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.

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!

* * *
Click here to see some photos of the Dymax MINExpo.

LOVE THE HATERS

If someone hates your movie, it’s a blessing.  Here’s how to tell.

If you love it or hate it, you have a strong emotion.  Most people believe they exist on opposite ends of the spectrum, in a line like this:

love-hate_1

But the truth is, that the emotions for LOVE and HATE exist very close together.  It takes very similar amount of effort to feel one or the other.  The complete opposite of that feeling is indifference.  Nothingness.  So, the reality is, this is what the spectrum looks like:

love-hate_2

So the next time you get a review and someone’s bashing your movie because they absolutely HATE it, give yourself a pat on the back.  Because that person has no idea how much emotion you caused them to feel, and how that alone is an accomplishment.

Embrace the haters.  Because you know that the only real bad review is when someone has no emotion at all.

THE “INDEPENDENT” SPIRIT AWARDS

Did you know that the word “independent” as used by the media, Hollywood, and most filmmakers has actually nothing to do with the true definition of the word?  Did you know that the term “independent” is actually used by those people as a description for a new genre?

If there were any doubt in your mind, you can now rest easy.  Here’s proof.

Your “independent” film is eligible for consideration at the “Independent” Spirit Awards if your film cost less than $20 million.  That’s right.  TWENTY Million Dollars.  (I laughed out loud when I read that.  Literally.  Beyond LOL.)

If Film Independent had any real interest in celebrating the art of true independent filmmaking, they would limit the budget ceiling at $250,000 including post work.  A film made for anything greater than that amount should never be considered.  On that note, they should have a special prize for films made for less than $50,000.  (Currently the ‘no budget’ film category considers any film made for less than $500,000.)

Film Independent does not define “independent” solely on financial terms.  I bet you didn’t know that Film Independent considers a big-budget studio-made film an indie “if the subject matter is original and provocative.”

That means the word Independent is just like Comedy, Drama, or Thriller.  It’s now a genre.

[In terms of financing, Film Independent looks for “economy of means” and “percentage of financing from independent sources.”]

Uh huh.  I bet.

[The film needs to be American, which means it has a U.S. citizen or permanent resident in at least two of the following categories: director, writer or producer.  For example, Saudi Arabia’s Oscar entry “Wadjda,” with a Spirit nomination for best first feature, is an American co-production, while the directors of Danish-British-Norwegian docu “The Act of Killing” are U.S. citizens.  Alternately, a film can be considered American if it is set primarily in the U.S. and at least 70% financed by U.S.-based companies.  Everything else is considered international.]

That seems okay to me.  Although, I’d open it up to the International market to be fair.

[To be eligible for the Film Independent “Independent” Spirit Awards, a film needs a commercial run in the calendar year or to have screened in one of these six designated festivals: Los Angeles Film Fest, New Directors/New Films, New York Fest, Sundance, Telluride or Toronto.]

[Nominations for the Spirit Awards are made by committees for three areas: American narrative films, international narratives and documentaries.  The committees include filmmakers (directors, producers, actors, etc.), film programmers and critics, past nominees and members of the board of directors.  The final awards are voted on by the entire Film Independent membership.  In 2013, there were 43 committee members looking at 325 entries.]

So there you have it.  The word “independent” as it relates to movies has been totally redefined.  It no longer means what it says in the dictionary.

SELLING YOUR MOVIE: The First Rule (Part 1 of 2)

Upon hearing any kind of feedback from someone, I keep this in mind.

A person’s notes or feedback does NOT tell you about your movie.  What it does is tell you about THAT PERSON.

It’s a pretty unique way of thinking about something, and sometimes it’s hard for people to wrap their brains around it, but try and follow.

By hearing a person’s perspective about something, we learn more about that person.  They tell us what they like and don’t like.  That simply means we now know what that person likes and what that person doesn’t like.

As you unveil your film to buyers, festivals, end viewers, you will be inundated with everyone’s two cents on what he or she would do better, what they love, and what they didn’t like.  But keep in mind, that unless that person is writing you a big fat check, or sending the private jet to fly you to Wherever for the screening, none of their feedback really matters.  Actually, the only aspect of their feedback that can help you is by learning how better to communicate to your audience in your marketing materials.

If someone tells you “it isn’t funny” then you might consider removing the words “comedy” or “funny” from your advertising plan.  Likewise, if “it isn’t scary” then you might consider swapping out the word “frightening” with “drama.”  And so forth.  But never change your movie to suit everyone’s tastes.

When an audience (you and me) goes to watch a movie, we know what we’re going to see.  We’ve seen trailers, clips from scenes shown on TV interviews, press junket Q&As with actors, photo stills, websites, we’ve read tweets, facebook posts, heard music, etc.  We have a very good idea the kind of tone the movie will have.

When a movie executive, festival selection committee, or distribution buyer or sales agent watches an unreleased movie—they have none of these things.

Anyone who walks in to watch a movie totally cold will not have an honest perspective of what they’re watching.

