Why are we selling DVDs right now?  Aren't we still on the film festival circuit?

It may seem a bit unorthodox, but yes, we are indeed selling DVDs while on the festival circuit, and started to do so just two months after our Sundance 2009 premiere.  As many of you may know, these are trying times for independent film.  Many of the companies that have traditionally distributed specialty, indie, and arthouse movies have gone out of business or stopped acquiring films.  As a result, fewer films are being picked up for distribution.  And the deals that are being offered by the remaining distributors are smaller than ever before.  A typical deal with a distributor now consists of a $0 to $50,000 advance, which is often the only return a filmmaker will see. 

But all is not lost.  Indie film has never seen so many intelligent and passionate people trying to fix the distribution model.  Forward-thinking folks like Ted Hope, Peter Broderick, and Jon Reiss are trying to come up with a new model that will hopefully work for years to come.  Websites like indieWIRE and Hammer to Nail have been helping as well to foster a dialogue about the subject.  We’re trying to learn from the renaissance in independent music and adopt tactics that may fit for independent film.  But we can’t really know how all of this experimentation will turn out until we have some case studies.

In the past few years, we’ve seen award-winning, critically lauded films such as BALLAST and MUTUAL APPRECIATION choose theatrical self-distribution over traditional distribution.  We’re trying to go one step further by selling our DVDs at festivals and from our website while still on the festival circuit.  Traditionally, doing such a thing would be taboo and relegated to the arena of shoddily made B-movies—certainly not award-winning films that premiere at Sundance.  But because of technology, audience behavior has shifted and is continuing to shift dramatically.  People are now consuming media in very different ways than they were just a few years ago.

In trying to change with the times, we’re thinking of our festival run as part of our theatrical run.  This way, we can capitalize on the press coverage of our film to sell it on DVD—without the middleman.  And what’s more, the festival circuit allows us to play in cities no distributor would even think to release our film in (we’re talking about you, Sarasota, Dallas, and Nashville!).

As filmmakers, we need to be responsible and do everything we can to try to recoup the cost of making our films—we owe that to our investors, cast, and crew.  If our little experiment works, great.  If not, we’ll have some data that’ll help other indie filmmakers in the future, and hopefully get everyone closer to a distribution model that works. 

Of course, we’d rather you watch the film in the theaters!  So if you’re in a city that will be playing CHILDREN OF INVENTION soon at a local festival, please go see it and bring your friends.  If you missed the film while it played in your city, or if you don’t live in one of those places, or if you loved the film and want to see it again, please buy the DVD.  Show it to your friends, join our Facebook group, spread the word.  Be part of the movement that will put power back in the hands of filmmakers!

Warm wishes,
Tze and Mynette
(April 6, 2009)

UPDATE, 11/2/09:
After 7 months of selling our DVD on the festival circuit, we're happy to report that we've made a nice chunk of change--exceeding any recent distributor advance we've heard of that has been offered to films like ours. Interestingly, one of the key things we have confirmed is that our DVD sales have definitely not cannibalized our festival ticket sales! We continue to sell out screenings. In fact, we have had much more luck selling our DVD after screenings to audience members who have just seen the film, than to people turned away from our screenings at rush lines. People want to consume their media the way they want to consume their media, and that's that. It's more proof that the traditional release windows are becoming irrelevant.

UPDATE, 12/28/09:
Ted Hope names us one of the "21 Brave Thinkers of Truly Free Film" for our DIY DVD distribution strategy. Thanks Ted!
(Truly Free Film / The Wrap)

UPDATE, 1/12/10:
We are doing a "DIWO" theatrical release with Dave Boyle's WHITE ON RICE in New York City, starting March 12. We will also play special one-week engagements in Boston starting February 26 and in Los Angeles starting March 12. Help defray the cost of our distribution efforts via our Kickstarter campaign (below)!

UPDATE, 1/22/10:
We're one of 5 Sundance films to launch the brand new YouTube Rentals platform during the 2010 Sundance Film Festival.


UPDATE, 2/26/10:
Today, we made our theatrical premiere at the Brattle Theatre in Harvard Square, Cambridge, MA. This was a DIY effort, and not four-walled!


UPDATE, 3/12/10:
Today, we will premiere in New York and Los Angeles! Our New York release is a DIWO effort with Dave Boyle's WHITE ON RICE. We will screen the films at the BIG Cinemas Manhattan. In L.A., we'll screen at the Downtown Independent. Again, not four-walled!


UPDATE, 4/2/10:
To everyone who would "love to pick our brains on distribution," we would love to talk to each of you, but if we did, we wouldn't have time to make (or distribute) any more movies!

So please check out the following links to gather our thoughts on distribution. I've listed them in backwards chronological order.

Note that you should take everything we say with a grain of salt because: (a) we're learning as we're doing, and our findings and opinions are changing every day because the distribution landscape is changing every day; and (b) just as you approach the production of each film uniquely, you have to approach the distribution of each film uniquely--the correct distribution strategy for Film A may not be the correct one for Film B.

