17 Jun Here We Go Again
Here we are once again, boot strapping a film into the river of distribution on a raft that keeps taking on water. We launch “All The Rage” at Cinema Village next week, and as usual, we are doing everything ourselves. Not only do we have to make the films, but we have to make all the distribution materials, hire publicists and drive people crazy wth our entreaties to come out to the theater. We have to rely entirely on word of mouth. We’ve been making films for nearly 25 years and we have self distributed every single one of them.
When we made our first film “Half-Cocked” in 1994 we held a cast and crew screening before we even submitted it to festivals. A friend of ours brought his friend Godfrey, who wrote a stunningreview for Variety. When it ran our phone rang off the hook and we didnt know why until someone came over with the review. We sent out about 50 VHS tapes to Hollywood studios but no one called us back after watching our slow black and white masterpiece. We submitted it to about 35 festivals before we finally got into a small fest in Ohio. Eventually it showed at a number of underground festivals that had cropped up (NYUFF, CUFF, Microcinefest). While we have showed all of our films at fest like CUFF they haven’t been really underground and transgressive enough to be fully embraced by that world- and they haven’t been straight enough for the straight world. Eventually we threw “Half-Cocked” in a van with a projector and showed it in rock clubs around the world. On a trip through Spain with my band the promoter offered to do a tour of Half-Cocked. I told my partner Suki and she burst into tears. “Don’t worry”, I told her, “it will be great. We can use the clubs we show it in to shoot a new film.”
In 1999, we had some festival success with that film “Radiation” after it appeared at Sundance. A couple weeks later we showed it on a Friday in NY at NYUFF and the following day in Austin as SXSW. At both events reps of a new distributor saw it and loved it. They wanted to distribute it- on one condition- that Film Forum show it in NY. Film Forum refused. We took it to 40 festivals but it never got distribution.
Making those films was hard- like almost impossible. We shot on film and needed a crew to do it. So when we got a video camera we fell into making documentaries… because they would be easier right? A few years later we finished a doc about an underground publisher re-publishing a discredited bio of GW Bush- “Horns and Halos”. Things were looking good for us as we edited. Bush was struggling in his first 6 months and it seemed like there would be a real audience for the film. Unfortunately, our last day of shooting was Sept 10, 2001. The following day it was basically illegal to criticize Bush. A year later when Toronto Film Festival invited it we sent VHS tapes to publicists and all but one refused to discuss it with us because they all got it in plastic bags saying that it had been opened and investigated the government.
Eventually we put it in theaters ourselves (starting with Cinema Village), sold it to HBO, and got it short-listed for the Academy Award. It was a hard run, but it felt like we were kind of finally getting somewhere. When we finished our next doc Code 33, about the search for a serial rapist in Miami we thought we were going to get it seen widely because we got incredible, jaw droopingly positive reviews in Variety and Hollywood Reporter. We set up a distributor screening and got a lot of people there. They seemed to love it but all said, “we don’t know how to sell it.”
So after a few festivals no one really saw it. A year later the guy escaped- which we shot. By that time our cops had ended up on A&E’s The First 48- so they gave us a bunch of money to rip apart that film and combine it with the escape and trial- and we made Miami Manhunt out of it. I still prefer Code 33 – but Miami Manhunt is kind of epic- if also a little TV.
It took us a few more years to finish our next doc, “Battle for Brooklyn”. After having an incredible festival premiere at HotDocs in Toronto we couldn’t get any other tests to show it. so we worked with Brooklyn Film Festival to make it the opening night film. That got the film a lot of press and we opened it the following week in NY at Cinema Village. Wedid amazingly at the box office (13k opening weekend). No other theater except the Laemmle in LA would book it because they thought it was a “local story”. A few months later Occupy happened and we started to get traction because people had a context with which to understand the deep level of corruption that the film represented. We even got it short listed for the Academy Award. However, in the film world it didn’t really exist because it wasn’t at the festivals. There was actually a lot of annoyance in that world that it had beat out other much more important films for a spot on the short list. A company came along and said they would put it in a dozen cities and launch it on direct TV. They paid us a pittance and then never put it in the theaters. I think we get it back this fall.
We followed that up with Who Took Johnny which we premiered at Slamdance. We thought at least we’ll be out in Park City where everyone is, but our film wasn’t in competition so no one would write about it. It took us a year and a half to get anything other than a blog review. It was a rave in the Hollywood Reporter out of Thessaloniki- crickets… It was now so old no one in the film world paid any attention. We then opened it ourselves in Des Moines, Iowa- because the story takes place there. We did incredible numbers for that small market (6k)- but no one else would show it. Eventually a small company made a deal for VOD and it shocked everyone by doing 20k downloads in 2 months. When it hit Netflix it exploded in popularity- but we stopped making sales. None of this helped us with our next doc.
We premiered “All The Rage” at DocNYC in November to a sold out crowd. It took a few months before another festival, one of our favorites, Big Sky Documentary Fest, showed it. Again, the response was great. Then we took it to Buenos Aires -BAFICI- another favorite fest. In June we took it to Sedona, Chicago, San Francisco, and New Haven- where the response was incredible. Next week we open it ourselves at Cinema Village once again. We know we’ll pack the place. Still, even after 25 years we have a great deal of difficulty getting the film world to embrace our work. Here’s the tag line for the Hollywood Reporter review of “All The Rage”- “An unpolished but effective call for attention to ideas that buck the medical establishment.” – I guess you can’t polish grit.