Real-Time Distribution Case Study, Week 7: Screenings, Venues, Partnerships & PAC-MAN

Previous ... Next
Gary, Luis, Patrick, Rocky, Ron, Annie on set Phoenix, Oregon movie 2018

Feeling better this week, more grounded, optimistic, determined. I’m still aware of the monumental task ahead but feel less melancholy and have made a concerted effort to disengage from social media immersion. I have slowed down and am holding space for family and walks. That seems to help.

Lots going on…

AIFF Premiere — The world premiere is in less than four weeks! We are excited and also nervous. The trailer and test screenings have been well-received, but there is nothing compared to that first showing to a large audience. Even now, if I close my eyes, I can experience that “premiere feeling”, a swirling combination of nerves, excitement, pride, curiosity, worry and wonder. Reading a crowd is an elusive art. Some audiences are silent yet love the film. The ideal filmmaker-friendly audience exudes energy, leans forward with anticipation, and laughs at all the right spots. To make it even trickier, reading a crowd often depends on how we are feeling on the day of the screening. Thankfully, all our hopes are not riding on this initial screening. We have our eyes up, looking ahead to the rest of the year. Still, a premiere is a significant event, one to be celebrated, enjoyed, and fully experienced, lumpy throat and all.

Hometown Screening — Our second screening will be April 26 at The REC in Ft Jones in partnership with Jefferson State Flixx Festival and Denny Bar Co. The screening is followed by cocktails & bowling at the very lanes that inspired the bowling in the movie, the old Ft Jones bowling alley which Denny Bar Co. is renovating.

As a kid, growing up in rural Scott Valley, many evenings were spent at these lanes bowling, eating pizza and playing arcade games.

My mom would give my brother and me two quarters each. Those quarters would last all night as we “played” vicariously through other gamers, watching quietly from behind their chairs. After much deliberation, we’d apply our quarters to PAC-MAN, the game at which a novice was sure to have the most success. We’d go home smiling and sleepy.

Still nostalgic for those evenings of gutter balls and yellow PAC-MAN pill munching, I’m especially excited for this screening and to see those childhood lanes brought back to life.

Also in the Denny Bar Co. warehouse are the barrels which age their soon to be released Hearts Creed Bourbon Whiskey which is featured in the film.

Tour dates — Two April screenings have been announced, and we have up to eight pre-tour screening dates in May. The first national tour date is Thursday, June 13, and the final date will be Sunday, August 25. Then home Monday, and school starts Tuesday!

PACs, art-houses, & festivals — It seems I wrote off the Performing Arts Centers too quickly after that one “no”. Now we have 1 booked in Montana and 5 other “maybes”. These are one-night events in theaters with 400–1,000 seats.

We’ve been considering whether we can we do a one-night event at a PAC and then open at the local art-house the same week? Will the art-house cinema be disappointed to not host the special event? Or will they be thankful because the PAC shoulders some of the responsibility for promoting the film in a way that wouldn’t happen if we just delivered the trailer & poster to the theater with no other press? By attempting to screen in both venues, we’re not sure if we are stepping on toes. We are still learning how these relationships work. Maybe it’s different in each city. Generally people see movies at their neighborhood cinema, so showing the film in two cinemas in the same city doesn’t necessarily cannibalize the audience of the other cinema if the population is large enough. Conceivably, press is leveraged across all areas of a city.

In terms of doing a theatrical run immediately after a festival screening, we have been advised that results are poor. The art-house crowd may have “festival burn-out” and subconsciously take a break from the cinema. Therefore, it is suggested to wait a minimum of 5–6 weeks to open after the film screens at a festival in the same town. That seems like a good spacing to still leverage the press from a festival.

For our one-night PAC screenings, it doesn’t seem “festival burn-out” applies, and it might make sense to leverage press and release in parallel in the local art-house.

It all depends on how many people we can attract to our special events (art house or PAC), the relationships between the theaters in each town, and the amount of promo each theater does on its own. They are all unique, and we’ll have to learn as we go.

We are currently expecting to book about 10–15 of these PACs with the rest of the venues being art-house theaters. We are hoping that the art-house theaters have loyal audiences that proactively look for what is playing, but we plan to generate our own press as well.

PAC pros and cons (based on this week’s learnings. This may change.)

PAC pros
 — they promote their events
 — they need content to fill out their event calendar
 — there is more potential revenue if the event sells well

PAC cons
 — many don’t show movies regularly
 — they only do 1 night screenings not week-long runs
 — they may feel empty even if we sell 100 tickets

*Note that we are only booking PACs that offer a split not rental fee.

It is taking some research in each city to decide which type of venue is best.

But I have to say that each time we get a yes and book a date, it is sooo fun!

Saturdays in August — I’ve always thought prime movie-going times are Friday and Saturday nights, but apparently not in August! Venues tell us that people prefer to be outside on long summer nights not in dark theaters. On the other hand, we aren’t competing with blockbusters saving their release for the school year. And mid-week summer screenings may serve us in that families are not juggling homework, school events and work as during the school year.

Rating — We received our first request this morning (from a larger cinema chain) to have the film rated in order to do a full week run. We avoided rating our last two films by only playing them in small cinemas. Often the art-house theaters prefer, but do not require, a rating. The bigger cineplexes usually do. We aren’t planning to play in many large cineplexes, so we need to weigh the opportunity cost of not obtaining the rating and also determine if the $3,000 fee will pay for itself or give us an opportunity to scale. (

Cast Photo Approvals — I went through a thousand photos (thank you, Mary WilkinsKelly!) to share the best 30–100 with each of our cast, fulfilling a contractual obligation to obtain likeness approval. This is a task I often put off, worrying that the cast won’t like their photos. But the process was fairly painless, they all replied quickly, and only a handful of photos were “killed”. Lesson to myself for the future: don’t be afraid of this task; it can actually be fun.

