OK, so opening weekend of The Hunted was no Deadpool. In fact, in contrast to a red carpet screening in London, years of planning and millions of dollars spent on perhaps the most ambitious transmedia marketing campaign in history, our experience went down something like this.
At about 1am on Friday morning of Feb 26th, Jess and I are surfing the net. I had been working a triple shift doing PR for The Hunted (posting on Facebook), prepping to shoot an all-new Hunted episode, and creating an exploding CG briefcase for an upcoming movie.
Jess suddenly turns to me and asks, “Is the movie up yet?”
For no real reason other than the fact that I had some time off from work and there weren’t any blockbuster films being released that weekend (although I had completely forgotten about the Oscars), I had chosen to release the film at noon on Friday, Feb 26.
I had done all the research, scoped out every streaming platform, aggregator, and DIY service online, exhausted all the possibilities for a theatrical release, traditional distributor and/or sales agent, and finally determined Vimeo VOD was the best way to go. We had been calling it a “soft release”, but for all intents and purposes, it was opening weekend.
“You should probably release it now in case someone is looking for it”, Jess added.
And instead of waiting for some cosmic fanfare or debating who might want to watch the film at 1am in the morning, I said “Sure, why not?”
And with a few mouse clicks, it was done.
Just like that.
After years of planning, the insanity of the shoot, the battles with SAG, the years in post production, the sleepless nights, the maxed out credit cards, the endless screenings, it all came down to a few mouse clicks to release it unto the world.
Up to that point, Jess regarded the release of the film with a sense of disconnect. The movie had literally taken years off both of our lives and she was now trying to focus on her own side career as a scientific consultant.
But she suddenly reclined and spread her arms as if a huge weight had been lifted off her chest. “It’s done!”
Yup, no turning back now. No more editing, tweaks, or finessing. All I could do now was to get the word out there. I had already spent a week letting fans know the film was going to premiere on Friday, but I knew that wasn’t going to be enough.
There is only one way an indie film can survive in a market over-saturated with media blasting viewers from all angles with Facebook, Youtube, Netflix, awesome blockbuster movies like Deadpool, and the biggest circus of all right now, politics.
I’m gonna have to spam the shit outta this.
Apologies to my friends, family and fans of the show who are tired of seeing Hunted posters and links plastered everywhere on Facebook, but this was the only way I was going to get eyeballs on the film. It was time to put on my marketing hat and try to muster as much help as I could online. Crowdsourcing to the rescue once again!
I had already checked in with a few of my publishing friends who had helped us out with advertising in the past. John Mosby cranked out a wonderful review of the film in record time for Impact Online, and Abbie Bernstein did an extensive interview for Fangoria Magazine which should be coming out soon.
I now have an ever-growing list of post-it notes for marketing ideas, film festivals and publishers to contact. And this is on top of a huge stack of other post-it notes for things that probably should’ve been done before the film was even released.
One of the things I really hoped I could accomplish before this whole blitz is a redesign of the website. I’d like to make it easier for people to find our episodes (over 100 online) and contribute to user content. Right now, that means getting people to shoot their own episodes, and I’ve fired up our $1000 Youtube contest to help make that happen.
But I need to make it easier for folks to add content. Not everyone wants to be a filmmaker. I need to allow folks to add links to scripts, characters, news items, services, cast and crew, locations, equipment, etc. And I’ve come up with an awesome idea for a thumbnail driven database that would accomplish all of this. This is how I can extend the “long tail” of the show and make it self-sustaining.
Unfortunately, I’m not sure that I want to drop everything just to dust off my programming skills (I have a BS in comp sci) and I doubt I have the funds to pay a company to make this happen. At the very least, I may resurrect a old bulletin board system I had in place years ago called “Slayer Central”, which I eventually had to pull because it was overwhelmed with SPAM.
But I wasn’t about to wait for all of this to happen before I released the film. It was time. And I know I’m going to make plenty of mistakes, but I’m continuing the mantra I’ve had through the entire film, “it’s not your best film, it’s your first film”. I credit my Uncle Dick for that one.
Fortunately, we live in an age where you can Google stuff like “mistakes I made indie film Vimeo” and I learned one of the biggest regrets among Vimeo users was not setting up an email service. Within a few hours I had signed up for a service called “MailChimp” and imported a really old email list I hadn’t touched in years.
It was around 2am when Jess finally went to bed. I stayed up for another hour to make sure I did everything I could to be ready for the premiere. I basically told people to drink lots of alcohol. And just as I signed off for the night, I noticed our Vimeo account total read $4.99. Someone had rented our film at 3am. And for the first time in the history of this freakin show, over fifteen years, The Hunted had finally made money.
Deadpool isn’t the only romantic action movie in February!!! #HuntedandMe
Over the weekend, I closely followed the metrics provided by Vimeo, which are pretty cool. They can tell you instantly when someone rented or purchased the film (for $12.99) and from what part of the world. I considered limiting distribution to just the US to allow for future foreign sales, but I realized my main intention was to just get the film out there. We saw rentals from the UK and France, but the trailer has apparently been seen in 39 countries.
Unfortunately, we also saw the downside of Vimeo. The VOD service was clunky – forcing viewers to sign in just to watch the film. And even though the service boasts multi-platform capability, folks were unable to find the film on their TV sets using a basic search. I even encountered serious bugs on Roku, which kept me from playing my own film. But still, Vimeo is the best bet around. And I’m not waiting around for the next big thing to come out, whatever or whenever that is.
So how did the film do? Let’s just say we’re not going to be breaking any boxoffice records. But we can probably afford a really nice dinner at Benihana. And I know this is just the beginning. Publications will be coming out in the next few months along with word of the contest and film festivals. At that time the film may find it’s way onto the larger streaming platforms. But as far as I’m concerned, seeing that first sale somehow made it all worthwhile.
I didn’t watch the Oscars this weekend, but I was reminded me of a speech by Steven Soderbergh in 2001 that keeps me going – “I want to thank anyone who spends part of their day creating. I don’t care if it’s a book, a film, a painting, a dance, a piece of theater, a piece of music… Anybody who spends part of their day sharing their experience with us. I think this world would be unliveable without art”.
I think it’s a bit presumptuous to call The Hunted “art”, but one thing you can say for sure is that we did it. And I’d add one more quote from another filmmaker to finish off this post which turned out way longer than intended. It’s a quote I’ve used on every email for the past 5 years – ever since I started this project…
“Curiosity is the most powerful thing you own, imagination is a force that can manifest reality” – J. Cameron