To premiere your movie for the first time is an event. To premiere your movie in New York City is the holy grail. When The Wisdom to Know the Difference was accepted into the Manhattan Film Festival, I didn’t just get an email notification telling me to check my Withoutabox account. Hell no! I got a personal call from the festival director, Philip Nelson, himself.
Once accepted, there were a lot of things to do: setting up a home page on their ScreenBooker site; entering all the film information, promo pictures and trailer links. This was our gateway to our festival audience and we had to make the most of it. I was able to track live ticket sales immediately, and I watched as, ticket by ticket, we sold out the 150-seat room at the Quad Cinema in no time. (It actually held 162, so there ended up being some empty seats here and there, but that was a good thing.) Once sold out, we were given a second showing date. I delivered mounted posters to the theater; they put one in a frame on the wall, and the other was on an easel in the lobby area. (The two extra ones were never used but it’s good to have backup.)
The festival activities started with a press party at the 40/40 club (yes, the one owned by Jay-Z) in downtown Manhattan the night before the first day of screenings. The night spot is a hip club on 25th street by the famous Flatiron building, and by 9 p.m. the place was packed shoulder-to-shoulder. Filmmakers with lanyards hanging from their necks were introducing themselves to each other and passing out colorful postcards that they made specifically for their respective films.
I ended up with a nice collection of cards but, unfortunately, I didn’t get the postcard memo, so I just handed out business cards. (Note to self: Make promotional postcards for these events. They should be just big enough to fit in a jacket pocket… any bigger and people have to fold them in half. ) The club was very loud and also open to the public so having an extended conversation was trying on the vocal chords—but I met many very nice filmmakers who I am still keeping in touch with.
Meeting up with people before a screening could become a logistics problem, but the Quad Cinema (where all the screenings took place) was just a half-block away from a quaint little neighborhood spot called Bar 6. This was the suggested place to meet up in the festival literature, so I added it to all my invitations. Bar 6 was the perfect place to meet, get a drink, talk, or even grab a fast dinner. Then it was just a quick walk around the corner to the theater. After the showings we always went back to Bar 6 to hang out. Prices were reasonable and the food was good fare.
The Quad Cinema is a nice little four-plex, with a cozy old-school feel to it. The lobby was large enough to hang out in and take pictures in front of the step-and-repeat on the red carpet. The popcorn was good. The venue is intimate and feels like a private screening as opposed to a huge public showing. You only need to fill half the seats for it to feel full.
Theater staff were very nice and accommodating. I went down a few days early to see where my posters were going to go and I was able to schedule a meeting with the projectionist who spot-played my film in the theater just for me, and let me sit in various seats from front to back to decide on a sound level I was happy with. This was a huge confidence boost going into opening night. I knew it would look and sound great. One less thing to worry about!
We wanted to add something special to our event so we had the singer-songwriter who wrote the movie’s title song (Siobhan Magnus from season nine of American Idol fame) come in and perform the song live for the audience just after the screening. The festival and Quad Cinema staff allowed us to pull this off without a hitch.
All told, the Manhattan Film Festival was a great success for us. We had a huge turnout, Wisdom won Best Picture and Siobhan won Best Original Song. Everything you hope is true, is: New York City is a perfect place to open a film. MM
Marc Cerutti is the producer and editor of the feature film The Wisdom to Know the Difference, which premiered at the 2014 edition of the Manhattan Film Festival (June 19 – July 3, 2014).
Top image caption: (L-R) Marc Cerutti (producer/editor of The Wisdom to Know the Difference) Jose Ruiz (MFF co-founder) Daniel Baldwin (writer/director/star of Wisdom), Philip Nelson (MFF festival co-founder).