The Waterhole – An Epilogue

It was never going to be easy.  It took along time to write, a longer time to finance and what felt like even longer to get to the first screening.  The scary truth is that it was going to get even harder, especially since we had the high aspiration of wanting more people to see our film.  At the end of the day we accomplished everything we wanted to, had a blast doing it and learned more than I could possibly put into this blog.  So as hard as it was, it was the most rewarding non-offspring creating experience of my life and I look forward to doing it again as soon as feasible. 

Before I turn out the lights and lock the doors forever on The Waterhole I thought I would add some insight to the final step of our bumpy journey: Distribution.  Like everything else we experienced this turned out to be a mixed bag of “Wow, were are so damn lucky” to “How did this get so fucked up?”  What follows is not a cautionary tale nor is it advice; it is simply a recount with maybe a few editorial notes added for spice.  I will not mention our sales agent or distributor by name, because I have nothing negative to say about them specifically and for those who are truly curious that information is not too hard to find. 

After our minor festival run we were fully prepared to self-distribute.  And by that I mean fully ready for the possibility.  The discussions we had with sales reps had been in a word: creepy.   Used car sales men creepy.  The kind of conversations where you are never not feeling hustled.   To make matters worse these companies wanted to charge us for their services, fees that reached above ten grand.  The one good thing about those numbers was they were prohibitive enough to make our decision easy despite the promises the agents were making. (Side note: throughout this whole filmmaking process these agents were the only stereotypical Hollywood douche bags we dealt with.)  In the end we were able to find a sales rep that seemed genuine and frank and although we did have to kick down some cash, it was significantly lower than the numbers quoted by the others we had spoken with.

Thus, the rejection process initiated by the festival circuit was continued in the search for a distributor.   As the months passed, dozens of screeners were sent and the names of possible matches made in heaven were crossed off the list one by one.   It was bleak.  The self-distribution back-up plan was getting dusted off.  We would do anything to get the film out there, but prospect of someone doing the heavy lifting for us felt seemed like the best option for our schedules.  We really wanted a distributor.  We were so close.  Finally an offer would come.  The only offer we would get.  Decision time is always more fun when you have no other choices. 

We signed.  The reason for going with this distributor besides the fact that we had zero other choices are as follows: 1) they were very upfront and honest with us as to what we could expect from sales, as in “don’t get your hopes up,” 2) reasonable terms for revenue split and expenses, 3) we could sell DVDs off our own website, 4) and most importantly for me, every film in their catalog was on Netflix.   Why was Netflix so important?  At the time it was the one place that offered the quickest access to a large audience, something I wanted more than money.  When I emphasized to them that this was important to me, they stated that it should not be a problem but that there was never any guarantee. 

On March 23, 2011 our DVD was shipped out across the US and Canada.  It felt great to hold it in my hands, but the work was still not over.  We knew that our new distributor had limited resources to market the film so we did our own publicity, getting anyone and everyone to review it and hitting the social networks hard.  The first disconcerting interaction with the distributor was when I asked if I could see their media list to make sure we weren’t doubling up.  I was told “no” and wasn’t even given any sense of what promotion they were doing, which was unfortunate because it was at this time the best promotion angle was about to occur: our star, the wonderful Patrick J Adams, was just announced as the lead in a new USA show called SUITS.  This was a huge break for us.  Our casting philosophy had been to get actors that weren’t big now, but could be big and it was paying off.   I immediately informed our distributor who responded positively but that was all they did. 

At this point, any and all excitement started to evaporate.  The DVD was not on Netflix, not even listed as a title you could save.  We inquired and were told, “It is getting more difficult.”  Wonderful.  Deep breathes.  Not the end of the world.  A few weeks after the DVD was released we asked our distributor when we could expect to see the digital releases and were told, “In two months.”  Two months came and went.  Three months.  Four months.  You get the picture.  Finally in December we were released on Amazon Instant and a few others with iTunes to supposedly follow soon.  As of this writing, we are still not on iTunes.  Our digital distribution was and remains practically non-existent.  In this period we also received our first payment.  It was pretty embarrassing.  Without pulling down our pants completely, I will just say that we would need about 400 more of them before we broke even.   

That was that.  I am not whining about the results.  I realize that we made a small film, a drama none-the-less, with a limited audience potential that didn’t get serious attention at film festivals.  I was not expecting be the driving force saving Blockbuster video.  I was hoping for options.  Our distributor made no promises and it doesn’t help them any if our film isn’t available in as many places as possible, but I can’t help but feel like we were just another movie to add to their library.  Yet, the only issue I can call them out on is the digital delay.  There is absolutely no reason it should have taken six months to get the film on Amazon Instant.  None.  Anyone can do it.  Unlike Netflix or Hulu, Amazon is great about accepting content.  I will never know why they decided to delay it, and when asked they just offered vague answers like, “It’s being processed.”   The only thing I can speculate that is when Patrick J Adams’ show was released they wanted to wait and see if they could sell more DVDs.  If that were the case it would have been great if they had let us in on the plan.  

So while I am not angry with our distributor we are faced with the question: was it worth it?  I still don’t know.  The fact is that other than getting the DVD in a few video stores they did nothing for us that we could not have done ourselves and with minimal effort.   In fact, currently on Amazon the DVD is being manufactured on demand – a service geared towards to those that are self-distributing – and at a price that is $10 more than what we are charging on our website here.  Even the sales agent was in a sense a waste, as we could have easily approach our distributor ourselves, in fact I have a friend who did.  The upside is that as we move forward on our next project we can say that we had a film picked up for distribution and that’s an accomplishment in itself.  Isn’t it?  Had we self-distributed would we have more money in our account?  Definitely.  Without a doubt.  But it was never solely about the money anyway, it was about the experience.  And what and experience it was. 



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4 responses to “The Waterhole – An Epilogue

  1. Would it be smarter, in your opinion, to have sold DVDs in a Kickstarter fashion (where you basically become your own studio) rather than go through the standard DVD route.

    • That’s actually a very interesting idea, one I considered especially since we are just going to take whatever money we make and put it into the next film. I think you need to keep that as an option, but carefully weigh all offers and what the potential upside could be.

  2. Thanks for documenting your experience. I’m about to submit my latest short film to festivals, and having been through the process before, I know that, frankly, it sucks. Just logging into withoutabox is depressing–thousands of film festivals each with a pricey entry fee. And, to top it off, you never know if you even stand a chance of getting in.

  3. Thanks for writing this. I had similar experiences in 2005 and 2008. Going through the festival process again the past few months, and found this site while looking for more info on the IMDB/Withoutabox (and Film Finders) merger. I hope the road is smoother for you in the future…though it seems to be for only a few. I had very good reception and prospects in 2005, but that’s all faded. :-\ Still pumping stuff out, though. Nothing better to do. 🙂

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