Friday, November 20, 2015


A sample of content originally written as guest content for Smarthouse Creative.
(see the original three part series here)


Most filmmakers fantasize about seeing their film on the big silver screen in their hometown. If you're smart, that's something you can accomplish on your own. We rented out a theater at AMC Pacific Place for our backers, cast and crew, but we didn't make a dime off that screening. We spent a lot, but didn't get anything back. So how do you get it to a screen near you? The answer: you may not.
You may never see your film distributed in your home country. We accepted that after many tears and bottles of whiskey. Sometimes, you simply can't sell what you have made in that market.
The truth for all films is that foreign distribution is where they can ultimately make the bulk of their money back. We're talking studio films, so let's get back to indie film. Every territory is broken down by region and sometimes territory.
Run. Hide. Die.
Run. Hide. Die.
The UK is its own territory. Germany is its own territory. Taiwan is its own, Japan is its own, Brazil is its own. But then there is the "whole of South America" which doesn't include Mexico. Confused yet? These are all potential places you can sell your film, and I bet that wasn't something that even crossed your mind yet if you're in the market. Each market has a different buyer and a different set of rules. Germany for example must have a dubbing, but France, Japan and South America can use subtitles.
Horror film, which again, is a very specific type of product, is super popular in European markets. And the more abstract your film is, the better. The first territories we secured were the UK and Germany. But as I mentioned just moments ago, we had to have it dubbed into German. Which means an additional cost that was taken out of our initial return. The distribution company paid for it, leaving our payment to be much less than initially estimated. Then, if Germany likes it, they can renew the contract and maybe next time around we will actually see something out of it.
Your foreign territory is every it as important as your domestic audience. Neglecting them means neglecting any potential your film can achieve. It may not be millions, it may be only thousands, or hundreds, at a time. But the next time you go to pitch yourself as a filmmaker, how much more seriously do you think people will take you when you can say you have a feature film in distribution? The answer is very.
Two critical tips for preparing your film for foreign distribution:
1. Have the music and effect tracks (also known as M&E tracks) separated from dialogue. It is incredibly difficult to dub a film in German if the music track is attached to the English dialogue.
2. Have a script that is verbatim what you cut into the film. If you reworked a scene so the word order is flipped, the script must reflect. This is all to ensure that the dubbing and subtitle team are translating exactly what happens on screen.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015


A sample of content originally written as guest content for Smarthouse Creative.

(see the original three part series here)


It's a well-known fact that actors of a certain caliber have agents. Writers have agents. Directors, and even producers often have agents. But a movie? That's just weird, right? Wrong. We knew so very little when we went to our first AFM in 2013. We were barely out of post-production and had just screened at our first festival. We decided that rather than spend thousands of dollars on the gamble that festivals can be, we'd skip that step and move directly past go to collect our $200. Boy, were we in for a hard lesson.
We went down to the largest North American Film Market around with no badges, no experience and no idea what we were doing. We were very lucky and still managed to snag several meetings with distributors, including After Dark Films. They all listened to our pitches and every last one of them took the one-sheet and DVD copy we had of the film. Some of the people we met with were actually sales agents, though they often heralded under a company name that sounded a lot like a distribution entity. The major difference here is the role each plays.
An agent is the liaison between the filmmaker and the distribution company. The distribution company is the team that actually puts your film in front of viewers either as a DVD, VOD or theatrical release. We did not meet our agent that we would soon sign with at AFM. We met some great ones, but they were all looking for something very specific. On the tail end of the success of Gravity, the thing we were asked most often was, "Do you have any sci-fi?" They didn't even know what sci-fi was, they just knew that it made a lot of money and was about to win a few Oscars. Suffice to say, we weren't quite what they needed.
Rather than get discouraged, we came back to Seattle and hit the drawing board. We started looking at other films that had been released, even in small form on VOD platforms. We compared them to our film to see if we would be a good match and then our director cold-called all of them. Some considered us, some never returned the call. In the end, Ultimately Ruthless Pictures (our agent) picked us up.
It took our agent two years to get the distribution agency to really consider our film, leading to the principal reason as to why your agent is your fairy godmother: they will do anything for you as long as your contract is valid. Your agent doesn't get paid until you do, so much like an actor's agent, they need to sell you. If your film doesn't suit the distributors' needs, they shelve it or dump it because they don't have the time or the money to stick with you. Our agent stuck by us through all of this and found new ways to pitch the same movie to thesame distributor. Every pitch was different until he found the one that finally worked.


