You may recall some time back we spoke with Zak Forsman about his crowdfunding campaign for Down and Dangerous (and yes, that’s would be a royal we I am using) about how he raised $10,000 in just 2 days. Well, in an incredibly enlightening follow-up interview Zak breaks down the journey from crowdfunding to the film festival circuit to evaluating and deciding on a distributor for his film.
BTBO: Since crowdfunding Down and Dangerous how long has it taken you to bring it to its first audience?
ZF: Well, we started filming it almost right away. We crowdfunded at the end of 2011 and went into production in November, shot through December and then did a few pick ups in January. We were in post for about 9 months that included editing the movie, as well as all the visual effects that I was doing, the sound effects, editing and finally mixing it, so that encompassed most of 2012. 2013 was our festival run starting in phoenix going right up till the end of the year. Toward the end of the year is when we started negotiating our distribution opportunities. That lasted 4 – 6 months. Because we were given some advice by a friend who saw the movie that said, “Look, if they like your movie now, they’re gonna like it 6 months from now, so just keep asking for what you want,” and it worked! Every time we sent a contract back with changes they would nick some stuff but most stuff would stick and the deals just kept getting better and better. It was good advice, but it did take a long time.
BTBO: What is the distribution strategy for Down and Dangerous and how did you decide on that?
ZF: From its inception, I didn’t even want to take it through to festivals. The idea was to make something in the way that we were used to making movies, but to make it more commercial. Get it out there as quickly as possible but a friend suggested sending it to the Phoenix Film Festival and I was hooked for a year, sending it to more festivals. But the plan was always to use VOD platforms and to make the type of picture that tends to do well on those platforms when you don’t have big names in your cast. We were fortunate enough that the company I had my eye on, that I really wanted to partner with from the beginning, Gravitas Ventures, they liked the movie. They ended up doing a really excellent job pitching it to all of their cable and satellite providers they have relationships with. The first email we got back after they started pitching it to these companies. I could tell they were even surprised that the companies that agreed to take it. I think they said something in the email like “This is quite a coup.” They were saying that the 4 largest and most selective cable operators in the country wanted the movie. That was quite nice. They accounted for 35 million homes alone and with everybody who took it on we were available in over 100 million homes starting last Valentine’s Day.
BTBO What did you learn on the film festival circuit and would you suggest that to other filmmakers?
ZF: There’s a definite trade-off, you are going to spend a lot more money. If it’s doing well on the festival circuit, you are going to spend another year delaying distribution. If the opportunity to meet other film makers and other actors and just the fun of showing it to audiences, that whole experience, if that is valuable to you, then it’s definitely worth it. It was worth it to me even though it was something I didn’t intend to do.
BTBO: What kind of expenses did you have to take into consideration with respect to film festivals?
ZF: Travel and lodging and the expenses of having Blu-Rays made, of having DCPs made. Both of those seem to be the leading exhibition formats right now. I had a short come out a few years ago and everybody wanted HDCam and HDCam has really seemed to fall by the wayside now.
BTBO: About how much did you spend on film festivals total?
ZF: I would say if there was a festival that we had to travel to, it was usually myself, the actor , the producer and the editor, we probably were spending maybe $2000 per festival.
BTBO: Tell me how you ended up deciding on Gravitas? Was there anyone else you considered?
ZF: We actually had a lot of places that approached us, and places that we approached other than Gravitas. So while we were negotiating with Gravitas we were making inquiries with other companies, but none of our talks with other companies got anywhere, because the deal with Gravitas was always better. So while we were doing our due diligence, with our particular experience, Gravitas was always at the forefront.
BTBO: Were there any showstoppers for you?
ZF: Yea, there’s a category of distributor out there who will send you an email that is very clearly a form letter. The ones that you immediately dismiss are the ones who get the title of your movie wrong. Or they claim they spoke to you at a festival about it and you hadn’t. There’s a lot of snakes out there. I’ve been around long enough to know some companies by reputation. There’s a film board that Stacey Parks runs at her Film Specific website, where I go, and if it’s a company I haven’t heard of, I post on the message board and ask if anyone has heard of them or worked with them and inevitably there’s somebody there who will tell you what a terrible experience they had. That’s another way to filter these people out. On the flip side there are film companies that filmmakers rave about working with, everyone from Magnolia Pictures to someone like Gravitas, who was actually recommended to me Gregory Bayne.
BTBO: Can you talk about how your deal with Gravitas is structured?
25/75 split in the filmmaker’s favor. Beyond that everything is fairly standard in our contract, but like anything, it’s negotiable. Somebody gave me the advice that a contract is like a meeting of the minds and if you don’t understand something in the contract, redline it out, because a contract isn’t done until you understand everything in it. So we followed that and we’re really happy with the deal we finally made with them.
