- WINTER 2010
, BY MARK SELLS
SENSE AND SENSIBILITY REAL LESSONS IN INDEPENDENT DISTRIBUTION
companies in Sweden and Finland, but
had a difficult time securing any kind of
distribution deal in the U.S.
"I think that science is an obstacle for
some," says Devlin. "One reason is that
scientists seem to be stoic. When they
go through catastrophic failure, you
can feel it, but they're not expressing it
in emotional outbursts. The stakes are
not life and death, which is often what
programmers and festivals are seeking.
"There is an anti-intellectual streak,"
Devlin continues, "especially with
the gatekeepers who don't trust the
intelligence of their audience. When
they hear the word 'science,' they sort
of switch off."
To reach his core audience, Devlin
focused on specific universities,
schools, astronomy departments
hot in just one week with an Viral campaigns are nothing new, and science publications throughout
estimated budget of $15,000, especially when compared to the the country. He also employed a fan-
the surprise hit of 2009 was one that started it all, The Blair Witch based production company called
Paranormal Activity, a.k.a. the Project. Nor are they the perfect metric Artistshare, a group primarily known
little horror film that could. for measuring box office performance. for helping fund musicians' work, to
Picked up by Paramount in However, with the use of social get core participants involved in the
2008, Paranormal Activity was networking, mobile media and the creative process of his film.
distributed in conjunction Internet, a moviemaker's distribution All the efforts paid off as BLAST!
with an aggressive viral strategy is becoming more critical, premiered at the Hot Docs Canadian
marketing strategy, one that cost-effectiveand potent. While the International Documentary Festival
saw the film earn $7.9 million chances of re-creating a sensation like and received positive reviews in the
in one weekend at 160 theaters. Paranormal Activity or The Blair Witch New York Times and Variety. More
The film's rollout was Project are low, the lessons learned importantly, it found itself on NPR's
unconventional, opening via midnight from their marketing and distribution "Science Friday," which reaches more
screenings in 13 different college techniques can be invaluable. than 1.5 million listeners. "Once we
towns. Fueled by positive reviews, With that in mind, here are some got around the gatekeepers and started
tweets, blog posts and word of mouth, real distribution stories from some of doing things ourselves, we realized
this simple horror tale--with little today's most successful independents. there is a big market for this type of
gore and zero stars--captured the
rmagination of its audience.
Following this limited success, "YOU'RE DEAD IN THE WATER IF YOU'RE WAITING FOR SOMEONE
the studio asked its core audience to ELSE TO COME ALONG AND GIVE YOU THAT EXTRA PUSH."
"demand" screenings of the movie
in their cities through a Website 1. KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE. film," says Devlin. "Intelligent people
called Eventful.com. The more people For five-time Emmy winner and really want to see this stuff! And they
who demanded it, the more likely documentary moviemaker Paul Devlin, started coming to us."
Paramount would roll the film out to the distribution method for BLAST! Shortly after appearing on NPR, Mark
that particular city. began with an understanding of his Devlin was asked to appear on "The
As interest in the film grew, unique audience. The film depicts the Colbert Report," exposing the film to
Paramount tweaked the distribution efforts of Paul's brother, Mark Devlin, another 1.5 million viewers. "I think
wider and wider, eventually going head and a group of astrophysicists aiming to filmmakers have to find their audiences
to head with Sony Screen Gems' The launch a revolutionary new telescope any way possible," concludes Devlin.
Stepfather and Lionsgate's Saw VI. But into the atmosphere for the purpose "There are a lot more tools out there
the competition was no match. As of of tracing how galaxies are formed. on the Internet, like social networking
press time, the film had earned more Heavy on the science side, the film sold sites, that are allowing filmmakers to
than $150 million worldwide. with the BBC, Discovery Canada and find their target audiences.''
/ WINTER 2010 c
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2 UNDERSTAND THE BUSINESS. devices like iPods and cell phones association GSM for mobile devices.
