Make movies yourself. Distribute them on your own. 10 MPH’s director Hunter Weeks writes a thorough overview of how he and Josh successfully made 10 MPH one of the most talked about indie films of 2007.
If you watch 10 MPH, you’ll see that Josh and my approach to getting into the film industry was one of blind faith. We had no formal training in making films and very little understanding of how the industry worked. This obviously meant we didn’t have any connections either. But we could tell things were changing and felt we had the ability to jump in and figure it out. This spirit is one that many filmmakers share. It’s a desire to do something more than the ordinary – to create something that will ultimately have an effect on people. After three years, I can honestly say I think we’re figuring it out and it’s a whole heck of a lot of work. But, the rewards are just enough that it leaves us hungering for more and just certain enough that we’re on the path to whatever it is that we’re supposed to be doing. That being said, I can see why so many have given this film thing a try and not been able to live out the dream as initially planned. I think things are changing and more of us will be successful in film. That’s why I feel compelled to share some of what we’ve learned.
I also should call attention to a pivotal moment on this path that helped inspire me to write this. In September of 2007, I was at the IFP Filmmaker Conference in New York and met several key people. Scott Kirsner was moderating a panel about new media technologies in filmmaking and after his talk, I approached him. He’d just heard about 10 MPH and was curious about our digital download strategy. Later in the conference, he included me in a panel where I had a chance to talk about our approach to digital downloads and DIY distribution in general. I also spoke with Arin Crumley of Four Eyed Monsters, who along with Susan Buice have orchestrated a brilliant DIY distribution strategy. Arin encouraged me to talk with Lance Weiler, who runs the Workbook Project, a website for people in the industry to share information about their distribution and filmmaking experiences. Lance interviewed me that week while I was in New York (hear the interview). After the panel that I spoke on, I had several filmmakers approach me about their interest in DIY distribution and realized how hot this topic was.
In April of 2004, Josh Caldwell and I quit our web marketing jobs in Scottsdale, Arizona, and moved up to Denver to aggressively pursue a path in doing something a whole lot more interesting than sitting in a cube farm. We decided to make a movie – and were positive we’d found the perfect premise – to be the first to cross the country on a Segway scooter. (Gotta give credit to our college buddy j.fred for this ingenious idea.) At first, we were going to shoot a documentary as we crossed the country that tried to discern what today’s American Dream is. Everything was trial by error, but we learned fast and had both exciting progress and many challenges as we got things going. By the time the 100-day trip ended (Nov 2004), we had 180 hours of footage and very few “American Dream” interviews and perspectives. The story had shifted to become a story about our pursuit of the American Dream and some interesting life philosophies that tied in with this from individuals all across the country.
The edit took a long time and was truly the biggest learning experience we’d encountered so far on this new path. With so much footage, the real story building process happens in the edit. Eventually after about a year of pushed deadlines and lots of re-edits, we finished the cut and started applying to festivals. In April of 2006, 10 MPH had its World Premiere at the Vail Film Festival, and went on to play in over a dozen other festivals in 2006, winning three best documentary awards. We had packed houses that left our screenings very inspired. Only problem – we were playing in festivals that didn’t have industry press or buyers. So, while the public loved it, no one in the film industry knew anything about 10 MPH. It began to seem like we wouldn’t land a distribution deal.
After screening in about three festivals, Josh and I were getting asked frequently about what was next. We’d thought a lot about this and much like the blind faith & quick jump on making 10 MPH, we decided to make a documentary about Fantasy Football. We felt we had to be aggressive on this story because no one had done it, but the industry and culture behind it were in the midst of blowing up. So in August of 2006, we started filming our 2nd feature documentary, which is called 10 Yards. This was a pretty gutsy move, but we felt we had a great idea and the perfect circumstances to film it, and were very concerned that the hopeless pursuit of finding distribution for 10 MPH might deter us from continuing down the path of making films.
During the fall of 2006, we started talking with some friends we had made in the industry and exploring ways to get a distributor behind 10 MPH. We kept hitting dead ends and from all of our studies realized we weren’t on the golden path that starts with Sundance, Toronto, SXSW, or Tribeca.
In early 2007, festivals were winding down for 10 MPH and we were beginning post production on 10 Yards. We were starting to explore the idea of self distribution for 10 MPH. One of our connections came through and hooked us up with a sub-distributor so we were able to set a date for a DVD launch of May 29. We were continuing to figure things out daily and planned an entire summer launch period around our DVD release that included a major theatrical tour to take place in the summer.
The summer of 2007 was very successful. We sold over 4000 DVDs and 750 digital downloads. Our theatrical tour reached 23 cities and grossed almost $15,000. 10 MPH’s popularity on online rental sites like Netflix sky rocketed causing long waits and bump orders.
As of October 2007, 10 Yards (the fantasy football film) is nearing completion and being submitted to film festivals. Negotiations for a cable deal for 10 MPH are in the works and other discussions around various rights are also taking place.
Next Week – 10MPH DIY part 2 focuses on harnessing the power of the internet, the importance of design and building your own brand.
Hunter Weeks made his feature-length directorial debut with 10 MPH. He’s also the mastermind behind the creative marketing and distribution efforts that led to national recognition and critical acclaim for the film. Photographing the world since the early nineties, Hunter Weeks has developed an eye for capturing moments of humanity in off-the-beaten-path places, like Croatia, Morocco, and Indonesia. His photography background influences his work on documentaries, which currently focus on American pop culture subjects. As the follow-up to 10 MPH, he’s working on a documentary about fantasy football, currently titled 10 Yards.
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