Director-producer Vlad Yudin’s documentary, Generation Iron (narrated by Mickey Rourke), follows the top seven professional bodybuilders in the world, training and competing to win the sport’s coveted title, Mr. Olympia.

The film, which Yudin self-distributed through his own Vladar Company in the fall of 2013, earned $850,000 stateside and over $1 million overseas. With Generation Iron’s director’s cut DVD released today, we asked Yudin to explain his success.

Generation Iron Poster

As a filmmaker I am always looking for constant control of my projects creatively and economically. When developing Generation Iron, my business partner Edwin Mejia and I put a lot of thought into a very thorough distribution plan, which would be both hands-on and profitable for us. We had looked into a couple of outside distribution companies, but we felt like what they were offering was not matching the potential of the film in our eyes. We thought hard about the offers – we really could have used them for marketing to save a little money on our end. But after each discussion, we continuously came to the decision to distribute the film ourselves, knowing fully how much work it would take to get that done.

Effective Media Partnership

We partnered up with AMI (American Media Inc.), publishing pioneers for large-scale bodybuilding magazines like Muscle and Fitness and Flex. This merger opened up many marketing capabilities for us – especially as AMI produces the Mr. Olympia competition in Las Vegas. By having all of that marketing reach in the bodybuilding world, the challenge became crossing all of that over into building an audience.

Selling to a Major National Theater Chain

Our first step to distributing Generation Iron theatrically was to book the theaters, which entails pretty much selling them your film. This process could get very scary at times, as we were competing with big studio films opening in wide releases. Our first call was AMC theaters. Getting a documentary into a theater chain such as AMC, we were told, was absolutely impossible, but we made the call anyway, and talked about all of the P&A we were doing with print and outdoor marketing. We had a lot of confidence in our own project, which AMC saw. So they booked us. We then could go to Regal, Showcase, National Amusements, and multiple chains within film-buyers The Film Group –  and they all booked Generation Iron.

Identifying the Right Regions

Even with all this success that the film was generating early on there was still a ton of work to be done. The next step was to go through each chain theater in every state and analyze where the best markets for bodybuilding were, and request those individual markets to open the film in. After preparing all of the individual theaters that our research showed would be best, we sent it into the local chains, which got us a very respectable number of theatres in all our desired markets. We ultimately opened in approximately 200 US markets including: Los Angeles, New York, Miami, Detroit, Chicago, Boston, Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, San Jose, and Denver.

Yudin on the set of Generation Iron

Yudin, left, on the set of Generation Iron

Fulfilling Marketing Costs

Once we had the theaters, we had to start getting DCPs for the trailer and the actual film delivered to the theaters in different states. Getting a film into any amount of theaters is very expensive: You have to get a rating, and all the marketing material must be approved by the MPAA, from one-sheets to standees inside the actual theater. A theatrical release calls for a ton of marketing inside and outside the theater. We channeled our marketing on television, radio, and outdoor billboards in major markets that we were opening in, which generated a lot of hype about the film before its release date.

With all of this work being put into this process we had to push just as hard once it was released in order to, make back all of the funds. While Generation Iron was in theaters, we were constantly working on booking more theaters. We reached out to other chains, independent theaters, and scheduled certain events outside of theaters for our fans. We pushed ourselves to make this film one of the highest grossing documentaries in the United States in 2013—and we succeeded!

Today the Vladar Company is expanding our production slate and are aggressively acquiring films for theatrical and digital release. What has made us different as a distribution company is the fact that we are independent filmmakers and we understand and respect both the films that we acquire, and their audience. For me, it wasn’t about deciding whether I wanted to be on the creative side or the executive side: I wanted it all. Moviemaking is a complete process – from the idea that leads to the script, all the way to its release on the big screen and beyond. My goal is to bring films to its full potential and never cut corners. And if you can show the world that your project is worthy, then you are truly winning. Never, never, never give up! No matter what. MM

For more information on Generation Iron, visit the official website here.