Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Sensation of Sight and The Power of Local

At our (one and only) festival appearance, we were lucky enough to score some face time with a pretty cool indie distributor. When I mentioned the hometown success we had been having with Self Helpless (sold out theaters, print articles, and a TV appearance) he pretty much laughed in my face. "Success anywhere outside of LA or NY is meaningless, and probably detrimental," was his basic message. While that may be true for films that are shopping to distributors for a theatrical release (old school), it is certainly not the case for those of us who are releasing our own films (true school). I was happy to discover a very concrete example of local success leading to major recognition for a film called The Sensation of Sight.

The Sensation of Sight is a truly independent film that was shot next door to us in New Hampshire. You can check out their excellent website here. The film's executive producer, Buzz McLaughlin, has been writing an illuminating series of blog posts about the film's distribution adventures. His most recent post detailed how his team was able to translate successful theatrical runs in indie theaters in New Hampshire to national recognition and an eventual distribution deal.

I won't recycle the entire blog post, but one piece of information was particularly interesting. After The Sensation of Sight sold out their opening weekend in New Hampshire, the theater reported their sales for that weekend to a number of national media services. Because of this, Variety listed the film at #4 in national per-screening box office gross for that weekend. This put The Sensation of Sight in front of a lot of people's eyes. I was completely unaware of this sales reporting system. Had we understood this aspect of the game, we might have been able to leverage this national reporting system to generate some press when Self Helpless sold out the Brattle theater in Boston, and the Roxy in Burlington, VT.

Check out The Sensation of Sight, and never underestimate the power of local, even if you live in a place where cows outnumber people!


King is a Fink said...

Hey, that film fest panel is where we first met you guys. Love at first sight!

I remember being floored when, after you listed Self-Helpless's impressive accomplishments, the distributor told you that showing outside of NY or LA was a waste of time. And now...I love seeing you prove him wrong.

Movies like Self-Helpless and The Sensation of Sight are helping to propel the New Model forward. Certainly this is going to rub some people the wrong way, namely people who have previously made their money by keeping holding all of their knowledge (and contacts) close to the vest.

Here's to cracking the code, shaping a new model of indie distribution, and sharing with others.

Sheri C said...

I swear I made a comment here earlier, now it is gone!

Anyway, I don't know who this "cool" distributor you spoke of was but I think he was misinformed. How cool is that? Perhaps he doesn't follow the new indie scene, you know the one where you have to have an audience. Sensation is keeping up the slog and good for them. Most companies and filmmakers would have long given up and taken the loss. They believe in their film and from reviews, so do others, so I am glad they are, however slowly, finding their true audience and getting the film seen.

As for reporting numbers, I handled a booking for a film last year and learned that booking private screenings (so in essence a four wall deal) is not reported to Rentrak, the box office accounting guys. So that is probably why you didn't know that happened either. Make sure when you do a booking that they are doing a report for you. Some just won't do it unless you are booked in for a week or more and then you have to weigh whether that theater is worth your time and expense.

Self Helpless said...

Ok, that makes sense. This is the all important difference between privately renting a theater for a screening, and getting officially "booked" for a run. You only get reported if you get booked. I think that makes an even greater case for working on a local level. If you can get to know the people who run your local theater and you can show them that you have a local audience, then you might just be able to convince them to book your movie. A comment on a recent Sensation of Sight post mentioned that winter is a far better time to fight this battle. Summer blockbusters are tough for theater owners to turn down, no matter how many folks you know in the community.