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Notes from inside the process of getting & promoting an indie film screening in NYC

From the outside, the event looks pretty simple, as a lot of complex occurrences may appear: 1. man in DC makes a movie, 2. man submits movie to a NYC movie theater to get a screening, 3. the movie theater offers a screening, 4. man accepts the screening offer & begins promoting the event. Step 1 took about 2 years to complete. Steps 2 - 4 took about 2 weeks. The completion of step 4, promoting the screening until it happens, will take about a month. But there is more inside this seemingly simple process, read on.

I noticed the Pioneer Theater through my web searches on indie film at least three years ago, around 2003. And about two plus years ago I decided to make an ultra-low budget, 100% indie, self-distributed feature on digital video. Prior to that I had created a feature on 16MM, spent a lot of money, and the result was less than expected, so the film never made it past (i didn't let it get past) my hometown, Washington, DC. But the plan this time around was different: do as many things as possible by myself & do them as well as I can, ignore Hollywood & distributors & film festival tastes, focus on creating a movie that both I & people who shared my tastes will enjoy, take as much time as needed, and if the finished film turned out to be good - then self-distribute, take the film as far & wide as possible. One of the main sources of inspiration for the new, non-indiewood, approach to filmmaking & distro was inspired by a local punk band: Fugazi, & its ultra DIY record label: Dischord. I followed Fugazi in the news and through local shows/concerts as much as possible since I discovered them around '92. Their method of making exactly the kind of art they wanted to make, making that art through means available to them, and self-distributing that art, offering their customers a good deal AND most importantly using their position & work to assist valuable humanitarian efforts seemed like, and still seems like, an excellent way to live & work as an artist. So, w/ the DIY approach firmly in place I wrote, produced, directed & edited a mostly self-financed (through $s earned at my dayjob at a used bookstore) feature comedy called Date Number One. Date Number One & the reaction it received at its DC premiere (a four walled event/a venue rental ) far exceeded my expectations. Thus I decided to go ahead with my self-distribution plans, my beyond DC self-distribution plans.

I had contacted the Pioneer Theater through indieWIRE's indieLOOP I believe a couple of months prior to completing Date Number One in May of this year. A NYC filmmaker who had worked with Pioneer told me very good things about them, how their operation is very indie & how they do good work - by seeking out very indie films to show & assisting filmmakers by running a no-nonsense but fairly accommodating operation. Since I am not a fan of indiewood or Hollywood B.S., Pioneer seemed like an ideal partner for distro work. Anyway, right after the DC premiere of Date Number One I flew out to Seattle to test out my ability to put on screenings on the other side of the country. Learned some very valuable lessons in Seattle (chiefly, finish the film as early as possible prior to the screening dates & promote, promote, promote the screenings) & the quality of the film was re-affirmed by Seattle audience members, specially one ex-Washingtonian named Tom Kipp. While Seattle and the following screenings in DC were happening, I would send occasional updates on the project to Pioneer. They wanted to see the movie to see if they wanted to book it for a screening. After producing & recovering from 9 screenings in about 8 weeks, I finally sent a Date Number One screener to Pioneer earlier this month.

Pioneer was my first choice for a NYC screening venue because it is a relatively simple operation (as far as I could tell), meaning the key decision makers will be accessible & thus it would be an easy entity to work with, & because they were showing the kind of films that I would show if I ran an indie theater. In my perhaps way off the mark impression, Pioneer is to current real indie & interesting film what CBGB's may have been to punk rock at a certain early, crucial point in the history of that art form. As I look at Pioneer's calendar today, I see that they have upcoming screenings of LOL and Jumping Off Bridges happening this year. Those two are two very indie films that I know about from a group blog that I created, Indie Features 06, and when I learned a lot about those two films and a lot of other IF06 films I contemplated attempting to set up screenings for those movies in DC (i did follow through w/two of the films, but due to time & resource availability, am holding off on producing more screenings of work by other filmmakers until Date Number One distro is done). The point being, I am in agreement w/ a lot of the programming choices that I've seen Pioneer make. So I was thrilled when Pioneer's programmer Ray Privett contacted me a couple of days ago & told me that he would like to screen my movie.

DIY distribution & specially doing a screening in NYC is a task that comes with a set of unique challenges and opportunities, as far as I can tell at this early point of promoting my NYC screening. Pioneer's approach to screening my movie is pretty simple & fair: they'll do one screening, will share the box office with me, and if the screening sells out, they may add additional screenings. So far, so good. I think in order to sell out a screening for a 100 seat venue at least several thousand of the target audience needs to know about the screening. Which means a lot of promotional work, to be done on a low budget, which is the budget at my disposal. NYC offers a challenge - there are all kinds of movies for New Yorkers to see/much competition, and an opportunity - the city is passionate about film (and all other arts for that matter, but I call it the "traditional homeland" of indie film, since it is the birthplace of indie film as most of us know it, the place that witnessed the birth & development of indie careers of John Cassavetes, Woody Allen, Jim Jarmusch & Spike Lee, among other luminaries of the field) and a LOT of indie film bloggers & a LOT of indieWIRE readers live in New York. Plus I have been dreaming for a while about visiting & hanging out in NYC, meeting people I know thus far only through the internet, & seeing some "important to me" sites - such as the Pioneer, and the hundreds of other sites important to the current & historical US indie film narrative.

The positive psychological connection that has been made in me to the epic & deeply valuable city of New York by getting the upcoming August 31, 9 PM screening of Date Number One at Pioneer Theater is possibly of immense use to my development as a filmmaker/artist/individual. It is too early to tell, as I am high off the rush of doing things that need to get done NOW in order to make the upcoming screening a success. So, as far as I can tell, there is no way the screening will be a spiritual failure. But I am working to make the screening also a material success, for there are many people who have worked hard to bring events to the current point, many people I do not want to disappoint, people whose work I want to honor & celebrate because they have sacrificed & shared valuable (or at least highly entertaining - here I am thinking of the DC punk rock icon John Stabb in a ninja suit) aspects of themselves through my silly no-budget movie about several first dates.

So my view from the inside of the process of getting & promoting a NYC screening of an indie film is one that contains: a lot of hard work, a lot of gratitude, a fair amount of warranted or unwarranted confidence, and a dose of sheer exhilaration over what is still possible for one or few artists in an often very expensive field of work seemingly ruled by supergigantic, deep pocketed corporations that pump out mediocre, soul killing art & entertainment on a daily basis. It is also a view that offers a clear sight of the beautiful process of 100% independent (from Hollywood & the like), ultra low budget motion picture production & distribution - a freaky and positive occurrence, a thing that defies ordinary reason, and a thing that offers one of the most valuable & rare gifts that can be found on this planet: HOPE.

- Sujewa


Jacky Treehorn said…
Nice summing up S. Puts it in perspective.


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