Today, please welcome Kim Piper, our Exec Producer and Theatrical Booker, to share her experiences booking the venues for the tour! Back in March when we split up jobs, she agreed to take on (and learn) this monumental task. We are thankful for her persistence & determination and for the grace with which she handled the bookings.
by Kim Piper
We made the film with little money allocated to marketing up front. At the time it seemed reasonable: If the movie is good, it will attract distribution partners who will invest and help get the film into the world. This likely will still happen. But I often felt behind, noticing missed opportunities. Marketing is very methodical work, needing a lot of time and people power. It’s so easy to generate awesome ideas, and difficult, and time-consuming, to execute even a few well. For example, for our movie: get a great pizza place to partner with in each town, and a bowling alley, a local winery / brewery / distillery, film society, graphic novel group, writer’s group, etc. Even for one city, that takes considerable effort. Well…how about 60 cities? Perhaps the hardest thing was realizing that even when we did a good job finding a few partners in an area, it made no sense to move on after a one night show, but that is what usually happened. We created buzz, and left town, with our movie!
I would say now, when making a film, assume that it is going to be great. Plan for getting it out into the world early. Build partnerships, engage potential groups early on. Start to engage the theaters, already. Build the network. Figure out what theaters / markets would be great a year ahead of time. Find out who knows who, where people have family / friends, and use those connections fiercely. Back when we were getting started, I really didn’t know what to do. Also, I was intimidated because I didn’t know how to do it, and didn’t want to fail.
I started booking the tour because it needed to be done. Annie convinced me, finally, that I knew as much as she did. When I really took that in, I sank my teeth into the job.
Real bookers (I’m one of those now!) have networks of contacts and theaters. I, of course, didn’t. Reaching out to a theater on their info from the web is a slow boat, but persistence would sometimes get me through eventually. What worked better were referrals from theater owners where we had already screened.
I started in Oregon; that helped. We were offering a filmmaker Q&A after the show! People like that. I always tried for revenue sharing with the theaters, usually a 50/50 split, and could often book a weekday on those terms, but not usually a run. The theaters needed to see if the film would have enough appeal first. Some told me there would be the possibility of an encore run, or encore shows if the demand was great enough. The Coming Attractions chain in Oregon and Northern California (thanks to a long-term relationship with Joma Films) gave us weekends and runs from the start. I filled in around those. The several independent theaters we screened at hosted our film wonderfully. We sold out in Eugene. Salem and Corvallis brought us back for encore runs. Independent filmmakers have natural partnerships with independent theater owners.
Leaving Oregon, the terrain got much more challenging. What cities to go to? Sometimes it was obvious. Annie’s brother and Ben’s friends live in Santa Rosa, CA. We had to go there! I was using an Arthouse Theater List, the venue list from the Bite Me film tour, and good old Google. The Bite Me folks were also traveling and doing filmmaker Q&A’s nationwide in Summer 2019. Astonishingly, they had nearly all their theaters booked, and media shipped, before the tour even started!
My take-away is that theaters like to have a lot of time (at least 3 months notice!) for booking.
Summer is their busy time, and that fact made booking even more challenging. Friends and family are a great way to get butts in seats. Even with our small crew and cast, I built screenings around their clans when I could. But that takes research and teamwork. Occasionally, we would forget, or call too late, a friend in a desired city and then miss the opportunity.
Revenue sharing is the best way to go, because the theater has a real incentive to help fill the theater. We had wonderful screenings all over the country partnering this way with theater groups, independent theaters, universities, etc. Four-walling usually didn’t work well for us, because we simply did not figure out how to reach new people through social media or any other avenue. It worked okay (as long as we didn’t pay too much!) if we had real connections in an area; friends, family, close associates.
If we had known what we know now, we would have had a clearer marketing budget and strategy from the outset and would have started booking and promoting the tour much sooner. But even so, thousands of people were introduced to our film. We have a very clear idea of our target audience. And, we learned, unequivocally, people love our film!!!