed for digi distro.  It makes me think of the thousands of alternative rock genres, and how music fans support them all.

The other day I got a great email from Drag City pushing Harmony Korine's "Trash Humpers".

Drag City is seriously considering going into the movie rental business!

Why not? We've just about done everything else in the entertainment business, putting out music for twenty-plus (and a few minus) years on whichever format the people fancied, and eventually branching into booking live entertainment (music and comedy so far), radio (wherever they'll let us broadcast - thanks WMBR, WNUR and anyone else we may be forgetting), the book world (hardback and paperback books, as well as magazines of various kinds and even a comic book), television (not ready for prime time yet), and finally, the holy grail of the entertainment industries, motion pictures. This summer, we handled the successful and compelling theatrical distribution of Harmony Korine's successful and compelling Trash Humpers across these United States, booking and promoting the film in fifty-plus (and no minus) markets, all told. This was followed with the release of the Trash Humpers DVD on September 21st. So far, we've sold several thousand copies in North America.

Their email continues in a refreshingly rock and roll manner, biting the hand that feeds.  I suspect as time goes on I will get more and more of such letters, geared towards one taste or another of mine, pushing the product that you can only get from them.

Someday they will all know where we are.  Someday we will have revealed our tastes to such an extent that the good stuff finds us.  Someday there will be no escape from the things we might love.  And then, when that day comes, it won't be about people trying to appeal to everyone.  It will be about being true to that special someone.  Instead of expanding our reach, we will know we should just direct our reach.  Direct it, and be true, be specific, and be precise.  It won't be that lie of "build it and they will come."  It will be "build it so you can find them".


Film Independent sent out the following email:

We have spent the last ten years making the Film Financing Conference an invaluable experience for filmmakers, and as the industry is swept by very significant changes, we want to rise up to meet those changes with programs that meet filmmaker needs at this moment.  With that in mind, the Los Angeles Film Festival has created Seize the Power: A Marketing and (DIY)stribution Symposium, a new program specifically designed to help filmmakers navigate marketing and distribution in the growing age of new media and to promote an open dialogue on the impact and exciting possibilities the changes in our industry bring.

Seize the Power: A Marketing and (DIY)stribution Symposium will be held June 19 - 20 at the GRAMMY Museum at L.A. LIVE, and will host the same insight, quality of information, and caliber of speakers that has made our Financing Conference a vital stop for filmmakers.

Are you looking for financing?  About to shoot? It's time for filmmakers to think about their marketing and distribution from the moment they get the green light. Remember, distribution begins NOW.

If you want to MONETIZE YOUR ART, you can't miss this event.

Get the full schedule here.

You Too Can Have Cassavettes' Distrib Work For You

It was a busy week. Jeff Lipsky, distributor turned filmmaker, has returned to his distro roots and wants to work with you! I got an email from him and have been meaning to post but my To Do List is a bit unruly. I need an extra hand. Now I was beaten to the punch, but better late than never.Jeff's email states:

Theatrical business is flourishing – it wasn’t just Tim Burton’s film that broke global records this past weekend, the IFC Center in New York City also made history, and that’s generally the way things have been going for well over a year. Yet with more and more new distribution platforms on the rise revenues for independent producers and filmmakers continue to diminish. (Of course, that merely an educated guess since there is absolutely no transparency about such numbers whereas box office grosses are as readily available as the weather report.) These and other vexing realities have inspired me to return to my roots. I’m once again hanging out my shingle as an independent distributor for hire, making myself available to filmmakers and producers seeking to engage the services of an ever-passionate and experienced executive who still believes (perhaps now more than ever) in the potential and the immediacy (think revenues) of a theatrical release. In 2007, on a “service deal” basis, I released the record-breaking “Sweet Land,” the award-winning documentaries “The Bridge” and “The War Tapes,” and my own film “Flannel Pajamas.” I can be contacted at For those who may not know my history feel free reach out to me so I can relate further details about the other 225 or so films I’ve marketed and distributed, from films by Cassavetes to Jarmusch, from Lasse Hallstrom to Mike Leigh. And so we can discuss how to exploit your film with the same verve, acuity, and exuberance, greasing the wheels for its ancillary future, a future that will remain 100% yours.

