It’s frustrating waiting for others to help advance your career or the life of your film and it doesn’t have to be that way, if we can independently write, shoot and cut features surely we can independently release them too? Well I am about to find out.
Growing up I was inspired by the DIY Culture of UK Hip Hop, self-recording pressing and selling direct to loyal fans, along with the defiant attitude of Punk that stuck two fingers up to the mainstream and carved it’s own niche. It was this go-out-there-and-do-whatever-you-want approach that spring-boarded my career when aged twenty-two I shot my debut feature The Plague (2004) for only £3,500. I struck it lucky as the film went on to do a whirlwind of festivals with awards and critical acclaim, finally picking up a cinematic, DVD and television release, which was both a joyous and bewildering experience of highs and lows. Spurned on by this success I remained stubbornly independent completing two more features but never achieving the heady heights of my debut, despite the fact I felt they were stronger pieces. I was in that place every filmmaker knows about where you feel you are banging your head against a brick wall for a break. I didn’t want to repeat this experience. At the end of 2011 it was pointed out to me that I have made a feature film every three years, therefore I need to shoot and release my new film by 2013. Not being one to back down from a challenge and eager to put into practice the lessons learnt from my previous experiences I endeavoured to fund, shoot, cut and distribute my new feature COMMUNION. The journey is not yet complete but these twelve points outline the overall strategy from nothing to something, done one hundred percent independent from start to finish!
Gather an Audience (April/May):
First things first it was time to focus all those people who over the years had come into contact with myself or my films, I needed a calling card that was fresh and relevant, so in a manor of weeks I co-wrote, shot, cut and released a 15 minute short for £100 called BRUISED. I used established film maker led networks to release it and in just over a week it had an International Premiere (Bootleg Film Festival Toronto), UK Premiere (Write-Shoot-Cut Edinburgh), London Premiere (West London Film Network Launch Party) and then was available online through youtube to build subscribers.
Pre-sell DVD’s (July/Aug):]
Commonly known as crowd funding but I prefer to think of it as pre-sales, we followed up the release of the short with the announcement of our Crowd funding campaign for COMMUNION, we had done our homework and knew that we were aiming to sell £15 DVD packages or £30 DVD & Premiere Ticket packages to our audience. This had a clear planned out timetable with an update video released each week via our youtube channel to focus supporters and raise the 15K budget.
Shoot the Film (Sept/Oct):
Having only come up with the idea in May and scripted it alongside devising sessions with the main cast over the summer, we pulled together a small tight working team and overcame all types of obstacles. With the right attitude and enough preparation the impossible was overcame. Plus caffeine was important.
Cut the Film (Nov/Apr):
One bedroom. One computer. One editor. Over and over again. The joy of independent post-production! It was important to keep up audience interest during this period with monthly newsletter updates plus releasing a Teaser Trailer as soon as possible. And it was important to stay sane with the input of others during this long arduous process.
Celebrate the Film (May):
With about twelve hours to spare the final cut was completed, graded, mixed, encoded and burnt to Blu-Ray for the exclusive Cast, Crew & Crowd funders screening at the beautiful Cinema Museum. There’s nothing like sharing the final film with those who have supported you for the journey. Plus it’s the best launch pad to share your future plans for the film with it’s core audience base.
Teach the Film (May/June):
As independent filmmakers the key is sharing the knowledge so where better than to organise private screenings with additional masterclasses than at Universities to students? We exclusively showed at Goldsmiths University of London, Ravensbourne College of Design & Communication and Central School of Speech & Drama while also distributing a unique comic book zine about the film which helped create a buzz.
Throw a Party (July):
Being an indie filmmaker should be like being an indie musician therefore you should always look at collaborating with exciting underground bands. I was lucky enough to have post-rockers 52 Commercial Road, fresh off their US Tour, to create a unique and evocative score for the film. So we also threw a party in a squatted derelict music studio where fans of the band got to hear the soundtrack for the first time and be introduced to the upcoming film.
Get a Venue (August 1st-10th):
So you want to show your film in the cinema? Well there is only one way and that is to get a venue! From the 1st to the 10th August myself and the team behind the film will be running the Portobello Pop Up Cinema, a beautifully unique space co-founded by our patron and film legend Barney Platts-Mills, where for eight nights only we are screening the film to paying customers as a direct artist-to-audience platform. You don’t get anymore independently distributed than the producer selling you a ticket and the director projecting the film!
Sell a DVD or two (August):
I have been fortunate enough in having quite a bit of experience building and manufacturing dual layer discs since the distributor of my debut film went bust and I started bootlegging it myself! My tactic here isn’t to sell large amounts of units to retailers but instead it is to do a small limited edition run and sell direct from the cinema, and they can only be purchased from me the director with no middleman!
Take the Film on Tour (Aug/Sept/Oct):
The attitude is if we were a band with an album what would we do? Take to the road! After completing our London run we are taking the film on tour over two and half months doing one off screenings around the UK. We have programmed this by using networks that already exist. Firstly filmmaker led nights such as Write-Shoot-Cut (Edinburgh) have established regular local screenings and are happy to screen an indie feature presented by the team behind it. Secondly unique independent venues such as Talk of Tea (Brighton) are screening the film, despite only a capacity of twenty people it’s not about ticket sales but creating a fun hype around the experience of seeing the film. Thirdly are the regional Film Festivals that thrive off hard to see indie features such as No Gloss Film Festival (Leeds) and the Channel Film Festival (Bristol/Swansea). Combined we have been able to programme a tour around the country for our film.
Take the Film Abroad (Sept 19th):
Well it would be silly not to right? Having an International Premiere is key to raising the name of your indie film, and with a clear timetable like ours it makes it easier knowing what to target, for us it was the brilliant champion of the underground, the nomadic Bootleg Film Festival who will be screening COMMUNION in New York at the TriBeCa Film Centre.
Upload & Release (Nov 1st):
This entire journey, the ongoing campaign of raising the films profile to crowd funding to screening to touring has all been working towards one final chapter. And that is of course the online release which we are using Vimeo’s Video On Demand service.
The adventure is not yet finished for me, I’m poised on the cusp ready for the films opening on 1st August at the Portobello Pop Up Cinema. I don’t claim to have all the answers when it comes to Distribution but the key is getting the film to an audience, and this is what I am doing. Instead of getting frustrated waiting around on others to give you a break, it’s best to make those chances happen for yourself, I’ll admit its bound to have mistakes on the way but it’s better than banging your head against the wall.
The Plague – Trailer