Yesterday on the Film Independent blog, we spoke with producer Jennifer Dubin about the harsh realities filmmakers sometimes face when it comes to distribution. If no one will release your movie the way you want it done, it’s up to you to do it yourself.
Other times, a film is a hit with audiences from the moment it screens.
“We always felt that if we could get an audience in front of this movie, that it’s got a chance,” said Ravi Patel, who stars in Meet the Patels and co-directed the film with his sister Geeta Patel.
The film, a docu-comedy about Ravi and Geeta’s parents’ determination to find Ravi a wife, had its US Premiere at the 2014 LA Film Festival, where it won the Audience Award.
“Every show was packed,” said Geeta Patel.
“And to see an audience in LA love your movie is a big deal,” said Ravi Patel. “Because people in LA get invited to eight movies and eight improv shows every day. And then to pack the house like they did for us every single night?”
Among those who saw the movie that week were their eventual agents at UTA. Those agents helped them secure a distribution deal with Alchemy. Today Meet the Patels hits theaters in Los Angeles, New York and Chicago.
Adopting a grassroots approach
What started as a home video of a family vacation has become a major motion picture with a nationwide release. But just because things fell into place nicely, doesn’t mean the Patels were able to rest on their festival laurels.
Finding a distributor that made them a part of the process was one of their chief concerns. “They brought us in and said, ‘What do you guys feel?’” said Geeta Patel, “And we said, ‘Okay, this is everything that’s on our minds.’”
“By the time that we did get a deal, we knew our film and its audience,” said Ravi Patel. “You do enough festivals, you do enough Q&As and interviews, you eventually get a sense of what’s happening.”
And the Patels went to greater lengths than most to get to know their audience.
“Ravi had this great idea that every time we have a screening at a festival we pass around a clipboard and get everyone’s email address,” said Geeta Patel. “So every time we go into a city, we’re going to have members of the film community there. We’re just thinking about it in a very grassroots way.”
Add to the list their parents’ connections to the Indian-American communities across the country, and that’s already a number of people spreading the word about their film.
Following their hearts
Geeta said this strategy of getting out into the communities and getting people talking started at the beginning of their festival run. In the lead up to their world premiere at HotDocs, experts told them they’d be wasting their time and money going around to grocery stores and banks hanging up posters and talking about the film. But they did it anyway.
“I think the biggest thing we learned was to follow our hearts,” said Geeta Patel. “Just because somebody tells you something and they’ve done it with a million films, doesn’t mean it’s going to work for your film.”
The Patels are continuing those same grassroots strategies as they roll the film out across the country over the next month.
Giving their subjects final cut?
Their method of listening to the voice inside also led them to some unconventional decisions when it came time to lock picture.
Instead of having their subjects—many of them friends and family—sign a release before seeing the film, consenting to the use of their image and their words, they screened the film for each of them, and if those friends and family members objected to anything they said on screen, it came out.
“We wanted to be really respectful to them and make sure that whatever ended up happening with this movie, that it was something that we could live with for the rest of our lives and our relationships with these people,” said Ravi Patel.
“They were giving us more trust than you would someone you don’t know,” added Geeta Patel. “If someone interviews you, you’re on your guard. You say what you need to say. But when it’s your brother or sister, you trust them to take care of you. And so for us, that was an extension of us taking care of them. And in making a film about family and how important relationships are, we felt like we would be crazy to then compromise our relationships.”
While they said there were a few lines that were removed in this process that they wished they could have back, neither of them thought that the film suffered from this policy. Many times throughout the process family was their greatest asset.
“There’s a lot of power in working with family,” said Geeta Patel. “Because you’re going through it together. And you find that survival energy much more quickly and easily when you’re with people that are on your team. Like when one person gives up, the other three people are like, ‘No, no. Get back up. C’mon.’”
Tom Sveen / Film Independent Blogger