Closure’s “Theatrical Run”

As mentioned in the previous post, the road to distribution was long, ending with a deal with Indie Rights. They would own our movie for three years and can make any deal they feel is worthwhile. In return, we receive the vast majority of the money earned.  The trade off: we will be responsible for delivering the movie and all marketing and advertising cost.

So what is delivering the movie? It’s exactly what it sounds like: we delivered the movie to Indie Rights.

Great answer, wiseass. But what does that entail?

“Deliverables” are every aspect of the movie. Yes, there is the movie itself, set up to the specifications that will allow it to be streamed on any platform. This includes sound broken down into different folders for stereo sound and mono sound. Also, subtitles for closed captioning as most platforms (including Amazon) require it. Plus a music cue sheet which consists of every sound cue in the movie in a big spread sheet detailing when it runs, the length of the clip, and the recording artist and publisher information (so these good people can get paid).

In addition there are marketing materials: still photos, bios of the important people, and new poster art recommended by our distributor:

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Plus, the very important Chain of Title, which are legal documents proving that I wrote the movie, that I sold the movie to the production company,  and that we did it without stealing content from anyone. This involves sending documents and the movie to the U.S. Copyright Office.

Plus much more! And it was all due 30 days following the signing of our contract. A lot of busy work for people who are all working other jobs.

In addition, Indie Rights mentioned we might want to do a theatrical run. Every other distributor we spoke with discouraged that as the costs are extremely high: in addition to renting the theater (one screen at a theater can run $10,000 – $25,000 a week, depending on the size) we would have to pay for advertising and marketing. Those seats ain’t gonna fill themselves.

And why would we need it? We’ve played in theaters… six of them so far, ranging from 75 to 300 seats.  So what does a week-long theatrical run give us that we don’t have already?

  1. Award Consideration – We would be eligible for Oscar consideration (Ha!) and Independent Spirit Award consideration (hmmm…)
  2. Reviews – If your movie opens in Los Angeles, the L.A. Times has to review it. Other publications would also likely attend.
  3. A bigger audience – If the reviews are good…

Okay, those are worthwhile things to consider, for sure. Also, our distributor was able to secure us a week long run at a Arena Cinelounge, a movie theater in the heart of Hollywood. This small boutique theater is perfect for us because…

  1. Our distributor has a deal with the theater so we could get a week long screening for much cheaper than regular movie theater prices.
  2. We will have an opening date so we can send our press release to critics.
  3. A final chance for the audience (and us) to see it in theaters.

It was a no brainer. We’d do it. Closure would have a theatrical run on 1 screen, 1 screening a day, lasting 1 week. To put that in perspective, the biggest box office movie of the year, Avengers: Endgame, opened on 4,662 screens, with multiple screenings a day, lasting 44 weeks.

Avengers Endgame

“We will crush you, puny indie movie.”

Our producer/PR Rep Katie Rosin put together a press release and sent it out along with our press kit. We set up Facebook events, scheduled TWO parties (one on opening night, one two nights later for star Catia Ojeda’s birthday), spent four hours filling out the Independent Spirit Award submission, and waited for the reviews and accolades…

…and waited…

…and things started to happen. People bought tickets. A great review and another trickled in. No word from the L.A. Times, but that was okay after all we were weeks out.

Then one Wednesday afternoon I went to our theater to watch two different movies made by friends of mine. The first one had only one other person in the theater: the filmmaker. The second: I was the only person in the theater.

And as I sat there BY MYSELF as a movie screened it dawned on me: “Oh shit. No one is coming to see our movie. No one cares.”

A writer once gave me a piece of advice early in my career: “no one cares if you finish your script.” This is not meant to be a deterrent, but rather that I, the writer, must care the most. I have to tell the story.

But our story won’t live without an audience. So we worked just like we did with our Off-Off-Broadway shows in New York and lobbied hard for people to turn off the streaming TV, get off their couches, and pay for parking (and a movie ticket). I would not tolerate a goose egg audience (a.k.a. 0 audience members). We can do this.

Ticket sales were trickling in. We had arranged for at least one person from the team to be at each screening for a Q and A. And then… it was opening night.

Catia at opening

No red carpet, just a star and a poster.

Not as glamorous as the red carpet screenings in D.C., North Hollywood, Spain, or New York, but we savored it since it’s probably our last big screening for a while.

Opening Night

The line to get in: definitely more than zero people (and it wound around the corner)

Our opening Friday night audience was great, a nearly packed theater. Our next show, a Saturday afternoon screening, took a slight dip but there were definitely people there.

The next night, Sunday, was a combo: a cast Q and A and a birthday party for our leading lady after.

Cast Q and A

From left: John Sloan (Jack), Catia Ojeda (Nina), Michael McCartney (O’Leary), some blogger, Cynthia Addai-Robinson (Yasmina) and Marcelo Tubert (Iskandar) . This cast reunion photo was taken 2 1/2 years after we wrapped shooting on the movie.

This screening was crowded and we all moved to a rooftop bar to celebrate. A good end to our opening weekend.

But there were four screenings left, and I was determined not to get any goose eggs, even though we were screening at 6pm on the next four weeknights. We’d get an audience.

It took hustle, but we did it. The audiences were small (one screening was only three people) but we survived our week long run without an empty theater. Our movie played on the big screen to an audience every show. And that was a victory.

