If played correctly, Honeydripper could be one of the great arthouse success stories of the year. Veteran filmmaking duo John Sayles and Maggie Renzi are taking their latest character piece (an ensemble set around a failing blues club in the 1950s) through an unconventional distribution route. It’s going to include lots of grassroots marketing, lots of target demographics, and a whole lot of wishful thinking. In John Anderson’s piece for the Sunday New York Times, both Sayles and Renzi discuss the long hard road they’ve endured to get their latest project out there.
Also interesting, is the fact that they are the latest indie film pioneers (along with David Lynch, Gus Van Sant, etc. ) forced to go the unorthodox way for their passion project. It’s a good film, and deserves an audience. I l know we’re plotting something for it in Austin soon (afterall the film’s star is an Austin musician discovered by Sayles during SXSW), but more on that later. From the New York Times piece:
Although they went to the Toronto International Film Festival in September ostensibly looking for a buyer, Mr. Sayles and Ms. Renzi’s efforts seemed halfhearted at best: they were happy, Ms. Renzi said, with the marketing plan that was in place between them and Emerging Pictures, the Manhattan company run by the distribution veteran Ira Deutchman, which has been using unorthodox methods to get specialized film to audiences.
In the case of “Honeydripper,” those things include taking musicians from the movie, a so-called Honeydripper All-Star Band, to a recent blues festival in Long Beach, Calif. “Was it worth it?” Ms. Renzi asked rhetorically. “I looked out at this crowd of maybe 600 people rocking out in 110-degree weather, and I thought, ‘Yes.’ Because we had asked every one of these people, who are blues fans, to go to the movie. And they’ll go.” Six hundred people may not be much by Hollywood standards, but the strategy is about talking to people who will talk to the right people.
William Packer, the producer of “Stomp the Yard,” has also joined the “Honeydripper” team, helping to forge an alliance with Clark Atlanta University, which, in conjunction with the film, is starting a marketing and distribution course for African-American college students nationwide.