CASE STUDY: BAGHEAD
Director: Jay and Mark Duplass
Producers: John E. Bryant, Jay Duplass, and Mark Duplass
Budget: $60,000 (in the can); approximately $200,000 (delivered)
Production: Austin, Texas, 3 weeks
Shooting Format: 1080i HD and Panasonic HVX 200
Screening Format: 35mm
World Premiere: 2008 Sundance Film Festival
Development and Financing
Mark Duplass says, “Jay and I, we write a script and we cast our friends who are actors. The films are designed specifically to be shot cheaply and easily.” Jay and Mark Duplass self-finance everything. As a result of their previous film’s success (Puffy Chair), they received writing jobs in the Hollywood system (spec scripts, selling pitches, and writing for studios — some of which they will direct). With that money, they were able to make Baghead. “It took me and Jay three or four days to write the first draft of the script,” Mark says. “And then a year and a half to figure out how to end it.” “There was a time during the summer of 2006 when Puffy Chair was being released that studios were willing to help us make Baghead,” Mark says. “But we didn’t like the idea of movie about non-successful actors being played by successful actors. And we wanted to make it fast, so we decided to make it ourselves.” The production budget was approximately $60,000. The filmmakers spent nearly $70,000 more on preparation for Sundance (film print, publicist, plane tickets, etc.) and an additional $70,000 $100,000 for deliverables.
Baghead was shot in October of 2006 in the woods 40 minutes outside of Austin, Texas. They didn’t get any permits for the shoot and every member of the small cast and crew served as semi-producers helping to complete the film.
Festival Preparation and Strategy
The Duplass brothers were always planning on premiering Baghead at Sundance because of the success they had there with Puffy Chair and their two previous short films. At the start, they were hesitant about hiring a publicist. They wanted to keep the film quiet and make it a surprise. Mark: “Why would you hire someone to keep it quiet?” But in the end, they wanted to make sure they did everything they could to sell the film, so they hired publicist Jeremy Walker. “Jeremy is a whiz kid in the business,” Mark says. “He’s smart and creative and he has a good relationship with the press.” They paid Jeremy a standard publicist’s fee (in the range $5K–$20K, for Sundance services). They also hired Josh Braun from Submarine Entertainment as their sales agent. They have known Braun for years and noticed him rising from mostly B-level sales in the past to A-level sales in recent years and were confident in his skills.
Mark: “He’s the best sales rep out there.” Josh gets a fee 10% of all sales – some sales reps charge more, some less. But Mark feels it’s worth paying your rep a few extra points if they are working hard for you. The team decided that screening the film later in the festival would be a creative strategy. Hearing that the 2008 crop of films was not as strong as years past, the Duplass team hoped those early films wouldn’t sell and that buyers would be hungry by the time they saw Baghead. The strategy worked. After the first screening, Braun advised the brothers to keep themselves out of sight while he promoted the film for a few hours on his own. He wanted all of the buyers to think Mark and Jay were in a room somewhere, making a deal. “For the next 72 hours, it was like playing James Bond,” Mark says. “Buyers were making deals with us in parking lots at four in the morning in their pajamas. There is a game of misinformation that is fun, but everyone is in on it and aware of it.”
Approximately ten serious buyers were left at the end of the festival. Three serious offers were made on Baghead, and one offer was from three separate companies. Eventually they went with Sony Pictures Classics because they had the most enthusiasm, the most up-front money, and the best guarantee for how many theaters they would screen the film in. “We love the guys. Love their movies,” Mark says about Sony. “It took us about 24 hours to make the deal, but we pretty much knew we wanted to go with them as soon as we first spoke.” The sale was in the mid-six figures. It was an advance and 90% has been paid off since they delivered the film, as they still owe a few items to Sony. The Duplass brothers will make some money, but not as much as they thought as a result of the high cost for deliverables. Sony owns the film for 25 years and Mark and Jay will take a fair portion of the backend. The deal was fairly standard and negotiated by Braun. Paul Brennan at Sloss Law did their legal work. “We didn’t fuss a lot over the points since they gave us a really good deal on the advance,” Mark says. “Once you try to start to negotiate with Sony, they can drop you within an hour. Things happen really fast up there. They have to hold true to their threats in order to maintain their reputation.” Mark explains that they were not on the phone while the deals were being made. Braun would negotiate with Sony and then get back to them. They were only involved in the initial meeting before the deal was official. Sony was also responsible for booking Baghead into many festivals after its Sundance premiere to help promote its summer release. It played SXSW, Tribeca, LAFF, Newport Beach, Maryland, Washington DC.
Baghead was released in Austin, Texas on June 13 in two theaters. It opened next in Portland, Oregon on July 4, and then in New York and Los Angeles on July 25. The slow and steady release was intended to create buzz in the beginning, but the filmmakers felt that it didn’t make a huge difference in the end. “Baghead didn’t do as well as Puffy Chair in Austin, even though a great deal more money was spent on the marketing for Baghead,” Mark says. “But the press on the movie was really great, even better than Puffy Chair which we didn’t think was possible.” Jay and Mark have already done press junkets in over 25 markets. So far, the film has opened in 25 cities and it has 100 left to go until the theatrical run ends October 30. The DVD is scheduled to be released on December 30. Starz will take TV rights, paying a fee based on the final box office numbers.
Advice from the Filmmakers
Mark: Make a lot of very cheap, short films early on in your career. They are probably going to be bad, so if you spend your time and money on expensive long films, you will get depressed and might not have the courage to keep going. Make the films funny. Festivals always need comedies under five minutes, and they will program you constantly. Nobody wants to program 30 minute dramatic films. Jay and I constantly get asked specific questions about our marketing strategy, how we sell our films, how to get an agent — and our answer is always that with the craftiest maneuvering in the world, there’s a chance you can make a good movie do well. But if you make a great movie, you can throw it out your window and someone will find it. If it’s great, it will be seen. Focus away from the business side and focus on what you’re doing (the art). Take care of your craft, and don’t worry about the marketing and business.