Getting Distribution or How I Learned to Stop Worrying & Embraced Genre
You need names and the “right” genre to sell a movie. Those are the rules. You may think it’d be as simple as that, but it’s not. Dramas and comedies are too broad to be considered genres: they don’t sell. Leaving the porn industry out of it, you want to look at horrors, thrillers, science fiction and action films as bankable business models as far as finding distribution goes.
Tell that to me ten or fifteen years ago and I wouldn’t have believed it. Hell, I challenged the idea as recently as five years ago. I resisted any logic claiming there was no way out for the little man: the broke, basement-dwelling, new-independent micro filmmaker who tells stories about every day people. There’s got to be an audience for everything, I thought, even simple, slow-paced, character-driven narratives like my first feature, Uptown.
Thanks to filmmakers like Joe Swanberg and the digital age moving us ever closer toward niche marketing, such a path is being paved, but not nearly enough to justify ignoring the exposure that a genre can bring., Even Swanberg, starting in 2011, began moving toward genre work with the horror film Silver Bullets before crossing over into mainstream success with his directing contribution to V/H/S.
So perhaps my idealism wasn’t what was at fault for blocking this insight, regardless of how persistent my producing partner, Princeton Holt, was in sharing his vision; maybe it was my stubborn idealism. After all, Princeton’s vision has always come from studied research.
The great irony is that I had always started as a genre filmmaker, at least in my head. All of my early scripts were Shane Black rip-offs; later I would attempt to recreate Tarantino’s uniqueness. What kicked off our friendship and mutual respect for each other was a debate Princeton and I had over the role of the actor. I was under a spell believing that actors are props and that the director’s job is to place the actor, direct their movement and control their speech. Coming from the fandom world of Action-Adventures and Sci-Fi-Comedies, this was my perception, and this was what I wanted to emulate.
Princeton felt the opposite, using Robert Altman as the ultimate example of a director directing around his actors. Altman may have been closer to a documentarian than a narrative filmmaker: he let his actors find their own blocking and he let them speak whenever they wanted to, and he simply (or not so simply) captured them on film. Princeton was in awe of this method that liberated the actor, trusted the actor, and respected the actor’s choices.
And with that he challenged me, to make a movie with actors and not just by using actors. “Uptown” was born, and the experience of making it opened my mind to the possibilities and rewards of true collaboration.
Now here we are, years later, discussing a concept that could push our company further than we’ve ever gone. That concept is “Alienated,” about a man who witnesses a UFO but he doesn’t know how to tell his wife because he doesn’t think she’ll believe him. And the idea to make this kind of film comes from our research that shows you need a name and a genre to sell your film. It’s taken me awhile, but I’m starting to see that moving in this direction may be the best way to move forward; may not be the only way, but certainly a proven way. An easier way than struggling against the grain.
Sometimes you just have to let go. Sometimes ideas stay with you for so long that you make them a part of you. You work them into your personal philosophy, and before you know it they’re working you.
My learning curve on Alienated is still bending, still stretching. All throughout our post-production process I was challenged by the question, how much genre is enough? The heart and soul of my film is about a relationship between two people and how they represent humanity, if they do. How many sci-fi elements must we add to ensure that our film will be seen? How many can we add before our story is lost or upstaged?
Brian Ackley is the Head of Development at One Way or Another Productions. His second feature film ALIENATED won 13 film festival awards and was picked up for distribution by Gravitas Ventures for release in select theaters and VOD on March 31st.
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