Social media and new online services have changed the way folks can distribute their own films. Although the jury is still out on the success of Oren Jacob’s documentary Ready, Set, Bag, he explained today at the NewTeeVee Live event in San Francisco how he spends much of his evenings trying to make back the equity put into his film about competitive grocery bagging.
Jacob, who is also the CTO of Pixar, says that in order to make money on the film he needed to have success showing it in 20 to 24 cities for about a week. To ensure that success, he has paired up with local food banks to promote the movie: folks can learn about the film from food banks and then support them via the purchase of a ticket to the film. When he “dropped a Groupon bomb” using the social buying service to sell tickets, he had a full house on opening night and a theater that was a quarter-full through the rest of the one-week run.
But as he said, “You can’t make money selling tickets at half price,” so he generally sells half of the tickets through Groupon and relies on the food bank partnerships and word of mouth via local blogs and Facebook pages to do the rest. Ultimately he hopes that, in a decade, the distribution market will have changed: there will be better tools to find independent theaters that are willing to run documentaries and larger theater chains will accept that buying expensive TV and print ad spots are not the only way to bring in an audience. Until then, DIY distribution will be a long, difficult slog.