We recently came to the close of the theatrical release of Rockhaven Film’s Goodland. It played in a total of 7 cities. This was the first time I’ve been a key part of making a theatrical release work, so I wanted to share some of what I learned along the way. So here it is: 9 things I learned from my first theatrical release.
1. Booking theaters is both expensive and time consuming
I tried booking a theater here in San Francisco, but in the end I was unsuccessful. The only theater that really got back to us would only show the film on a rental, not a revenue share. We didn’t pay any of the other theaters, and we weren’t going to start in San Francisco.
If we had paid them, it would have been a bit over 2,000 for 9 showings in a week. It is possible to get some films in there on revenue share alone, but if you do you often must give up the first 2-3,000 in sales directly tot he theater, and generally that’s about all you’ll make from a screen unless you can really pound the pavement and get press coverage.
2. Book local theaters, New York, and Los Angeles first.
This contradicts some of what I just said, but when you’re getting started, the first theaters you need to book are New York, Los Angeles, and perhaps the screen most local to the filmmakers. New York and LA get you more press coverage, and give legitimacy to your theatrical run. The local screen is generally the easiest to book.
3. You don’t always need a full week’s run.
We only did 3 screenings in Buffalo, NY, but we still got a decent amount of press and a good amount of social media attention. Doing 1-3 screenings in a market makes it feel more like an event, and is a great way to build word of mouth about your film. Even if you can’t book a full week, consider booking a few one night only engagements to boost your presence in markets across the country.
4. Often, 1-2 shows a day is easier to sell.
We had 3-5 screenings a day in Kansas City, and it was difficult to drive traffic to any one particular screening. That includes the screenings we had with Q&As after them. If you focus on one individual showing a day, it’s easier to focus your marketing efforts, and get those butts in seats for an indie movie.
5. Fewer theaters are independently owned than you think
In attempting to book theaters in San Francisco, I found that only a few local theaters were independently owned. More theaters than you think are owned by the mega chains like AMC, Cinemark, United Artists, and Landmark. If you’re dealing with these mega chains, you’re likely going to have to deal with their buyers. Generally, those buyers will only want to deal with distributors.
6. Once a theater is booked you can still get bumped unless you paid the rental fee.
We booked a screen in New York for the same day we opened in LA. Unfortunately, we were bumped because Avengers, Infinity War outperformed expectations. If possible, don’t try to book your indie in May, June, July, August, November, or December. That’s when Hollywood will be very likely to bump you.
7. Keep Making Noise to fill seats
Once you get your theaters booked, you’re still going to have to drive local people to theaters. The most cost-effective ways to do this are via local press coverage and social media. The two work very well together. Keep your audience engaged by sharing news on your facebook page, twitter, and instagram whenever there’s news to be had.
8. Press coverage is key: Local Press can be very cliquey.
Local Press coverage is among the best ways to drive traffic to your movie. However, it can be difficult to get.
It should surprise precisely no-one reading this list that some film scenes are very cliquey, and some of those people from the film scenes end up in positions of power at general press outlets. They may not cover your movie just because you’re not one of the cool kids. It sucks, but it is what it is. It would be difficult to change their mind, so just move on to other outlets if that’s what you’re running up against.
9. In the end, if you've made ANY money you've done well.
Finally, there’s not really a lot of money in theatrical runs themselves. There is a lot of additional money to be had in having had a theatrical release. If you end up getting beyond your distributor’s recoupable expenses, you’ve done VERY well. The additional money you’ve gotten from these outlets is likely to have a marked impact on your TVOD sales and your SVOD sales price. I might be making some announcements about how that worked for Goodland on our facebook page, soon.
Thanks so much for reading! If you liked what I had to say, you might want to book a strategy session with me. Your first one is completely free, and I manage them through a service called Clarity. Book it via the corresponding button below. If you’d like me to help you book theaters and handle some other parts of your distribution, then submit your project through me via the button below.
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My name is Ben, I'm an Entrepreneur, Producer's Rep, and Author. I'm the founder of Guerrilla Rep Media, Co-Founder/CMO of ProductionNext, and founder of Producer Foundry. Together, the organizations seek to help make filmmaking a more economically sustainable endeavor. I am dysic, I have capitalization issues, and the blogs are often unedited. opinions all my own.
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