Well, well, well, all I can say is that our 6'5" guardian angel must be working overtime, because we have recently added a new too-preposterous-to-be-true addition to the biography of Septien.
Yes, it's true, our little movie hasn't even screened yet and it already has distribution!
Thanks to the brave souls at IFC Films and their sister label Sundance Selects, Septien has already achieved what we never dreamed was possible. But that's mainly due to the fact that we consciously set out to make a movie that would challenge and confound distributors. Of course, we wanted to make something that people appreciated and liked—this was no silly stab at cinematic antagonism—but when it came to the issue of getting an even minor distribution deal, we laughed at the concept. I'm not sure who the joke's on here, honestly, but there's a hilarious joke somewhere. Maybe it's on all of us?
I'm not going to get into the fiscal specifics of the deal, except to say that we started shooting this movie on July 5th, 2010, and by the end of February 2011, IT WILL HAVE PAID FOR ITSELF. Every investor will be receiving their contribution in full, and I am still trying to wrap my brain around the fact that I won't be paying off my own personal debt for the next three years. Remember, this movie stars a bearded yours truly and features no recognizable stars (though that's about to change for Robert Longstreet at Sundance), has no nudity or strong sexuality, and was conceived as an experiment to create a unique tone and style that would make it impossible to brand it with one broad genre. In this climate, that's a three-strikes-and-you're-out scenario. But somehow, we somehow managed to hit a triple.
The terms of our deal are potentially dreamy. Initially, when offered the opportunity to be a part of this Sundance VOD stunt, my primary worry was that we simply wouldn't be able to deliver a finished film to a distributor when we were more focused on actually finishing the film. It seemed suicidal and downright idiotic. But with the help of our incredible producer's rep/attorney George M. Rush—and when I say 'help' I don't just mean in the legal/business sense; I'm talking actual post-production help like single-handedly saving a possible rights issue nightmare when it came to finding a last-second replacement for some stock football footage—here we are on Tuesday, January 11, 2011, having just mailed HDCam tapes to Sundance and Rotterdam and handed off an HDCAM SR master and Digibetas to IFC. Unless I wake up, this really happened?
When discussing the possible deal with IFC, I made it clear that I hoped to get the Daddy Longlegs plan. Not in a monetary sense (I don't know those terms), but in the way that Josh and Benny Safdie participated in last year's Sundance VOD stunt and still managed to get a healthy spring and summer festival run, while also landing a legitimate theatrical release in New York City. To that end, we made sure that we got a two-city theatrical guarantee, the first of which is New York City (late summer/early fall, I am thinking, though we haven't got that far yet). To be honest, that's all I really want, and I realize that this is probably the best we'll get. If the word begins to spread and IFC sees an opportunity for expansion, I'm confident that they will make that happen (ala Cold Weather and Tiny Furniture). But here's where an important point comes into play. As a filmmaker, I understand the movie we made. Therefore, to expect anything more than a one-week theatrical run at the IFC Center would be delusional and silly. I'm a typically self-deprecating guy, but the reality is that this is a tiny oddball of a movie and for IFC to guarantee more than what they did would make me question their sanity. I'm already questioning it!
I'm also not being self-deprecating when I admit that this was all just an example of really great timing. IFC had a mandate to find five films to participate in this stunt. They assured us that if we couldn't get the film done in time and that things didn't work out, they would still want to discuss a deal in the future. And I believed them. But I also understood that if we took this movie to Sundance, many distributors passed (which they would have, there's no question about that), and many audience members walked outside scratching their heads in confusion (at best), the terms of the deal would have have only begun to wither away. That is the truth.
I know many people complain about the IFC vacuum and how they are only concerned with the cost effectiveness and efficiency of their VOD platform. I also know that many people complain about how VOD is still a clusterf**k and nobody knows how to access the movies they want. But I also realize what our movie is and trust that we made the correct decision. When you make something that you boldly hope might not actually start growing into itself until a year or two down the line, a movie that isn't made to have mass immediate impact, that is supposed to have a quite word-of-mouth build, you can't afford to pass up a potentially great opportunity like the one we proudly accepted.
If you have cable television—I don't—and won't be in Park City next week, you will still be able to watch Septien from the comfort of your own home. Which brings up perhaps the most important reason this Video On Demand stunt is so exciting. To be totally honest, my wildest dream for this film was that it would be discovered at 2am by an unsuspecting viewer the way I discovered movies like Let's Scare Jessica To Death and Bad Ronald when I wasn't even ten years old. Granted, there are many millions of people who don't even know they have this VOD option on their televisions, but one can't blame IFC for that. We're still a ways away from this becoming household knowledge, and while a deal with the Lifetime Movie Network might have guaranteed us more viewers, the fact that it's only six months since we wrapped this movie and it's ready for human consumption on such a potentially large scale is astoundingly cool.
Again, we haven't even screened Septien yet, but I am already so thankful and inspired by this process. We stuck to our guns, we made something strange and potentially financially deadly on our own terms, we answered to no one but ourselves, and we have already been rewarded for our efforts. Who knows what will happen when people actually watch this thing, but as we finished the movie just two days ago, our job is done. Now comes the part when we send our deformed little baby into the world and accept whatever life awaits it.
(One final note: For all you industry and business-minded types, I was also excited to accept this offer because it means that I will now get to see the actual VOD statistics of how well—or poorly—our film performs! I realize that Septien is just about guaranteed to land on the bottom end of the scale, but I'm still anxious to see if our publicity efforts, combined with a more intimate word-of-mouth push, will result in numbers that surprise me and make IFC happy. Hope so!)