On November 1, my debut feature Crushed will have its digital release in Australia, New Zealand and North America. What I have learnt over the past 3 ½ years as an indie filmmaker is that just as much blood sweat and tears goes into the marketing and distribution of your film as it does to make it.
Crushed is a mystery thriller set on a winery in the beautiful Mudgee Wine Region. Written specifically to be a low budget indie and my debut feature, the script was tailor made for its location and its modest budget. After gathering a team consisting of old classmates from AFTRS and friends and colleagues that I’d worked with over the years, we set out with an arm full of favours from our time in the industry to make Crushed.
When you prepare to make your first feature, you don’t really know what you are in for. You know that it’ll be a tough slog, and that you probably won’t get much sleep, and you believe that the hardest part will be shooting the film. What comes as a surprise is that although the shoot is as tough as you thought, it is one of the easier aspects of making and distributing an indie feature.
Once you announce publicly that you are making a feature, the train pulls out of the station. As momentum builds, you bring on amazingly talented people who bring their energy, their time, and their dedication. Soon you have dozens and dozens of people involved, all with a common goal of shooting the best film possible. The shoot is about collaboration; it’s a group effort that results in something much greater than the sum of its parts. When you are tired, you have thirty people to help buoy you; when you hit an obstacle, as a team, you find a solution; and then there is adrenaline, always pumping, pushing you when the hours dwindle away. The sense of solidarity and common purpose is magical, and the sense of accomplishment is huge. And then the shoot wraps.
In an instant, the cast, the crew, and the team that had your back moves on to their next project. Of course, you have a talented post team, but for indie films, it is often you and one or two other people working on a particular part of post. The adrenaline is long gone, and this is where the stamina and persistence must kick in. You realise that the shoot wasn’t the marathon that you had to endure – it was just the warm up. And if you decide to head up a hybrid approach to distribution, you will realise that there is a second marathon waiting for you once you export your final master. However, what a hybrid approach offers the indie filmmaker is the ability to push the film much further than it may have otherwise if you signed the dotted line for an all rights sale.
The Crushed approach to distribution became about managing each individual distribution right for Australia and New Zealand while signing all international rights to media company, 108 Media. This allowed us to focus our energy on the market that we knew best without missing out on overseas sales because of our lack of resources and connections in the international market.
In March 2016, we embarked on a screening tour across Australia with cinema-on-demand company, FanForce. This resulted in 43 screenings in both cities and regional centres using primarily the cinema-on-demand model and some secondary cinema bookings. This was a real achievement for an Aussie, independent feature with the tour being one of the most successful Australian cinema-on-demand theatrical releases. It required a huge amount of grass roots marketing where we tapped into niche audiences that were particular to Crushed: the genre crowd, wine lovers, women in film, and Aussie filmmakers.
Some might argue that the cinema release is dead for smaller films. But for us, it was essential to release on the big screen. With it comes reviews, press, recognition within the industry, and it creates a relationship with audiences. The control you get out of a non-traditional release is incredibly important. Rather than putting an independent film out for a traditional run, which requires a large cash investment in P&A (prints and advertising) with little chance of recouping that investment, cinema-on-demand literally means that the demand will cover your basic costs. You get full cinemas, a great vibe associated with your film, and money coming in the door, all with a mitigated risk. What you also get as a filmmaker is an understanding of where your audiences are, what they respond to, and what worked and what didn’t in your film – all great information for your next film.
But the most important thing about cinema-on-demand is access. In an industry marred by terrible representation of women (and diversity in general), quality films that don’t fit the traditional idea of what can be distributed in Australia are able to by-pass these gate keepers and go straight to the audience. And for female-led films, this is a life vest, because although female-led films have proven their box office worth, they are still considered “risky” bets in the conservative world of film distribution.
In the past year, Crushed was joined by a number of other narrative films by women releasing on cinema-on-demand, such as Louise Wadley’s All About E, Rhiannon Bannenberg’s Ambrosia and Sophie Mathisen’s upcoming release of Drama. We were able to reach audiences in a way that could not have been achieved under the traditional distribution model, and it allowed our films to present the female gaze as equal to the male one, and to make it “normal” for female-led films to be viewed on the silver screen alongside their counterpart, not the exception.
When the digital release of Crushed finally arrives, I’ll be able to take a breath. But I know that it won’t be long before I’ll be diving back in for the next one and starting it all again, armed with the knowledge learnt from Round one.
For more on Crushed, head to the official website.