Until recently, I had planned to premiere my upcoming feature film Psychosynthesis this month in Los Angeles. Unfortunately due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the premiere will need to be delayed indefinitely… And while it’s certainly not an ideal scenario, I’m still quite excited about some new opportunities on the horizon.
For a little background –
My release strategy for this feature film has always centered around a limited theatrical component. My goal was to host a world premiere here in LA, which would serve as a kickoff event with press, industry and fans in attendance.
From there, a small theatrical tour was in the works that would bring the film to cities across the country over the course of several months.
Rather than simply dropping the film on VOD straight away and getting lost in the shuffle, we would host in-person events with Q & A’s. These would not only help us generate revenue immediately, but also build a larger fanbase – one screening at a time – that could eventually be leveraged to help catapult our online premiere.
We would also hold educational screenings at film schools and universities, sharing our process making this feature film for just $25,000 and outlining our unique distribution strategy.
All of these efforts would build toward the online release, generating word of mouth, press and other buzz that would help boost initial sales/rentals/streams once the title went live on VOD later in the year.
It was a great plan, but then we hit a bump in the road – even before coronavirus came along…
Our distribution service Tugg, unexpectedly closed down in an oddly similar fashion to Distribber, leaving countless filmmakers hung out to dry.
Tugg was was a DIY theatrical release platform that allowed filmmakers to book their films in countless theaters across the globe, very economically. Rather than having to four-wall a theater (pay an upfront rental fee), Tugg allowed you to pre-sell tickets to fans, and granted you access to the theater once you sold enough. Then profits were split between you, Tugg and the theater.
The platform also allowed anyone, anywhere to set up a screening. So for instance, if any of you reading this wanted my movie to show in your city or town, you could have set up your own screening using their website, and shared in the profits from ticket sales – This was a function I was planning to utilize heavily by building a network of filmmakers who wanted to host additional screenings nationwide.
Unfortunately, the collapse of Tugg forced us to take a step back and re-assess the plan… Fortunately however, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
Had we been able to maintain our original timeline using Tugg as our theatrical partner, we would have been much deeper into the weeds right now, and the ramifications of COVID-19 on our release would be much greater. Money would have been lost and fans who pre-purchased tickets would be frustrated.
So all things considered, we got off pretty easy… I really feel for the filmmakers who have been affected so much worse as a result of this whole situation. Especially all the world premieres that were just cancelled at SXSW, which had to have been a massive letdown.
In any case, many of us are finding ourselves faced with a new reality, trying to determine where to go next. And while there aren’t any simple answers, I’ll share my solution for those of you who may be in a similar boat –
Rather than pivot to a VOD release (as many studios are doing right now), I’m simply going to wait out the storm and maximize the extra time I have.
That means pushing our premiere/theatrical rollout at least 3 – 6 months, depending on how this situation pans out. It sounds like a long time, but it’s really not. A year from now, I won’t care if I released the film in March or September. I’ll just care whether or not anyone saw it! So a few months is not a long time in the grand scheme of things…
Sure, it’s tempting to just go all in on VOD and take advantage of the extra time people are spending at home watching movies… But that would mean throwing out a perfectly good release strategy that can still work beautifully when the time is right.
In the meantime, I’m going dive back into the edit and try a couple new ideas that I think might add another layer to the story. Technically the picture was already locked, but with all this extra time on my hands, why not use it to make some final touches and really go the extra mile?
I’ll also use the time to re-work the parts of our theatrical strategy that relied on Tugg. I may even build out my own custom screening/marketing kits to make it easy for other filmmakers to set up local events and essentially franchise screenings once life resumes. This would be an asset I could use in perpetuity, on any future film with a DIY theatrical release.
So with all that in mind, my advice to any filmmaker out there in a similar boat is the same: stay the course.
The world we’re living in right now feels very upside-down, but it is surely not here to stay. Depending on your situation, there’s likely no need to make drastic changes to your strategy, whatever it may be.
The simple answer may be to simply hit the pause button for a while.
And while that can be a tough pill to swallow for those of us who love to work, it can actually serve as a tool for our creative productivity… Nothing is better than a little time off to see things from a new perspective, re-invent what you’re doing and focus your efforts even more intensely.
How is COVID-19 affecting you as a filmmaker? Leave a comment below…
Noam Kroll is an award-winning Los Angeles based filmmaker, and the founder of the boutique production house, Creative Rebellion. His work can be seen at international film festivals, on network television, and in various publications across the globe. Follow Noam on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook for more content like this!