Releasing in Cinemas
To play in cinemas
Completing a feature film under the age of thirty. That made me feel pretty damn good. Sometimes I wake up and remember it, in the same way that you often wake up and remember it’s a Saturday, and I feel fuzzy. And warm. And inspired to do more.
But to have the film play in cinemas? That is achievement in a whole other realm. I grew up going to the cinema. It’s a magical place with a big white/silver screen and loud sound that transports you to another reality. A reality where dinosaurs are alive (Jurassic Park) or sisters are in love (Frozen) or boy wizards defeat the Dark Lord (best series ever). It’s not typically the place you see your own face and body. Saying words you wrote.
Chronesthesia is a film we made with a very small crew. A crew of two, with a lot of help. Actors worked for free, people gave us use of their locations for free, and post production was carried out on my laptop, then for deferred payment to a big sound company. We played the New Zealand International Film Festival and enjoyed sold out sessions. A couple of months ago we got some pretty big news.
Chronesthesia has been selected for Austin Film Festival 2016. In the Narrative Feature category. Only SEVEN films out of 4,500 submitted are selected. And they chose ours. To play again on the cinema screen. In front of an audience who’d experience it as a collective conscious. WHAT A DREAM!
Seven Sharp, a NZ news show on primetime national television, interviewed me about it. They did a nice long piece that was seen all over the country. Word gets around and people realise they want to see this film. But how is that possible when the film isn’t playing in cinemas? It’s not available online either. So what’s the next step? How you can get your product to an audience? More than that, how can you have them experience it the way it’s meant to be seen?
Paramount cinema called me and told me they were pleased with the turnout of Chronesthesia playing at NZIFF. We were proud too. Still are. But this was different. Steve at the Paramount cinema was so impressed with its performance that he wanted to give it a general release. Now, this is great news. To have a cinema request to play your film. I received that phone call and I felt like I’d wrestled an alligator. Beat the odds!
I called my producers and they didn’t jump for joy right away. Confused, I asked them why. They explained to me that by agreeing to a general release at a single cinema, we’d effectively be self distributing the film.
‘Why is that bad? Why did you make that sound like it’s not a good thing?’ I asked.
‘If you self distribute your film, you’re giving up theatrical distribution rights.’
A-ha. That makes sense. And getting a distribution deal is the pot of gold at the end of the hard work rainbow. It means that someone else (a distributor) does all the promotion and marketing work. They have the money to get the word around. They have the know how and experience to be able to push your film to the right audience.
Okay, so we need a distributor
Let’s set about getting one. Well, easier said than done. How do you get in touch with these people? Especially in a small country like New Zealand! They’re well guarded behind layers of emails and assistants, surely. Not so. My producers had already contacted and forwarded a screener of the film to those in charge of making distribution decisions.
I’m sorry I can’t give more information about how to do this than that. Having not done it personally, I will raise my hands, back away and claim ignorance. My best advice to get in touch with distributors is to attach yourself to people in the know. Like I did. Thanks Steve and Kelly.
However, we had premiered at the film festival to overwhelmingly positive audience reviews and a strong reception. The iron was hot! Distributors weren’t biting. A few were humming and ha-ing about DVD release and VOD (video on demand) release, but there was nobody sitting in the front row extending their hands to grab the opportunity to put it into cinemas.
To be honest, this didn’t surprise Simeon or I. Or the producers. We never set out to make a big screen film, we set out to make an experience. Hell, Simeon even said in an interview that his reason for making the film with me was to see if we could pull it off. So this left us with a decision to make:
Wait for an answer or self distribute?
Waiting for an answer
- If a distributor took Chronesthesia on, they’d use their resources. Which means MONEY.
- Experienced distributors have knowledge we could only dream of. Demographic, marketing avenues, contacts. They’re people who know people.
- Time off. We could relax. The work would be getting done for us.
- An upfront fee. We get payment for the film rights which means we can pay some people back for their time and effort! The dream!
- The iron grows colder every day. Word of mouth will die without a release strategy.
- Lack of control. The distributors, as they know better, have final say on decisions being made.
- An upfront fee means the distributor gets a hefty chunk of profits.
- Costs. Marketing, printing, distribution itself; these things cost. Expenses have to be recuperated before any profits roll down.
- We choose the cinemas we get in touch with.
- We make the deal. We make sure we’re happy with the deals being made.
- We know where every cent goes.
- Full control of marketing and promotion.
Our decision became pretty clear. Work doesn’t scare us.
While still holding on to hope that a local distributor would see enough promise in the film to invest time and money into a VOD or DVD release, we started contacting cinemas. Paramount was a done deal. Academy cinema in Auckland where I tested the DCP, they were on the list (spoiler: they said yes!). A number of other boutique cinemas around the country were also on the list.
We made a spreadsheet (I love spreadsheets) about which cinemas we wanted to contact and what stage of communication we were in, and we set about emailing an calling. Well, I say we but I mean Kelly. The result means that we are releasing Chronesthesia in a select few cinemas around the country. This doesn’t harm any international deals we are yet to make. Once the Austin Film Festival happens, word will start spreading through North American about this incredible independent film from New Zealand about love, sex and time travel of the brain. The American Film Market in Los Angeles is in November and Steve, our producer, is attending.
In the meantime, New Zealand audiences get the chance to enjoy Chronesthesia in cinemas before the rest of the world see it, and before it’s available online, which ever film inevitably is.
Who knows, maybe we’ll even make a few dollars to start paying back the hard working souls who had belief in us from the beginning. They deserve it.