The only people (industry-wise) who might be useful watching a movie cold are advertisers and marketing people.  They aren’t worried about the details of a storyline, or a scene, or the micro-attention to certain characters.  That’s not what the advertisers or marketers are thinking about.  They’re thinking about how to communicate to the viewer (the audience member) everything the viewer needs to set some expectations.  So that by the time the viewer buys a ticket and sits down to watch the film, they know exactly what kind of ride they’re taking.

This is why your presentation to agents and executives must be paramount.  (No pun intended.)

The entire purpose of making the press kit and to have a list of blurbs, is to tell the viewer what it is they’re about to see.  It helps communicate something more, and sets up an expectation.

If your film is different, unusual, you might consider presenting it in a different unusual way.  Then the movie will come as no surprise.  Without any kind of set-up, the viewer could be expecting something standard or normal.  And then, when those expectations are not met, they will either dislike the movie or be confused.

Imagine not knowing anything about SharkNado and sitting down to watch it, only hearing the one-liner.  Perhaps you’re expecting Twister with Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton.  What a surprise that will bring when the credits start rolling.

Advertising is everything.

DIVORCING YouTube

I loved YouTube.  I really did.  It was always there for me, during thick and thin, and never once raised his voice.  But now, the bastard is beginning to piss me off.

Back in 2006 or 2007, I was invited by one of the founders or higher-ups at YouTube to become one of the first YouTube Partners.  As a YouTube Partner, I was suddenly able to post videos of unlimited length, and I was also able to monetize my videos by allowing advertising in them.  This was a fantastic opportunity, and I would receive checks from Google every now and again.

Then I was invited to showcase the feature-length documentary about me called “Wamego: Making Movies Anywhere” as one of the first YouTube Spotlight videos.  One of the founders or higher-ups was a fan of mine, and loved the doc, and was excited to share it.  I was a great and historical honor.

Life with YouTube went along fine until I realized a lot of other filmmakers were signing up with official channels and their brands were being used to name the channel.  When I signed up with YouTube, it had just started, so I used an email address I only engaged for online Christmas shopping.  So the name of my channel was called “pipistrello2004.”  There wasn’t an option to call it “Dikenga Films” at the time.

I contacted the Head Honcho YouTube guy who invited me to become a Partner and for the video Spotlight honor and he told me that there was no way I could just change the name of my channel.  That if I wanted to set up a new channel, I’d have to re-upload all my videos, lose the view count numbers, and all that.  I was bummed.  But, I decided to just keep the pipistrello2004 name as the Channel name and figured no one really cares anyway.

Life went on, new movies were made, new videos were uploaded, and then YouTube started fiddling around with Google, and then suddenly the whole site was different.  Google Adsense, links, emails, channels, names, networks, blah blah blah.  It was enough to confuse anyone, so I just stayed out of it.  (Sometimes its best to let your significant other just act like a brat so you can get on with dinner).

Recently, I realized that the Google checks had stopped coming.  And the other day, I noticed that some of my videos were not being monetized.  I went to the Video Manager, clicked “Claiming Options” (so I could claim copyright for my videos), and then selected the go-ahead for monetization.  And when I clicked “Save” I got a Server Error.  So my recent videos were not able to be copyright claimed or monetized.  Even though all my earlier videos from 2006-2008 were being monetized.

I went to my gmail account to search my history in order to locate the Head Honcho YouTube guy’s email address.  Then I noticed that YouTube’s owner, Google, for some reason, limits email history, and because I have so many messages going in/out each year, my gmail database does not go back far enough.  So I was unable to locate Head Honcho’s email address, which is why I can’t remember his name.

You might figure, as I did, that I could just call up YouTube customer service and tell them my issue and find a solution.  Well, guess again.  Being a special YouTube Partner might sound special, but it clearly doesn’t mean anything.

There is no such thing as YouTube customer service.  Not even for the Partners.  One has to post public messages on the help boards, or weed through endless, and totally worthless FAQ lists on the help pages.  And yes, while I can see that there is such a thing as a Frequently Asked Question, I’m pretty sure that my question isn’t frequent.  How often does YouTube get a question or concern from one of the original YouTube Partners who was able to monetize their videos BEFORE anyone else was able to?

I’ve tweeted @YouTube, and posted dozens of things to the Help Boards, and while certain people have been extremely nice – none of them work at YouTube and they can’t actually help me.

EVERY major company has a customer service phone line.  Well, EVERY company except YouTube and the stupid IMDB, which is owned by Amazon.

So it is with great sadness, I’m thinking about aborting YouTube all together and moving in with Vimeo, who has been very kind to me thus far.  I can post videos on Vimeo on demand and charge for them (brilliant!) and also there’s a thing called a “Tip Jar” that allows fans to donate something small to show their gratitude.  Plus, videos on Vimeo just look better.  She’s a real peach.

In this world of the new Black Market distribution of all things entertainment, I feel abandoned and betrayed by YouTube.  Perhaps one day I’ll get an email from a human being at YouTube who can help me.  But, until then, I’ll just be thankful I don’t work there.  Can you imagine how miserable the internal bureaucracy is in a conglomerate like that when its customers are going through it too?