A First Time Filmmaker’s Candid Account of What Really Happens After You Finally Make Your Movie
by Matthew Perkins
It all started in October 2004. Two blue collar college students came up with a heartfelt idea for a movie and committed to make it, no matter what it took. Fast forward --> TEN YEARS LATER.
October 2014. That same blood pact, now an awarding winning film called The Little Tin Man, was released theatrically in New York City and nationwide via video on demand to critical acclaim.
I have always been super frustrated by the way these types of successes are condensed into storybook log lines. It’s not helpful for anyone.
“So you turned your concept into content and got it distributed. Good for you… BUT HOW IN THE WORLD DID YOU ACTUALLY DO IT?”
Everyone’s path is different, but when I started my journey over ten years ago, I had no idea that there would be no roadmap. Or signs. Or even pavement at times.
There certainly isn’t a single formula for getting a movie made. But once you beat the “resistance" (as Steven Pressfield calls it in The War of Art — highly recommended, btw), another set of challenges awaits.
I grew up reading the trades and hearing romantic stories about a few films being sold at Sundance and then premiering in New York and LA. But they were the exception to the rule, right? Anomalies. But...
“WHAT ABOUT THE REST OF US?”
To keep this article digestible, I am going to assume you’ve found a way to tell your story. It’s either “in the can” or “on the hard drive.” You’re at a point where you can look yourself in the mirror and confidently declare, “I did the best job I could with the resources I had available.” (For me, it was $100K raised on Kickstarter for an 18-day shoot). You’re now ready to put all of that hard work out into the world and you're resolved to make sure that as many people see your film as possible.
Here’s to hoping that you can glean something from my first-time experience with The Little Tin Man.
THE FESTIVAL CIRCUIT
After being rejected by a few of the festivals known for reporting film sales, we accepted an invitation to world premiere at the Seattle International Film Festival. But this wasn't a consolation. SIFF has a great reputation as an “audience festival” (rather than an “industry festival,” per se). And it proved to be a perfect fit. The Little Tin Man not only sold out BOTH of its screenings, but was “one of the most well received films from the 2013 festival” (according to programmer feedback).
I returned to New York excited and humbled by the film’s reception, but I didn't know what to do next. I had applied to other festivals, but was not hearing back. Months of silence went by. It really sucked actually. The doubt kicked in. “Was Seattle just a flash in the pan?” Then, out of nowhere, I began receiving screener requests from festival programmers. They had heard about the film and were curious to see it for themselves.
Over the next year, The Little Tin Man screened at nine more festivals around the country, winning both awards and the hearts of audience members, along the way. I was incredibly thankful for each opportunity and had an amazing time presenting the movie to each new audience. It’s so fulfilling to sit in the theater and witness a packed house react to your art in real time. And, with a comedy, it’s really easy to gauge whether or not it’s connecting (measured in laughs, of course).
The festival experience is also educational. Most festivals have panels and lectures about various parts of the industry that can be really insightful. However, the best part was meeting other filmmakers. I had the opportunity to compare war stories and learn from them, not to mention finding potential future collaborators.
GETTING “PICKED UP”
With more than 4,000 features submitted each year, Sundance certainly represents a healthy sample of the industry. Everyone knows the lottery of getting in (less than 1%), but then what about the odds of actually getting your film sold?
“If your film doesn’t get into a marketplace festival, are you just shit outta luck?”
No! You still have two options: 1) Hire a producer’s rep, OR 2) Shop it yourself.
In our case, we didn’t have a lot of money in our war chest (remember, it was a micro-budget movie!), but I decided to contact a few producer’s reps anyway… just to see what they had to say.
Someone with more experience advised me, “Ask how much the consulting fee is. Be honest that you can't afford it. Then ask if you can defer it to first income. It shouldn't be more than $5000. If they won't defer, it probably means they don't have sufficient confidence in the film. And ask about their expenses.”
I sent one rep a screener and he agreed to have a call with me. He was extremely complimentary of the the film. Said he thought it could have a cult following. Predicted that it would make at least six figures. Thought it could have a 20-screen theatrical run. When I asked for specifics, he wouldn't tell me his go-to distribution channels because he "didn't want me to get jinxed."
As for the upfront fee, I asked about deferment and he said he would defer $2500, but we would still owe him $5000. “It's in your best interest so I won't hold you back from taking a better deal.” (Um, excuse me?) I told him that we were literally falling over the finish line due to our lack of resources and he said he got it. "Well, you know where to find me.” Click.
So… on to Door #2.
We cold-called every distribution company we could think of, asking if they would be interested in the film. A lot of immediate rejections. “No stars? No thanks.” But, a handful did eventually request screeners.
And then we prayed.
With three legit offers on the table, we ultimately decided to sign with Gravitas Ventures for our VOD rights. They are known for acquiring a lot of titles, so we knew they had strong relationships with all of the major platforms.
Right out of the gate, they brokered a one-month exclusive streaming deal for The Little Tin Man with Time Warner Cable’s Vutopia, then followed this by launching the film on over 20 different VOD platforms nationwide, including iTunes, Amazon, and GooglePlay.
I kept asking myself: could we still do more to reach our potential audience?
To be continued in Part 2...
Matthew Perkins is a NYC-based filmmaker who gladly offers encouragement on long-gestating dream projects and hope-filled Kickstarter campaigns.
Follow Matthew on Twitter —> @_MatthewPerkins.