“A man once said there is no such thing as a film. The film does not exist; all that exists is a documentary on the making of a movie.”
These are the opening lines of my first film, Wild in Blue. A year and a half later I realize the words are applicable to moviemaking as a whole. We filmmakers must tell a story; where do we get these stories? We borrow from everything.
When executive producer Felix Lee and I set out to make Wild in Blue, we wanted to make a film that grabbed people’s attention, a film that stood outside the box. Our goal was simple: to stand out in an oversaturated independent movie marketplace. We decided, “The audience cannot be ambivalent about Wild in Blue. Love it or hate it, the audience needs to have an opinion.” The worst thing for a movie is if nobody cares that it exists.
Here’s how we made them care.
Step one was to write a visceral movie. Wild in Blue is the journey of a sexual sadist named Charlie who makes a habit of killing the innocent young women of his one-night stands. Using a camera, he tells us a story of murder, sex and madness as we watch his movie in the making. Told entirely from the POV of Charlie’s camera, he and his partner Ben, a submissive voyeur, go on an insane and erotic journey through the depraved streets of Hollywood. Unable to escape a traumatic memory of childhood abuse, Charlie lusts blindly for power and control until he happens upon a beautiful young woman named Ashley. He begins stalking her—to the beach, her apartment, going so far as to watch her sleep. His infatuation quickly devolves into obsession, then madness, and into something stronger: love. The lines of reality begin to unravel, with everything becoming blurred and indecipherable. Charlie can no longer understand if he is making a film or the film is making him.
Our sales agent, Matteo Lovadina of Reel Suspects, called us one day about the film’s success after a screening at the Cannes Market. We secured theatrical distribution in multiple foreign markets! This is incredible news, but Matteo says we need publicity in the United States. At home, we have yet to gain a foothold. People need to know the movie exists, and a trailer on YouTube and social media aren’t cutting it.
Publicity is finding the right story, the right angle, and if there isn’t a story, we needed to create one. So began our journey into what some call “guerrilla marketing,” but what we coined “terrorist marketing.”
We needed a controversial hook. We needed attention from the media. My mind went in crazy directions—maybe we break into a movie theater screening Hunger Games and switch out the DCP for one of Wild in Blue? People would talk about that! We weren’t worried about getting arrested, but that we weren’t thinking big enough. What was the story? Where was the conflict?
We decided the best angle was if somebody important says, “Wild in Blue is too edgy” or, “Don’t see this film.”
First things first—find a target, and then use them to make a story. It hit us that every billboard company needs to approve the images submitted to them. We remembered hearing about Regency Outdoor, a company that owns many of the billboards on Sunset Boulevard and is known to be “conservative” with their images. What if we submitted an image that we knew they would decline, just so we could get them to censor our movie? It couldn’t be obviously too edgy; we needed to find the line between an advertisement and a refusal. We took a still from the film—a hand slapping a girl’s butt—stamped “Wild in Blue” on it, added the credits, and our website. It had to be convincing.
The next day, our producer Alec Paul got on the phone with Regency Outdoor. The representative sent us a list of a few billboards they have available: $55,000, $45,000, $40,000 per month. We asked to go with the $45,000 option, and submitted the poster with the following email:
Dear [Regency Outdoor]
Please see our proposal for the billboard located at ******. Attached is the image we would like to have advertised. We are eager to move with this. Can you refer us to the printing company?
The last sentence was important to make it look like we were more serious than we were. We knew our indie film couldn’t afford a single $45,000 billboard. A few days later we got an email from the assistant at Regency Outdoor:
The boss wants to know if she can be wearing boy-shorts or boy-cut underwear instead. It’s too suggestive the way that it is. Let me know.
Yes! This was a start. We all chuckled to ourselves, devious little filmmakers that we were.
Dear [Regency Outdoor],
Thanks for getting back to me so quickly as I’d like to sign a contract for this billboard for Wild in Blue after I meet with my investors on Thursday evening in San Diego. Unfortunately, the image is taken directly from the film and can’t be altered. This is probably one of the most subtle and magnificent images from Wild in Blue and I wouldn’t want to compromise the director’s vision. I hope that you’ll reconsider using this image on the billboard as I think it will attract tremendous attention.
Can you explain to me how it is “too suggestive”?
I think it’s her position in small underwear that leaves her more exposed. I will explain to the owner your statements below and see if he will let it slide. In the meantime, I had charting put the board on hold. The owner is not reachable this afternoon. Have a great evening.
We had to push harder and make her turn this down. More pressure…
Dear [Regency Outdoor],
As I’d like to present a contract to two of my investors tomorrow for the billboard that we discussed for “Wild in Blue” on Sunset, I need to know if the graphics that we’ve proposed have been approved.
I suppose we’re just waiting to hear from your boss at Regency as to whether or not the image has been approved.
I’d like to know by the close of business today.
Hmm. What was the most offensive thing we could do? We sent them a screener for Wild in Blue, and within a day we got the following response:
I just heard back from the boss. His opinion is that you should pursue other sources for publicity on the Strip for now. Please try other companies like ACE Outdoor, Outfront (formerly CBS), or Clear Channel for Jan. 5th availabilities.
Sorry for the bad news.
We knew we could spin this at least enough to get people interested. We hit the phone. Who covers stories like this? Variety? Gawker? The Hollywood Reporter? The Los Angeles Times? We pitched them all the story and most seemed interested in the “indie film gets censored” angle. Was this enough coverage? Would enough people pay attention?
We knew somebody at TMZ, and we knew that TMZ likes celebrities. We dialed the phone. We told our contact about Regency Outdoor censoring us, and all the email chains to prove it; we told him that there was a celebrity angle, and sent him our racy image.
Two minutes later the phone rang. “I like the image. Now tell me who it is.”
“Well, you might not know her by name, but you know who she is—Daveigh Chase. She’s never done a role like this before, but she was the voice of Lilo from Lilo and Stitch. A former Disney star.”
“Holy shit, that’s a story, man! I’m going to run with this. Give me a few days.”
The article was printed by TMZ and got the attention of other media outlets: Fox News, World Wide News, Indiewire, and several European and South American magazines. It even got picked up in Turkey—you never know where PR can take you. (Alec also began receiving phone calls from Regency Outdoor. They knew what we’d done!)
We sent the clippings to Matteo and they helped him gather a few territory sales overseas. A few festivals programmers reached out to me to get a screener of the film. We were contacted by a group of financiers who wanted to put up development money for our next film, Electroboy. Filmmaking is a world where rules don’t exist and you can’t always see the end goal. Who would have thought a TMZ piece could have led to development money?
Movies are easier to make than before, but the casualty for this new generation is an over-saturation of content. So the question has become How do we stand out in a marketplace where thousands of movies are made every year? We have to get creative and take the risks that we hope will lead us to success. We were inspired by our predecessors, moviemakers who thought outside the box and created new ways to make movies. We did the same thing.
Moviemaking is about being crazy enough to believe that on the other side of a mountain, sitting atop a tree you can’t see, is a bag of money. Hike that mountain and climb that tree, for there is indeed a slim but very real chance that your efforts will lead you to your next film. MM
Wild in Blue screens at the St. Tropez International Film Festival this Sunday, May 10, 2015. This article appears in MovieMaker‘s Spring 2015 issue, now on newsstands.