God, Sex & Apple
Pie—what more do you need out of life, or a movie!” While
that quote from a critic was very nice, I can think of a few
things. Distribution, for instance. Distribution remains that
manna to all moviemakers; the chance to see your movie received
by audiences everywhere, not just confined to the film festival
circuit or a makeshift screening room in your basement.
Many of the trials and tribulations of making my first movie are
no doubt familiar to the readers of this magazine. But how I actually
reached the point of distribution for God, Sex & Apple Pie is
a different story. Like many other first-time indies, I didn’t
have the budget (or desire) to make an action-adventure flick.
I wanted to do something with an actual story and real characters.
You know, the kind of movie that is typically the hardest to sell.
This film was no exception.
It all started a number of years ago, when I wrote a script that
just needed to be made. It was the story of a group of friends
who got together for a yearly weekend reunion of partying and fun.
Only this time, major stuff was going down. This was not Peter’s
Friends or The Big Chill. This was a take on the current
generation—my generation—and an attempt to delve into the psyches
of these people. The stakes would be life and death for some, but
not without healthy doses of humor woven in.
After many rewrites, I began my search for money. Fast forward
several years and still no capital was raised. I then gave myself
an ultimatum. I declared that if I didn’t have the financing in
another six months,
I would pull together whatever I could and just start production.
And that is exactly what happened. In preparation for what I might “have” to do, I applied
for credit cards—26 of them. Hey, what’s life without risk, right? (I do not
recommend this for everyone—definitely not the faint of heart.)
I was adamant about shooting 35mm, so we did. I don’t regret that
decision at all; the movie was shot with a Panavision Panaflex
Gold and it looks awesome. But I knew the extra up-front cost meant
I would run out of money once shooting was over. And I did. (It
was an 18-day shoot, three six-day weeks and shot almost entirely
on location.) I now had to go find more money, but this time without
my Aunt Visa or Uncle Mastercard.
Eventually I raised enough financing to get it out of the can.
Finished and in severe debt, I was ready to embark on the third
phase of moviemaking: distribution.
I, like many, naively thought that with a good movie (assuming
it really was good), distribution should not be terribly
difficult. (Go ahead, it’s okay to laugh.) And that if you don’t
have stars or even semi-names in your cast, it’s probably not the
end of the world. (Go ahead, laugh again.) Of course, there was
a time as recently as the ’90s when one did not need stars in a
good independent film. But all that has changed. Distribution is
no longer a sure thing for good indies.
How then, did I do it?
With the movie completed—and rejected by the top three film festivals
in North America—I decided to test the waters and give just a few
domestic distributors a look. They all passed, of course. What
I kind of knew, but thought I’d test anyway, is whether domestic
distributors buy movies this way. They don’t. For them to buy,
the movie usually needs to premiere in one of the top festivals
in North America (or at Cannes), where acquisitions people actually
attend in numbers, and then only after a feeding frenzy between
their competitors has started. And even this scenario is
becoming increasingly rare.
I decided to go to the next level of film festivals.
I figured if I got into the right one, there might be one or
two acquisitions people in attendance. Not enough to launch a
feeding frenzy, but I didn’t care. I just wanted to make a deal.
Somewhere along the way, I remember hearing someone say, “Now
is not the time
to relax or slow down, but to work even harder. Now is the really
important, crucial time.” I don’t remember who said this, but I
wanted to shoot them. (And I don’t mean with a camera.)
So I sent entry forms and checks to many film festivals and began
racking up rejection letters. After about the seventh rejection,
I was getting really pissed. My movie wasn’t that bad.
|“…This resulted in print coverage
of the movie in nearly every festival it was in—from
a few paragraphs about to full articles. I was shocked that
most other moviemakers were not doing this.”
Finally, I got accepted to a festival and was even given the opening
night slot. I was stoked. But when the premiere of God, Sex & Apple
Pie finally came, it was a nightmare. Projection equipment
issues prevented the screening from even happening. The film didn’t
show until two days later. Any distributors who might have been
there (and one important one had RSVP’d), were gone now.
