How hard was it for the highest grossing New Zealand film of all time to get U.S. distribution? Very.
We've all had that feeling, right? You see a film at a festival and want to make sure all of your friends see it, too. It's happened to me dozens of times over the years, but never as strongly as with Boy.
And yet no U.S distributor was willing to invest the necessary resources to properly release Boy— a reflection of how absurdly gun-shy the world of film distribution has become.
So we decided to fund the release independently, building a team featuring our fearless leader, the U.S. based producer Unison Films (Emanuel Michael), the Santa Fe-based media company Radius Films, and a splendid group of marketing and theatrical professionals. Boy opens March 2 in NYC, followed by openings in LA, San Francisco, Seattle, Atlanta, Washington DC, and Boston.
Though the release of Boy, like its production, is a labor-of-love project, our team consists of professionals, and I'm learning a lot about the process. Here's some of what I've picked up so far by listening in to Boy team members Mark Urman and Amanda Sherwin (Paladin), Cynthia Swartz (Strategy) and Marc Schiller, Jeremy Kressman and Etta Yuki (Bond Strategy and Influence).
Keep it personal
Each time Taika interacts with his fan base, it energizes our release campaign. One video he made had 100+ shares; a post on the Flight of the Conchords Facebook page has 1100+ likes. With a lean marketing budget, connecting directly is paramount.
Likewise IndieGogo and US Artists. We've been not only funding our project through Kickstarter, but building a family of support around it. The funding will make the difference between a small release and a more ambitious one; the supporters are helping spread the word.
Theatrical distribution and national publicity are not games for amateurs
Though we all honor the DIY energy of independent filmmaking, indie doesn't work in the high-stakes world of theatrical distribution. Every film that connects with a theatrical audience has a professional team behind it (as someone who runs a theater, I cannot think of a recent exception). The algorithm for a successful release is complex: factor in territorial rivalries between theaters, scheduling issues, print traffic, and the complexities of marketing and outreach in each market. Likewise with publicity: knowing how to package and pitch stories is an artform.
Spend money to make money
With the very occasional exceptions (Bill Cunningham New York chief among recent ones), you need to commit to your release with substantial funding, even in this day of digital formats. Nearly every film that competes in any market is preceded by substantial publicity and marketing. Many theaters build those costs in. A viable film deserves the attention.
Even recouping your P&A (prints/advertising) budget through your theatrical release is difficult, which is why, more and more, the theatrical release can be seen largely as a marketing campaign for other revenue streams. If we do this right, and fully engage our audience, the energy from the theatrical release will flow into our home video, TV and digital releases.
Boy seems to make everyone who sees it happy. And ultimately, our goal is to spread the love as widely as possible. As Taika wrote in his Kickstarter campaign, "With the world supposed to end later this year, we could all use a bit of cheering up."
The Boy release kicks off March 1 with an event at Lincoln Center before opening in New York at the Angelica Theater and the Elinor Bunin Monroe Film Center on March 2; L.A.'s Laemmle's Monica and Laemmle's Playhouse on March 9; the Bay Area's Landmark Theaters and the Rafael Film Center on March 16; Seattle's Varsity Theater on March 23; DC's E-Street Cinema on March 30; and the Midtown Art Cinema in Atlanta and CCA in Santa Fe on April 6. Check here for more information.