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Screenwriter John August Sees the Light

My previous post was about DAMON AND HUNTER and ASHLEY AND KISHA appearing in the Tel Aviv International LGBT Film Festival, and how film fests do and don’t figure into our marketing and distribution strategy. In a nutshell, we put out the DVD so that we can take advantage of whatever publicity the film make generate at film festivals, on the internet, in magazines, etc. This runs contrary to the traditional film fest, theatrical release, then (finally) DVD release approach.

But who am I? And why should you listen to me? I’m just a ultra-low-budget filmmaker, and besides, my films are about sex, so the usual rules don’t apply to “regular films”, right? 

Maybe, but maybe not…

John August is an ultra-low-budget filmmaker too, but he’s also a well recognized screenwriter. His ultra-low-budget effort is The Nines. His screenwriting credits should be a little more familiar. In the wake of The Nines disappointing performance, both at the box office and on DVD, August has offered up a post-mortem on his blog:   

1. Sundance buzz is annoying and meaningless
The Nines premiered at Sundance in 2007… We did Sundance the way you’re supposed to do Sundance… Eighteen months later, it’s fascinating to see how little the festival buzz mattered. Prices for these movies — a key component of buzz, as in, “Did you hear how much it sold for?” — were all over the board, from the low six-figures to $7 million for Son of Rambow. But it made no difference. They all pretty much tanked. In fact, most didn’t make it over $100,000. The Nines didn’t, despite opening well.

2. Theatrical release is kinda bullshit.
[A]at the same time, we were anticipating theatrical. A lot of effort went in to making the 35mm prints — eight prints in all… It was a fool’s errand… theatrical release was really a token, contractually-obligated gesture. We were getting our hand stamped before the DVD… From a cost perspective, New York and Los Angeles gave enough national exposure to drive the DVD release, which was where they hoped to make their money. The only problem was…

3. The DVD should have come out much sooner, maybe simultaneously
Because of Ryan’s relative star power, we were able to generate a ton of national publicity. He went on TRL and Conan and every other New York outlet you can think of. But making a college student in Iowa aware of a movie that will never play Des Moines is useless. He’ll forget about it in a week.

So the smart thing would have been keeping our New York and Los Angeles dates but having the DVD come out immediately.5 I know that invokes the stigma of straight-to-DVD, but if it means that potential viewers nationwide can actually see the movie, hooray… Putting out the DVD right away wouldn’t have cannibalized theatrical. There was no meat on the bones anyway.

The jig is up. In the last month, both ThinkFilm and Tartan Films, both one-time masters of the PR from festivals and limited theatrical, then profits on DVD approach have gone belly up. That’s right. The companies that brought out 9 SONGS, SEX AND LUCIA, SECRETARY, BATTLE IN HEAVEN, and SHORTBUS are dead and gone; and if you believe me (or John August,) so is their business model.

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