Conversations

Got together with Olga Valanos, producer of Generation Red Nation, to chat about the ins and outs of independent film distribution.  We’ve got different pathways – her movie is a documentary, mine is a narrative feature – but it all comes down to similar things: film festivals, identifying potential interest groups that will support what your film is about, seeking out individuals who are connected in some way to the film industry who might be able to help.  Upshot: it’s a lot of hard work, no matter what, and it’s important to find ways to keep your spirits up while continuing to put one foot in front of another.

Also spoke with Jacob Roebuck, who is finishing post production on his second film, Camp.  For his first film, he set up screenings in about ten cities.  Some of the screenings were very well attended, others weren’t, but as a result of this he got a distribution deal that wasn’t so great but brought in a little cash.  Now, with the same distributor, the deal is somewhat better, and may become a lot better because of his own efforts.  His movie has a Christian theme, so he is going to use a network of churches to help distribute the film.  He’s remarkably energetic and focused, and has a great business mind, so is doing a kind of meld between traditional distribution and his own thing.

My third “conversation” was via e-mail, with Norma Smith, who attended the Taos Writing Retreat for Health Professionals, an annual retreat I co-created and directed for twelve years.  I showed Warrior Woman the summer Norma was there, and now she ordered a DVD and contacted me about possibly getting some screenings together in the Bay Area.  Norma heads up The Edge of Each Other’s Battles Project, which brings together academic and community-based projects that work toward social change.  The title of the project is a quote from Audre Lorde, poet, educator, and activist who ultimately died from breast cancer, and whose work was an inspiration to me when I was first diagnosed.  I’m honored that Norma wants to put some energy into getting Warrior Woman into the wider world, and our conversation about how best to do this will be ongoing.

A lot of people have told me that the reason nobody knows what to do about distribution of independent films is that a “right way” doesn’t exist these days and each film finds its own path.  I have decided to enjoy whatever this journey brings me

TV

Had a lot of fun taping a segment of New Mexico Media Makers, a new show on UPublic TV that will begin broadcasting later this month.  They have a terrific studio in downtown Albuquerque and are a welcoming group of people – producers Shelley and Mark, presenters Mike and Catharine, and everyone helping with technical support.  The other guest was Olga Valanos, producer of Generation Red Nation, a documentary on the state of the Native American community, on and off the reservation.  She, too, is embarking on the distribution process, so we’re planning on having a conversation.  Great to be on a TV show that is devoted to media matters.  Fun was had.

I have to admit to a little thrill every time I go on PayPal and see that someone has ordered a DVD….

Sold Out

We sold out at the Guild Cinema for all three nights of the screenings.  It was lovely to see all the people there – faces both familiar and unfamiliar.  The cast and crew members who participated in the Q&A sessions all contributed to the good ambiance of the evenings.  And we raised $368 for Cancer Support Now, the non-profit group that provides a whole variety of support services to people with cancer and their loved ones.  So, a big success.  Thank you, Albuquerque!!

And we’re selling some DVDs, too – lots (at a deep discount!) after the screenings, and more now through the website.  Only 20,000 more before we break even!

So the big question at this point – what’s next?  There are a few things coming up:  I’ve been asked to appear on a public access TV program, NM Media Makers, this coming week, and there’s a possibility of a screening Santa Fe.  Beyond that…. ???????

It would be nice to go around the country showing the film at art houses in various cities, partnering with cancer and domestic violence groups…  But how feasible is it, really?  Here, we had friends of the movie, friends of me, a pre-existing group of fans, and we did a lot of local publicity (thank you Dovya and Carolyn!).  Don’t know what it would take to attract a big enough crowd in a strange (to me) place, or whether it’s even possible to do it in a cost effective way.  Word of mouth seems to be the best way to get people interested in things, so how best to do that?  Trying to figure it all out…

But for right now, it feels good to have had this one event.  Lots of great feedback on the film from people seeing it for the first time, and people seeing it again.  Fuels the willingness to continue.

