Real-Time Distribution Case Study, Week 18: Testing the Edge & Stretch Goals

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I’m on a plane to Denver for a commercial shoot, my last job before we hit the road on the Phoenix, Oregon ten-week national screening tour.

My schedule is crazy. Maybe it’s a habit, an addiction: to allow and then sculpt the chaos. I continually throw myself headlong to the edge of the impossible, the barely sensical.

We leave in nine days. I am out of town for the next five. We have acquired one RV. The second is in the works, and we are crossing our fingers the mechanic signs off. Both RVs are scheduled to be wrapped next week but must be measured in the next two days.

Exactly how the next nine days will play out is an unknown, but somehow it will come together, and we’ll be on our way.

I like the challenge, living in the mystery, a witness to solutions as they unfold.

But I’m also aware that those I love stand bravely with me in the eye of our constructed tornado. I want them safe, close and calm, away from the swirling debris. Even though my family is usually more than willing to follow, I must continually monitor my fascination with and yearning to peer into the unknown.

In a discussion this week unrelated to filmmaking, I told someone who was helping us make a choice between the safe or the unknown, “our family culture is to take risks, allow challenges.” So, we chose the obvious: the scary, the unsafe, the unknown.

As little humans, we were driven to push against our limits, learning through falling. I wonder if we squelch that urge as we get old and safe, yet I suspect that the instincts to test the edge still exist within each of us.


Box office: We have been extended a fourth week in Ashland. We’ve specifically promoted the Fri/Sat/Sun screenings since the theater decides to hold over based on weekend numbers.

For promotion we’ve used:

- personal emails (to our local community)

- Facebook ads ($40)

- discount coupons (for Phoenix, Oregon residents and for patrons of local stores)

T-Shirts: We’ll have 500 shirts on hand when we start the tour. On average, we sell 15–20 shirts per screening. The plan is to test sales and review inventory after the first week. We’ll place orders every three weeks and have merch shipped to tour stops.

Personal Mail: I am forwarding all personal mail to our office. Every few weeks, a friend will stuff pre-labeled priority mail boxes to be sent ahead to tour stops.

RV Wrap & Advertising: We are in the midst of finalizing the RV wrap design so that it can go to print on Thursday (for installation on the RVs early next week.) It will be a rolling billboard with ad space for sponsors on the back. Advertising options include a logo on each RV, a logo before the movie, thanks in social media and Q&As, and inclusion in text-to-join marketing. My goal is to cover the costs of the RV financing and promo wraps with ad sponsors.

Here is our beautiful new RV, pre-wrap. Kim got an RV tutorial from Phil who was a bit sad to let it go.


Distribution: From a conventional industry perspective, our approach may seem odd. It’s not that other filmmakers haven’t toured a film, but that we are expecting the tour to increase the value of the film for a future distribution partnership.

We are having discussions about when, how and if to seek distribution with a larger distributor. In many ways, we are operating as a mini-studio, handling distribution, bookings and publicity ourselves but on a smaller scale with fewer resources. We can book the film in 100 theaters but not 2,000. To go bigger, we would need a partner. We are considering extending theatrical into the fall and testing a wider release in large markets such as LA and NYC when we have more press and momentum.

Similar to a 70-city festival tour, a 70-city screening tour tests the market, builds buzz and increases the value of the product through visibility and grassroots marketing.

We are executing an immersive, community-based, event-driven marketing campaign with the intention of building slowly towards national press.

While we still may just complete the tour and enlist foreign and digital distributors, our aim is to attract a distributor to add resources and expand our theatrical campaign.

Traditional logic suggests that no one will buy the film once we’ve taken box office money off the table. But if we test the film with a limited release and prove the value, there is still potential to cross-over into a wider release with the right support.

Of course, I know this is a long shot… but still possible.

My stretch goals…

By the time we get to Texas, we attract national press. By the time we get to New York, we are on a talk show.A distributor buys the film, applies additional resources, takes over theatrical and expands the release to at least 1,000 screens.

Technically, our timing is all wrong. This is absolutely not the way it is done.

We would normally give the distributor 6–9 months to plan for the release. They’d arrange theatrical bookings and press at least 3–6 months out.

In partnering with us at this late stage, we’d be asking them to step out of their comfort zone and jump onto a moving ship, one which lilts to the left and then the right, not always on the most clear or efficient path.

With these goals in mind, we are working daily to button up our marketing strategy and scale towards a tipping point of audience demand, one which would make such an aquisition a no-brainer.

So why not?

Lately, I always feel behind. But in thinking back on how our plan could have been different, I feel like we’ve made the right choices.

We could have waited… for more resources, for more attention, for a distributor, for a bigger team.

But we didn’t have the luxury to wait.

So we moved forward, one step at a time.

And we’ll continue to take one step at a time, all summer, slowly and deliberately, preparing for the moment when it makes sense to scale.

We don’t yet know the results of the summer. What I do know is that the film is more valuable now than a month ago.

An industry friend wished me luck and success, possibly with a twinge of skepticism. I gratefully responded, “we’ve already succeeded.”

♡ Annie


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