You probably recognize actor Jaime Narrated by David Hyde Pierce, "When people make things for small
Gomez from his work in films like Stingray Sam is a space-western- screens, they just lean on close-ups and
Clear and Present Danger and Training musical about two convicts trying to that is not necessary. You don't have
Day, or from the long-running series, earn their freedom by rescuing a young to make things black and white. There
"Nash Bridges." But in 2005, Gomez girl. It's broken into six serialized parts, are other ways of going about it and
turned from actor to multi-faceted each connected by music.
moviemaker,writing, directing and "There were all types of artistic
producingln the Blink o an Eye, about decisions," says McAbee. "First, there
a man at a crossroads after being was the writing and how to write
released from prison. something that would be enjoyable on
The film was made for very little screens of any size. Then, how to make
money, shot in 23 different locations it episodic-so it could be broken down
around,theworld and screened for and downloaded into small segments-
many of Hollywood's elite. "I knew but at the same time work as a full,
going in, with the people we had feature-length film. Another thing was
involved, we were going to make a good the density of information-something
film with a great story," says Gomez. I wanted to keep in mind for someone
"But I wasn't savvy enough to have who was watching it on a small device
investors sharing the risk and having a in transit."
clear-cut goal of what we were going to McAbee applied many of the lessons
do with it when we were done." he learned on Reno, his short film that achieving a nice looking piece on the
When the film was complete, Gomez was commissioned by the Sundance small screen."
opted for online distribution through Institute and mobile phone trade While Stingray Sam is available for
a company called Cinsay.com.With the download on small devices and on DVD,
distribution deal intact, In the Blink of McAbee warns: "The mobile phone
an Eye was to be released online and distribution system is not really in a
made available to millions of iPhones position to handle film yet. There is no
worldwide. But there were many pay structure set up. You can't get any
setbacks, including problems with the wndT'S WRONG WITH TRADITIONAL FORMS OF FILM information on how things are being
software, cell phone technology and DISTRIBUTION? distributed."
infrastructure, and no delivery system "THE FILMMAKER IS INTERESTED I N [HIS OR HER1
to support any of it. "The technology FILM, THE DISTRIBUTOR IS INTERESTED Ih BUILDING
A CATALOG. TriOSE .NTERESTS ARE IN COhFLlCT AT 4.PROMOTE EARLY AND OFFEN.
caught up to us and we caught up to T MES. WhEN YOU COMBINETHOSE T-IINGS NlTri Director Valerie Weiss recently
them," says Gomez. DISTRIBUTORS BEING TOO EXPENSIVE YOU START TO wrapped her first week of shooting
WONDER WHY ANYONE WOULD SIGN WITH ONE "
Technology mishaps aside, Gomez -PAUL DEVLIN. BLAST1 on Losing Control, a quirky romantic
eventually learned the importance comedy about a young Bridget Jones-
"YOU HAVESOMEONE WHO COMES AND OFFERSTO
of an effective business strategy for REPRESENT YOUR FILM: THEY TAKE20PERCENT OFFTHE like scientist who conducts a controlled
distribution-having a clear goal of TOP. YOU HAVE (OUR INVESWRSTHATYOU HAVETOPAY experiment to find proof that her
what you're working toward, who BACK AND EVEFiY PENNY GOESTOTnEM. MEANWnlcE, boyfriend is "the one." But unlike
YOU DON'T KNOW WrlAT'S HAPPEN NG I N EUROPE.
you're trying to sell to and a full many moviemakerswho wait until
understanding of the financial details. FILMMAKER, YOU DON'T HAVE THE RESOURCES TOTRACK
ThE J\WE?SANDACCOJNTANTSOR WHERE THE MONEY
post-production to think through
"You have to have enough money at IS GOING." distribution efforts, Weiss is already
the end of making your film to really -JAIME W M E Z . IN THE BLINK OF AN EYE aggressively pushing her film.
have a promotional package to be able 'A FILM WILL BE JUDGE DO^ TriE FIRST WEELEND BOX
"WithLosingControl, we wanted people
to do the festival routes, to be able to OFF.CE, NOT .TSOWh MERIT THE OPENING WEEKEND BOX to know about the film beforewe ever
do the screenings, to be able to invite OFFICECAN ONLY BE PROF ITABLE WlTH AN ADVE9TISING
CAMPAIGN, SO YOU'RE UP AGAINST PEOPLE WHO HAVE
shot it," says Weiss. As the film enters it.
