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by Eugene Hernandez
August 28, 2009 1:50 AM
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Unsatisfied with "Public" Offers, Ondi Timoner Opts to Do It Herself

"We Live in Public" director Ondi Timoner (right) at the True/False Film Festival earlier this year with the film's subject, Josh Harris. Photo by Brian Brooks/indieWIRE

Eight months after receiving the grand jury prize at the Sundance Film Festival - the second time she's won the coveted documentary award - filmmaker Ondi Timoner is bringing her latest film to theaters herself. After raising money for the release and tapping Richard Abramowitz to execute the plan, Timoner is opening "We Live in Public" today in New York City.

"I didn't care for any of the deals that we were offered at Sundance and thereafter," she recently told indieWIRE. Among the high-profile suitors she reportedly turned away was HBO, a dream distributor for most documentary filmmakers. But, Timoner has ambitious goals for her movie, which looks at Internet guru Josh Harris and his pre-Web 2.0 move to constantly document his life via the Internet.

After debuting her film at Sundance in January Timoner hit the road, often with subject Josh Harris in tow. The two have made public appearances at numerous festivals and along the way, Timoner has appropriately used Twitter (@onditimoner) to build a a fan base for her movie, constantly documenting her travels with TwitPics and tweets from around the world. She's hoping that online tools will stir grassroots awareness for the movie that will effectively replace an expensive marketing campaign.

"I don't think it makes sense to spend a lot of money on theatrical distribution," Timoner explained, "(I am) really counting on some of these viral techniniques that we are putting into place."

She feels that if filmmakers are willing to roll up their sleeves and do the work, they can carve out a new path for reaching audiences, especially at a time when tradtional distribution companies and methods seem unreliable.

"So many distribution companies are closing their doors or seem confused by the new era of the Internet," Timoner said, noting that she still has to recoup royalties owed to her for the release of her 2004 doc, "DiG!"

"If the Internet can get the word out -- and word of mouth can spread virally -- we'll see whether or not the sheer force of how entertaining and thought provoking the film is can draw people," she explained. She added that Ashton Kutcher, Trent Reznor and Demi Moore are among those she's relying on to help her spread the word about her film via Twitter.

The theatrical release, timed to qualify the film for Oscar consideration, may hit as many as seven to ten cities, Timoner said. It opens today at New York's IFC Center and will then head to the Nuart in Los Angeles and the Brattle in Boston next Friday. Theatrical runs in Austin, Chicago and Seattle are also in the works.

Timoner is resistant to talk too much anout her plans for the movie after its theatrical release, but she teased that the is eyeing an online premiere of the film the new year, simultaneous with the DVD release. In order to meet Oscar consideration requirements, though, she has to keep the theatrical and online releases of the film far apart.

Talking about her evolving plans for getting her film in front of audiences, Timoner reiterated that she is in this for the long haul.

"You can't just be a documentary filmmaker and focus only on the creative side anymore," she said. "I spent ten years making this film, I would be stupid if I just moved on and I just started shooting my next film."

More on the movie is available via the film's website.

Eugene Hernandez is the Editor-in-Chief & Co-Founder of indieWIRE and can be reached on his blog, through Facebook or via Twitter: @eug.

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3 Comments

  • Syd | August 29, 2009 9:29 AMReply

    This doc, We Live In Public, might well win the Academy Award for Best Documentary. That will be a major boost for the notion of DIY distribution, but I am beginning to see that DIY does not mean DIY at all. As always, the comments are very interesting on this IndieWire article. It's expensive to buy ads (still needed in spite of all the social networking) and a publicist to get publicity and what about if you are a filmmaker with little kids? Richard Abramowitz who will execute the theatrical release would definitely be my recommendation as well and he has creatred a nifty business for himself. Hiring the right people to "do it yourself" this way still calls for lots of attention and if you are too busy to pay that much attention, then getting an offer from a bonafide distributor might help take a burden off the filmmaker...if only the offers were more equitable. But if a filmmaker writes the budget to include marketing for U.S. and international and raises it all together, then this works well.

  • mharps | August 29, 2009 4:34 AMReply

    Almost all sucessful indie films are accompanied by a high amount of newsprint especially the NY Times which is well over $600 an inch. This relationship may be incidental but I doubt it.

    One would think that social media should be able to replicate the exposure generated by above ground media. But I think that when you get down to cost per impression, the net may not be any more efficient than tradtional media.

    It is not getting theatres that is the hard part-it's getting people in at a price.

    It is true that not many people are needed to build a gross. If the goal were a million dollar GBO, NYC should represent at least 20% or $200,000. Thats only 20,000 people. But week 1 at IFC will get maybe $20,000 or 2,000. Then it will decline in that venue. Give it better than standard at 60% retention per week. So you get another 12 and then 4.8 and then out. So that run has done 3600 people. Still a long way to go. How does the filmmaker intend to get other people. Starting higher is always good.

    It will be an interesting experiment.

    Good luck.

  • iblich | August 28, 2009 8:52 AMReply

    I wholeheartedly endorse (sometimes even evangelize) for self-distribution and using social media to cultivate and grow audiences. I wonder, though. How do we filmmakers with little kids do it. No matter how many social media tools are available, there is a need to show up, meet the audience, do the panels, personalize the distribution experience. Any thoughts from parent-filmmakers who struggle with this?