We made over $20,000 after our first weekend of DVD sales. We knew it was critical for us to keep the momentum alive and we felt the movie deserved to play theatrically. Audiences love the film. Somewhere along the line I learned about Stacey Parks' distribution advice. She now runs Film Specific and offers periodic free distribution advice via email. She also has several books she sells and one day I decided to pick one up. After reading it, I was really invigorated by some new ideas it gave me. Specifically, she included a case study from Bradley Beesly's Okie Noodling (which I'm still dying to see) describing in detail a theatrical tour that Brad did with Okie Noodling. He listed all the theaters he played in. I remember reading this a few months before our DVD release and thinking about how cool it would be to do this for 10 MPH.
I knew that you don't do a theatrical tour with any hopes of making money. That's not the purpose. It's to get lots of press and attention and build fans that'll follow you for life. We were in a good situation because we had some money to invest (based on initial sales) and we had a great promotion that allowed us to collect the contact information for people whom wanted to win the Segway and other prizes. So naturally, we offered this promotion for our tour and collected around 1500 new names, addresses, and emails all from people who sat in a theater and watched our movie. As we all know, there's often no better way to see a film.
During June and July, we planned and booked the tour. We hoped to do about 20 cities and decided on a very aggressive cross-country route that would require daily travel. Booking theaters proved to be tough. For a while in July, we seriously pondered canceling the tour. Kelly Wilkinson and Mary LaVenture, two associate producers from 10 Yards did the booking and after some time were able to figure out the formula for getting theaters to commit. They got so good at this that the idea of up front fees for four-walling (renting a theater) was soon out of the picture. Besides our deal for seven Landmark theater locations, we mostly set up split revenue deals, where we took 50% of the gross ticket sales. This is better than the standard split deals which tend to be 70/30 or 60/40 in favor of the theaters.
What did Kelly and Mary do that proved effective? It's about building confidence and convincing theater owners that you have the ability to bring an audience. It's also about finding the right kind of theaters that sometimes help with promotions and have the proper audiences to attend your type of film. The good news is that there are lots of these out there, especially in midsize cities. We found that after we booked a deal with Landmark in seven major cities (St. Louis, Chicago, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, Boston, DC, and Dallas), it was a lot easier to book other theaters. We were also able to show off the extensive press we'd received from our DVD launch. In our booking process, we were also trying to focus on locations that could screen digitally. Out of all our locations, only two ended up needing us to provide a digital projector.
All told, we booked 23 cities, which kicked off with two screenings in Seattle on August 4. The tour then went all the way across the country, screening nightly, to Brattleboro, Vermont, then down to Wilmington, NC, and then to Texas to finish up. We did all this in less than a month and it proved to be one exhausting trip. We were thrilled with the success, but also blown away at how difficult it was to try and promote the film in so many cities. We bombed in about three locations, but also sold out several shows and had a few surprise audiences - like Brattleboro, where 200 people showed up to watch the movie, which was one of their highest attended single-night bookings on record. All on a Monday night too! Funny things happen on a tour like this. All four of our Monday night screenings were big successes (Boise, Madison, Brattleboro, Dallas).
We learned a lot from doing this type of event. Here are a few tips:
Don't advertise. In a few cities like Seattle and Kansas City (one of our bombs), we threw down a few hundred bucks to advertise in a weekly newspaper. From a quick survey of the crowd, we deduced that these ads were pretty ineffective. What really worked in terms of promotions was good PR, word of mouth, and relying on our database we had developed.
Smaller towns. We kicked some ass in small towns and had wonderful crowds. Paonia, Colorado was precious and so many people from the town came out to see it and meet us filmmakers. Like Brattleboro, it was one of the theater's best showings.
Give away tickets. In a few places, we gave tickets away on the radio and it turned into some great press and more audience.
Focus on a few. Make sure you find a few markets you can really do well on and focus on those. For us, 23 markets was terribly ambitious and I'm not sure if that many was really necessary. Crowded markets like Chicago (and NY and LA - which we avoided) are tough, but places like DC can be surprising. We sold out our DC show and had a feature article in the Washington Post. A lot of this was a direct result of where we put our focus.
