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If You (Let Rising Artists) Build It, They Will Come
Guest post by Jill Savarese
If you read “Sell Your Film WIthout Selling Your Soul” you are surely familiar with THE BEST AND THE BRIGHTEST. Or perhaps you saw it in one of the over 200 bookings they had on their way to being one of the greatest Direct Distribution stories of 2011. Either way, how can you not be excited to hear not only of a filmmaker’s success in bringing a film out themselves — particularly when the process not only yields a new business, but that business has the possibility of helping out over 30 new films? Well, if you like such stories, keep on reading…
There was a joke floating around amongst the production team at The Best and the Brightest that this 4 million-dollar film’s distribution was in the hands of a stay-at-home mom and a student with cerebral palsy. It was tempting to be a little offended since I was this “mom” but considering that our team got the film 200 screenings and such momentum that Emerging Pictures picked it up for more, I would have to say it’s a coup for moms and people with disabilities everywhere.
The reason I think this DIY experience is an important one is because it opens up the idea of redefining what distributors look like. And though it’s true that I have two fat-cheeked cuties at home, my first industry job was as an assistant to Haim Saban. When you look past Bill Crossland’s disability, you see a technical genius and a charismatic writer and personality.
B&B succeeded on many levels and had numerous sold-out screenings, but there was room for improvement. After this crash course in DIY marketing and distribution, I’ve come to the conclusion that indie distribution can succeed if you have collective bargaining power, focus on community-building for exhibitors, help filmmakers and actors succeed and curate good material. Not always easy to execute, but these 4 principles (that I’ve forced into convenient C’s) guide me: Collective, Community, Climbers, and Content.
When we booked screens, the first order of business was to get people into theaters. Since my producing background is in live theatre, my instinct was micro-publicity. If you need to fill a house, reach out to the local community. Fine. But what do you do when the screening is in a remote location? It seemed simple: get someone local to volunteer to run it.
B&B was a star-studded film and there seemed to be no shortage of “fans” willing to do this. Once I was in dialogues with the most productive and successful of the coordinators, however, I became uncomfortable with the word “fan.” These people stepping up were ambitious, capable filmmakers and actors who either were too far away from the epicenters of filmmaking to really break in or they didn’t have the financial resources to make their own movies. The one mistake of B&B was not reciprocating the intensity of the volunteer filmmakers. One actress, named Chrissy Hogue, from Dubuque, Iowa ended up coordinating a multi-week run of the film. Enough to tip it over into full-blown theatrical. This is of enormous value. She was motivated by advancing her career. I will pontificate on this point emphatically: respecting the “climbers” and giving back is the road to success.
In my effort to create an indie distribution company that worked and incorporated my values, I met up with Benjamin Oberman. He had recently established Mousetrap Films. He asked me to partner up with him and create a theatrical division.
Our ambitious plan is to acquire 36 films a year and that will give us collective bargaining power as well as cross-promotional abilities. We intend to reach out to the communities of all of our partner theaters (we have interest from about 40 now plus a potential reach of 150 others through agreements with platform distributors). By doing local press, bringing Q&A and local sponsors, we support the exhibitors’ small businesses and communities. We also will have a local short film competition and will screen the winning 5-minute short before our features. The national winner will get distribution among all our theaters. We will also give our local coordinators a financial stipend and a guaranteed 5 minute screening of a film they’ve acted in or directed before our features and a chance to interact with the filmmakers/actors of our acquired features. What if their films are bad, you ask? I believe when these climbers realize that there is an opportunity where you just work hard and get a boost, we will attract enough talented people that we will be able to select among them. And end up screening shorts that come from not only talented filmmakers, but ones with good work ethics. We’ve had some great response from those who’ve heard about us and have an offer from a trusted booker to help curate.
The idea might be a little mad, but that works for me. We have a well-known hotel chain interested, a film festival brand and some highly respected exhibitors listening. People seem to respond well to the idea that you support local businesses, support new artists, and support communities. It’s a little idealistic, but it might just work.
Jill Gray Savarese was the Director of Publicity and Promotions for The Best and the Brightest and is currently the Vice President for Theatrical Distribution at Mousetrap Films. Since graduating from Yale and The American Academy of Dramatic Arts she has become an actress, political interpreter and the owner of Sign Language Media which recently represented a deaf actress on the upcoming Brit Marling/Fox Searchlight film, The East.