 

 

Nerves

“Are you excited about the screenings?”  Yes!  But strangely nervous, too.  Why?  I’ve screened before – cast and crew screening, a couple of festivals, a couple of universities.  Maybe this is because it’s the first “real” screening run for the general public – box office!  Plus the DVD coming out, and logistics re providing table space for our community partners (Cancer Support Now and The Domestic Violence Resource Center) in the very small lobby at the Guild…   I worry that no one will show up, and then that too many people will show up and have to be turned away… and then that nobody will show up…

It amazes me how, when I feel like I’m doing nothing, “nothing” becomes so time consuming: providing someone with production photos, sending out announcements, designing a flyer, gathering items for Facebook, checking to see whether the paypal scanning device works with the iPad, needing to get a version of something I want to project onto a DVD that works in a DVD player rather than a computer.  Nothing, really, though it adds up.

But that’s stress.  The nerves are still underneath.  So maybe it’s just getting the film out into the world again.  Will people like it?  That stuff.  The usual.   Two more days.  Am taking deep breaths.

 

 

Commotion

Lots going on.  Getting ready for the screenings at the Guild Cinema Jan 19-21.  Getting ready to sell the DVD through the website.   Getting some great prep help through Dovya Friedman and Carolyn Tobias at DLF Branding, plus Rebecca England of DragonLee Designs.  Actually, my head is spinning a little.

We had to go back and forth with a lot of details getting the DVD together.  Thought we had it right, but when we got the check disc back from VE Associates, who are replicating the DVD, it turned out that we’d missed some aspects that still weren’t working correctly, so we made some changes and sent it back (thank you David Garcia!).  All this has to do not only with the content of the DVD – movie plus special features – but also navigation – how you go from “movie” to “chapters” and other features and back again, and menus and submenus and navigation buttons on various computers, and remotes on various DVD players…  Anyway, complicated, but now it finally all checks out.  We’ll have the DVDs in time for our screenings, and shortly afterwards will be able to ship them through the website.

And the screenings…  Asking people to step out of their busy lives long enough to come out to the movies.  Getting out the information via e-mail, social media, physical flyers and postcards, phone calls, interviews on radio and TV…  Did two short TV segments with NM Style and Good Day New Mexico, just a few minutes each.  I have to say, I prefer being behind the camera to being in front of it!  Two radio interviews coming up – one in Santa Fe with Stuart Goswick on Cinema Scope on KSFR, and one with Megan Kamerick on Women’s Focus on KUNM.  Those will be more conversational, and I can wear my usual casual getup.

Have been inviting cast and crew members to participate in the Q&A sessions following the screenings, and it’s great to reconnect.  Plus forging a lovely new bond with Cancer Support Now, who sponsor the support group I attended almost twenty years ago (still going strong) and lots of other peer-support services for cancer survivors and their loved ones.  They’re getting the word out about the screenings, and we’re contributing half our take for the Sunday night screening to them.

Preparations.  Details.  People asking me if I’m getting excited about the screenings.  Yes!

DVD

Slowly getting the DVD together. Corey Weintraub (my wonderful Director of Photography) and I recorded a commentary track with Tor and Kat of Hear Kitty, who did our original sound editing. We’re gathering and editing some interviews Turtle O’Toole did with some of us during production. My husband Bill designed a DVD cover using the fabulous poster image that David Garcia of Halflife Digital created for us. David is designing the label for the DVD itself, and the menus, and is the person who’s going to bring it all together. Sheri MacNutt researched and pushed for closed captioning, which we are now doing. CK Barlow, our composer, is creating a music loop for the menu page. Meanwhile, Brooks Walch is re-designing the web page to accommodate DVD sales once we’re ready to go. “Put out a DVD.” It seems so simple, but it’s not!

I never thought I’d get this far into Marketing World. NOT my area of expertise. Some days I deeply want to say, “YOU do it!” Though, of course, I don’t know who “you” is, and the default is me.

I’m going out of town for 11 days, and won’t be in phone or e-mail contact. Kinda weird in the midst of all this commotion. I’m sure the world will still exist when I get back, though you never know…

 

Working

Have begun figuring out what to do and how to do it. I now have a wonderful assistant, Sheri MacNutt, to serve as Marketing Coordinator. We’re researching the best approach to producing a good DVD, with the aim of selling it initially through the Warrior Woman website (www.warriorwomanfilm.com). Everything, of course, requires decisions – should we include special features for the DVD (more time/expense)? What should those be? A “commentary” track? Closed captioning? What kind of DVD cover? How to design it? What about an image for the menu page of the DVD? Should it be animated? Music? What should we do about “chapters?” Then, once we get it produced, what’s the best way to set up a shopping cart on the website so people can buy it? Lots of work, and we’re doing it.

