Frustrated by a lack of distribution prospects following successful festival screenings of their first feature at Slamdance, SXSW, and then Gen Art -- and facing mounting credit card debts this spring -- "Four Eyed Monsters" directors Susan Buice & Arin Crumley questioned whether they should have ever made their personal, low-budget movie.
"You really wonder if you've done the right thing, quitting your job, going into debt, committing your life to a project," explained Crumley in late April. Facing a post-fest malaise and with seemingly no awareness of their film among distributors, the filmmakers realized that without representation it is quite difficult to assure industry awareness of a movie. Buice said at the time, "One of the main problems is that we assumed that at these bigger festivals we've been going to there would be acquisition executives in our screenings. This has not been the case at all. We now realize that without somebody strong arming them to the theater, it doesn't happen." Crumley added, "But it might not be completely over, I mean how can we know we aren't going to get a distribution deal when no distributors have seen our movie?"
The path that Buice & Crumley have taken since that exasperated email nearly four months ago is evidence of the sort of clever strategizing sometimes seen among indie filmmakers who are unwilling to simply ride out the fest circuit wave and move on to a new project, or even pursue a different career altogether. As summer began, Buice & Crumley began implementing a pro-active approach to securing distribution for "Four Eyed Monsters," a narrative feature about modern love and relationships starring the filmmakers and set in New York City. Told through video re-creations of key moments from their lives together, the film includes Buice & Crumley meeting via an online dating site and traces the development of their relationship. It also features non-fiction elements and footage of couples in New York talking about their own relationships.
While at SXSW this spring, the filmmakers posted daily video blogs of their festival experiences in the hopes of creating broader interest in the film and drawing people to their screenings. The success of the short online video clips led them to imagine how they might use the Internet to market an eventual release of their movie with a distribution partner, or even on their own.
"I strongly believe that in 5 years the independent film world will be unrecognizable to the world we know today," predicted Crumley in a recent email exchange. "Think about day-and-date, think about digital theater networks, think about selling movie downloads, think about giving away free content that promotes content for sale, think about interactivity, think about online social networks as a place to promote films, think about pod-casting, think about video blogs, and think about exiting the traditional marketing paradigm in which everything costs tons of money and it's all impossible, and start thinking about ways to grab the audience you want for your film with out spending anything."
Lacking a producers rep and convinced that acquisitions executives had not yet seen their movie, last month the duo rented a New York screening room and began researching buyers, devising a "Distributors Most Wanted List" that they posted on their website. To lure acquisitions executives Buice & Crumley embarked upon a "collective representation" strategy, enlisting the help of supporters they met on the fest circuit who might have access to buyers. Among their biggest champions has been Gen Art fest director Jeff Abramson who worked to help create awareness for the screening.
"If part of a producers rep's job is to make distributors aware of a film then we've definitely achieved that via our collective representation. But as far as the other part of the job, getting distribution, that hasn't happened yet," Crumley explained recently. Turnout among the distributors was light at their screening, with none of their most-wanted companies represented at the showing.
"The best thing that has come out of the distributors screening, other than the left over danishes, has been the meetings we've been able to land," noted Crumley in an email after the July showing. "I think there is an added sense of urgency because other distributors may have been at the screening so if another company couldn't make it they feel they should at least take a meeting."
For their meetings with acquisitions folks, Buice & Crumley have developed a strategy aimed at getting buyers to move that "Four Eyed Monsters" DVD screener to the top of their pile. "In the meetings we've presented our marketing plans and had a quick discussion about our bigger picture ideas of promoting our movie in innovative ways," explained Crumley, who added, "We've provided them materials to present to the rest of the company like a trailer, an edited preview of our free online content that will be used to promote the movie, a pitch video that explains our ideas on how the release could be successful, and a traditional press kit."
An increasing consideration for the filmmakers is how they can utilize online social networking sites, like MySpace.com or Friendster, to promote a release of their movie to a targeted audience. Buice and Crumley recently met in Los Angeles with the CEO and the marketing director at MySpace.com, the popular site that was recently acquired by Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation. Apparently the meeting went quite well, but as of Friday they weren't quite ready to announce how they might work with the website on a release of their film, however they did explore promoting this weekend's screening at the Chicago Underground Film Festival.
An obvious option for the pair is self-distribution. As Buice explained back in April, "Even though we'd rather be making movies we are willing to establish our own mini-distribution company, it would just be kind of pathetic though because then the only distribution offer we would have ever received would be the offer we gave ourselves."
Crumley said last week in an email exchange, "There is a nice duality to all of our efforts because everything we've developed to be attractive to distributors also sets us up for self-distribution." Concluding he added, "We actually have to remind ourselves from time to time why we need a distributor and the answer is that we really don't, except for the fact that they bring extra resources to the table and provide a bigger distribution chain than we could provide ourselves."