indie distribution in action

I went to a film the other day in NYC that was released as close to the models of distributor-less films as I’ve seen.  It’s exactly the kind of release that Ted Hope talks about on his TrulyFreeFilm blog.  It was called I CAN SEE YOU.  I’m not going to talk about the quality of the film, but it got a good review in the New York Times, which is how I first saw it.  But it’s an art horror film and Fangoria mentioned it (and I think was involved in it somehow) and it was on a few blogs.  I was looking for something different to see and this fit the bill.

Now, this kind of film has a built-in audience.  There are horror fans everywhere who are craving something that is real horror.  A horror connoisseur looks at Saw, or remade crap, and thinks the world is coming to an end.  They long for the home-grown days of the 70’s where low-budgets ruled and the films weren’t just scary but they were good.   This was the audience I expected, and I was not disappointed.  They filled up the theater, although it was opening night and there was a lot of cast and crew.

So, I read about it in the Times.  I bought my ticket online, which was done through some service that was professional enough.  It was playing one show a night, for a week, at a bar that has a theater in the basement in the East Village.  I’d say it seats about 100+ people.  Ten bucks each, plus a fee for the tix service, which I think was a buck fifty.  At the same time, they sold DVD’s of the film on their website – available the week after – for about 20 bucks.

I would guess that this film cost somewhere between 20,000 and 50,000 dollars, but it looked like it could have cost less.  I don’t think anyone got paid.  They probably bought food for everyone.   There was a couple of special f/x, so the materials of that cost something even if no one got paid for making them.  I didn’t see any costumes or make up.  The art direction was next to zero.  The cameras were hand-held, or occasionally on a tripod, but it was Video with a capital V – it looked like it was shot on a home video camera from 1988.  

Now a film like this has a limited appeal, but as far as a release goes, these guys did everything right.  I’m still puzzled as to how they got that review in the Times – and a good review at that.  But I still don’t see how they’re going to make their money back.

There’s a crowd like that in every city in America and they could take that film on the road and sell out a couple shows just on that built-in audience, but how much are they going to get back on their expenses of doing that?  And then, with the cost of the film?  100 seats X 10 dollars = a thousand dollars.  They still have the expenses of publicizing and everything else, like the theater costs.  If they can sell out 25 shows and sell 2500 DVD’s, I think, maybe, they would start to make their budget back, but honestly, I don’t see it happening.  And even if it did, it’s a fuck of a lot of work to put into making hardly any money, even if your goal is just to make another movie.  There’s a lot of people working for free here, all the way down the line.  

So, is this the future of film?  It’s definitely one future.


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