Notes From DIY Days Pt. II

November 24, 2009
posted by sheric

Another one of the speakers of the night was Jon Reiss, award winning filmmaker and author of the new book Think Outside the Box Office mentioned in the last post. He started off by telling everyone that he regards himself as a filmmaker, not an author, but felt compelled to write this book to help other filmmakers avoid the mistakes he made while trying to distribute his films and to collect all of the resources he used when distributing his latest film Bomb It into one central guide.

He concentrated his talk on the theatrical release. He would like to see a reinvention of the term “theatrical.” Most people consider theatrical to be an experience that takes place in a theater with a built in projection system, built in sound, starts on a Friday ends on a Thursday, sells popcorn.  And anything otherwise is not theatrical. He thinks this works fine for the studio system but doesn’t work for most independent films. The new term he would like to see in use is Live Event/Theatrical to encompass grassroots community and alternative screenings as well as screenings in a theater. Live because it takes place in front of an audience, event because it happens on a certain day or a certain number of days in a certain place with elements (explained later), theatrical because he doesn’t want to throw out the term but it should mean a communal viewing experience in  any venue, in the manner defined by the filmmaker, so in the dark or with the lights on, whatever. These events can take place in a park, a club, a community center, a cemetery, wherever. He contends that most filmmakers intend their films to be viewed in a communal atmosphere and that it is hard to create this atmosphere of an event on the internet. While he appreciates that many viewers are content to watch online, he, as a filmmaker, prefers that films be watched in a live venue and thinks that people do like communal viewing.

Reiss encourages filmmakers to create a robust theatrical plan. It is fine to have traditional venue screenings in big cities like NY and LA, but have a few theater screenings mixed with campus, community and alternative screening events. Also he encourages short runs as opposed to block bookings. He recounted his own booking experience with Bomb It where many venues only wanted to book the film for a day or two and he hated doing that. It wasn’t the theatrical release he had envisioned. But looking back on his run, he had to admit that those one or two day bookings were far more profitable with much more attendance than his week long runs. One or two nights will be more profitable and encourage your audience to make a date to attend if they can only see it on that one night. It allows for generating buzz in the local community where it is screening. It also helps you book events because it doesn’t take up much of a theater’s schedule. They will be more willing to book you for the odd night that isn’t filled rather than having to make a week long booking.

He suggests that you give your screening a sense of an event by adding special touches like live appearances of the cast or director (which is a little done, but having a Skype Q&A on screen is gaining popularity); appearances by other well known people like Age of Stupid did with their New York premiere which featured Kofi Annan, Thom Yorke and Mobi; bringing in other entertainment applicable to the theme of the film like Anvil! The Story of Anvil did when they brought the band onstage during some of their theatrical run or Note by Note which featured live music from local Steinway piano shops. He doesn’t recommend having a party unless you can find a free venue nearby and an alcohol and food sponsor because parties get too expensive in every city. Partnering with a local charity or non profit group to throw a party is a good idea if your film ties in with one because it helps build awareness for the cause and your film plus you get the party free. He also referenced Peter Greenaway’s Tulse Luper films that he would remix live in the theater while the screenings were happening as a great event screening.

Lastly, he moved to film festivals and their new role. He recommends rethinking the role of film festivals. Previously, festivals were viewed as a place to sell your film, but that isn’t happening now. Festivals should be regarded as event generators and you can use the media buzz of a premiere festival to book other venues and/or start your distribution plan. It is very hard to reenact a media blitz every time you have a release, be it DVD or VOD so it is better to utilize the initial buzz to start your distribution. You may want to use the premiere festival to get the buzz going and then use the subsequent fests to start your sales. Look at festivals as a way to market your film, build your audience and start the sales process.

DIY Days videos  are available and feature all of  the speakers from the night if you happened to have missed it.  I will be talking about Jon’s book, which I have read and thoroughly enjoyed (I’m weird that way!), in a following post soon.

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