A friend told me that the life of a film doesn’t really begin until after it premieres, and that I should plan to dedicate at least another year towards bringing it to the world. Sure enough, a year and change after our festival premiere at the Slamdance Film Festival, I’m preparing for the Los Angeles theatrical release, through Slamdance Studios, of my first feature documentary, Bible Quiz, followed by Netflix, DVD and other platforms.
It all started when I was hanging out with my brother, Chris, during my spring break from NYU, who told me his Bible Quiz team had a shot at winning the Bible Quiz National Championship that year. I met Mikayla Irle (the protagonist of the film) later that week while filming the district competition and immediately knew she would be a big part of the film. As we are both young women, Mikayla and I connected immediately, building a relationship and trust in “girl talk” style interviews. After three years of shooting and editing, I had a film: a coming of age story following one teen girl’s quest to win the Bible Quiz National Championship while navigating the trials of being, well, a teen girl.
Next came submitting to major film festivals. This rigorous process of writing emails, mailing envelopes, watermarking DVDs, filling out forms, paying hefty fees and anxiously waiting acceptances/rejections reminded me a lot of applying to college—except that one generally does not apply to over 150 colleges throughout the year. I started by applying to the big festivals to see where we would premiere. When I got the acceptance call from the Slamdance Film Festival, I was walking through an airport and let out an embarrassing squeal.
We could not have premiered at a better place. Slamdance was a perfect fit. Not only were the usual suspects of a top-notch fest present—press, distributors, industry, etc.—but the vibe was inviting, rather than a tooth-and-nail rat race. Everyone there—other filmmakers, programmers and staff—were down-to-earth and helpful, and everyone wanted everyone to succeed. It became like a family as we experienced firsts together, cheered one another on and hung out with one another throughout the festival circuit.
Getting into a prestigious film festival is just the beginning, though. Immediately after the lineup is announced you have to start greasing your elbows again. Your email inbox gets flooded and you have a lot of decisions and work ahead. What are your distribution goals? Do you want a sales agent? Do you want a publicist? Have you completed your online edit? How do you plan to deliver the film? Do you have all your music rights? This was an arduous process, but maximizing my film’s potential was worth the extra legwork and strategizing how to take the film off my hard drive and in front of audiences.
I wanted to capitalize on the buzz from our premiere at Slamdance and have it propel the film into a longer festival run with the goal of growing our reach in other markets and regions. For this reason, it was important to have screenings in various parts of the country. Besides Slamdance, Bible Quiz screened at the following festivals: Newport Beach, Waterfront, AMFM, Local Sightings, Kansas International, Tacoma, Ellensberg, Chagrin Documentary, The Church’s Making Movies, New Orleans, Laughlin International, Indie Memphis, Virginia, Santa Cruz, Northwest Filmmakers, United Film Festival San Francisco, St. Louis, Gideon’s Flame, Oxford, Spokane International, American Documentary, and Big Muddy. Each festival the film played at connected the film to a new audience. It gave me an opportunity to reach out to press, local colleges, film clubs, and churches and familiarize people with the title, even if they didn’t make it out to the screening. This takes a lot of time and work but it lays the groundwork and plants seeds for when distribution comes into play.
One crucial way I reached out to the audiences was through social media like Facebook. It’s never too early to start virally reaching your audience. Audiences found out about screenings through posts ‘Liked’ on their friends’ Facebook feeds. I learned to regularly “feed the beast” with updates and press to keep up the momentum of the film. Facebook used to be where I procrastinated; now I procrastinate going to Facebook.
Another way I reached audiences outside the film festival circuit was through being chosen as part of Slamdance’s “On the Road” series. This screening series showed Bible Quiz in theaters for one night in cities around America that do not normally have access to Slamdance films. Through this program we were able to show in Austin, Detroit and New York at prime theaters even before signing with them as our distribution partner.
Steven Beer was a fantastic agent and helped me expand our net, handle negotiations and determine the right distribution plan—which boy, in other words, we wanted to take to the dance. Throughout the festival circuit I had received a lot of distribution and sales offers and knew there were a variety of paths, each with their own merit. Not every filmmaker works with a sales agent and since this was my first film and I was new to the game, I found it helpful to suss out the options with an agent. Steven also introduced us to Sheri Levine, an international sales agent who has handled our distribution outside the U.S.
Deciding to go with Slamdance Studios (in partnership with Virgil Films) as our distributor made a lot of sense. They checked off all of our boxes and had already proved that they believed in the film, were familiar with its audience, were hands-on, and had the capacity to deliver (with the festival premiere, “On the Road” series, and thoughtful guidance throughout the festival run). Since Bible Quiz would be the first film they distributed at this level, I knew that it would draw attention to the film and that they would work hard to see it succeed. They take their motto “by filmmakers, for filmmakers” to heart. They went beyond their promised theatrical market and have worked with me to develop a strategy for bringing the film to audiences.
So I found that my friend’s words were true: What you do with the film after its festival premiere is just as important as what you do before. In a way, it’s like making a second movie… except the script is primarily composed of tweets and emails. MM
Nicole Teeny is an NYU film school graduate. She has also collaborated on several award-winning short films: a short zombie comedy “Special Report: Is Williamsburg Dead?” and short documentary collaboration “Flow On Through” about Cambodian water sanitation (now distributed by the World Bank). Her first feature documentary, Bible Quiz, world-premiered at the Slamdance Film Festival in January 2013 where it won the Grand Jury Award for Best Documentary. It opens theatrically in Los Angeles, April 25, 2014 through Slamdance Studios, continuing through the U.S. It will also be available on Netflix June 10.
To learn more about the film and where to see it next go to facebook.com/biblequizmovie