We thought we'd put together a post talking about how the distribution plans for the film are coming together. In no way a complete or exhaustive discussion about the options and factors going into the distribution discussion, but we think it touches on the major points.
Fair warning: It's a long one.
From Day One, this film has been created with a independently-minded, do it yourself mentality - not so much because of any particular philosophical stand (i.e. we’re not against ‘the Man’) but because an independent mindset & execution made the most sense at the time, for ourselves, and for the project. In short: We went independent because it was the best way to actually get things done, in the way that we wanted to make this film. It made the most sense.
That same thinking applies to this tour. In a few ways...
1) The Spirit of the Film: From the very beginning, we always thought that we wanted to kick off IGTM’s release with a screening tour (with some festival appearances mixed in). Indie Game: The Movie is all about creating and the struggles that go along with that. These struggles are universal, but at the time when people are going through them, it can feel anything but a common experience.
We absolutely love the idea of using this film as an way (an excuse?) to bring creative people together in a room to watch the film, meet each other, exchange stories and have a shared experience. In the same way that a game jam can connect, inspire, and forge camaraderie, we wanted to see if we could achieve a bit of that with the screenings.
So, in that way, compared to doing a week-run in a few larger centers, special screenings with us and the guys in the film (where possible), wrapped up as an event seemed to really fit with the spirit of the film.
2) The Business/Rollout of the Film:
It’s one thing to plan your distribution as a Kickstarter-born film made by two people, but it turns into a completely different conversation when that same film becomes a Sundance award-winning movie optioned by HBO.
But the odd thing is, though that conversation completely changed, the end result/decisions were remarkably similar.
All throughout making this film, we have been taking notes and multiple cues from the world of independent games. In many ways, we treated this film like an indie game - from the preorders (Wolfire was a direct inspiration), the production (small team, multiple hats, leveraging technology), the communication strategy (our videos & blog served like an open beta of sorts).
That mentality worked pretty well for us up until this point. So, it seemed to make sense to embrace indie-thinking with the film’s eventual distribution. I mean, it’s hard not to spend 18 months filming hard-working, talented people pouring themselves into their projects, keeping it independent & achieving all of goals in a huge way; it’s hard not to film that and NOT be inspired to think the same way. We spent 2 years talking about and to indie success stories. In many ways, the rollout blueprint seemed to be right in front of us (in a way).
However, it would be silly as an official Sundance selection and not consider the avenues that that opens to a film. The people involved in that Sundance/distribution ecosystem have been doing this for a long time, have serious connections and certainly know what they’re talking about. We were very aware of this.
So, going into Sundance, we were open to everything. This whole experience has/is a huge learning opportunity for us, so if someone had a pitch for Indie Game: The Movie, we wanted to hear it.
But, we also had an idea of the goals we could achieve if we continued with an independent mindset. So, for us to sign on with a traditional distribution deal of any sorts, it would have to be compelling enough to replace what we were currently thinking, or be flexible enough to compliment what we wanted to do on our own.
Our main concerns regardiing the film’s distribution were:
- Flexibility: This is a digital film in every sense of the word. We know it’s going to be consumed digitally by people who like things the way they like it. Many conversations started with talk of (excessive) DRM, blocking certain country regions, platform exclusivity, etc. All things that can make sense for certain films, but not this one.
- Reasonable Release Date: You know how you read about Sundance films making a big splash at the festival, but you don’t get to see them in a theater until 8-12 months after that? We didn’t want that. We are fully aware that a lot of people following the film have already put in their 8-12 months. We need things to move a bit quicker than it would normally. Note: This is not to say we are rolling out instantly. There is still A LOT of work ahead of us, and the film’s reach will grow with a strategic, timed roll out. But we want to ensure that it’s more timely than a traditional distribution deal would allow.
So, while at Sundance we had many meetings with a lot of very smart, very nice people. Some were pretty good, while others were a little less than compelling. All of them were exceptionally flattering; we know how fortunate we are to even be having these talks. Believe me, this is not something that is lost on us.
