SEPTIEN: A Busy First Month

By tully | "Boredom at Its Boredest" by Michael Tully March 9, 2011 at 7:51AM

I told myself that I would try to publish incremental posts over the course of the Septien journey in order to keep everyone up-to-speed about where things stand, and while I do plan to keep things as upbeat and positive as possible along the way—for everything that is happening is indeed a tasty, special treat—I also want to be honest about how I'm feeling at each given moment. Which leads me into my current less than enthusiastic state-of-mind.
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I told myself that I would try to publish incremental posts over the course of the Septien journey in order to keep everyone up-to-speed about where things stand, and while I do plan to keep things as upbeat and positive as possible along the way—for everything that is happening is indeed a tasty, special treat—I also want to be honest about how I'm feeling at each given moment. Which leads me into my current less than enthusiastic state-of-mind.

How is it that it is only a little over a month into the public birth of this film—we've only screened at two film festivals, we've only had our first 30-day Video On Demand run, we've yet to have our theatrical release in NYC—and yet I feel utterly and completely removed from it? In many ways, it feels as many years away from me as Cocaine Angel or Silver Jew. How is that? I should be bursting with excitement at the thought of showing this movie next week at SXSW in the cinematic glory-land that is the muddafugging Alamo Drafthouse, and while I am looking forward to my trip to Austin where we'll be presenting the movie to many friends (and strangers) who will be watching it for the first time, I also can't deny that I'm feeling emotionally, creatively, and intellectually exhausted at the moment. There are clear, valid reasons for this—1) The unavoidable crash of shooting, finishing, and delivering a movie to a distributor in just over seven months; 2) Separation from my true love (and now my kitty cat, at least until this spring festival push winds down); 3) W-I-N-T-E-R. But it also has me wondering why I put myself through the extreme ups-and-downs of making the types of movies that are, at best, going to a) get me out of debt, and b) make me feel good for having made them. Is that a good enough reason? Really? Having expressed that, let me also be a raging hypocrite in saying that once I get to Austin and connect with friends, reunite with my true love (her first ever trip to SXSW!), and settle into one of the Alamo theaters to order some drinks and food and watch a movie (no, not my own movie, though I'll probably cave and watch that too), this whining will hopefully be left behind and relegated to this post.

As for the facts about what has happened with our movie in this past month-and-a-half, well, there's certainly nothing to argue about there:

FILM FESTIVALS

The experiences at both Sundance and Rotterdam were great. Nothing life-changing or mind-blowing, but certainly rewarding on countless levels. Out of them all, the only genuinely surreal element was when my parents surprised me by flying into Park City to attend our world premiere. The Director's Brunch at Sundance was pretty great too. For me, the most invigorating moments were when somebody expressed a genuine enthusiasm for our movie—I've been around the block, I can tell when it's sincere. For me, these personal affirmations provide the most important—the only?—concrete evidence that a film has "succeeded." In making Septien, while our goal wasn't to alienate audiences, I also thought it would be a bigger achievement to make a film that most viewers would have trouble latching onto but that those with my specific taste buds would find quite thrilling. Based on reactions after the multiple screenings at Sundance and Rotterdam, I feel pretty damn proud of what we pulled off.

VIDEO ON DEMAND

While I promised you I'd deliver numbers as I received them from our distributor, I also realized after the fact that I technically signed away the right to do that when making this deal. But I've been assured by the powers-that-be at IFC Films that if I were to break that contract, I wouldn't be taken to court, or beheaded, or kicked off the team. Having said that, I do think the most important part of this equation isn't the actual "number of buys" but how that tally relates in context to our film's final budget. ***Again, remember: this is a movie that has no nudity/strong sexual content, no recognizable names or faces, and no gratuitous violence.*** Now that the smoke has cleared and our first 30-something-day run of Video On Demand has concluded, I can genuinely say that more people have watched this movie than I ever dreamed was possible (as to the question of if they really "watched" it all the way through, that I can't tell ya because I don't know and I haven't bothered to ask IFC if this information is even trackable). At this early stage in the game, our (admittedly limited) theatrical run is still to come, our festival journey has only just begun, and our official VOD run (three months?) hasn't happened. Taking all of those factors into account, I am pleased to report that our movie has already made back its shooting budget. Based on this early information, I'm quite confident that by the end of this year, Septien will not only make back its final budget (what we paid to fully deliver the film); it will also make back the money IFC paid for it, as well as the additional marketing/supplemental/etc. costs incurred along the way. This isn't the type of movie that will make a filmmaker—or a company—rich, but if you want to talk about business, Septien is already proving to be a smart business venture on everybody's part.

As for the Video On Demand description—which I'd rather not revisit right now, thank you very much—I don't think I'm offending anybody by saying the only way to explain that is by calling it what it is: a blatant, cheap stab at suckering innocent viewers into buying a different product than what's actually inside the wrapper. Who knows, if the powers-that-be had played it up as an "offbeat and original" work instead of making it sound like a horror revenge tale worthy of the most generic VHS box on the shelf, perhaps those numbers wouldn't have been as high as they were. And at that point, we all would have learned a pricey lesson. But my hunch is that through trial-and-error, this lesson has been learned before. Did I feel a tad insecure and ashamed—and belittled—when I read that description? Sure. But had I also considered that this type of thing would happen before I signed our movie's life away? You betcha.

All of this is to say that the real journey for Septien has only just begun, and while I'm having trouble staying excited about things at the very moment—I would love nothing more than to either permanently retire, or dive headfirst into the rewrite of the script that is shaping up to be the next project (though my depleted body and mind won't allow that currently)—up to this point, things have gone impossibly well for us. Our investors received checks in the mail this week reimbursing them for their services; we are about to embark on a crazy fun spring and summer festival run; and we have an IFC Center theatrical opening (and beyond?) to look forward to. Pardon the whining. That will pass. But for now, I felt like I should be honest in saying that for all the excitement and good news surrounding Septien, all I want to do is cuddle in bed with my fiancee and overdose on March Madness.

This article is related to: Indie Film