‘What part of Dante’s Hell is this?,’ I wondered. I must have
been really heinous in a previous life. A glutton for punishment,
I decided to continue on the festival route and began a strategy
of contacting press and building a kit. I reconciled myself to
the fact that it was extremely unlikely I would get the movie sold
on the circuit, but if I could build a “pedigree,” I may have a
shot when done.
At one of my early festivals, I browsed other moviemakers’ press
kits at the media table and saw one with a separate page of quotes
from various press. A brilliant idea, I mused, and began collecting
quotes for my own page. Most of the time at festivals no one is
going to write a full review of your movie for the local paper,
but they may say a few sentences about it. These become your critical
Continuing on the circuit, I began collecting some awards, which
was a nice salve for some of the bloody battles I had fought. It
was also validation for thinking my movie was decent and I was
not delusional after all.
One vital thing I did before each festival
was to call the press in the festival city. You can either get
the press list from the festival (many will provide this to you),
or research and put your own together. I’d find out who the print
media were, who was covering the festival for them and then speak
to those reporters or film critics. I would call three to four
weeks in advance for two reasons: one, because no one had written
anything yet; and two, because I’d be one of the first producers
calling and they would usually interview me. This resulted in
print coverage of the movie in nearly every festival it was in—from
a few paragraphs to full articles. I was shocked that most other
moviemakers were not doing this.
Upon arriving at each festival, I would put up posters everywhere
I could (ideally before the festival started) and hand out postcards
or promos of some sort. Having a presence, chatting with people
and hopefully bumping into reporters looking for a story were all
crucial to building buzz. I also contacted and pitched the local
television stations and got on-air coverage more than a few times.
My next step, after some awards and critical
acclaim, was to market the movie to the domestic distributors.
There weren’t any at most of the festivals I’d been in, so I
held a screening in Los Angeles and invited them all. I wasn’t
expecting anything serious to come of this, but thought I’d give
it a shot. I filled the theater with people who were not distributors,
and had a full house who had never seen the movie. The result?
The screening went great. I got calls the next day from two of
the mini-majors. Alas, I wasn’t able to “manage” this interest
into anything more than that. After all, this was not within
the confines of a high-profile, high-energy, festival atmosphere.
With no real bites and on my way to becoming
another cynical soul in Hollywood, I continued my festival circuit
travels. I won some more awards and got more press, but after
more than a year, declared “finito” and
no mas. I’d spent a small fortune and enormous time, but now had
a decent “pedigree” that I could market.
I decided the next best move was to pitch the
home video companies. I also hooked up with a television sales
rep who pitched the movie to various cable companies. Nearly
everyone passed. They all said they liked the movie, but “there are no names.” Yeah,
I know. I produced it. The bright spot in all this?
A couple of home video distributors did express interest, but either
their slate was currently full or they just couldn’t come to the
table right then. “Check
back in six months,” they told me.
The moment of truth for me and this movie finally
arrived. I knew that if I ever wanted this to not sit on my shelf
and collect dust, or be a fond “woulda-coulda-shoulda” memory
when I was 80, I would have to open the movie theatrically myself
in at least a few cities. And I would have to find more cash
to do this.
Despite being told it was a bad idea by some
high-level industry people, including one who literally yelled “Don’t do it!,” I
did it anyway. And after more time and money was spent, the positive
news was that I got some good reviews by recognizable critics.
Now I had a movie that had screened theatrically. Ultimately, this
made the final difference. I was soon able to close a Pay-Per-View
deal, and was introduced to a company that had a relationship with
Warner Brothers. That resulted in Warner Brothers Home Video distributing God,
Sex & Apple Pie on home video and DVD.
Certainly my difficulties in finding distribution
are not uncommon. But I believe there are two keys to getting
there. One is to build a critical mass of support through reviews,
accolades and awards. Then, get some theatrical exposure. Because
what one really has to do with distributors—even before “selling them”—is show them
they’re not wrong if they like your movie. The second key to
finding distribution? Have an unending supply of persistence and
perseverance and a high pain threshold for when that door keeps
slamming shut and breaking your nose. MM
For more info on the film, visit www.GodSexApplePie.com