Introduction from the Book
The independent film world is abuzz about the collapse of the traditional independent film distribution model. In recent years, more than 5,000 feature films have been submitted to the Sundance Film Festival annually, and only a few hundred get the golden ticket. Of those accepted, perhaps a handful at best will make a sale that might cover at least half of their production expenses. Another handful might be offered a 20-year deal for all rights to their film — with either a token advance of about $15,000 or no advance at all. No longer can filmmakers expect someone to come and take their film off their hands and guarantee them theatrical release and full recoupment. Any filmmaker who doesn’t understand the current state of affairs is going to have a rude awakening.
I had my own rude awakening in 2007 when I brought my film Bomb It (a documentary about the global explosion of graffiti art and culture, and the resultant worldwide battle over public space) to the Tribeca Film Festival. We did our festival launch the old-school way:
- We saved our world premiere for a top U.S. film festival that had a history of acquisitions.
- We got a top-class sales agent to marshal the distribution world and get people excited about our film.
- No advance screeners went out to potential buyers.
- We paid a ton of money for a conventional publicist to get the film written up, so potential distributors would know that there was interest in our film.
- We spent more money on a variety of marketing efforts to get our audience into the theaters (the festival’s theaters).
- We held off creating DVDs for sale so as not to compete with any potential distributor.
And the results: Each of our five screenings (in 500- to 600-seat venues) was sold out. People lined up around the block; 100 to 200 people were turned away at each screening! The audiences were engaged in the film: People laughed in places that I didn’t expect; there were eruptions of applause after the screenings and mobs of adoring fans.
And nothing in terms of sales. No overall deal with an advance that made any financial sense. We were offered extremely low money deals for theatrical and DVD, tied together so that we were sure that we would never see a dime. No television or cable. No foreign. 2007 was the tipping point in the collapse of the studio-based independent distribution model. We did get interest from a few DVD companies — however, none with any significant advance. What the F? The market had changed — drastically.
A week after Tribeca, our film was available for sale on Canal Street — as a bootleg.
We could have sold copies of our film to our enraptured audiences (2,500 people in the theaters, plus the 800 turned away). Converting just 10 percent of those 3,300 would have meant $6,600 in sales.
In short, we received a good, no advance deal from New Video, who also handle our download-to-own digital rights. The DVD was scheduled to be released at the end of May 2008. I was still committed to having a theatrical release. After an unfortunate sidestep with a company who said that they would release the film theatrically, I decided to do a theatrical release on my own, knowing that I had a very small window in which to do so, as determined by my DVD release. I started in January 2008 and ended the official theatrical at the end of June 2008 (note the crossover with the DVD release).
Part of the reason I wrote this book is because I wish I had had it before I released my film. Filmmakers are hungry for information on how to distribute and market their films. Many are shooting themselves in the foot in the process (like I did many times). While there are some disparate sources of information on these new methods, no single resource exists that combines all of the knowledge and tools now available to filmmakers.
Think Outside the Box Office is the first step in filling that void. It is a nuts-and-bolts guide for filmmakers who want to take control of their own destiny and create a strategy that works for their specific film. Each section and the chapters therein address an essential aspect of distribution and marketing and give specific techniques for independent filmmakers to release their films in today’s marketplace. It is designed as a first step to develop a series of best practices for filmmakers and other visual media content creators wishing to distribute and market their work.
What I think is more important than a distribution and marketing manual, though, is that the book serves as a first step to reconceptualizing the way we think about creating and distributing visual media content throughout the world. Some of the most exciting techniques in here, such as transmedia, refer to a new way telling stories that a few forward-thinking filmmakers are already experimenting with. These new ways of storytelling will not only help filmmakers get their work out to new audiences, but will expand their creative horizons as well. This book is about connecting filmmakers with audiences and creating long-term relationships with them. It is about thinking outside the box in terms of form and content. It is about new storytelling techniques that make sense for new modes of distribution. It is about embracing the changes in our industry that are facing us all — and using them to spur new creativity.
MY HOPES FOR THE BOOK
My first hope is that the ideas and opinions expressed in this book will cause you to think differently about how you can connect your film to its audience.
My second hope is that you will then use this book to create a strategy to make your film (and career) a success, whatever you define that success to be.
My third hope is that the book contains the practical advice necessary to put that strategy into practice.
My fourth hope is that this book will help you see how new forms of storytelling, distribution, and marketing can expand your creative horizons.