As with many independent films, the distribution process for Four Eyed Monsters got off to a shaky start. After going through the normal festival circuit, filmmakers Susan Buice and Arin Crumley walked away feeling that Film Festivals "suck." Their takeaway was that you can spend all your resources and energy touring around with a film, but unless you’re in the high profile festivals, traditional distributors are not going to see your film. However, instead of giving up, the filmmakers launched one of the first online DIY distribution campaigns that eventually brought in a profit for their film. Can Four Eyed Monsters’ DIY distribution model help independent filmmakers today? What Worked
The filmmakers of Four Eyed Monsters employed four online grassroots organizing tools to successfully distribute their film: 1) Producing a Four Eyed Monsters web series 2) Creating an online petition for theatre screenings 3) Investigating the metrics involved in how manifested online support translated to actual ticket sales 4) Selling DVDs and merchandise on their website.
1) Producing a “reality TV-style” web series about the filmmakers’ struggle to finance the film helped grow their online audience by making the film more personal to their fans. Here is a link to the webseries: http://foureyedmonsters.com/. The web series helped give background about the cast and crew, making the project more engaging and relatable. This in turn, led to more attention from online blogs and reviewers like the New York Times.
The filmmakers tried to put their movie out through the normal festival channels but it led them nowhere. However they happen to document their struggle when new online formats were emerging like videocasts, youtube and facebook. Similar to how the Obama campaign would later use online video to persuade voters and encourage volunteers, the supplementary material from Four Eyed Monsters helped the filmmakers connect with fans and motivate them to become more invested in the film.
2) Creating an online petition to see the film in theaters channeled the support of their online audience towards theater distribution. Below is a picture of the Four Eyed Monsters Theater sign up page.
The filmmakers promised to screen the film in cities that obtained 150 or more sign ups. This helped create a concrete goal and sense of urgency that motivated fans to encourage their friends to also petition to see the film. Ultimately, Four Eyed Monsters received over 8,000 online requests to see the film in theaters. The hearts on the map helped signify geographic “posts of support” that enabled fans to connect and build momentum for the film at a local level. The Obama campaign applied a similar strategy though the online organizing tool Mybo and Dashboard, which displayed dots on a map to signify new field offices. This gave supporters a visual understanding of the support in their neighborhood and where they could go to volunteer.
3) Translating petition signatures to ticket sales convinced more theaters it was in their economic interests to screen the film. The filmmakers compared the number of online sign ups to ticket sales and determined 1 sign up led to 1 ticket sale. This led to 31 theaters across the country agreeing to distribute the film.
Metrics systems are common in political campaigns, but rarely utilized by filmmakers to distribute their film. The Obama campaign used a wide array of metrics for calculating what emails and call scripts effectively communicated the message of the campaign to voters and supporters. This helped the campaign adapt quickly and shift resources amidst the rapidly changing political climate of a presidential campaign. The filmmakers of Four Eyed Monsters also used their own metrics system to focus theater distribution to cities with the highest level of support for their film.
4) Allowing audiences to buy DVDs and merchandise online helped direct enthusiasm from the film in theaters towards making a profit on the film afterwards. Interestingly, the film made more money from people interested in buying shirts, DVDs and other merchandise online than on ticket sales in theaters. However, theater screenings helped the filmmakers mobilize support offline, which later led to them raising money through sponsor websites like sprout.com which paid the filmmakers $1 for every new who signed up.
The film eventually grossed a total of $129,000. Over $100,000 came from online sales.
The Four Eyed Monsters distribution model is a reminder that not every film can use the same distribution methods and expect to succeed. In a way the Four Eyed Monsters Distribution model was a happy accident. The distribution process worked, but in reverse to the normal process. The filmmaker made the movie, then they produced behind the scenes material (via a new medium - videocasts), that built interest in the film, leading to the effective release of the film in theaters and finally the Kickstarter-esque campaign to actually pay for the film. This is as opposed to the normal distribution process of raising money for the film, making the film, finding a distributor and releasing behind the scenes promo material to promote its release. Although there may be no cookie cutter way to distribute your film, the DIY distribution campaign for Four Eyed Monsters proves that if you are flexible and innovative you can find creative solutions that lead your movie towards its target audience.
In our next post we will analyze why other online distribution models have fallen short compared to Four Eyed Monsters. We will also look at how new theories like "the trapped door theory" and "collective buying power" could be applied to independent film distribution.
-Josh, Michael and Carl