We’re also looking into theatrical screenings, researching the possibility of finding a booking agent to get us into appropriate theaters in a few cities, contacting some smaller theaters ourselves. For starters, we will have a local screening sometime a few months from now, and possibly have a screening at a theater in Maine.

It’s so great having Sheri on board. My own tendency is to get overwhelmed with too much decision and choice, and shut down, especially in an area of my own non-expertise (I’m not a marketer, I am technically challenged). I tend to fret, weighing one option against another similar but different option, and it’s easy to get mired down. A friend once said that her own approach is to pick something and go with it, and if it turns out to be “wrong,” then adjust from there. I’m trying to take on more of that frame of mind. Sheri helps, and so do my occasional meetings with Tom, a person who’s working on producing his first feature film. He contacted me awhile ago to pick my brains about making a feature, but I think he’s helping me more than I’m helping him. Although he doesn’t have experience, he does have the kind of energy, drive, and focus that are inspiring to me. We will muddle through!

Energized

Just heard from Circus Road Films that they’re tapped out – all the distributors they approached said “no.” So we’re launching into Plan B – self-distribution – and I’m feeling surprisingly energized, probably because this will involve doing something rather than just sitting around waiting.

I’d been thinking about this for awhile anyway, because I could see the handwriting on the wall. Distribution World is in disarray with all the streaming, etc. going on, and nobody wants to take a risk with a small, offbeat drama with no big stars. It’s a really tough sell out there, though I KNOW there’s an audience for Warrior Woman, and I intend to connect with it.

Have been having some preliminary self-distribution conversations with various folks, including a local producer who’s working on his own project, and am currently in the process of developing a strategic plan. This will involve posting the film somewhere accessible like Amazon, partnering with various women’s groups, looking into possibilities for screenings both locally and elsewhere.

Step One: Check out legalities – are we sufficiently copyright protected, etc.

Step Two: Produce a quality DVD

Step Three: Get local/national women’s groups on board as supporters

Step Four: PUBLICIZE

Meanwhile, today, on Studio 360, the topic was “A Golden Age for Women in Hollywood?” (http://www.studio360.org/2012/jul/13/golden-age-for-women-in-hollywood/#commentform) with interviews with Lynn Shelton and Sarah Polley, who both have movies out now. Even though only five percent of the 250 Hollywood movies produced last year were directed by women, there seems to be at least a mini-trend of women filmmakers doing their own thing in the “new indie model” – small budgets, short shoots, collaborative efforts – and getting their work out there. I have not yet watched the extended interviews with the two filmmakers to discover how they got funding, how they got well-known actors, and, most importantly, how they got distribution. Maybe they talk about that, maybe they don’t, but I’d like to find out more. Also, I’d like to see their movies. I saw Polley’s 2006 “Away From Her,” based on an Alice Munro story, about a couple where the woman (Julie Christie) has Alzheimer’s. I thought it was beautifully done.

Obviously, there are alternative ways to make things happen. Alternative seems to be my path.

Here we go…

 

Cinewomen

In an April 1st article in the New York Times Book Review*, Meg Wolitzer discusses the struggle of women writers to escape the “Women’s Fiction” tag, which tends to marginalize their work and keep them away from serious literary consideration – okay for a book club, but not for that big literary prize. The article resonates for me, because there’s a similar dynamic in Movie World – not just what gets out there, but how it gets out there, and how it’s packaged. Just a quickie summary of this past year’s academy award nominees:

Best Picture – 9 male oriented films, 1 female oriented film

Best Animated Feature – 5/5 male

Best Documentary Feature – 5/5 male

Best Foreign Language Film – 4/5 male

Best Director – 5/5/ male

Best Cinematography – 5/5 male

Best Editor – 3/5 male

Best Original Screenplay – 4/5 male

Best Adapted Screenplay – 4.5/5 male (one female co-writer on a spy movie)

The statistics aren’t good. Which is why I was particularly delighted when one of the young filmmakers I met in Kansas, Christina Hodel, key member of the Cinewomen Coalition, decided to employ the other women in her group as crew members for a short she was shooting, even though they had little to no experience as crew members. Christina spent time beforehand training them in their different roles, and the weekend shoot was a success. The women got some experience and some confidence. Who knows what they’ll do next… I’m hoping that as more young women take the reins of filmmaking, both they and their stories will bubble into the mainstream and start changing those miserable statistics.