HOWEVER… we did NOT receive an L.A. Times review. Apparently the old line (If your movie runs in Los Angeles the L.A. Times has to review you) is no longer true. Too many movies come out each week.

Which was a good warning for us as we geared up for distribution. If this movie succeeds, it is up to us to get the audience. One chapter closes, and another opens in three… two… one…

 

 

How to get Overnight Distribution for your Film (in only seven months)

We filmmakers have heard all the stories: the movie screens at Sundance to an ecstatic standing ovation. Assistants run out of the theater, phones pressed to cheeks, excitedly yelling to their bosses. An offer comes in, then another, then a back and forth. By dawn, the bidding ends and the filmmaker walks away with $4 million and a three picture deal.

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Easy Peasy!

But of course, that is not how the journey goes for most filmmakers. Including us.

Last fall we had momentum. We had just returned from Marbella, Spain, with our second award in three festivals. We were about to screen in our home town at The Valley Film Festival, located less than a mile from where we shot most of our movie. We knew we were off to Austin Indie Fest in a few weeks. The time was right to sell.

So we brought in a big gun. We hired a Producers Rep, who acts as an agent to our film and meets with and negotiates deals with distribution companies. Kristen Moser was referred to us by one of our Executive Producers. She watched the movie, loved it, and we agree to terms. Between our L.A. premiere, the American Film Market in Santa Monica a week later, and Austin Indie Fest the following week, we would no doubt sell our movie quickly.

We took home the Best of Fest award from Valley, and three additional awards from Austin; we were on the rise! Kristen was a hustler, and giving me daily updates on all the companies she contacted. In fact, most of the companies she spoke with expressed interest, which surprised me. I didn’t think an ensemble dark comedy would have mass appeal, but people were intrigued. And many of them watched and liked it. And said they would prepare an offer.

It was only a matter of time…

…and then our first offer came in! I eagerly anticipated the details. What would be their MG? The MG is “minimum guarantee” i.e. the advance paid to the filmmaker. At last year’s Sundance Mindy Kaling received a $13 MILLION MG for her movie Late Night. Surely we would get enough to pay back our investors and make a little for ourselves, right? Surely $500,000 for a multi award-winning feature film isn’t too much to ask.

And then the offer came in…

$15,000. Well, that’s something. A little bit to start paying back our investors-

No. Not a minimum guarantee of $15,000. This company wanted us, upon signing, to WRITE A CHECK for $15,000 to earn access their distribution contacts.

Wait. What?

We quickly learned the hard truth about the independent film world. There are a LOT of indie films nowadays which means that content is easy to come by. And if you don’t have any stars-

-wait a second. Our star Catia Ojeda is a series regular on the hit Amazon show Just Add Magic! And Cynthia Addai-Robinson starred in the USA show Shooter and the Starz! shows Spartacus and Power, and starred opposite Ben Affleck in the movie The Accountant!

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“Can you believe Cynthia got cast in Closure and they didn’t invite me to audition? That’s crazy, Anna Kendrick!!!”

And Dee Wallace, come on, she was top billed in a little movie you might know:

Dee T

Pictured: A real life movie star, and E.T.

Unfortunately, these talented actors don’t count as STARS in the eyes of distributors (at least, not yet). Current A-listers sell movies, not great stories and great acting in award-winning films.

And this was the line we heard from many distributors, big and small. They all said there would be interest in our film, but not at blockbuster numbers.

Not all offers were as bad as the pay-to-play one that started us off. Most companies were very encouraging. Even big companies like Sony Pictures Classics had multiple people  watch enjoy our movie, but in the end (after nearly a MONTH of deliberating) felt that without stars there was little they could do to promote us properly.

So how did we go to nothing to having six offers at the same time?

It’s very easy: one offer had an expiration date.

In early July we received an offer from a decent distribution company. They were selective in that they had a relatively small roster of films and even rejected a larger budget film that Kristen was also representing. The offer had no up front money for us but also had limited expenses. Most offers come with expenses that range between $15,000 and $45,000. These are for costs incurred by the distribution company (like flying to Cannes to try and sell our film) and are taken out FIRST. Which means that it could take years for us to get our money back.

But of more importance: we could now go to all the other companies dragging their feet on making an offer, and tell them that we have a deadline and we need their offer now.

And they responded.

A second offer, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth came to us. None of them were amazing, but we now had leverage. And Kristen used it.

She constantly kept me updated on the phone, and multiple companies spoke with me personally to tell me why they were the best for our movie. One movie even gave us projections for how much we would make over a few years, and according to their estimate it looked like we would be able to pay back our investors in 2-3 years. The attention was flattering, except that no one was actually offering us any money.

But now they all wanted to hear our best offer, and beat it.

In the end, Indie Rights made us the best offer. Others couldn’t match the terms and length of contract, which is only three years. Some companies wanted our movie locked up for 11 years, and we’ve heard of companies that want the rights for 20 years! That said, Indie Rights says that 99% of their filmmakers renew after the end of the term, so we are happy for that flexibility.

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Our new home!

We signed in mid-August and had 30 days to deliver the film, which means not only sending them the movie to their specifications but a ton of supporting materials. It was steady work; the last week of delivery I was putting in at least four hours of work a day.

And then, one warm sunny afternoon in September, I walked into our distributor’s office in DTLA (Downtown Los Angeles to you outsiders) and dropped off a palm-sized one terabyte hard drive which contained over four years of work.

And that’s when things got REALLY busy.

(Coming next: our theatrical run!)