WHEN CAN WE SEE IT

The production of a motion picture is complex. The release of a motion picture may be even moreso! We’ve received numerous emails asking questions like: “Will the movie be in theatres?” “When can we buy the DVD?” “Will it show in my town (or country)?” and the most often-asked, “When will it be on Netflix?” And these emails have come from Europe, Australia, Africa, South America, North America, Asia. Everywhere!

The motion picture industry has as many layers and middle men as any other. Perhaps more. Regardless, these people and organizations are a part of the distribution of a film. Each of them represents a tiny segment of the distribution of a film. So unless a film is allied with one of the really large distributors (and we know who they are!) there are a great many hoops to jump through, and people to work with, to begin the process of getting a film on the big screen, iTunes, Amazon, Hulu or Netflix.

Most of us are familiar with the blockbusters that open on 3,000+ screens on the same weekend. By the end of several months, the films have shown in every country of the world and the Netflix debut is eagerly awaited. In between those two platforms the films appear on airplanes, make a buck on an archaic DVD release, then cable channels and satellite feeds. These are all unique channels of distribution. Unfortunately, the world of independent cinema doesn’t follow such an all-encompassing path, unless, of course, you are Angelina Jolie with your directorial debut.

In traditional (read: archaic) sequential order, the distribution of a film might follow these steps: 1) theatrical release, 2) pay-TV release, i.e. cable and satellite, 2) travel networks such as airplanes and cruise ships, 3) commercial television, 4) DVD, then 5) Online streaming such as Netflix or Hulu. This can happen in each and every country in the world, either simultaneously (like that seen by the blockbusters) or one at a time over the course of a number of years. Naturally, the commercial goals of any filmmaker might likely include widespread release.

In addition to being a great art form, filmmaking is also a business. Most of us have never stopped to consider exactly how a movie is released and all the possible ways that it can happen. I know I didn’t. Furthermore, I never stopped to think about how it might not even be the same exact film in each different country. Oh, it will be mostly the same, but poster art changes, sometimes the title of the film is changed and there may well be editing within the film, depending upon customs and standards in a given country.

My first film, PEP SQUAD, was a satire on American school violence. The script was written in 1995 – long before any of the school violence had occurred – and actually predicted what was to come. We were in negotiations with a major distributor to release the film the very day that Columbine erupted onto the nation’s conscious. The company called us immediately and said, “Sorry, we can’t touch this now with a ten-foot pole.” All of a sudden, poking fun at the American culture and confronting the causes of school violence – the causes that no one wants to talk about such as parents, bullies, and the society at large – wasn’t commercially viable, especially in a comedy! PEP SQUAD had a message that the “society at large” didn’t want to hear.

What followed was interesting. All of the domestic distributors were afraid to put PEP SQUAD out there. Some made their own watered-down versions. But the international marketplace was hungry for the film, especially one that detailed and gave insight to what was happening in the US. PEP SQUAD was released theatrically in a number of countries and still continues to show in places such as France and Germany. It has appeared twice on French satellite television, and 7 years after its production in 1997 it was released in Germany.  In 2011 when the rights came back to me, I gifted them to Lloyd Kaufman (Troma) as a Christmas gift.  And today, 18 years after it’s initial debut, PEP SQUAD is still being released globally.

But in North America it sat on the shelf. Finally, when enough time seemed to have lapsed after Columbine, PEP SQUAD was released direct to video after several small theatrical engagements in Los Angeles and other cities. Alas, it was marketed as a horror film, even though it was obviously a comedy. Why? Because the distributor believed that its commercial viability was still threatened if taken as comedic commentary on the social problem of school violence. While I disagree with this approach, I do understand how they came to that conclusion. As we all know, art is often defined and categorized because of the culture that surrounds it. In society after society around the world, PEP SQUAD is seen as a hilarious commentary on the absurdity of America, but in America it can only be tolerated if it is an otherworldly horror film.

Explaining the business of distribution is complicated and difficult. To summarize, a film can be released theatrically in New York, but not Los Angeles; in Ohio but not Florida. Films can be seen on airplanes; on cable; on Netflx; on DVD; in classrooms; at colleges; in small fine arts theatres; on the internet; throughout many continents – but not necessarily every country; and even if seen in every way possible, films may not be shown in all of those venues all at once. The average lifespan of a film is around ten years, but just turn on the television and films from 20 and 30 years ago are routinely showing. Even though you’ve seen a film in the theatre, or watched it on DVD, it might be many years before it’s available on Netflix. Just recently TWIN PEAKS hit Netflix, 20 years after it first aired.

