At the Q&A after the World Premiere of Paradise Recovered at Heartland Film Festival in October, an excited audience member asked us: “Who do you want to see Paradise Recovered?” Storme Wood, the director of Paradise and one of my closest friends, paused and answered, “Uh, we’d like for everyone on earth to see Paradise Recovered.”
Later, he admitted to me that he should have added this two word phrase: “Three times.”
That’s really the thing, isn’t it? We put our hearts and souls and life energy into making independent films, and we want the whole world to see our movies. It’s a little discouraging to know that over 7,000 independent films get made annually, and the great majority of them are never actually seen, let alone receive a distribution deal.
Throughout the process of writing Paradise Recovered, I noticed that I was in the middle of a revolution of sorts. A revolution of technology for certain; using digital technology means that films can be made more cheaply than ever before. However, as a filmmaker friend of mine told me recently at a film festival, “Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.”
I think that he said this because filmmakers often look at the technology of making a film and forget some important elements that will allow them to reach their intended audiences.
First and foremost, a film tells a story. Maybe it is because I am a writer, but I think that a lot of microbudget films forget this part. An actor needs dialogue. Sure, they can ad-lib and play with lines, but there have to be lines to play with. I hate to say this, but a lot of technical elements can be forgiven if there is good storytelling.
Second, a film is a story. From the first conception of a character’s lines in a writer’s mind to the world premiere, a story is happening. And there are subplots and twists and turns and drama and laughter and tense moments and tears. There are fights over good things and fights over bad things. Why? Because each member of your team is a character in this larger picture titled “Your Film,” and each of them bring their own backstory, expertise, goals, dreams, and heartaches.
I think that in setting up the distribution of Paradise Recovered, we’ve learned that telling both stories to our audiences is important. Why? Simple. They want to hear both.
I am writing this article from my kitchen table, and I am looking out the window over the beautiful rolling hills of the Southern Indiana landscape. The school bus will be here in a little over an hour, and I’ll walk the quarter mile to the road to meet my children. Just got word that one of Storme’s little ones has strep throat, and so I just texted my best wishes to him as he balances parenting with finding an audio clip for our upcoming Film Courage radio program.
That bit of information might not be interesting to other filmmakers, but our non-filmmaking audience loves the fact that we are stay-at-home parents. It connects us to them, and them to us. They see us taking a risk, and they follow us on Facebook and Twitter, encouraging us every step of the way. And we’re pretty transparent with them about the joys and pains of filmmaking.
We know that our audience likes to hear personal stories. How do we know this? Because we know our audience. We found our audience while we created our film.
One of our producers, Roland Rydstrom, initially came up with a target list of potential interest, and we allowed a number of folks to read the script prior to shooting. University professors, cult experts, psychologists, writers, spiritual abuse survivors, and, yes, scrappy filmmakers gave their input on the initial script. We cherished their opinions. We didn’t take every bit of advice, but we certainly heeded it.
We showed the film to our consultants in test screenings, and they were surprised at the quality of the film, not to mention the skill of our talent. They continue to assist us in finding venues for the film. They are invaluable allies, and we help them in whatever way we can.
A decision was made to shoot this film in two communities in Southern Indiana as well as in Austin, Texas. The first is a college town, and the second is in a county of about 35,000 people. Over 150 extras took part in the film, and most of them came from the small county.
Why did we do this? Storme really wanted to establish a setting for the film with real looking people in a real Midwestern area. What we didn’t foresee until after making the decision was that we were opening up an entire market for our film. Since I live in the rural setting, I get to experience the community’s participation in this project, and I expect that a good number of them will come out for a theatrical release.
Storme also wanted the film to sound like the Midwest, so the good folks at Musical Family Tree (www.musicalfamilytree.com) served as musical archivists on the film. All of the music in our film is from artists who hail from Indiana. The score was provided by Cara Jean Wahlers and Grover Parido (www.carajeanwahlers.com), and both of them have sung the praises of Paradise from the beginning of their involvement with the project.
Why did we do this? We wanted to reach out to an audience that was already interested in independent music. The crossover between independent music and independent film is obvious, and we knew that we could reach two audiences at once while co-promoting independent artists.
Additionally, we reached out to communities of cult survivor support groups, cult experts, and religious media with our film, and we are still in the process of doing that. First, we wanted to make sure that this audience felt the performances were authentic to their experience and spoke for them. Overwhelmingly, the answer has been yes.