BTBO: What kind of data about views and revenue is provided to you?
ZF: I know we had over 10,000 sales of the movie. We’ve done a little better than making back the budget. It’s our first profitable movie and we’re in the process of cutting checks to our cast for their residuals. 80% of the sales were from cable and satellite On Demand purchases in the US and Canada. 18% came from iTunes. The remaining 2% is comprised of all other internet platforms like XBOX, PlayStation, Amazon Instant Video, and more.
BTBO: How often do you get paid?
ZF: I believe it’s quarterly.
BTBO: How important was it for you to keep your original backers updated on the progress of the film?
ZF: I had a rule, about updates, to not be self serving: to not use it for anything outside of Down and Dangerous, to not say “Hey! One of my old movies is now on Netflix” or even to recommend somebody else’s campaign.
BTBO: What kind of tools did you use to keep people updated?
ZF: Kickstarter has a messaging system so you can message your backers directly. During production it was just updates on where we were with the cut. I’d tease them with images from the movie. During the festival run, we’d report stuff, cut little video pieces about our experience there to keep them filled in on what was happening. Of course as our distribution release was negotiated and executed, letting them know where the movie was and how they could spread word of mouth. Although by that time, they had already got their own copy of the movie.
BTBO: Is there is a benefit to releasing your film theatrically before going VOD?
ZF: One of the things Gravitas advised us to do is do a day and date release between VOD and theatrical release in a minimum of fifteen cities. The reason was, in their experience, that would increase revenue anywhere from five to ten times. The reason being the cable and satellite companies will place your title in a premium spot. It’ll be labelled as Now Playing in Theaters or something like that. If you didn’t do that, you’d go in as a library title. So the only way peole could find your title is by going through the list. In my case, down to ‘D’ or searching for Down and Dangerous. It wouldn’t be listed as a new release title which make it a lot easier to find.
BTBO: So you didn’t have to do a theatrical release first, you just had to do it at the same time?
ZF: Yes, so everything launched on February 14th for us.
BTBO: Did the film festival circuit count as theatrical screenings?
ZF: Yes, so this is something that I learned because I never quite understood the wording in contracts when they would list a category as non-theatrical, I just assumed that meant anything not in theaters, but that’s not what it means, that means, it’s not a commercial theatrical release. So non-theatrical includes things like film festivals and private screenings, that sort of thing.
BTBO: So for day and date with cable VOD, where they will say “Now in Theaters” you need to book your film in a commercial theater.
ZF: Yea, you had to legitimately be booked by a theater It only had to be one day, but there were markets like Los Angeles where we played for a week.
BTBO: For your launch, everywhere includes iTunes? If so, did you get any premium placement on iTunes?
ZF: Yea so we were the second title listed under New Independent Releases. Over that first weekend I think we peaked at number 13 on the iTunes Top Thrillers chart, which was a nice surprise.
BTBO: Speaking of surprises, what has been the most surprising about this whole experience? Because you’ve made films before, how has this one been different?
ZF: I shouldn’t be surprised because it always seems to be this way but I am always surprised by how long it takes from the day you throw the script down on your coffee table and the group green lights it to three years later and it’s finally released. Especially because production is a month, a month and a half for us and it seems so long ago, but post and the festival circuit and negotiating your contract takes years.
BTBO: Anything else you learned that you would share with filmmakers?
ZF: It was the first time we worked with a publicist. We were recommended to a woman named Karen Oberman who did a fantastic job getting the movie out to Variety, Village Voice, L.A. Weekly, The LA Times, to get notices written up about the movie. It really helped raise the awareness of the film. Beyond that, one of our backers, his name is Tim Binder, for a living he gets bands and musicians booked on radio shows and he wanted to try his hand at doing it with a movie. So he helped us get booked on morning radio shows all over the country. SOmeof these shows, I couldn’t believe it, are syndicated to over 5 million listeners, which is the sort of thing that makes me really nervous when it’s a live interview. That too has been invaluable and totally unexpected.
BTBO: So would you recommend other filmmakers use a publicist?
ZF: Yea. It’s crucial really to getting beyond your core fan base.
BTBO: Anything you’d do differently?
ZF: [Long pause] Not in terms of getting the film out there. Creatively, I might have spent more time on the script. Although at the same time you know they say a work of art is never really finished, it’s just abandoned. So it’s hard for me to watch the movie and not want to change everything. By the same token, I’m really excited to take what I’ve learned from this movie into the next one.
BTBO: Final question, what’s next?
ZF: I’m working on an action, comedy, film noir called Broken Hearts and Noses that will be set in Portland, OR also starring John T. Woods. We’re really cited about that one, because we had so much fun making Down and Dangerous and the moments of humor we wanted to focus a little more on that. We’re excited.