Update 3/21/10: Jeff published his manifesto on theatrical distribution this week in IndieWire and it is a must read.


Again today we have a guest post from Mynette Louie and Tze Chun, the producer director team behind CHILDREN OF INVENTION. The film opens this weekend in New York and their whole journey through DIY/DIWO distribution has been fascinating to watch and a learning experience for us all. They have been truly brave and really generous sharing a lot of information along the way. I really love this film and truly admire both of them. Please support their film. Yesterday they shared their Top 10 Reasons Why They Turned Down The Distribution Offers They Received. Check it out.

Top 10 Things We’re Glad We Did 1.   Didn’t take an all-rights distribution deal. For reasons enumerated above, but most of all, for freedom!

2.   Played as many film festivals as possible, and traveled to as many of them as possible. We were one of the smallest films at Sundance.  It's a great festival to premiere at, but the press does give most of the attention to the star vehicles and bigger films.  So, it was really over the course of the entire festival circuit that we got our buzz, awards, and reviews.  It was also great to interact directly with audiences, who essentially act as focus groups for your film.  We were able to discover what people respond to in the film, and which demographics respond best.  Building a relationship with your audiences is really important.

3.    Sold DVDs after every screening and online. We started selling DVDs at festivals immediately after Sundance.  We found that about 10% of audiences will buy the DVD after each screening, and 20% of audiences will buy if it's an Asian American fest.  We've made back over 20% of our budget on the festival circuit by selling DVDs and collecting screening fees (another benefit of playing as many festivals as possible).

4.    Sent out a press release to local press whenever we had a festival screening. We could only afford to hire a publicist for just Sundance, so after that, we had to do our own PR. It was actually at some of the smaller festivals where we got our best reviews, because it's easier to get the attention of local press in smaller cities where there's simply less "newsworthy" stuff happening.

5.    Offered sneak previews of the film to special interest groups. Throughout our festival run, we did free screenings for affinity and "tastemaker" groups such as Asian American college associations, film classes, corporate groups, nonprofit organizations, etc.  One of these was Ted's brainchild, the This is That Goldcrest Screening Series!  If you think of everyone who sees your film as a potential cheerleader for it, then these kinds of screenings make a lot of sense.

6.    Participated in the YouTube rentals launch. This "experiment" has generally been derided as a failure in the press, but we're glad we did it!  Our trailer got more hits in 3 days than it did in 8 months off our website. Nowadays with so much media and promotional noise out there, you can't really afford to pass up free publicity when it's offered to you--take anything that will potentially help distinguish and elevate you above the media din.  Plus, we sent out a press release of our own to announce the film's availability on YouTube, and it was picked up by a number of significant outlets and blogs, so we were able to direct even more attention to the film.  And while the YouTube revenue itself wasn’t significant, we did see our DVD sales spike, and ended up earning a good chunk of change during those 10 days.

7.    Offered free content. In addition to posting behind-the-scenes photos from production, we documented the "behind-the-scenes" goings-on during our festival and distribution phases too. We also created 2 new exclusive clips of the film for the Apple/iTunes Trailers site, and got the main promo spot on the home page--prime real estate!  Additionally, we launched Tze's Sundance '07 short WINDOWBREAKER for free on the YouTube Screening Room last week--it's the film on which CHILDREN OF INVENTION is based.  And fortuitously, SILVER SLING, the ITVS short we made in the midst of our festival travels last year, launched for free on ITVS’s Futurestates site a few days ago.  These have been great cross-promotional vehicles for us.  Visual content is the best way to spark and sustain people's interest, so the more of it you've got, and the freer you can make it without giving away the store, the better.