Second, we wished to give back to those who had been broken by these groups. We decided to partner with Wellspring Retreat and Resource Center (www.wellspringretreat.org), the only mental health facility of its kind. Wellspring is our kind of place. They do miracles on a shoestring budget, and they provide rest and comfort to those who have been battered by abusive religious relationships.
We have the goal of being able to provide a scholarship fund for potential Wellspring clients who may not be able to afford mental health services. While personal in nature, this also opens another avenue for audience. Wellspring has many friends around the world, and we have people who will learn about Wellspring because of our partnership. So score one for Wellspring as a not-for-profit and one for our for-profit production company.
And let’s not forget another audience: independent filmmakers. We had heard horror stories about using a RED camera for our microbudget project, but did that deter us? Nope. We shot a feature completely hand-held with a RED in seventeen days with a five man crew in two states. Add to that crew a Line Producer, an AD, a couple of PAs here and there, and an assistant producer for me that enabled me to be a mom and a producer during production…and that’s basically it. Twenty-three locations, 40+ hours of footage and 150 extras later, we have a film to take into post.
Storme and I have shared PMD responsibilities and have recently added PJ Christie as our principal PMD. PJ has been involved since early in post-production with web design and social media, as well as audience development. We can’t pay PJ what he is worth, but we can tell other filmmakers about his services, and we can share him with them. We have some ideas on how to work smart and hard and fast, but it involves getting talented professionals to take a risk on a good story. And it also involves paying everyone what you promise and on time.
For my company, By The Glass Productions, it also involves sharing profits with everyone who made a contribution. As the main producer on this project, I have often said that our film will not be a success until I start writing profit-sharing checks to everyone involved. From the actors to the crew, everyone agreed to minimums, but everyone got paid. And in return, everyone brought their A game.
I will not rest until we are successful. I’m just that way.
To get back in the black, we have a hybrid-distribution model. We are currently in negotiations with a reputable producer’s rep that we trust and feel can be a good agent for our film. We hope to find some distributors who will work with us to promote Paradise Recovered, but we also see that with all of our irons in the fire, we can self-distribute if necessary and be profitable.
If we can get 20,000 people in Indiana to come out and see Paradise Recovered, we will be in the black. And considering there isn’t much going on in small towns in Indiana once March Madness has ended, we think we are looking really good for a Spring 2011 theatrical release. Of course, this is all subject to change, but we feel good about where we are sitting right now. It’s not a question of if we will be profitable; the question is ‘how much profit can we generate?’
Again, it is imperative that you go out and find your audience. That you share both your film’s story and the story that is your film. And that you think about all of these things pre-production, during production, and in post-production. Facebook and Twitter are amazing tools to find your audience, engage them, and allow them to add to your conversation.
You probably aren’t going to look for ex-cult member support groups, but you probably do have groups that your movie could reach. You could partner with a not-for-profit. And you could also help other filmmakers along the way by sharing what you know, who you know, and what worked well and what didn’t.
Storme is always saying that we indie types have to stick together. He’s right. While 7,000 films get made every year, some of them are going to appeal to the same types of folks as your film. Find those films. Partner with them. Share resources. Share audience. Promote them. Donate to their Kickstarters. Publicize them. Champion them.
Because the reality is there is unlimited pie. Most people in America watch at least a movie a week through some venue. If 300,000,000 Americans could watch one independent movie a month, that would work out to some pretty significant numbers for those 7,000 independent films. That may not be enough for a large distribution company, but it is enough for a little production company like us.
But, again, what drives a movie is a good story. If the story isn’t there…or if there isn’t at least a publicized backstory…the audience isn’t going to be there. Use your stories to market your films. Sure, it involves a lot of telephone calls and dead ends. Sure, there is heartache and frustration. Just ask Storme; I quit at least once a week. But at the end of the day, when your film connects with an audience (i.e. they laugh in the right spots), you know you did something good. Maybe even great.
Art is about collaboration, but it is also about championing something that is bigger than the art itself. For me, it’s people. Filmmaking contains a number of ways to champion and care for people. And that’s what keeps me coming back – knowing that what we’ve tried to do with Paradise Recovered is bigger than a film. It’s about helping others reach their dreams of their own film project or their own niche business in the industry or their own personal recovery.
People like Karen and David and the listeners at Film Courage get it, and they’ve been amazingly gracious to us in hosting us as a part of the Interactive Series. The technology exists, and there is a lot of acting and production talent chomping at the bit to tell good stories. The resources have never been better, and the future has never been brighter.
See you at the movies!
by Andie Redwine