By Eugene Hernandez | Indiewire August 17, 2006 at 3:3AM
One year after implementing an ambitious plan to attract distributor interest in their first feature film, "Four Eyed Monsters," filmmakers Susan Buice and Arin Crumley are putting the final touches on a DIY (Do It Yourself) release for the film that will kick-off early next month. They are among a growing roster of filmmakers, often frustrated by increasingly wary distribution companies, bypassing the traditional system and taking matters into their own hands. Similarly, filmmaker Lance Weiler, who achieved recognition when pursuing a DIY release of "The Last Broadcast" in the late '90s, is taking "Head Trauma", his new movie, to theaters on his own starting this week followed by a quick DVD release next month. Both movies will participate in the upcoming Independent Film Week's new DIY "Do It Yourself" Indie Screening Series in New York City.
"Four Eyed Monsters"
Since talking with indieWIRE one year ago about their efforts, Buice and Crumley tweaked the now common practice of releasing DVD extras, by cutting together bonus footage in advance of their film's release to build momentum for their movie. The fourteen video segments about their relationship and the making of the movie have been download some 500,000 times, via iTunes, MySpace, and YouTube, according to the filmmakers. And as their audience grew, the filmmakers (via their website) encouraged fans to request a local theatrical release of "Four Eyed Monsters" and vowed to book the movie at a local theater where there were at least 150 requests.
"Four Eyed Monsters," a narrative feature about modern love and relationships starring the filmmakers and set in New York City, will screen every Thursday in September in five U.S. cities where they have a fan base: New York City at IFC Center, Los Angeles at the Laemmle Grand 4-Plex, Boston at the Sommerville Theater, Chicago at the Gene Siskel Center, San Francisco at the Variety Preview Room, and Seattle at the Grand lllusion Cinema. Told through video re-creations of key moments from their lives together, the film includes Buice and 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.
"Most theaters would normally avoid a project like ours because we don't have a distributor who would be marketing the film and getting people to show up. But because the audience of our video podcast is so enthusiastic about the project and because we have numbers and emails and zip codes for all of these people, we've been able to instill enough confidence in theaters to get the film booked," Crumely told indieWIRE today, via email.
As of Wednesday evening, the "Four Eyed Monsters" website had logged more than 5,000 requests to screen their film in nearly 100 U.S. cities. Buice and Crumley are determined to book the movie in other cities following additional requests; requests are tracked via a customized Google map. In an email exchange with indieWIRE today, Crumley explained that the goal is to add 12 more cities in October and November. Based on data available on the site, the next cities that should pass the important 150 request mark will be Washington D.C., Austin and Dallas, with Philadephia, Miami, San Diego and Detroit not too far behind. A DVD release will follow quickly this fall, but Crumley said that the plans are still being arranged.
Asked to offer some insights into the experience he and Buice have had, Crumley told indieWIRE, "We've learned that it's almost impossible to distribute your film to theaters the way the current system works, but their are loop holes, and they are building your own audience and then proving to theater owners you have that audience and that they are willing to show up to pay money to see your film thats something distributors don't have to do, but theaters would really benefit if they did."
Concluding, Crumley told indieWIRE, "In the digital age, with digital production and digital projection, we see a future that what gets shown in theaters will be decided digitally." Advocating for what he calls a "collective curation" of content, Crumely explained that he envisions moviegoers rating trailers and other clips. He touted the opportunity to ,"(Let) people decide what they want to see in their theater rather then guys in suits in far away places speculating what people might be interested (in) based on no solid data whatsoever."
In a straightforwward email to journalists earlier this week, seasoned filmmaker Lance Weiler introduced himself and his film to the press, writing simply, "In true DIY fashion I'm not only the writer and director of 'Head Trauma' but I'm also the distributor and publicist. I've set-up my own theatrical run, which will bring my newest movie to over 15 cities across the country starting August 18th." The release kicks off at the Hollywood Theater in Portland, OR and will continue to Tucson, Albuquerque, Scranton, San Francisco, Seattle, Philadelphia, Austin, Boston and New York, among other cities, followed by an immediate nationwide DVD release on September 26th.
"The revolution in making films has already occurred, anyone with a camera and a dream can make a movie," Weiler explained in his email, "But the real issue is will anyone be able to see it? Distribution has always been an obstacle but now certain advancements in technology are allowing filmmakers to reach a wider audience."
Picking up on the lessons learned from releasing "The Last Broadcast" with co-director Stefan Avalos along with Esther Robinson and David Beard, Weiler told indieWIRE this week that he devised a hybrid distribution approach utilizing both traditional outlets and new technology, but allows him to retain the rights to his work. He decided to start by using the recent Los Angeles Film Festival world premiere as a springboard for the upcoming release, using the event to garner media attention and reviews. He explained, "I knew from past experience that good buzz and some pull quotes would go a long way selling the film." He then began booking the movie for the 15 city release over a six week period, allowing him time to attend screenings and promote the showings locally. Unable to cover the cost of renting the theaters for a four-wall release strategy, Weiler negotiated a revenue split, promising to implement a grassroots marketing plan, anchored in part at his film's own website.
Part of that plan has been to stir attention among members of online communities. "I'm a strong believer in the power of social networking sites, and building community and value for fans," Weiler explained, "For instance I've been able to use indieLOOP, MySpace and others to get info about various cities from people who live there." He added that he's used the sites to create street teams to help him promote the film locally, and he's also established a self-described "scatter shot" online approach with elements of his internet campaign available on a number of sites (including iFilm), driven by simple RSS and XML scripts that allow him to quickly reach many people.
After a head-on collision in 1994 that lead to memory loss, filmmaker Weiler began experiencing vivid nightmares and visions, giving him the foundation for "Head Trauma," a psychological horror film about a transient plagued by nightmares after an accident. To capitalize on the theatrical release, Weiler has set up a rapid push into the DVD window. The September 26th release date for "Head Trauma" will parallel a re-release of "The Last Broadcast." He explained that he structured a favorable revenue split that allows him to keep all of his rights, in particular VOD and TV. "After self-distributing 'The Last Broadcast' I learned a lot about the value of retaining your rights and how to continue to make money from your work," Weiler explained, "For instance "The Last Broadcast" is still selling certain rights overseas and this DVD re-release is another opportunity for Stefan and I to see a profit from our work."
Weiler, who is writing a book about DIY distribution, detailing his experiences, offered one clear tip to other filmmakers (or even established distributors for that matter), "Watch how others build an audience and don't lose that same empowerment that you felt when you picked up the camera and shot the film in the first place." Explaining that he identified his target audience for the film early on in the process, Weiler added, "As you write your script take some time to consider who your audience is, the more time you give to the promotion of your work the more likely it is that people will discover it." Finally, he added, "With advancements in technology and the ever-changing windows of release there is no one way to distribute your work."