Distribution is probably the single most misunderstood aspect of the movie business. HELL TOWN will be unveiled soon.  The Austin Horror Society is presenting the world premiere in Austin, Texas on April 23 (at the Alamo Lakeline).  Then, in May it screens at a film festival in Charleston, SC.  Currently being scheduled are screenings in Chicago and other places.  We have all the information available on www.DIKENGA.com so check the website for updates. Remember, even after HELL TOWN is released in theatres and at film festivals, there will still be dozens of opportunities for you to see it. Anyplace. In any form.

MUSICIANS ARE FAMOUS, TOO

The film business is one of the most illogical businesses in the world.  Or, rather, the people who operate inside The Industry (executives, let’s say) make some of the most illogical decisions.  If they were working in another business, they’d be fired or out of a job pretty quickly.

And, well, actually, the turnover rate for Industry executives is steadily climbing.  Remember your contact at that company?  Yah, he only worked there for six months, and then he was canned.  Now he works at that other company.  No, wait, that company folded, he’s working as a Producer’s Rep now.

Anyway, when I’m casting a movie, I’ve found that sometimes it makes more sense to cast famous musicians in roles, instead of famous actors.

Famous musicians have global followings and fans who buy whatever they churn out.  I figure tapping into that market place makes sense if my purpose is to have exposure.  To get the movies I make out there, to be seen by an audience.  I don’t make movies so they can sit on the shelves in a dark closet.

Did you know that a musician can have as many, and in some cases, MORE fans than a famous actor?  Famous actors are used to being in movies.  So when I’m putting together a guerrilla style shoot, the chances of attracting someone like Kevin Spacey to that project is pretty slim.  But, famous musicians don’t get approached for movies very often, so for them it’s a fun adventure.

Danny DeVito can attest that Mike Patton has as many fans as he does.  Ask him!  But, most Industry executives don’t know who Mike Patton is.  And, those who do know probably don’t think he has a fan base as big as Danny Devito.  So when you have a film starring Mike Patton, Industry executives won’t be as interested as they would if it starred Danny Devito.

I learned that lesson when peddling my film FIRECRACKER.  I was just stunned by the film Industry’s total disregard for famous musicians.  I was reminded by this while peddling my film THE CASSEROLE CLUB.  It stars Backstreet Boy Kevin Richardson in his acting debut.

The Backstreet Boys are the best-selling boy bands of all time.  They sold over 170 million albums.  They have a global following that is larger than that of Mike Patton.  Which means, Kevin Richardson has more fans than Danny Devito.  It’s almost the equivalent of having someone like George Clooney in the movie.  The tens of millions of Backstreet Boy fans spend money to buy a DVD just as easily as they do a CD.

Yet most film businesses can’t wrap their heads around this idea.

But that’s okay.  You don’t particularly need anyone in the film business to help you market directly to a musician’s fan base.  You can do it on your own.

Filmmakers: think about why you’re making a movie.  Do you want people to see it?  Are you only interested in working with famous actors?  Have you thought about casting a famous musician?  Did you know that there are famous musicians you’ve never heard of who have more fans than Brad Pitt?

Maybe one day the film Industry will recognize the music industry exists, and take advantage of cross-market promotion.  But until they figure it out, my advice is to take advantage it, and be thankful they don’t!

YOU DON’T NEED TO YELL

I was on a film shoot recently where I wasn’t producing or directing, so I was able to be a fly on the wall.  It was really a great experience to observe the daily dynamics of a film set that wasn’t my own.  I highly encourage everyone who is interested in making movies to visit someone else’s set.  Whether you are an actor, director, DP, Make-up artist, costumer, writer, etc.  It’s an incredibly educational experience.  No matter if you’re a Pro or a total Newbie.  And it doesn’t matter what kind of a movie it is.

The first film set I visited which wasn’t my own was Sean Penn’s THE CROSSING GUARD starring Jack Nicholson.  The second film set I visited was an amateurish indie shoot.  Each was on the farthest end on either side of the filmmaking spectrum.  One had over 100 crew people, endless trucks lining the street, a buffet of craft service that rivaled the best restaurants, while the other had none of that and just a handful of aspiring Production Assistants.  It didn’t matter though, because both had interesting dynamics to study and learn from.  So I suggest getting on any film set, anywhere, and just take it all in.  Compare how different directors work and how different types of actors work.  And do it as many times as you can.  It’ll help you better define how you’d like to operate your own film set.

Throughout all the differences, there was one thing I remembered that I’d totally forgotten about.  I forgot because I haven’t used one in years.  The traditional AD (either a First or Second Assistant Director).

Because I schedule everything ahead of time and manage all the administrative aspects of my shoots, I haven’t needed one.  But, I do realize that not everyone is as OCD as me, so you might need an AD or two.  And when you interview them, my advice is to keep an eye/ear open to how they communicate.