8.    Decided to do DIWO distribution in NYC with Dave Boyle's WHITE ON RICE. Since most major press still won't review your film if it doesn't do a week at a commercial theater, a way to split the cost and share the work of promotion is to partner with another film, switching off showtimes but still playing a week.  Who needs 5 screenings a day?  Also, through Dave, we met Dylan Marchetti of Variance Films, who engineered our DIWO release and is really one of the unsung heroes of DIY distribution because he really knows how to distribute a film theatrically for very minimal P&A.

9.    This is technically something we didn't do, but we didn't four-wall any of our theatrical screenings. That would have been very expensive, and therefore, not very wise.

10.  Made a film that we're proud of and still love after nearly 2 years of making and selling it. DIY distribution is tough.  Imagine how much tougher it would be if we didn't believe in what we were selling.

Please support the NYC theatrical premiere of CHILDREN OF INVENTION and WHITE ON RICE on March 12!  The films will run March 12-18 at the BIG Cinemas Manhattan (formerly the ImaginAsian), 239 E 59th St (bt 2nd/3rd Aves).  CHILDREN OF INVENTION is also making its Los Angeles theatrical premiere on March 12, and will run March 12-17 at the Downtown Independent, 251 S. Main St (bt E 2nd/E 3rd Sts).  Buy tickets and get more info here.

Prepping Your Film For Distribution

Jason Brubaker has "Prepping Your Film For Distribution" in current edition of The Independent.  It's all good advice and the equal attention paid to self-distribution demonstrates the reality-check that has finally seeped through the layers of denial most indie filmmakers have held on to for too long.  I wonder why "getting pick up" is even looked at on even ground with the DIY approach.  Let's face it, the odds are practically 1 in 400 that your film will be picked up by a major distributor.  The time to start to prep for self-distribution is now, not later.

I recognize how getting your film made is an all consuming task.  Yet, I am struck time and time again how filmmakers don't recognize that  "prepping your film for distribution", reaching out to your audience, and marketing your film BEFORE you shoot, all significantly increases your odds of getting picked up.  It's like wearing the right clothes before you go to the bar.  It shows that you are serious.  It shows that you are going to do everything possible for people to see your film, that you will give your all to get your investors money back.
Back in the Good Machine days, and every day since then, we have approached delivery like production.  If you arrive at a film festival having done the due diligence that Jason discusses, your chances have acquisition are improved.  Every distributor has had the nightmare of the unclearable  or undeliverable film -- and they will avoid the repeat like the plague.
We have had our films bought or financed because we showed how the film could be marketed, where the audience was and what they responded to previously.  We didn't wait until the movie had screened to address this. We thought long and hard about this before we shot anything.  Waiting until your movie is done to approach these issues is going to hurt your prospects.
I am also of the firm belief that thinking about these aspects, whether they are marketing, legal, or delivery issues, makes your film better.  It focuses the thought.  It requires choices to be made.  There is no excuse not to do everything that is raised in The Independent BEFORE you even approach investors.  Take Jason's advice to heart, but do it sooner, much much much sooner.

Filmmaker Magazine Article on Self Distribution

another guest post today from filmmaker Jon Riess

At the urging of Jeffrey Levy Hinte - my wonderfully supportive producer on Bomb It (he's leaving the business folks so don't bother calling him!), I have started writing about my experiences self distributing Bomb It for Filmmaker Magazine. These articles will form the basis for the book that I am writing Reel World Survival Skills: Everything I Wish I Had Learned in Film School.

The first one just came out titled MY ADVENTURE IN THEATRICAL SELF-DISTRIBUTION, PART 1 While the article is subtitled "Or how I “invented” the two-month window and spent six months wanting to kill myself every day." it was a positive experience overall It was gruelling - but I think the film was helped tremendously by the release. This has been confirmed by our video company Docurama/New Video.

The next article will cover DVD distribution - self distribution and working with a distributor.

Let me know what you think of the article!