Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
Kristen Stewart Is First American Actress Nominated for César Awards in 30 Years; 'Saint Laurent' Leads with Ten Kristen Stewart Is First American Actress Nominated for César Awards in 30 Years; 'Saint Laurent' Leads with Ten How They Sustained the Times Square Momentum in 'Birdman' VIDEO How They Sustained the Times Square Momentum in 'Birdman' VIDEO 6 Things to Know About Sexy Sundance Breakout 'Diary of a Teenage Girl,' Part of Sundance's Women's New Wave 6 Things to Know About Sexy Sundance Breakout 'Diary of a Teenage Girl,' Part of Sundance's Women's New Wave Sundance Raves About Ewan McGregor as Jesus and the Devil in 'Last Days in the Desert' Sundance Raves About Ewan McGregor as Jesus and the Devil in 'Last Days in the Desert' Filmmakers, Give Us Your Numbers! Sundance and Cinereach Unveil The Transparency Project Filmmakers, Give Us Your Numbers! Sundance and Cinereach Unveil The Transparency Project Top Ten Takeaways: Polarizing 'American Sniper' Speeds Past $200 Million; Lopez Trounces Depp Top Ten Takeaways: Polarizing 'American Sniper' Speeds Past $200 Million; Lopez Trounces Depp Arthouse Audit: Panic Time? 'Mommy,' 'Red Army,' 'Black Sea,' 'Cake,' 'Duke of Burgundy' All Disappoint Arthouse Audit: Panic Time? 'Mommy,' 'Red Army,' 'Black Sea,' 'Cake,' 'Duke of Burgundy' All Disappoint 2015 PGA Winners: 'Birdman' Steals 'Boyhood''s Awards Season Thunder 2015 PGA Winners: 'Birdman' Steals 'Boyhood''s Awards Season Thunder Watch: Nicole Kidman Talks 'Strangerland' at Sundance (Exclusive Video Interview) Watch: Nicole Kidman Talks 'Strangerland' at Sundance (Exclusive Video Interview) Sundance Acquisitions Market Heats Up with 'The Bronze' and 
'The Witch' Sundance Acquisitions Market Heats Up with 'The Bronze' and 'The Witch' Sundance: Netflix Inks Four-Picture Deal with Duplass Brothers Sundance: Netflix Inks Four-Picture Deal with Duplass Brothers Early Reviews Portend Sundance Breakout in Stylish Historical Horror 'The Witch' Early Reviews Portend Sundance Breakout in Stylish Historical Horror 'The Witch' Sundance: 5 Things to Expect From Alex Gibney's Damning Scientology Doc 'Going Clear' Sundance: 5 Things to Expect From Alex Gibney's Damning Scientology Doc 'Going Clear' Sundance Reviews: 'The Bronze' Is "Potty-Mouthed," "Vinegar-Spirited," Racy Gymnast Comedy Sundance Reviews: 'The Bronze' Is "Potty-Mouthed," "Vinegar-Spirited," Racy Gymnast Comedy 'American Sniper' Writer Jason Hall Addresses Concerns About Clint Eastwood's Controversial War Pic 'American Sniper' Writer Jason Hall Addresses Concerns About Clint Eastwood's Controversial War Pic Martin Scorsese Breaks Long-Awaited 'Silence,' Set to Begin Filming This Month Martin Scorsese Breaks Long-Awaited 'Silence,' Set to Begin Filming This Month Watch: Meet the Women of 'Birdman' (Exclusive 4-Minute Featurette) Watch: Meet the Women of 'Birdman' (Exclusive 4-Minute Featurette) Watch: Hitchcock's Thwarted Holocaust Documentary Comes to HBO Watch: Hitchcock's Thwarted Holocaust Documentary Comes to HBO Best Actor Oscar Predictions 2015 UPDATED Best Actor Oscar Predictions 2015 UPDATED Oscar Predictions 2015 Oscar Predictions 2015

Case Study on Self-Releasing 'Detropia': "Filmmakers need to be better businesspeople"

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood October 6, 2012 at 7:51PM

The DIY distribution model may be all the rage, but it's not as easy as it looks. As "Detropia" filmmakers Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady learned the hard way, self-releasing demands a steep learning curve in the intricacies of marketing and distribution. These are skills that it takes professionals years to acquire.
2
Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing
Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing

The DIY distribution model may be all the rage, but it's not as easy as it looks.

As "Detropia" filmmakers Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady learned the hard way, self-releasing demands a steep learning curve in the intricacies of marketing and distribution. These are skills that it takes professionals years to acquire. And the landscape is constantly changing. These days, most distributors have less and less time and resources to devote to selling the movies they release. And the deals they offer are skimpy at best.

So more and more filmmakers are doing the math and opting to do it themselves. But while some people are natural self-promoters who love hawking their wares on social media, others haven't a clue. (See trailer and listen to Shadow & Act podcast with the filmmakers below.)

As established and trusted producer-directors, Ewing and Grady raised $950,000 in six months for their Detroit doc from the Sundance doc fund, the Ford Foundation and other investors. "We've earned our luck over the years," says Ewing. They knew that the money they nabbed for TV rights from ITVS would make it tougher to sell, but it was worth it: "We knew the offers were going to be paltry. But we love ITVS. We wanted a covered fee platform. Otherwise you borrow money, take out loans, don't pay people."

Shot around the ruins of contemporary Detroit, which at 700,000 souls is much smaller than its 2 million population peak, "Detropia" was the filmmakers' most cinematic film to date. They wanted to see it in theaters--before the automotive bailout was no longer a hot election topic. (The film won't show on ITVS until May 2013.)

So they took the movie to Sundance last January, hired a publicist and courted the usual suspects on the distribution side. Three offers came from well-known legitimate companies, plus two smaller outfits and several more conversations that didn't get anywhere. Most of the deals offered a release in two to five cities at most, or just minimal NY/LA Academy-qualifying runs. The problem with the offers, besides the "shitty money," says Ewing, was that they weren't accompanied by any passion for pushing the movie to audiences. "There wasn't a lot of vision around it. They'd take it, not try at their end, offer a nice DVD package."

Ewing's father ran a family business outside Detroit. "I am from a family of manufacturing entrepreneurs who kept reinventing the company," she says. "All my father's colleagues went under when everything changed to being made elsewhere, but he made specialty parts that were difficult to produce. He keeps innovating. I took something from that: to stay current and reinvent. Just making films, you think someone else will do the release for you. But it's a business. Now you have do it as well. I see a lot of deer in headlights. If everyone doesn't up their game they will be taken advantage of. You have to know when to shift gears. Filmmakers need to be better businesspeople."

Figuring that they owed it to the movie "not to just drop off a cliff after we do Sundance," says Ewing, they decided "we needed to consider independent releasing." One investor, Impact Partners' Dan Cogan, was their cheerleader through the process. "He said all the deals suck," she recalls, "they weren't inspiring at all." They decided to research their options. In eleven days they put up a trailer and raised $71,000 for publicity, prints and ads on Kickstarter. 866 donations were friends, 500 were strangers.

This article is related to: DETROPIA, Interviews, Interviews , Independents, Distribution


E-Mail Updates