the press," urges Gomez. "A lot of films TONS OF MONEY TO BUY BILLBOARDS. FILMS ARE NOT second weekof shooting,it has already
get to the end and run out of money. REALLY GIVEN A CnANCE TO DE'UE-OF AN AUDIENCE been on the cover of the L.A. Times'Brand
ANYMORE. AS A RESLLT, THEY DISAPPEAR LEFT AND
But you're dead in the water if you're RIGHT." X Magazine, is slated to be on NPR's
waiting for someone else to come --CORY MCABLBEE.STINGRAY SAM "Science Friday" and there are ties with
along and give you that extra push. It's "DISTRIBUTION HASN'T CAUGHT UP TO WHAT'S GOING
the Wall StreetJournal and Newsweek to
where a lot of films are lost-at that last ON. THERE ISSO MUCH OUTThEREFROMCABLE TO THE do future promotions. All are part of the
moment before they're really born." INTERNET. THE AVERAGE PERSON NEVER HAS A SHORTAGE team's ongoing efforts to male as many
OF SOMETHING REW T O W A T C ~YOU CAN.T LOOK AT
DISTRIBUTION I N A PASSIVENAY AhYMORE. ' people aware of the film as possible.
3. MAKE ARTISTIC DECISIONS. -VALERIE WEISS. LOSING CONTROL "You have to take as much care in
Once you decide on a distribution -[DISTRIBUTORS HAVE1 BECOME VERY MONOLITHIC
getting it out there as you did in the
strategy for your film, certain artistic or AND COMMEICIA.LY-DR,VEh F3R MAhY IFIDEPEhDENl making of the movie," says Weiss. "You
aesthetic decisions must be made along FILMMAKERS. IT SIMPLY GOT HARDER A h D HARDER have to think of distribution from the
TOGET DISTRIBUTION. EVEN FOR EXTRAORDINARY
the way. For Strngray Sam, director FILMS. ANDTHERE'SA LOTOF FEAR BEHIND IT. FROM time you're writing your screenplay.
Cory McAbee made the decision PRESENTERSTO DISTRIBLTORS, AS TO nOW M L C d Think of something that is unique and
MONEY THE FlLM ISGOING TO HAKE ULTIMATELY, T
to distribute via high-definition APPEALS TOTHE MASS MARKET RATHER THAN THE MASS
something that people are going to
downloads for computers and smaller MINORITY."-SALLY POTTEFt. RAGE want to pay to see."
-t WINTER 2010
hoped that it would always be available
5. LEVERAGE NEW TECHNOLOGY. in different sizes and forms," says
After experiencing the power and Potter. "That way, people could choose
immediacy of the Internet through how they came into the film, which
her own Website and bloe;, Sallv Potter portal and which doorway."
chose to make a movie abvbut the world Suffice it to say, whether you're
of fashion and appearances as told working on the next Paranormal
through the eyes of a young blogger. Activity or not, the decisions you make
Starring Judi Dench and Jude Law, Rage before, during and after production
was shot as if captured entirely via cell thought it would be interesting to take are critical to the success of your
phone, using technology that could be that and push that aesthetic." project. Especially when it comes to
utilized by anyone with a mobile device The film transpires over seven distribution, an understanding of your
and a laptop. days and consists of seven different audience, the business, the art, the
"The cell phone has completely segments, all of which were distributed promotion and the technology involved
become a central part of all cultures online through Babelgum.com. can make all the difference between
now," says Potter. "That little thing Shot primarily on green screen with profit and loss.
in your pocket, which allows you very few special effects and without a As the DIY model gradually replaces
to communicate with the rest of large budget or crew, Rage exemplifies the traditional forms of distribution,
the world, has changed how people what Potter calls "naked cinema," more and more moviemakers are
see things, how they feel about where there is very little waste and the experimenting with new media and
communication and the possibilities form is simply laid bare. methods to get their films into the
of direct access to information." As it Most importantly, from the film's public eye. Concludes Gomez, "If
correlates with the film, "I became very inception, the intent was to explore you set out to make a great film and
interested in the visual angles, the way new technology and to distribute it Paramount happens to pickit up, you
the camera moves and the way people in a variety of different formats from still might not see a penny. And you
frame themselves or their friends. So I mobile to theatrical, online to DVD. "I might not be able to get your next
movie made because the overhead
costs are so high. So you have to use
"WHEN PEOPLE MAKE THINGS FOR SMALLSCREENSTHEY JUST every angle. Any way you can possibly
LEAN ON CLOSE-UPSAND THAT IS NOT NECESSARY." get your film out there is valid." MM
Bachelor of Fine Arts, Film