Every independent filmmaker has to face the innumerable challenges in every phase of making their film – which usually forces them to a ‘do-it-yourself’ solution. Nathan Ives, writer/director and producer of It’s Not You, It’s Me is currently ‘DIYing’ his theatrical distribution by renting theaters and taking his film on the road.
I had the opportunity to ask Nathan about his marketing plan to tour his film.
Filmlinker: You have a unique diy/grassroots approach to theatrical distribution – booking theaters and charging the audience whatever they’re willing to pay. Was this initiative part of your original business plan that was presented to your investors?
Nathan Ives: It wasn’t, actually. I think I originally had the ‘build it and they will come’ attitude that a lot of indie filmmakers have, it’s hard to admit, but I think my basic idea was that I would win Sundance, my career would take off, and Weinstein would buy the film outright for ten times the budget. I now realize that’s not a marketing plan, it’s a lottery ticket at best, a losing one since we didn’t even get accepted to Sundance. The original business plan outlined the more traditional model of selling to distributors, domestic and foreign, based on the cast, etc.
FL: How do you approach prospective theaters with this “pass-the-hat” approach – i.e. do you need to share the revenue or are you totally four walling?
NI: When I came up with idea, I just did a Google search for ‘independent theaters in NC’ and started cold calling them about rentals. I’ve found that a typical theater, on a weeknight (they typically won’t rent on weekends) runs between $250-$800 depending on size, location, etc. I’ve learned, that for the model to work, I can only spend about $300 and still cover my rental costs and maybe a little extra for gas via passing the hat and DVD sales. I’ve also found that as I’m able to get out 50 or so people, theaters are willing to cut deals for additional rental nights since they do well on concession sales.
FL: Are you also screening your film at other, non-movie theater venues?
NI: I’ve screened at some colleges, I’ve also been speaking to college film classes, but that’s about the only non-theater stuff I’ve done.
NI: I haven’t used Tugg or Gathr. I’ve mainly been trying to get exposure through media, blogs, newspapers, radio, etc. – I’ve found it to be the most effective. I will also come into town a day or so before a screening and walk the streets handing out fliers, but really engaging each person I give one to, telling them a little about the film. I send people to my website to the ‘special event screenings’ section where they can reserve tickets through Brownpaperticket.com which captures their email addresses.
FL: What’s your goal with this initiative – i.e. recouping your budget, exposure for marketing your film?
NI: I have a number of goals with the tour. First and foremost is to make the money for my investors, by driving VOD sales, so I can then make my next film. I want to build the ‘Mule Films‘ brand. I want to build a substantial email list of indie film lovers. Over all I want to build a sustainable business model that will allow me to continue making films until I eventually keel over.
FL: What’s the next phase of your distribution approach? Are you going to use an aggregator or do you have a “DIY” VOD plan?
NI: I used Bitmax in Los Angeles to get the film on iTunes and Amazon, I found them to be excellent and the cost was $1,250 and they didn’t take percentage of sales. I’m still early in this marketing plan, and think it will take six months or so to see if I’m truly driving VOD sales. Just a quick note that the process takes 6-8 weeks from giving the aggregator the film and it being released on iTunes.
FL: Are you also submitting to film festivals? Have you screened at any festivals?
NI: We took the film to several festivals, recently won Best Actress (Joelle Carter) and best Director (Nathan Ives) at The Naperville Film Festival outside of Chicago. While I enjoy the festivals, unless it’s on of the big ones, I think they’re more social media fodder than anything else. In my opinion they do little to help recoup your budget, and it can get quite expensive to enter festivals at $40-$100 per entry.
FL: What’s worked well in this initiative and what hasn’t worked?
NI: Well, I’d say that I’ve definitely found media outlets to be the most effective way to get people in seats. Walking the streets with fliers is less effective, but I still think has value in just getting the word out. The Q&A’s after screenings seem to be quite popular and really give people that personal touch and something to remember you by, I think that’s very important in building a following for future films. Spending more than $300 for a theater definitely does NOT work. Stay away from small towns, it’s hard to get people out. I’ve found mid-size towns, think Raleigh, NC or Charleston, SC to be best. If there is a college in the area, all the better, I’ve found when I speak to a college class, word gets around and I get a number of students out to screenings.
FL: How have you utilized social media to spread the word on your film?
NI: I keep daily updates on Facebook and try to keep Twitter updated a couple of times a day, but I think there’s is simply too much content on most of the social sites and it’s very difficult to engage people over the long term. I think an email list is far more powerful. That said, keeping up with social media is definitely important and gives someone a place to go to learn about the film. Oh, and on the email list subject, use a company like Aweber.com to hold your list, that way your emails will mostly stay out of spam folders and you get great analytics about how many emails were opened.
FL: Any final thoughts – words of wisdom that you can share from your experience that can help other filmmakers?
NI: 1. First an foremost, raise as much money for marketing as you do for your film, you may win Sundance and not need it, but if you don’t, you’ll be glad you have it. 2. Before making your film think long and hard about your demographic and how you’re going to get people to pay to watch YOUR movie in the sea of other movies out there. What’s unique about your film or marketing plan? ‘It’s going to be a great film’ isn’t going to cut it. 3. If you’re making a 10K guerrilla film, I wouldn’t worry about a lawyer, if you’re raising money through equity investors, be sure to hire a good lawyer. 4. Only do films you’re passionate about, it’s far to much work to do something you don’t really love. If you’re only it for the ‘money’ there are FAR more sure-fire ways to make a buck. 5. Filmmaking can be a wonderful process, it’s a collaborative one, be kind to everyone, you never know who you’ll be working with or for down the road. 6. I’m glad to share what knowledge I have and help other indie filmmakers in any way I can, please feel free to contact me at email@example.com.
It’s Not You, It’s Me is about a serial commitment-phobe, played by Ross McCall), who struggles with his decision to break up with his near perfect girlfriend – played by Justified’s Joelle Carter). All the while, the couple has to deal with their inner voices – one played by Vivica A. Fox. Check out the trailer (below):
You can purchase the film on iTunes and Amazon. I also encourage you to join their email list at www.itsnotyouitsmefilm.com, “Like” the film’s Facebook page and follow Nathan’s progress. Show your support for a true independent endeavor.