Leaving the Dock

Ayana and Chris at the Tree
Chris and Ayana find each other by a rather ominous-looking tree.

So, after a year of writing and development, six months of preproduction, and ten months of post, I feel like I’ve finished the film. But, as a producer once told me, “you’re half done.” Now comes the scary young adult stage, where you see how your baby does in the big, bad, cold world.

So – the last month has been about research, cranking out artwork and other promo material, and reading. I can’t recommend Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul enough – it’s a great guide to distribution by some very smart people. The hybrid/DIY distribution model they advocate, as made concrete by their case studies, is the smartest thing I’ve heard in a while. Also, check out Film Specific. It has a huge collection of articles, blogs and instructional videos, all centered around distribution and financing. It also has an extensive list of agents and distributors. Keep in mind that you’ll have to subscribe to get all the goodies (a 12-month membership is around $250) but it’s definitely worth it.

This is a learning process. On the one hand, I’m handy enough with graphic design, web development, and wordsmithing to do a fair amount of the grunt work (cranking out site content, artwork, blurbs, etc.). But I find it hard to gain enough distance from the film to figure out how to BRAND it. The very word BRAND is horrible to me, in fact. The connotations are unpleasant – I’m going to take Found In Time, with all its individuality and rough edges, stick it in a harness and apply a red-hot steel poker to it. But it’s a very crowded media landscape, so you do need some way to decisively mark your film so your audience can find it.

I wrestled with this initially when I was writing the business plan. The fundamental question is – who, besides your friends and family, will see your film? When I wrote the script, I was trying to explore something about the nature of time, so naturally I thought the audience would be geeks like me. To get to the geeks, I figured I’d bring the film to where we like to hang out – conventions, comic book stores, genre festivals, local comics/reading/gaming clubs, and (possibly) seminars. Some of these venues would serve as springboards, spreading the gospel about the film and leading to other screenings and, hopefully, customers.

But, we didn’t want to rule out a wider release or audience, so we’re first pursuing the traditional strategy of hitting up the “top tier” festivals. We’ll see if this bears fruit. While we’re waiting for that to happen (or not), we’re putting together a list of sci-fi/game/comic conventions; fantasy book/movie clubs; and distributors and sales agents who specialize in genre material. The key with special event screenings is to make money on the DVD and merchandising sales (t-shirts, broadsheet posters, and possibly soundtrack albums). If you break even on the screening, you’re doing well. You usually have to split the box office with the venue; but the merch is all yours (just like the popcorn and drinks is all theirs).

While DVD revenues have fallen off a cliff compared to a few years ago, they’re still the strongest distribution channel for independent films like ours. People still buy CDs and DVDs because they’re physical, and generally offer higher fidelity than you can get via streaming. They’re also convenient – you get the media, the artwork, and the extras all in one package, rather than having to download bits and pieces. For DVDs we’re going to try to self-distribute at first, and see if we can self-fulfill as well (burn-on-demand services can take away 30-40% of your revenues).

The other piece of the puzzle is streaming and video-on-demand. We think Found In Time will find a home as a genre film, something folks will download who are looking through the “fantasy/sci-fi” section on Netflix or Hulu or Amazon. I’ve done this myself – that’s how I came to see Eden Log, Ink, Franklyn and other films that I had never heard about. We’re fortunate in that our title starts with a relatively early letter in the alphabet (scary, but it makes a difference).

So, great, now we know the niche to go after… how do we stand out to THEM? There are a bunch of time/reality-bending films out there right now, and a few more coming down the pike. Some (Source Code) are good, others (Adjustment Bureau) over-promised and under-delivered. Fortunately, a few low-budget sci-fi/speculative films (Bellflower, Another Earth) have come out, so I think the fans are looking for good stuff regardless of budget level or effects.

Okay, that’s it for now. Check out our trailer and poster. Also, look for the first Behind The Scenes video, coming next week (just after Halloween)! We’ll be making several of these and releasing them on the web. Hopefully you’ll find them fun and informative!