Real-Time Distribution Case Study, Week 49: 2020 Release Plan

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The four months since tour have been spent planning, resting, reconnecting with friends & family, and working.

While reflecting on learnings from the tour, we have chosen distribution partners, built an audience profile, designed a bowling promotion, and set dates for a spring release.

A quick timeline of 2019:

- Jan — committed to the tour

- Feb/Mar — planned the route and started booking venues

- Apr/May — premiered at AIFF and held regional screenings

- Jun-Aug — 10 week tour

- Sep-Dec — built team, designed 2020 release structure

In January 2019, the intended timeline had been:

- Apr — premiere & partner with a distributor for a Fall release

- Apr-Aug — theatrical, festival & tour screenings

- Sep-Dec — release digitally to all markets

We quickly realized that April was too soon to commit to a distributor. While we could have handed the film over, we didn’t have the knowledge or confidence to know which distribution team was the best fit. Only after ten weeks on the road meeting the audience and theater owners did we gain the required insights to choose partners.

On the next film, the experience from this release will allow us to partner with a distributor, plan the release, and do a tour all in parallel. In addition, we will be able to proactively develop the plan during pre-production instead of post.


On August 10 (somewhere in Kansas), Gary, Luis & I sat in the RV dreaming up marketing ideas. We settled on “National Bowl 300 Day”. It made perfect sense. We’d run a national contest for bowlers to win cash prizes. Sitting there, we wondered, “When is National Bowling Day?” A quick Googling confirmed the date as August 10. What?! The aliens were on our side; it was a sign.

So I moved forward with this plan, set arbitrary dates for a spring promotion, and immediately ran into a million road blocks.

The timing was all wrong. I took several steps back. We returned from tour, integrated back into normal life, and got some rest.

I focused first on obtaining distribution partners. Once those were locked in, together we revisited the bowling promotion and the release dates.

Then it all came together. In the right order. But for awhile there… I thought I was screwing everything up — that our fortuitous idea was being wasted.


On Calvin Marshall, we split the rights among several distributors (foreign, digital, dvd and theatrical). Of all our previous three films, this structure worked best, allowing us oversight and to gain much needed experience with the distribution process.

This structure allows filmmakers to remain the “CEO” of the film, building a team of distribution & marketing experts while still retaining oversight. It also sets up the filmmaker/distributor relationship as a partnership instead of a gatekeeper / authority-based model which often gets filmmakers in trouble. That structure risks lack of collaboration, misalignment of goals and unmet expectations on both sides.

For Phoenix, Oregon, we have decided to partner with a domestic distributor, a theatrical booker, and a foreign distributor.

2020 release timeline:

- Feb-Jun — bowling promotion & contest in partnership with the bowling community

- March 20 — open theatrically in 15–20 markets

- Mar-Jun — expand theatrically based on performance in the first markets

- Jun — release digitally (on transactional platforms such as iTunes)

- Fall — release on subscription streaming platforms

Look for more info on the bowling promotion, theatrical cities, and our distribution partners soon!

Happy first official work day of the New Year!

♡ Annie


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