Credits — Most of the weekend was spent building the credits for the final master. This is another task I put off. While reviewing names and feeling immense gratitude for each individual’s work, I realized that the reason I put off this task is because I am so worried about forgetting someone. It’s backwards thinking in that last minute efforts often lead to mistakes, and there’s a greater chance to remember everyone immediately after production. Then again, sometimes completing tasks under pressure creates a higher level of focus and accuracy, like doing my homework on the bus on the way to school.

Press Kit — Many elements of the press kit are complete, but we do not yet have a final version to distribute to venues & press when requested. This is a priority task for the upcoming week.

Theater Signage — Not only do I now know the sizes for those over the door marquee thingys, I also know what they are called (“theater signage”) and where to get them.

The door marquees are 25″ x 5 3/4". The ticket booth marquees are 11 5/8″ x 2 3/8″.

If I upload artwork to MovieAd, the theaters order prints for their weekly runs. Next steps: figure out how to get a filmmaker account on MovieAd so that I can upload artwork. Cross fingers that it is not too expensive.

For theater artwork, we still need to ship prints of the posters directly to the theaters.

Poster — We will release the poster later this week. I adore the final design. It took many revisions and much brainstorming before we arrived at the current concept. A big thanks to designer, Dave Marshall, for his tireless, with-a-smile, work even as I asked (over and over) for tiny changes.

DCP Delivery Services — Still trying to decide if we should manage our own print trafficking or hire a company (such as EclairPlay or ByDeluxe) to manage digital and physical DCP deliveries. We can easily provide digital downloads, but duplicating and shipping the DCP hard drives is trickier. Doing it ourselves saves $50–75 per venue plus approximately $300 in setup fees, but it may be worth the cost to save time on tour. Providing the film from a service that venues are used to may increase our professionalism and allow us to scale the release.

Airstream partnership — This week, I completed a partnership application for a loaner Airstream trailer for the ten week tour. They asked questions such as, can I drive a trailer, and am I willing to be on film? Yes to both… My college years as a river guide versed me in backing down gravel river driveways and trailering hours on winding mountain roads with rusty trailers pulled by old farm trucks.

As for the vlog (video log), my mom suggested I get my hair done to cover my grays, get a makeup makeover and purchase a new tour wardrobe. This actually sounds fun in the context of the tour, even though these are three of my least favorite things (fashion, hair, & makeup.) Maybe I’ll bring an outfit for each day of the week. Then I only need to plan laundry once a week. Note: pack rolls of quarters and schedule weekly KOA overnights.

In addition to being featured in the film, the Airstream is reminiscent of childhood. My grandfather lived outside our backdoor in his Airstream. My tiny hands regularly grasped the handle of his heavy, shiny door, and I was welcomed in to watch him work, get hugs and eat candy.

Grants — Another task this week is to submit a film marketing grant. Cynicism runs high as I’ve filled out so many of these without success. But you never know… it just might be my turn!

Release Funding — This week, we updated our release budget with expenses, revenues and a cash flow plan to get us through the summer and at a minimum break even on the tour. Doing the budget forces us to contemplate whether time and money would be better spent handing the film over to a distributor, putting money into online advertising and taking our chances with VOD. We are committing to the tour based on a hunch that we will create buzz that could not otherwise be generated with our minimal resources. The goal is to consistently create momentum throughout the summer building to a bigger VOD campaign in the Fall.

We still need to raise money to cover cash flow shortfall for the tour. Or we need to generate advance revenues to stay ahead of expenses so that we do not find ourselves cash flow negative (and without gas) at any point in the middle of the trip.

After all these years financing indie films, I still have a hard time asking for money from investors. There is usually a specific moment when I know exactly what I’m asking for and why. That’s when it gets easier and discomfort turns to determination. The hardest part is feeling responsible with other peoples’ money and not wanting to make mistakes that put their money at risk. I’m learning how to balance an understanding of how to bravely spend money to make money and still shrewdly manage their investments.

Tour vs Day & Date — I dreamed last night that a team member excitedly declared, “We are skipping the tour. We are releasing day and date in August, and all the theaters are already booked!” Well… there’s certainly something to that, although it’s just as hard a battle. We know from past films. There’s really no secret sauce, except for doing the hard work day in day out, spreading the word, engaging with the audience, and building excitement. There are certainly advantages to staying home and putting all our efforts and money into arms-length marketing. Showing up in person is going to take a toll on our resources: energy, time and money. And we’re doing this tour based on one) a hunch that it will add to the overall marketing effect, and two) stories from hard-working, determined filmmakers who have done the same, and despite the massive effort, have declared it worthwhile stating they would do it again.

Spelling — In an effort to decrease confusion, I’ve been experimenting with changing the spelling of my name. Since I was little, Anne has been pronounced “Annie”. It’s always been an easy, smooth explanation. But recently, as my professional network has expanded, and I’ve started working remotely, it seems more confusing, and I hear that people are asking my friends, “How does she say her name?” It dawned on me recently that I can change the spelling, although I’m mostly just confusing myself now!

♡ Annie


Leave a comment