Screenshot (39).png
Have you ever gone to see a movie based entirely on the trailer? Me too! Pretty much everyone I know has. It was our trailer and poster that got our agent's attention. He saw something in what we created originally. He saw that we had done our homework and that we had a project he could work with. Other indie filmmakers who saw it at festivals got pumped to see the film. You know who didn't? Distributors. They yawned and passed.
We had spent a lot of time on our trailer and spent $500 on a poster design from a specialist who crafts hand painted posters specific to vintage '80s horror. It broke our hearts when the agent said he was going to cut a new trailer and make a new poster. The first poster we had was awesome. The second one he gave us was meh. The new one, well... I know if I was searching on iTunes for a horror movie for Halloween, it would stand out and at least make me watch the trailer.
Think about that for a moment. How do you choose a film, especially one you've never heard of before? Your first impression is the poster. Then you base your judgement on the trailer.
Our original trailer with music from our composer was radically different from the one our agent cut (seen below), which featured music from one of the 17 bands we signed for our soundtrack. The major difference between the two is the energy. The trailer our agent put together simply moves. It moves like a horror trailer - it moves like a movie trailer. It hits every beat that you expect a trailer to hit and it makes you want to see the movie. Which is the entire purpose behind the trailer and poster magic combo: get people to watch your product, I mean, film.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Indie Film Distribution... Lessons We Learned- the Hard Way - PT 1

A sample of content originally written as guest content for Smarthouse Creative.
(see the original three part series here)

There is a unicorn in independent film: distribution. Actually, believe it or not, that little unicorn is precious to all filmmakers. Because even George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are also considered "indie" filmmakers (that's a whole 'nother post) that sometimes find themselves on a challenging road to distribution. Sometimes it seems like a fairy godmother descends in an opalescent magic bubble to bestow upon the lucky few a magic deal that leads to a fulfilling career in independent film. Sadly, as the industry makes a massive shift in how films are acquired and distributed, the yellow brick road is more than a little jagged - not mention playing hell on our ruby slippers.
While I consider myself and my partner among the lucky few who have managed to get our film into distribution, the road has been long, difficult and not without a few shed tears. More than once our whole team was ready to throw in the towel. Our sales agent was our best friend during that time. He coached us through it, holding our hands when necessary. He also ignored us wen we got a little to needy, making sure to bring us back in when the situation demanded it. We made a whole lot of mistakes, but fortunately for us we learn quickly. While I could write a whole novel, there are a few things we learned that I feel many of my fellow filmmakers are under-prepared to face when they get ready to market and distribute their film without the help of a studio.


I'll tell you one thing: Titles = Marketing. Selecting the perfect title that encompasses everything about your film is as delicate and personal as selecting the name of our first-born child.

Just don't get attached to it.

From beginning concept to the distributed film, our feature has gone through three title changes. One, right before we ran our Kickstarter campaign, and another when the distribution company didn't think they could sell our current title, The Anniversary. They gave us a list of titles, all of which made us roll our eyes.

Then it dawned on me what these new titles were. Search Engine Optimized, or SEO in digital shorthand. In marketing terms that means our title is likely to come up in a Google search based off of the gambit of things a potential viewer (customer) might be looking for. We made a horror film. The chance that the words run, hide or die may be part of your search are incredibly high. Ergo, the new title: Run. Hide. Die. No seriously, that is the new title. That's what they decided best fit the film, and you know what? Go ahead and Google it. See what comes up.