Saturday, March 07, 2009

The next trend in real indie film - filmmakers creating distribution companies or similar, larger entities beyond 1-person DIY distribution

I am glad this is happening - read about one example of filmmakers getting more seriously into distribution at this indieWIRE article about the new distribution company 7-57 Releasing.

But on to the lower levels financially, to the DIY world - this same approach - creating more robust distribution operations for independent/off-Hollywood movies - can be done also by DIY filmmakers.

The difference between this approach - I am calling it Distribution Crews when we apply it to DIY filmmakers & our projects - and DIY self-distribution from 2 years ago is that the former one relied exclusively or mostly on the filmmaker having to get the distribution work done. But in this new approach, the filmmaker would take the role that a DIY/indie writer/producer/director would take during production - organizing & directing several other people in order to accomplish a complex task.

How would this actually manifest in the real world? Let's say I finish a movie, and I want to show it for a week in NYC, and right afterwards I want to sell DVDs of the movie. A year ago I would just have tried to do all the marketing & organizing & the overseeing of screenings work myself - maybe with the help of an occasional volunteer or the hired help of a part time publicist. But for my next fiction feature's release, I am going to look at approaching the release in a fashion similar to production: create division of labor - just as one person is tasked with doing boom mic operation during production, one person or a small team (2-3 people) would be tasked with doing media outreach during distribution. Just as one person is assigned the task of being the Director of Photography during production, one person or a small team would be given the task of creating all promotional material (trailers, ads, posters, etc.) for the release. So on and so forth.

Some filmmakers have wondered how the Distribution Crew will be paid. I guess we solve that problem the way we solve the problem of recruiting & keeping the production crew - working with people who want to support & make the project happen for whatever reason (including developing their own filmmaking & distribution careers) & some pay (from filmmaker/distributors day job, donations, grants, etc.).

Another way to cover the expense of the Distribution Crew is to make less films and use the savings to fund the Distribution Crew's work for an already completed work. So, let's say a given DIY filmmaker plans on making 2 films in a given year that would cost about $3000 each to produce. That filmmaker could just produce one of the two films & then use the remaining $3000 to fund the distribution work on the one completed film.

The Distribution Crew for a DIY feature will not have to be a full time, 5 days a week, all year around operation, as far as I see it now. DIY filmmakers need help when they are about to do the theatrical premiere of their work (whether at a small run, a single DIY screening, or at a festival premiere) & they/we need help when we are releasing the DVD. So, once the work that needs to be done has been clearly identified, the Distro Crew can be pulled together for a couple of weeks perhaps to prep everything, have everything ready to go, when the time comes to promoting the premiere or the launch of the film - or the Distro Crew can be pulled together for work at two separate times - a couple of months before the launch of the film, for a week or so of work, and then the few days or the week leading up the launch of the film and a few days after - to help the filmmaker properly disseminate all the material that has been created to promote the film, do follow ups with media & audiences & business partners, etc.

Will have more, & experience based, info. on the Distribution Crew approach to self-distribution of DIY movies once I do it with my next fiction feature later this year or early next year.

- Sujewa

5 comments:

1Way or Another said...

Your fuller explanation of this idea is does it a lot more justice. This is an interesting approach, and does take care of "many heands making light work." I think that some people who read this and are moderately media savvy would say, "well take that 3 grand and hire a publicist for a few weeks." This is what a publicists does specifically, and according to your ideas of marketing. In fact, those media outlets that have continuously been neglectful of the DIY film community are the very ones on most proficient publicists radar. There are publicists that charge more than this, but for the amount of time you suggest, say 2 to 3 weeks here and there, this seems like a most reasonable offer to a professional publicist.

However the publicist may not be as enthusiastic with their own word of mouth (maybe they are mostly used to Hollywood features) and therefore the personal connection for the work in general may not be the same as it would be for other DIY artists, filmmakers, etc.

Good things for us all to ponder. Cant wait to stay tuned to your developments.

The Sujewa said...

One benefit of hiring fellow DIY filmmakers for the Distribution Crew work instead of paying all the money to a professional publicist is that you give the other DIY filmmakers some interesting, fully or partially paid, PT work. A way for them to either supplement their income & also to develop & fine tune their media & publicity & event management skills. Also, when each of them are releasing their own features down the road they may hire you for their Distribution Crews. So an economic self-help eco-system for diy filmmakers could emerge from this approach. Just like what I saw in indie rock in the 90's - some musicians worked in the clubs (doing whatever that needed to be done - cooking, cleaning, booking bands, promoting, bartending, whatever) owned by their musician friends, earned some money & in turn the club was able to keep existing which allowed the same musicians to play there for audiences & get paid.

Ryan Andrew Balas said...

Very interesting stuff, I like the hands on approach to distributon, very similiar to the idea of record distribution of smaller indie bands. I'd like to see this and experience it in practive, to gather numbers and other information regarding its success or failure. Using the information would help persuade possilble A. investors of future project or B. Publicists with larger contacts.
The big thing about publicists is not the phone conversation abilties or their poster talent, its WHO they know and HOW they know them.
So their value comes in the connection to a larger network, and a diy filmmaker, though good at networking, may not have the media network required to support the efforts of a diy distro crew, working hard to push the film, so how can that network get built prior to the process of disto and promo begining?

The Sujewa said...

Hey Ryan,

True - a pro publicist would come with valuable contacts - so there are several possible ways around this:

1 - figure out how the 90's indie rockers got around not having or being pro publicists when they had to deal with the wider world of media. & see how that approach can be adapted for our/diy film needs.

2 - hire a publicist for a little bit of work on the film distro project, their main task would be to reach people the distro crew cannot reach.

3 - master publicity - either the filmmaker or someone they work with on a regular basis will have to figure out how pro publicists do their thing & duplicate the work (probably easier said than done :)

And, most importantly -

4 - maybe not rely on the kind of people & institutions that only a pro publicist could reach to get the audience out to the screenings, etc. of couse this means you are not pitching self or project to the established film industry or possibly even the established media industry including places like the NYTimes. but, on the other hand, ultimately the money comes to projects from the paying audiences, not the industry. so, something to think about.

&

if nothing else, even if the results are pretty close to the same, having a Distro Crew would make the workload easier to carry for the diy filmmaker. but i am thinking if we have help from like minded filmmakers who are on our team when it comes to getting all the work done that's required when doing something complicated like a theatrical releases, we will probably be able to do the work well or better (w/ help, rather than w/ out).

yes, we'll have to see how these ideas work through some test cases.

I think Robot Stories & The debut - both theatrically self-dsitributed features, had distro crews (the filmmaker had help from people that he chose), will have to look into it.

- Sujewa

1Way or Another said...

Yeah i heard about that film. I have an article here about the film in Ultimate Survival Guide to Film Festivals. Maybe he talks about it in there. If not, hopefully you can find something. Please let us know when you do!

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