Our indie film’s business plan read like fantasy fan fiction. Suddenly, I had an epiphany …
Through a bizarre anomaly in the space-time continuum, I received the following email in my in-box. It’s dated March 30, 2010, so it’s from the future. Since what’s being discussed hasn’t happened yet, I can’t, of course, vouch for its authenticity, but the Internet routing and DNS server codes all seem accurate. I’m going ahead and posting it because this filmmaker’s thinking is interesting, but I’m redacting his name and the name of his film so as to protect his privacy. — S.M.
What a tumultuous but exciting two months since our film "(name redacted)" premiered at Sundance!
Thanks to all of you who have enjoyed our film in the past few weeks and for all of the great feedback you’ve sent to us. Thanks to all of you who provided hospitality to me and our actors when we’ve come to your town with our movie.
I especially want to thank our investors. When we first pitched this movie three years go, we gave them a business plan printed on fancy paper that convinced them that an independent film was a good investment. We told them about "The Blair Witch Project" and "Little Miss Sunshine," about how foreign moviegoers loved American indies, and about how all the new specialty divisions needed product.
Well, during the making of our film, all this changed. Those specialty divisions started going away, our colleagues began to tell us that the foreign market was in collapse, and all of our friends were premiering films at festivals and not selling them. Suddenly, what we thought was a business plan began to look like fantasy fan fiction.
At this point, we had a split among our producers. Some argued that we were honest with our investors, who had signed off on the risk factors, and that it wasn’t our fault that the market collapsed. The Sundance selection was a big deal, and if there was anywhere to sell the film it was there. We should just get a great sales rep, go and see what happens. Others felt we should experiment with some of the new ideas out there, the so-called DIY and hybrid approaches. I have to admit that just handing the film off to someone else was appealing to me — by the end of postproduction I was completely exhausted.
Then we started showing the film to sales reps. I was thrilled when many of them liked it, told me it was good, and wanted to represent it. And when I asked them if they thought we’d get a theatrical deal, most of them nodded vigorously. A couple, though, were more straightforward, telling me that it was an uncertain marketplace and that while they’d try their best they couldn’t offer me any assurances.
And then I had an epiphany. They said my film was good. If they were right, then why would I let the brutal marketplace give everyone the idea that it was bad? I mean, if the film really was a stinker, wouldn’t that be the reason I’d just want to hand it off to someone else and move onto my next project? Believing in the film and understanding the marketplace, wouldn’t I want to take advantage of the excitement of my festival premiere and all of you fans who have been following our newsletter, Twitter feed and blog and start my distribution immediately?
So, I came up with a plan and met with my investors. It was a tough meeting. I told them that I now realized that the market I described in that business plan had changed radically, and that it would be irresponsible of me to pretend that it still existed in the same form. Yes, the Sundance acceptance was exciting, but now was the time to double down, be bold, and reject the conventional wisdom. We wouldn’t be one of a hundred or so films looking for distribution at Park City; we’d be a film using our Sundance launch as the first step in our own distribution campaign.
Sure, we’d work with a rep, but one that could help us build a series of windows that would follow our Sundance premiere, small DIY-theatrical screenings, and online premieres. And while it was too much to ask my investors to provide additional funds for all of this, I was happy when, after they cooled down, they agreed to allow me to fundraise additionally and to bring on a new full-time associate producer and booker/distribution consultant.
As you all know, the Sundance premiere was a blast, and I’m glad so many of you who prebought our collectors edition set were able to enjoy the movie simultaneously with us in Park City via the simultaneous stream on the secure site whose link we emailed you the day of the show. And, thanks to Sundance for letting us open up the ensuing Q & A to all of you who tuned into our UStream channel. Thanks to the musicians and authors who created the great bonus material included in these collectors’ sets as well as to the sculptors who came up with so many creative ways to turn USB drives into art — we had a hard time picking just six. (For those of you who didn’t pick up the collectors’ edition at the preorder price of $175, there are 22 of the 500 numbered copies left at $250. And, I just saw number 1 on eBay going for $800!)
Like I said, I was exhausted after post, and then all of this distribution work was doubly taxing, so I want to thank the editors who combed through our footage and came up with the 12-part mobile cut (some would call it a remix) of the movie. I’d have never thought to order some of the material the way they did.
In the past few months I heard a lot about trans-media and gaming, but, honestly, I’m not much of a gamer and couldn’t begin to think about how to create one for my movie. So, I was delighted when our young graphic designer turned out to be an able Flash coder; his simple Flash game has now been seen by more people than have seen the movie! And, finally, thanks to all of you who, after sampling our movie via torrents (a practice I don’t really approve of but realized I couldn’t do much to stop), donated through the digital donation service, VODO.
There’s a lot more to write about, but I’ll save that for the next newsletter. Thanks for all of your support, and look for info on our next project — and how you can be part of our crowd-sourced funding process — in next week’s email.