Look for Blue Bells. Remember you're on a road trip. Make sure to have a good time. I was traveling for the entire trip with Kelly and Mary. Josh joined in at times and when things got really stressful, we had to remind ourselves to have a good time and look for Blue Bell, which is an ice cream that was really only available in Texas. But Pecan Pralines and my discovery of this ice cream won't be forgotten and hopefully be flown into a few major productions I do when I get all this film stuff figured out.
Keep figuring it out. If you book a tour with many cities, each night you can learn something new. That's what all of us filmmakers are trying to constantly do and the more we figure out, the farther along we often get.
It's been almost two months since the tour and I think I'm now realizing how important it was to get out and tour the film around. We met so many people who offered to support us in the future (including a few potential investors). We got a few more dozen press clippings and we managed to break even (including the expense of traveling). That was a huge sigh of relief. We're now seeing a lot more interest from a few cable networks to do a deal and we're talking to Blockbuster about an increased buy and some more promotions on their channel. The doors to this industry are definitely opening wider.
In honor of the Stacey Parks' stuff I read, here's a list of theaters we screened at:
Seattle, WA - Rendezvous Jewel Box Theater
Seattle, WA - Admiral Theater
Boise, ID - The Flicks
Jackson Hole, WY - 43 North (Dinner event)
Paonia, CO - Paradise Theater
Denver, CO - Starz Tivoli
Kansas City, KS - Screenland Granada (NOT RECOMMENDED)
St. Louis, MO - Tivoli
Chicago, IL - Century Center
Madison, WI - Orpheum (NO DIGITAL PROJECTOR)
Minneapolis, MN - Lagoon Theater
Lansing, MI - Lansing Mall 6
Cleveland, OH - Cedar Lee Theater
Lititz, PA - Penn Cinemas
Brunswick, ME - Frontier Café & Cinema
Boston, MA - Kendall Square
Brattleboro, VT - Latchis Theater
Washington, DC - E Street
Philadelphia, PA - Ritz Bourse
Wilmington, NC - Jengo's Playhouse
Gulf Breeze, FL - Gulf Breeze Cinema
Austin, TX - Alamo Drafthouse
Dallas, TX - Inwood Theater
If you have a question, suggestion, or idea, please contact Hunter through the form below:
Other DIY films
+ Four Eyed Monsters
+ Tijuana Makes Me Happy
+ Head Trauma
+ The Talent Given Us
+ Guatemalan Handshake
+ Book of Caleb
+ Black Gold
Film Festivals & Distribution Books
+ The Insider's Guide to Independent Film Distribution (Stacey Parks)
+ Ultimate Film Festival Survival Guide
+ The Complete Independent Movie Marketing Handbook
+ I Wake up Screening: What to Do Once You've Made that Movie
Filmmaking & Production Books
+ Planning the Low Budget Film
+ The Complete Film Production Handbook
+ Clearance and Copyright: Everything the Independent Filmmaker Needs to Know
+ Film Scheduling: Or, How Long Will it Take to Shoot Your Movie?
+ Film and Video Budgets
+ Filmmakers and Financing, 5th Edition: Business Plans for Independents
+ The Pocket Lawyer for Filmmakers: A Legal Toolkit for Independent Producers
+ Independent Feature Film Production: A Complete Guide from Concept Through Distribution
+ Workbook Project
Major Film Festivals
+ Sundance Film Festival
+ Slamdance Film Festival
+ Intl. Film Fest Rotterdam
+ Berlin Intl. Film Festival
+ Miami Intl. Film Festival
+ True/False Film Festival
+ AFI Dallas Intl.
+ The Gen Art Film Festival
+ Full Frame Doc Festival
+ Hot Docs
+ Tribeca Film Festival
+ Cannes Intl. Film Festival
+ Seattle Intl. Film Festival
+ Los Angeles Film Festival
+ Telluride Film Festival
+ Toronto Intl. Film Festival
+ Sidewalk Moving Pic Fest
+ New York Film Festival
+ Woodstock Film Festival
+ Hamptons Intl. FF
+ Amsterdam Intl. Doc Fest
+ AFI Fest
+ Denver Intl. Film Festival
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