I’ve never been in a “How To Be An AD” class, but something about how most of them behave suggests they have learned to be stern, mean, loud, and generally irritable or irritating.  But it’s so totally counterproductive to behave that way in a job like that.

I understand it’s important to stay on schedule.  But there’s no reason to yell about it and to push people like a drill sergeant.  All that does is make people disrespect you.  Getting what you want is the goal, right?  There are two ways to accomplish that: the nice way and the mean way.

Try this exercise.  If you ask someone in a softer voice, “could you pass the ketchup,” the other person is likely to not think twice, and pass it.  Now, try it on another person and use a firm drill sergeant voice demand, “Give that to me.  Come on!”  You might end up getting the ketchup but that person won’t like the act of passing it to you.  And afterwards, they will likely hold some resentment for being treated like an inferior person.  And if they are continued to be treated that way, those tiny resentments will build up until they become so big that person will leave the set each night and never want to work with you again.

ADs who have been programmed to behave like Nazis will disagree with me, of course.  But never mind them.  The easiest way to get what you want is to figure out how to avoid conflicts from the beginning.  If you schedule correctly BEFORE you start shooting, you won’t need to worry about staying on schedule.  If you communicate with your make-up artist clearly, you’ll already know how much time each person will take, and you can plan for it.

If you use archaic ways of scheduling a shoot, just because everybody else does, or “that’s the way it’s always been done” you’ll have an outcome just like everyone else: over budget, behind schedule, etc.

But if you really take everything into consideration from the get-go, you can plan for it all.  Then, I suppose, you won’t need a professional AD.  You could just use an intern who knows how to communicate with people in a clear and respectful way.

MARKETING: YOU VS. THE BIG BOYS

For a single Hollywood studio movie, that studio will spend millions and millions of dollars on advertising and marketing campaigns to make sure that everyone everywhere knows about their movie.  It might seem outrageous, but really, they have to spend that much in order to have a chance to recoup the massive and absurd costs of making said movie.

But for anyone spending less than a million dollars on their movie, there’s hardly any money to make a dent in the world of studio-sized marketing campaigns.  You might be able to afford some kinds of ads, or some spots on TV or radio or on the web, but still you will be faced with a huge goliath standing in your way.  Without tens of millions, you will be relegated to marketing your movie in a certain niche.

Those of us who make movies for a fraction of that have even less.  So what can we do to compete with the big boys?  How can we get our movies talked about?  How can we get people to see our movies?  You don’t need stars or money, you just need promotion.  After all, people aren’t going to watch your movie if they don’t know it’s an option.

But how can you do promotion with little or no money?  By thinking outside the box!

Some of you know my dad, Clark Balderson, who appeared in the WAMEGO documentary trilogy on DIY filmmaking providing viewers with great business advice.  He runs a construction equipment attachments manufacturing business called Dymax.  To illustrate an example of how you can compete with the big boys, let’s explore what Dymax achieved at MINExpo 2004.

In the world of construction equipment attachments, Caterpillar and Komatsu reign like movie studios Sony and Time Warner.  For MINExpo, Caterpillar and Komatsu each spent millions of dollars on their exhibits, which were huge…  maybe 10,000 square feet or more.  Dymax had only $10,000 to spend.  And their booth was maybe about 200 square feet.

So Clark asked himself, “What can we do to stand out from the crowd?  What can we do differently?”  MINExpo was taking place in Las Vegas… What about something involving showmanship and an over-the-top spectacle?  But, MINExpo is for miners.  Rough and tumble customers.

After thinking outside the box, Clark created a Dymax Sideshow, featuring The Enigma who swallowed swords, breathed fire and stuck nails into his skull; Selene Luna performed strip tease; and Pleasant Gehman (Princess Farhana) did bellydance and burlesque.

The Dymax Sideshow put on shows every couple hours with the entertainers.  The Enigma, Selene and Plez walked around the exhibition floor so people saw them.  And then everyone who saw them HAD to come see them perform.

Dymax had a steady stream of people stopping by to have their pictures taken with the performers.  And most of all, they enjoyed the performances.

And when it was all over, Clark discovered that the MINExpo management had awarded Dymax two prizes for Best Marketing.  Out of a total of seven prizes handed out to the entire Expo.  And it was done for a sliver of what the big boys spent.

Use this example as a lesson on how to stand out, create your own “buzz” and how to succeed by being creative within your limits.  Sometimes people are limited by money, by location, by weather, by you-name-it.  But, I see limitations as a blessing.  Once you identify your limitation, you don’t have to think about it anymore.  Instead of thinking about what you don’t have, try asking yourself how you can achieve the desired results with what you DO have!

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Click here to see some photos of the Dymax MINExpo.