As a filmmaker, I’ve been at this for 5 years, 3 spent working on my debut feature Color Outside the Lines; a documentary exploring the history and lives of black tattoo artists.
Tattooing as a valued art form amongst historians and appreciators of art has not been explored at length in film. There are a handful of documentaries out there, mostly leaning towards the Japanese and American Sailor cultures, which still leaves about 40 years of history in the culture unaccounted for. That’s where tattoo artist Miya Bailey and I come in; we made this film because if we didn’t tell the story, who would?
When it came time to figure out our distribution strategy we wanted to at least try the festival route, figuring we have a unique story, it doesn’t suck, audio is good, pictures are pretty… it doesn’t suck… shouldn’t be THAT hard.
On paper Color Outside the Lines fits the criteria festivals tell you they want; unique story, unexplored territory and for the festivals where you have to be black while making movies about black people, I think we fit that part too.
However after 3 tries, about 6 months of waiting to hear from festivals and 3 rejections, we were over the idea of festival submission, at least for this project. I know 3 isn’t a lot of times to submit, but it’s more times than anybody likes to be told NO, especially when you know you don’t suck. Honestly I would rather be told I suck upfront than, “well things are really competitive this year, best of luck!”
When is life not competitive, that I needed that reminder?
We really were made aware of the audience that wanted to see this film, when we raised $14,000 through a successful Kickstarter campaign for this project. Ever since then, we’ve been constantly asked: when is the film coming out?, when can I buy it? I wanna buy it, lemme see it… lemme see it (in my Bun B voice).
Fresh off our final rejection about a month ago, we simply decided we didn’t get to this point waiting for somebody to give us permission to be great, lets just go be great and tell people about it later.
So now the option is self-distribution, meaning we have a room full of half naked men and women bagging up product as we speak (code for we paid disc makers a bunch of money to replicate hundreds of DVDs), and we’re hitting the streets and interwebs ourselves with this film. We’re doing a big screening in our home base of Atlanta, half or more of the 40 artists in the film will be there, the local tattoo community is coming out, we’re wearing nice clothes and getting haircuts and it’s going to be awesome.
Essentially it’s what you would do at a film festival, minus the people with big checkbooks sitting in the audience… maybe.
I still believe I will make films that festivals might actually want, but I have been made aware of the fact that I should approach every project as if I might need to just put it out my damn self. Ultimately there is more to gain by taking the extra time to connect with a fan base, know who they are and go right to them. Had my film gone to a festival, it still may not have gotten picked up, and I’d still be trying to figure out how to put it out.
If it’s really as good as I think it is, and we work hard, the people I need to meet will meet me, I believe in fate that way.
Why did we quit on festivals after three tries? It’s because we are uninterested in being told nobody wants to see our film, because we know somebody does. That’s essentially what those rejections boil down to, and that’s just not something you can accept after the way we’ve seen people rally around this film getting created in the first place.
What’s the point of being independent, if you still need permission to show your film to a room full of people, listen to their opinions, and maybe even give you some money AT THE SAME DAMN… never mind.