- 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 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 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               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

                    PASSION.VISION. EXCELLENCE.

                    Bachelor of Fine Arts, Film

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