From those conversations, we assemble a rough impression of how indie films generally roll-out in a Sundance-like situation:
Films will play festivals for 6 months to a year or more. At those festivals, distributors will pick up certain rights (TV, Theatrical, DVD Digital) in certain areas of the world. Often, the distributor will organize the theatrical roll-out. They will spend money advertising the film and book it in theaters for week long runs. Typically, this process takes about 6 months to organize. The film will play for a week(s) in theaters. Sometimes the films make money theatrically, often they lose money. In many ways, the theatrical run is viewed as de-facto marketing campaign for the eventual DVD/Digital release. In most conversations, a theatrical run was viewed as a money-losing proposition.
Then, sometime after that screening period, the film is released digitally. There are restrictions for this. Some platforms you have to do first, and others you can add later. After a period time on some digital platforms, then film is released on DVD.
Overall, the entire process is quite regimented, and carved into specific time/platform ‘windows’ are arranged to overlap each other as little as possible in order to expose the film to as many people as possible.
There is nothing wrong with this strategy / mode of thinking at all. There is a reason why this is the ‘traditional’ approach. It makes a lot of sense, for many many films. However, given the situation of IGTM, it never felt right.
We were offered a few distribution deals that looked to take the film in this direction. But given the goals of the film, it didn’t make sense. And after some pretty heavy, exceptionally stressful deliberation, we turned down these offers one by one.
It was hard.
Leaving Sundance, we had a lot weighing on us. It was great experience, but at times, totally stressful. The entire festival operates at a kind of fevered pitch. Between screenings, interviews and meetings, you’re physically and mentally pulled in A LOT of directions. And when it comes to distribution, a lot people want you to make decisions on the spot. As a result, there can be this tendency for this overall feeling of ‘if you don’t do this, right now, you’re gonna blow it’ to sink in.
After a series of these type of high(er) pressure high(er) stakes meetings, it’s very easy to feel that you’re not capable of doing it on your own, that you’ll make big mistakes and blow this opportunity. In short: your film, your baby, is better off with others than it is with you. And that’s something that no parent likes to hear.
After a week of distance from Sundance, we thought a lot about our goals, our film and the offers, and we decided to go with our gut and self-distribute in the US. It’s an exciting and scary thing.
But, we are taking inspiration from some great filmmakers, Gary Hustwit (Helvetica, Objectified, and Urbanized) who has toured and self-distributed all his films, and Kevin Smith, who toured his film Red State. (You can watch his speech about his decision from 2011 Sundance here). So, though the self-distribution road is far from an easy & well-traveled one, we do have some pretty fantastic people blazing the trails for us and giving us directions when we need.
We made that decision 2 weeks ago. Since then, we’ve been on our computers, working the phones, and trying to pull together a tour ourselves - with the goal of mounting the tour as fast as possible, so we can release the film digitally as fast as possible. It’s ambitious thing to do for two people. We’ve actually, as of Tuesday, brought on a friend to help us out. So, now we’re now three people. But, when this film is playing at a theater is literally the result of one of us picking up the phone and calling that theater (and every other theater in the area) and making the arrangements. There’s no magic going on here.
Adobe: Sometime in the booking frenzy of the last two weeks, some folks at Adobe contacted us. They heard about the film and wanted to screen it for their team. So, we chatted. We talked to them about film, what we were doing, planning a tour, wanting to make it a series special events. They were like, “we can help with that!”, which was totally unexpected and incredible to hear.
Having their support is a giant help. It means we can personally share the film in more cities, in a better way than we could’ve if completely on our own. We don’t have to sell the film or raise tons of money to have the film seen in a theater. It means we can have the film out faster than we could have had we taken one of those offers. And, it means, we can control the release ourselves.
Plus, it’s a great fit - we used many an Adobe product making this movie, and many of the subjects in the film got their game-making start using Adobe Flash. So, it makes a lot sense that they’re helping us bring this film to more people.
So, that in a rather-longwinded-yet-somehow-still-incomplete nutshell, is how we got here. But, we couldn’t be more excited for it all. We’re packing our bags, gearing up for a few month adventure of screening the film (and booking the events as we go). It’s funny, to think we’re back to where we started, 2 people on the road. But, this time, you’ll all be there, too. Hopefully!
- Lisanne & James