But, we knew some sort of theatrical would help the exposure of the film and we also knew that there were certain regions in which we could drive an audience to the theater. Additionally, our digital distributor Warner Bros. wanted us to play 10 cities. So we had to make it happen.
I have never helmed a theatrical distribution. All of my titles to date have gone straight to video or the internet. This was a whole new world to me. Learning new arenas in filmmaking doesn't surprise or rattle me anymore. I feel like I am constantly overseeing new projects for which I have no experience.
Trial by fire is my mantra in filmmaking. Fake til you make it, as my business partner used to say! That mantra has worked in the past for me so why not when planning a theatrical?
I approached this guerrilla theatrical with common sense. No major chain is going to want my film. If its small nature didn't drive them away then the fact that we were launching on the internet on the same day of the theatrical would. And I was right about that.
I focused on small, arthouse venues and called or emailed them direct. I made my pitch and of the over 150 theaters I approached in less than a month, I got less than 10 percent to commit to play the film. It's not the odds I was hoping for but it was something.
So we planned the screenings and shipped the screeners and approached local press for reviews. I asked each theater for contacts to local press and they all typically provided them.
What I found is that the screenings in towns where the film was made or the director lived did the best, naturally. And the screenings in towns where the film had no personal ties to the community did the worst. Some were downright dismal despite getting mentions on the radio and on the internet etc.
But, and this is a big but, our theatrical was a success! Why is that? We made money. Yes, we did! It was not a loss leader. Instead it proved to be a nice chunk of money that paid off some of our bills. And we got some nice exposure to boot! Even sold out a showing and had to turn people away.
Long story short, if you're planning a theatrical for an indie film:
1) it helps to have money so you can hire a publicist or even a team to run your theatrical, pay for advertising, fly your cast and director to screenings for Q&As, and 4 wall theaters if you have to;
2) don't let lack of funds stop you - I was surprised that we had a successful theatrical with Diary and we had no money;
3) use common sense - if you feel it will be hard to get an audience to attend your film somewhere because you have no money for advertising and you have no connections in that area, it probably will be hard and may not be worth the effort or the aggravation for yourself and the theater owner;
4) focus on cities in which you have personal connections - I really cannot stress the importance of this factor enough. Make the screenings in those regions a huge success rather than spreading yourself too thin over regions where your film will die on the vine.
5) don't be upset if theater owners rebuff you - they're in the business to make money from you and if they don't think they will see a profit, it's likely they're right;
6) do as much press, publicity and marketing in each city as you can every day leading up to your film - there's never too much pushing you can do;
7) ask for theaters to do a box office split (rather than you paying to rent the theater) - all they can do is say no!
8) try to plan Q&As or after parties at some screenings - people like attending events
9) screen on blu-ray - they are the most economical screeners to make and are easy to ship and most theaters can accommodate them
10) have fun with it! You're getting your film shown on the big screen by a paying audience. How cool is that?
Here's our trailer for Diary - the film that had a successful theatrical! (It's available to watch on iTunes and Amazon and your local On Demand - check it out if you can - thanks!)