I’m becoming quite fond of twitter as of late. I find it to be a rather immediate way to fly ideas up the proverbial flagpole among my peers and actually get an informed response -albeit 140 characters in length. To say that I have a lot of crazy ideas is an understatement, but every once in a while a few hold water and become worthy of further investigation -for instance the idea I came too this week.

While reviewing the Oppo BDP-103 Blu-ray player’s Internet and App connectivity I stumbled across my first film, April Showers, on the streaming service VUDU. A competitor of Netflix (which also has April Showers), VUDU is aimed a slightly different demographic in that they (VUDU) tend to put a bit more focus into offering quality video and audio streams versus Netflix’s one-size-fits-all approach. Not saying one is necessarily better than the other, just trying to point out one of their major differences. I believe VUDU can be enjoyed on a subscription basis but I do know that you can buy a la carte. Anyway, it’s always a thrill to see your film come up on the screen -at least it is for me, for since Warner Bros. took it over I’ve never been too sure as to where it’s playing. I didn’t watch my movie for I’ve seen it -a lot – but I did watch the free, two minute preview (not a trailer) that VUDU allows. I watched the HD feed for 2 minutes in my newly constructed screening room and in those brief 2 minutes I was transported back to the feeling I got on opening night, watching the film at a Southern California, digital cinema theater some four years ago. It was weird but also incredible. Moreover, despite knowing that I was sitting in my own room, viewing streaming content via my own gear the presentation for those 2 minutes felt theatrical. And that got me thinking.

Are indie filmmakers targeting the wrong theaters?

As a filmmaker who has now played the independent distribution game and managed to self release their film theatrically (without four walling ) let me tell you it isn’t easy. Doable, but not easy. But then again if given the choice of flying solo versus entrusting some of these so-called boutique or indie distributors to do it for me, well, I’ll work with me any day of the week. But that’s just me and how I feel. I understand that having one’s film play a theatrical market is still the brass ring for many indie filmmakers but often it comes at considerable cost to them -the filmmaker. I’m amazed at how much filmmakers are continually willing to sacrifice both financially and creatively just so that they can say my film played in theaters. While one can four wall a theater -i.e. prepay the exhibitor for all or most of the seats in advance then try and make their money back doing their own ticket sales -four walling doesn’t carry the same gravitas as a legitimate theatrical release. But is it worth it? I, with the help of my then producing partner Jenna Edwards, managed to coordinate the release of April Showers into 18 screens across 17 cities nationwide. We opened opposite the Zac Effron comedy 17 Again, but unless you were in one of four markets chances are you never heard of nor saw April Showers theatrically. In truth, two markets floated 17 and in the end we didn’t lose any money but we didn’t strike it rich either. I’d say we broke even though the numbers probably showed a modest profit.

The point I’m trying to make is, even though I can say my film played theatrically outside of certain Hollywood circles that doesn’t really mean squat for no one actually saw the film in a theater. I get more feedback from viewers watching April Showers on Netflix and the like than anything else, and that’s okay. It’s better than that, it’s great! But most Netflix streaming customers are viewing content on their tablets, laptops and/or modest HDTVs -far from the theatrical experience the film once enjoyed. But at the end of the day isn’t the real goal for any indie filmmaker to simply have their film seen? If this is the case then the argument could be made that a theatrical release is positively the worst venue for an indie film of limited means. This is no doubt why many have turned to services such as Gravitas or online distribution via platforms such as YouTube. Both options are good, but both represent proverbial shots in the dark where you’re simply blasting something out to the widest possible audience and then hoping to drive folks to it. Theatrical has a bit of a narrower focus in that -even in limited release -there is a single location from which to enjoy said content. It’s therefore easier to direct traffic. Note I said easier, not cheaper. So, what if we could bridge the two worlds? This is where home theater comes in.

Now, many of you are probably thinking home theaters aren’t relevant for home video and streaming releases can already be enjoyed there. True, but what I’m going to suggest is something radically different -something that doesn’t put the onus squarely on the viewer, instead makes the experience a wholly unique one. While the specialty AV market may be hurting there are still a number of dealers out there and not just hole in the wall shops but real, legitimate store fronts; complete with multiple screening rooms and lounges. There are custom installers whom design cost-no-object theaters, some seating up to 50 people in private homes all over the world. Just off the top of my head here are two avenues that a) represent a group of likeminded individuals passionate about movies and b) potentially hundreds of screens that NEVER see first run content. For example; Definitive Audio, a high-end, specialty AV dealer with locations throughout Washington state. Definitive has played host to numerous customer and industry events for years, effectively opening up their various showrooms and demonstration theaters for the public to come and enjoy the world of specialty AV. These demonstrations are always of a high-quality via sound and video equipment rivaling any commercial cinema (I would argue better) and are widely attended by the public as well as industry insiders alike. Now, imagine coordinating a special, invite only screening or mini-premiere with them, and showing your film in all of their demo theaters and then having a cocktail/meet and greet session after. By the time you filled their demo theaters for two rounds of showings with lounge time in between you’ve potentially reached a few hundred people. Most small venue or indie friendly theaters seat roughly the same number of folks, but rather than pack ‘em in for a single showing and saying thank you, you’ve made an event out of the evening. More over you may not have had to pay a dime to do it for you’re bringing potential customers in the door for the dealer such as Definitive. Not only have you exposed people to your film in a very high-end, theatrical way (believe me, these theaters are nice) but you’ve also included them in your process by interacting with them post screening, potentially earning you some real fans for life.

Approaching custom installers, which you can do through dealers in some instances, is another way to go. The bragging rights that some of these truly, cost-no-object, clients would garner from premiering a movie in their humble abode would be priceless to them. And don’t knock a home premiere or screening series for a simple Google search for the name Theo Kalomirakis will tell you this idea isn’t nuts and that some of these private theaters are more “theatrical” than your local AMC.

You don’t even have to go big, you could organize a screening series among your fans and take your film living room to living room if need be. The point is it’s a different way of thinking and one that increases not only immediate viewer engagement but also promotes long term viewership; for anytime you can better interact with the viewer you stand a better chance of retaining them as a fan down the road- you know, when your films are larger, and playing theatrically under a studio banner. Plus, this method doesn’t cost you any release window, meaning you could still take your film to an aggregate distributor like Gravitas and push it to the VOD markets etc. Nor does this method cost you any rights, and who’s to say you can’t make money doing it. Show the film for free at a dealer chain like Definitive and then sell copies of the Blu-ray or DVD in the lobby. Signed copies from the director for $15 to an audience who just saw your film and now want to take it home -not a bad business. Not to mention money that doesn’t have to be split with a studio or exhibitor.

Or maybe I’m crazy. It’s possible. But I can’t help but think that if more filmmakers turned to the very industry responsible for making them the bulk of their money -home video/theater -both industries could help to re-energize each other. Just a thought.

As always I thank you all so very much for reading and until next time, take care and stay tuned…

Andrew

  • http://twitter.com/ScottWaters2013 Scott W

    While I understand the point of your article, from a personal viewpoint, I would rather stay home due to the constant distractions I experience every time I visit a theater. Noise, cellphones & popcorn crunching are reaching my breaking point. At home I can control my environment allowing me to pause a movie to lecture a visitor on proper movie watching etiquette. Good equipment is now within the reach of the average person, allowing an exceptional experience at home. I saw 4 movies last year at a theater & don’t miss it at all. Indie films, blockbusters, bring it on!