If you're planning to embark on a DIY theatrical run, you'd better be prepared to spend both time and money ensuring its success. Having just wrapped up the social media and audience engagement campaign on a multi-city DIY theatrical run for an independently produced documentary, we have plenty of data and strategic insights to support this claim.
And we're happy to share them with you.
What you'll find in the accompanying slide deck is a (title redacted) social media wrap report for an honest-to-goodness theatrical release from this past fall. Unfortunately, it does not include ticket sales data, which we don't currently have access to, but it definitely has enough actionable data (and recommendations based on this data) for you to use as a benchmark document when making decisions about the distribution strategy of your indie documentary film.
Though we offer sliding service rates commensurate with the budgets (and ambitions) of our clients, this particular campaign cost between $10,000 and $17,000, including social platform ad buys (Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube). This figure does not include press relations, publicity, travel & lodging for the film team, and other related costs. Based on experience, we would estimate that these additional services/costs would at least double the expenditures, placing them somewhere in the ballpark of $20,000 to $25,000.
With an average ticket price of $9.00 (across seven markets and varied screening times), you'd have to sell approximately 2,778 tickets to break even. With an average theater size of 150 seats, five screenings per day, and seven screening days per week-long run, you have the potential to sell 5,250 tickets IF all of the shows are sold out, every day, all week (which they won't be).
Now, let's assume that your weekdays can only accommodate three screenings (not five) and that you only sell 50% of the available tickets, on average, which is probably a generous assumption (in most cases), leaving you with: 27 screenings per week at 50% sale capacity for the potential to sell 2,025 tickets per week-long run.
The more we think about this, and the more variables we account for, the smaller that potential ticket sales number will become. And the only way to make it bigger is to begin engaging your potential audiences RIGHT NOW.
The more strategic, the more targeted, and the more data-driven your social marketing campaign is, the better your ticket sales will be (assuming you actually have a decent movie that isn't decimated by bad word-of-mouth and/or reviews).
One of the key takeways here is that you absolutely cannot ignore the audience engagement and marketing aspect of your film's release strategy. This should be built into your budget from day one because, unfortunately, you can't count on your distributor to have the know-how (or budget) to take care of this for you. And guess what? This is totally your responsibility. It might not be Christopher Nolan's or Wes Anderson's or Kathryn Bigelow's responsibility, but it's most definitely yours.
As we say here at Smarthouse HQ, indie film success is not just about making great films, but it's also about forging sustainable careers for today's generation of filmmakers. Own your audience engagement efforts and don't make their care and feeding an afterthought. It should be a priority, as they're the ones who are going to buy a ticket to your movie, tell their friends about it, contribute to your follow-up film's crowdfunding campaign, and keep the interest level up during the (sometimes long) stretches between project milestones.
You owe it to yourself, your career, and your audience.