What Do You Need to Open a Movie? a Post-Distribution Deal Checklist, Courtesy of Meet the Patels

So you made your film, screened it at a ton of festivals to rave reviews, and netted a theatrical distribution deal. Happy ending, right?

Not so much, as many an exhausted filmmaker has discovered. Distributors need deliverables, and that means you need to fork out some extra cash—yes, even with the finish line so close you can almost touch it. The makers of comedic documentary Meet the Patels found that out the hard way after their film was picked up by Alchemy, and now they’re crowdfunding to get it across those last few yards this August. We asked them to list out their remaining financial hurdles, cautionary tale-style.


For most first-time filmmakers, the goal is to get distribution, and then you pass out on the couch for approximately a year, after which you tour the country apologizing to friends and family for the decade of your disappearance. Um, so add one more year to that… and a Kickstarter campaign. Here’s our story.

Meet the Patels, about Ravi Patel’s attempts to negotiate between the demands of his parents and his future wife, started as a funny and totally embarrassing family vacation video that PBS eventually came on to produce and distribute. After six years, we finished the film, but the festivals rejected it. So for two more years we edited the film some more… and got rejected some more. Finally, through the brave efforts of Hot Docs, LA Film Festival, and Traverse City Film Festival, Meet the Patels was put in front of audiences and proved to be a festival hit, selling out at festivals around the country for a year. That’s when we signed with UTA and picked up a theatrical distribution deal. Hurray!…

…OK, now time for us get back to work. For any filmmaker who wants to know what to expect after you find a distributor, here is a quick idea of the costs we are facing, and why we have a Kickstarter campaign going right now.

1. Finishing Costs

In our distribution deal, we received no money upfront. We love our deal and our distributor, and we’re excited they are putting a ton of money and energy and creativity into the marketing and the release of our film, which is why we took it. At the same time, though, we have to deliver the film to the distributor in several formats, with adjusted credits and associated finishing costs. Our funding from PBS and our other long-time support was depleted from so many years of shooting, editing, re-editing, creating animation, buying music, and all the creative elements that were critical to the quality of the film.

2. Deliverables

When you make a deal with distributors, first you negotiate the deal and then they send you a laundry list of things they need. This means transcripts, clearances of all music and stock footage and photos, blurbs about the film, raw media, posters, etc. Trust us, this stuff takes weeks to put together and involves legal, bookkeeping, insurance and postage costs. It’s a full-time job for a few months, for directors, producers, editors and interns-come-managers.

Patels 2

Dad and Ravi take a bath in the Ganges River

3. Extras

The distributor will also need the little pieces of behind-the-scenes videos and outtakes, and any other cool things they can add to digital packages and use for marketing. Creating these materials is as important and challenging as editing the actual film. This stuff needs to be good!

4. Overhead

We have a great team and it takes all hands on deck to get those items together as quickly as possible. It also takes money to keep the project going as we wait for distribution. Overhead includes our lawyer, bookkeeper, editors, website manager, and our barely paid intern-managers who oversee social media, outreach, and fundraising. This is in addition to tons of pro bono work that we are lucky enough to have received by friends, family and supporters. Also, remember that it takes money to keep the business entity alive, prepare and pay taxes, report to existing funders… basically all that goes into running a small business.

5. Fundraising

In order to raise funds to cover these costs, you also need pay for the tools to raise those funds: website updates, servers, boosts on Facebook, posters and flyers, and gas to get to different cities and do events.

6. Marketing

Even though we have a distributor, Alchemy, handling the strategy, marketing and release, we will be traveling with the film to every city to help promote it. Personal appearances are a critical part of independent film marketing these days. We are also going to do our own grassroots marketing throughout the Indian community and other community groups, along with maintaining our Facebook page, and enacting a list of shenanigans that we cannot wait to pull off to help bring this film to audiences. To do this, we need to pay our own costs and sustain the team.

 

So that’s the list. Funnily enough, after six years of making this film and then another year of fighting tooth-and-nail to get to where we are now, we couldn’t be happier, more energized, and more thankful for the entire experience and the difference it is making in communities. Making this film has been an honor and sharing it with audiences has been indescribable. People are laughing and crying—it’s crazy! And to think, we almost gave up so many times. Onward. MM

Visit Meet the Patels‘ Kickstarter campaign here to donate (soon, because it ends this week). The film is scheduled to open in theaters this August, courtesy of Alchemy.

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