Todd Sklar, who I know from his work up at the Sundance Labs, wrote in to agree with a lot of the points I raised in my post-mortem of The Nines. His experience with the indie film he made and self-released is alternately inspiring and exhausting, but worth careful attention for anyone considering making a festival feature.
They basically treated their indie film like an indie band, going gig to gig and selling out of the back of their car. It worked, more or less, but it demanded an amazing amount of chutzpah and commitment, which not all filmmakers are going to be able to muster.
While I was at the labs, I was in the midst of making a low budget feature, which I’ve now completed, and also self-distributed throughout 34 markets.
Along with some of my cast and crew, I accompanied the film on the road for 3 months in order to help market the film in each city. We basically set the whole thing up like a band would do for a tour, supplementing the screenings with intensive grass-roots marketing and also using social networking sites to create a viral buzz prior to our arrival.
Our entire model was conceived around the concept of using the theatrical release as a tool for the ancillary benefits it can provide: building a fan-base for future projects, acting as a platform and catalyst for DVD and download releases, and providing a ton of press exposure and validation for the film to name a few.
As such, our overall goal for the tour was to break even. We felt that if we could sustain the touring of the film for the entire 3 and half month tour, the real reward would be the opportunities that would develop by maintaining the film’s limited theatrical life for as long as possible, and in as many different places as possible. I compare it a lot to when companies will build a brand, in order to create a name for themselves amongst their target audience, or when a politician will it the road to raise awareness of his campaign.
In the end, we sold a little over 9,600 tickets, as well as 800+ DVDs, despite only having them available at the last 11 screenings.
We split our ticket sales directly with the theatres, and used niche-oriented marketing to keep promotional costs down, and in the end, we grossed around $32,000 theatrically. After factoring in all the expenses, we found ourselves with a profit near $11,000. As a result, we’ll be touring again in the fall & spring, while also bringing a handful of other films with us in an attempt to make this a repeatable and sustainable distribution model.
You can check out more info on the film here; www.boxeldermovie.com. Plus there’s more verbiage on the aforementioned self-distribution stuff if you’re intrigued. We’re creating a postmortem document similar to your blog post in regards to the tour.
Again, excellent post and viewpoint on the matter, and thanks again for all that you do.