Mon 12.23.2013

GREETINGS FROM THE TRENCHES: What I Learned About D-I-Y Distribution By Touring With My Film in the Back of My Truck

It didn’t take long after finishing my first indie feature for me to understand why my fellow filmmakers are so frustrated and disillusioned upon completing their films. After fielding offers from distributors, which were typically “all rights,” little or no advance, a 50K marketing fee, a 15% commission, and a minimum 10-year contract, I looked for other options—and there really weren’t any.

After giving it some thought, discussing it with friends, and reading a few marketing books, I created a truly grassroots marketing plan: a road trip.

I’m basically touring the country with the film—It’s Not You, It’s Me, an edgy relationship comedy starring Vivica Fox (Kill Bill 2), Ross McCall (Band of Brothers), Joelle Carter (Justified), Maggie Wheeler (Friends), Erick Avari (The Mummy), and Beth Littleford (The Daily Show)—hosting screenings at art house theaters, doing a Q&A after each, and really trying to connect personally with the audience, as a group and individually.

The screenings are “pay what you want.” Tickets are free and I pass the hat after the Q&A and encourage people to contribute to the tour if they enjoyed the movie. I’m also selling DVDs and other merchandise. The basic idea is to make enough from the screenings and merchandise sales to keep myself on the road while driving sales to the VOD platforms, mainly iTunes and Amazon, which have the most favorable revenue splits for filmmakers.

I'm also speaking to film classes along the way to help spread the word and perhaps help aspiring filmmakers. I've spoken at the University of Georgia, University of North Carolina at Ashville, University of South Carolina, Georgia State, and University of Tennessee to name a few.

Since October 1, I've done 32 screenings and I plan to stay on the road through 2014; The next leg will include Texas, Louisiana and Florida.

Nathan Ives

I got the film up on iTunes and Amazon on October 15th and should receive the first sales report any day now (they report monthly).  I think it will be a good six months before I can accurately assess if my efforts are driving sales. At the very least, it’s been a fantastic experience I’ve driven seven thousand miles in the past month. Some nights I sleep in my truck. I’ve found some wonderful people, great diners and fun dive bars. I've been very lucky in getting a number of radio, television, and print interviews, pitching the “grassroots tour” story, so word is definitely getting out. I've also met a couple of people I feel to be very solid, potential investors for the next project, who not only liked the film, but I think who were inspired by my never-say-die attitude about getting It's Not You, It's Me out there. I think the benefits of touring will go beyond potentially driving VOD sales.

For any filmmakers out there who share my gypsy spirit and want to try this, here are a few things I learned along the way:

Human interest stories get more press.
It's very difficult to fill theater seats. In one smaller town I handed out 400 flyers, looking people in the eye and inviting them to the screening. Four people showed up. TV, radio, and print to be much more effective, but this is no big secret and it's tough to get media spots. Hone an interesting story to pitch. To be honest, they didn't care that I'd done a film with Vivica Fox, but they were interested in the 'grassroots tour.

It helps to use aggregators.
I used BitMax in Los Angeles to get my film up on iTunes and found them to be very good. There are other approved Apple aggregators, and they all said it was a six-to-eight week process from the time they received the deliverables until the film is goes up iTunes. I tried to rush the process with Apple and it was like trying to light a match underwater. It took eight weeks. Plan accordingly.

Don’t be shy.
I'm a bit uncomfortable about promoting myself, but I've found that social media is much more active with a picture of me in a diner or with a group of students at a college than it is with information about a screening with a publicity still. Mix a personal fun story and picture with information about screenings or a request for an IMDB review.

Forget about vote-stuffing on IMDB.
Once It's Not You, It's Me was up on IMDB, it pretty quickly got 50 ratings with an average of 5.3 (not bad, not great. One of my favorites, High Fidelity, has a 7.5). I quickly emailed all of my friends and asked them to rate it, I've got great friends and they all gave it a “10.” The following week my 7.2 rating fell to a 4.1. IMDB has a “vote stuffing” system in place to keep people from raising or lowering their rating. I should have read about this. It's a fair, good system, and you get heavily penalized if you mess with it. Since then I've just let the ratings come in and the film rating is slowly climbing back up.

Make friends.
People really seem to respond to the personal touch, talking with them at screenings, having a beer afterwards, etc. Be sure to get an email from everyone you can and use a service like to keep your list. (They will help keep your emails out of spam folders). Imagine if you had 5,000 emails and they all gave $20 to a crowd funding campaign for your next indie film; That would be a pretty good start toward your budget.
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By Nathan Ives / writer/director, It's Not You It's Me