Just watched two road movies featuring women : “Thelma and Louise” (1991) — (woman writer, Callie Khouri, who won an Original Screenplay Oscar for it in 1992; male director, Ridley Scott) — and “Meek’s Cutoff” (2010) (woman filmmaker, Kelly Reichardt). “Thelma and Louise” is of course a classic, women on the road doing the outlaw thing and becoming freer and more themselves as they do it. Wonderful performances by Susan Sarandon and Geena David (not to mention Brad Pitt). It was a big deal when it came out – two women carrying a whole movie. It did well, too, about 45 million. The same year, Kathryn Bigelow, later (2010) to be the first woman director ever to get an Oscar, had a movie out, too – “Point Break, a male action/adventure story, which did just about as well, though “Terminator 2” the same year raked in 517 million – more than ten times as much. Anyway, in these present times when many state legislatures are busy stripping women of our ability to make decisions about our own bodies, it was particularly great to re-see this iconic movie. Yeah, the women were getting violent, but they were also coming into their own, and it had to do with taking on their own power rather than finding the perfect mate. Pretty radical.

“Meek’s Cutoff” takes place in 1845 with a small group of pioneers wending their way through eastern Oregon desert, getting lost, and running out of water. The pace is slow. The scenery is stark and beautiful. The men are the decision-makers as the women can only look on. But slowly, one of the women (played by Michelle Williams) begins to assert herself. This was a movie I wound up liking a lot more than I thought I would. It kind of sneaks up on you, through the dire straits the characters are in, and, yes, through the beautiful directing and photography. More achingly real than your average western, and less crowd-pleasing, but haunting. It came out in 2010, and hasn’t yet crossed the one million mark.

* Link to Meg Wolitzer’s article

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/01/books/review/on-the-rules-of-literary-fiction-for-men-and-women.html?_r=1&sq=April%201%202012%20book%20review&st=cse&adxnnl=1&scp=6&adxnnlx=1333762851-bU95oXRwWfcuiD0NA8gwaw

 

Afterward

Life after Cinequest… On the movie front, I’ve gotten some requests to apply to film festivals elsewhere, but my policy for the time being is to pull back on that unless it’s somewhere I really want to go. Seems like further festival activity (unless it’s something big) is not likely to help distribution, and that’s really the priority right now. So we shall see… Circus Road is just beginning now to approach distributors. That might be a long road as well, so, once again, I’m trying to cultivate patience.

Meanwhile, I just watched the 1939 version of “The Women,” which had been recommended by one of the friends to whom I’d sent the questions about women in film. I’d seen it eons ago, and it was great to revisit the terrific performances, particularly by Rosalind Russell as a mischief-making gossip, and Joan Crawford as a social-climbing home-wrecker. The movie was unique at the time because the cast was 100 percent female. The sensibility is archaic for us – society women with time on their hands being bitchy to each other and competitive (or is this the territory of things like “Desperate Housewives”? I haven’t seen it) – and the ultimate message is “swallow your pride and stand by your man.” But there are cross-currents of support among some of the women, and it is an absolute delight to see these amazingly talented actors doing their thing.

Before I left for Cinequest I watched Fellini’s “La Strada” (1954), another movie I hadn’t seen in eons. It’s just as brilliant and heartbreaking as I remembered it, with an incandescent performance by Giulietta Masina as the naïve, fey Gelsomina who has been purchased (a small wad of money to her mother) by abusive Zampanò (Anthony Quinn) to assist him as an itinerant entertainer. In a way, it’s Zampanò’s story – he doesn’t/can’t/won’t look at his own brutishness until finally the realization of it bursts at him from within and completely overwhelms him in a scene of wrenching anguish – but it is Gelsomina that everyone remembers when I mention the film. Here is a character who only needs a bit of tenderness to thrive in a brutal world, but she is constantly betrayed or abandoned, and finally she loses her spirit. In her odd way, she has hoped for love – when she has a chance to leave Zampanò and stay at a convent with a group of nuns, she goes with her man, horrible as he is. Women’s fate? There are two other minor but striking women characters as well – a woman that Zampanò picks up in a café – what happens to her? It won’t be good – and a widow who just wants a roll in the hay. She seems like a survivor, despite a hard life alone with a disabled child. The prospects are bleak, but it’s all gorgeously filmed in beautifully framed and lit black and white.

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