Filmmakers are often told, write what you know. And I know a lot about being so attached to a plan that it can be difficult to move forward when it isn’t working. So, as my protagonist was trying to learn the titular lesson in my quirky romantic comedy, LOSING CONTROL, about a female scientist who wants proof that her boyfriend is “the one,” I was battling similar demons as I sought distribution for my film.
The tagline for LOSING CONTROL is “the plan or the man” and overachiever, Samantha Bazarick, is trying to figure out how to “get married at 30” when prior steps in her life-flowchart like “Cure Cancer at 29” hadn’t worked out for her. Similarly, I was trying to figure out how to “get distribution” when the only path for an independent film seems to include “premiere at Sundance.”
Most independent films start without distribution in place. The hopeful scenario is to premiere at a high-profile film festival like Sundance, Toronto, Cannes, Berlin, or Tribeca, launching the film from relative obscurity into a bidding war by distributors like Fox Searchlight and The Weinstein Company. These days, this is rare. So what becomes of the films at these festivals that don’t get bought, or the hundreds of quality films that don’t make it into these festivals in the first place? The answer is nobody knows because there is no clear path. You can imagine how anxious this makes a filmmaker with a loosely autobiographical film about a woman who lives by a plan.
Not surprisingly, I wanted answers. This led to one of the greatest paradoxes I’ve experienced since leaving science to become a filmmaker. In talking to programmers at these festivals, I learned that my independent film was too commercial and not “indie” enough. The film that I had written myself, raised financing for on my own, produced independently, was somehow not independent enough for them. So, then, how does an independent film with commercial appeal, get released commercially, when the festivals where the distributors go to buy films don’t accept commercial films, even if they are independent? I hadn’t been this confused since studying Fourier transforms for my dissertation.
Without an established plan, I thought it would be impossible to reach the brass ring of finding a distributor. And then I remembered exactly how I felt about writing a comedy about a female scientist before I wrote a comedy about a female scientist, and how daunting it seemed to raise money for a feature film for the first time, and how intimidating it seemed to make a movie on an indie budget. I realized that this was one of those times that I needed to have faith not in my plan, but in myself and my film.
A month later, LOSING CONTROL premiered at The Vail Film Festival as its closing night film. That night four hundred people laughed throughout our film. Does this make it commercial? Does this make it indie? Who cares, something we hadn’t planned on happened that night-- we got distribution.
Valerie Weiss is a scientist-turned-filmmaker with a Ph.D. in biophysics from Harvard Medical School whose film, LOSING CONTROL, opens in theaters beginning March 23rd. Click here for the release schedule and trailer.