OK, so those are the caveats. And here are the links:

Podcast: indieWIRE / Apple Producers Panel @ Tribeca Film Festival - [Click on podcast dated 4/26/2010] - The Future of Filmmaking: Where Is It and Where Is It Going? ( Mynette Louie, Karin Chien, Lisa Cortes, Jason Kliot, Mary Jane Skalski, Jay Van Hoy; moderated by Eugene Hernandez)

indieWIRE | FUTURES: “Children of Invention” Producer Mynette Louie (4/23/10)

Filmmaker Magazine| YouTube's Sara Pollack discusses the site's revenue-generating new distribution model (Spring 2010)

Film Independent | CHILDREN OF INVENTION: Case Study (3/12/10) 

Truly Free Film | CHILDREN OF INVENTION: Why They Are Glad They Went DIY (3/12/10)

Truly Free Film | CHILDREN OF INVENTION: Why They Turned Down 8 Distribution Offers (3/11/10)

Harvard Magazine | Indie Film Blues: Interview with Mynette Louie (Mar-Apr 2010)

Filmmaker Magazine / Workbook Project | New Breed Park City: Exploring The Solutions, Part 3 (2/15/10) 

Filmmaker Magazine / Workbook Project | New Breed Park City: Exploring The Solutions, Part 1 (2/4/10) 

Filmmaker Magazine | Mynette Louie on Big Art, Little Debt (2/3/10) 

New York Times | YouTube’s Take From Movie Rentals: $10,709.16 (2/2/10)

Slate | YouTube as Video Store (1/29/10)

Filmmaker Magazine | YouTube vs. Physical Media and Other Sundance Notes (1/24/10)

New York Press | YouTube and Sundance Bring Park City To Your Couch (1/22/10)

YouTube: Children of Invention Channel | Vlog #4: Tze Chun talks about Distribution (1/22/10)

"Children of Invention" Among 5 Sundance Films to Launch YouTube Rentals(1/22/10)

"Children of Invention" and "White on Rice" in Joint "DIWO" NYC Theatrical Release (1/12/10)

Truly Free Film / The Wrap | The 21 Brave Thinkers of Truly Free Film 2009: Tze Chun & Mynette Louie (12/28/09)

channelAPA| Children of Invention Update with Tze Chun (11/9/09)

Filmmaker Magazine | Blogging From the Sundance Creative Producing Lab: Mynette Louie, Part 2 (7/28/09)

Filmmaker Magazine| Blogging From the Sundance Creative Producing Lab: Mynette Louie, Part 1 (7/16/09)


UPDATE, 4/11/10:
We want to share Michael Tully's "TAKE-BACK Manifesto," a partially tongue-in-cheek rant against the "panel industry" that has cropped up from all of this DIY distribution talk. Mike reminds us that it is ultimately the films themselves that matter, not how we market or distribute them, so we need to remember not to lose our focus on them.

He is absolutely right, of course. When we were making CHILDREN OF INVENTION in 2008, we didn't seriously strategize about how we would find its audience. We did not change the script to suit the marketplace, we did not create a Facebook page during production, etc. And yet, the film has still managed to find an audience, and we continue to piecemeal our distribution and marketing strategy as we go. For our next film, we will certainly plan a bit more--in this climate, it is unwise not to--but if the "business" concerns start compromising the creative integrity of the film, then it's not worth making. People who care more about commerce than art should go make widgets instead.

All of our incredibly exhausting DIY distribution efforts have been motivated by one thing, and one thing only: to share the film that we made and love with as many people as possible. As all of you filmmakers go through the pain of DIY distribution, and all of you panelists, pundits, and consultants glean from our experiences and share them with others, please: do not lose sight of the films!


UPDATE, 1/3/11:
Sheesh, we didn't realize it's been so long since our last update! Well, a lot of stuff has happened...

We ended up releasing the film theatrically in arthouse theaters in 8 cities between Feb-Aug 2010: Boston, New York, Los Angeles, Bergenfield NJ, Gainesville FL, Vancouver, Chicago & New Orleans. We didn't four-wall any of these screenings. In fact, it all sort of happened by accident because theaters ended up contacting us about the film after reading the great reviews from our NY and L.A. runs.

In June 2010, we released on cable VOD via NY-based film distributor Film Movement. Between Jun-Oct 2010, the film was available for rent on VOD on Time Warner Cable, Comcast, Brighthouse, Charter, RCN & Verizon.

On August 10, 2010--our "street date"--we released the commercial DVD of the film to retailers and rental outlets via IndieBlitz, which has a relationship with Entertainment One. Giant Robot was kind enough to throw us a DVD launch party at their New York store. Our film is now available for physical purchase or rental, or Internet download or streaming practically everywhere, including Amazon, Walmart, Target, Best Buy, Barnes & Noble, Blockbuster, iTunes & Netflix--but you can still buy it from our very own e-store, which is (thankfully) no longer powered by us, but by IndieBlitz.

We've continued to do one-off screenings at universities, cinema societies, conferences, nonprofit organizations, and the like.

And we're not done yet! As long as this film--and we--still have breath, we will continue to beat the life (and receipts) out of it! So please don't stop spreading the word about it. Thanks!

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