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Making Money with Theatrical Self-Distribution with Steven Lewis Simpson
I’m very excited to bring this episode to the IFH Tribe. Today on the show we have filmmaker, Filmtrepreneur, and self-distribution expert Steven Lewis Simpson. Steven has been able to generate hundreds of thousands in revenue for his film Neither Wolf Nor Dog without ever releasing it online. He made all his money self-distributing theatrically. Not only in the US but worldwide.
In conversation, we discuss how we, as filmmakers, can create our own creative reality, even in an industry as inaccessible as the film business. No-one has ever attempted the pan-European distribution he doing or released the way I have in the US. That amazes me as it seems so obvious. The key thing is that people don’t want to try what has never been done.
Neither Wolf Nor Dog is one of the most culturally important American films in years and stars a 95-year-old Lakota elder who takes the audience into a contemporary landscape and reveals the echoes of the massive American Genocide that they still feel today. Not exactly a blockbuster-style film.
At eighteen, Steven Lewis Simpson was Britain’s youngest stockbroker and trader. Four years later he moved to Hollywood to work at legendary Hollywood producer, Roger Corman’s studio. At twenty-three, he directed his award-winning first feature film, Ties.
He recently theatrically self-distributed his sixth feature film, Neither Wolf Nor Dog, as he saw the few independent films that actually found distributors in the US were being poorly released. As a result of his re-imagining the theatrical distribution model, his film became the most successful self-distributed film in some time.
The film achieved the longest theatrical run of any 2017 release in the USA – a wider release than the last two Palme d’Or winners and often out-grossing blockbusters when head to head, even though he had no distribution experience. He even has a new masterclass that can help you on your path.
This episode might just change the way you look at making money with your film. Steven is a true Filmtrepreneur. Please enjoy my eye-opening conversation with Steven Lewis Simpson.
LINKS AND RESOURCES MENTIONED IN THIS EPISODE
- DONATE to Feed America to help with people affected by Coronavirus
- Steven Lewis Simpson – Official Site
- Kickstarter for Steven Lewis Simpson new Masterclass
- $1 Closed Captions for Indie Filmmakers – Rev ($10 Off Your First Order)
- The Complete Indie Film Producing Workshop with Suzanne Lyons (COUPON CODE: IFHFILMPRODUCE)
- Rise of the Filmtrepreneur®: How to Turn Your Indie Film into a Moneymaking Business (FREE AUDIOBOOK)
- Shooting for the Mob (Based on the Incredible True Filmmaking Story) (FREE AUDIOBOOK)
REAL-WORLD STREAMING FILM EDUCATION
- Indie Film Hustle TV (Streaming Real-World Film Education)
- Hollywood Film School: Filmmaking & TV Directing Masterclass
- Filmmaker in a Box – Learn How to Make an Indie Film – 18 Hours+ of Lessons
- Storytelling Blueprint: Hero’s Two Journeys
- The Dialogue Series: 38 hours of Lessons from Top Hollywood Screenwriters
WATCH THE FILMS
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- Indie Film Hustle® Podcast
- Bulletproof Screenwriting® Podcast
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- FreeFilmBook.com (Download Your FREE Filmmaking Audio Book)
Alex Ferrari 0:03
Now guys, I am excited to bring this episode to you today. On the show we have Stephen Lewis Simpson. And Steven is a filmmaker who was able to self distribute his film and make hundreds of 1000s of dollars over the course of the last four or five years and never released it online. It is strictly theatrical only. And he didn't just do it in the US. He has done it throughout the world all single handedly. And this episode is just plumb filled with knowledge bombs left and right. I was first introduced to Steven by his TED talk that I saw online. And after I saw it, I was like I gotta get into this I got to reach out to him. And I did. And Steven was gracious enough to be on the show and spill all the beans. And now he has been able to have a basically a very sustainable and successful theatrical distribution company where he basically just does his own movie. And he did it. He wasn't a distributor before he did it. But now he's helping other filmmakers self distribute their films theatrically as well. Now, I know in the current world that we live in, the Agile doesn't make a whole lot of sense, because the whole world is kind of shut down. And we don't know how long it's gonna last. But the lessons that you're going to learn in this episode, you can apply to other areas of your distribution plan. And when this does eventually pass, you can be in a much better position to take advantage of the new opportunities, because there might be less studio films in the theatrical space. And they might be wanting more independent content. So this episode is mandatory for all filmmakers and filmtrepreneurs in the IFH tribe. So without any further ado, please enjoy my conversation with Steven Lewis Simpson. I'd like to welcome the show Steven Lewis Simpson, man How you doing my friend?
Steven Lewis Simpson 4:40
Very well, well, thanks and you?
Alex Ferrari 4:41
Very good, man. Thank you so much for being on the show. You have a very unique distribution story. You have a unique film and we are I wanted to get into the weeds with you about it because it is a it you're doing things that arguably shouldn't be done, as they say and shouldn't work as they say is true. additional thoughts occur in the industry. So that's why I want to kind of I always love bring in people who break the rules and then show you how they broke the rules and how it could apply to your films. But before we get into it, how did you get into the business in the first place?
Steven Lewis Simpson 5:14
Oh, well, I mean, I grew up in a town, Aberdeen, Scotland, which, you know, nobody had ever made a movie there before from there. And when I was about 17, I picked up a camera started shooting things became interested in the business, but there was no platform. So I became well, I ended up being the youngest fully qualified stockbroker and trader in the UK and did that for a little while, and shut things off. But in, in between on the side, set up this film group and wrote scripts and stuff. And then when I was 22, Chan's phone call led me to sort of giving that all up jumping on a plane moving to LA and working for six months at Roger Corman studio, which was the only place in the world I wanted to start,
Alex Ferrari 6:00
Obviously, absolutely. That must mean you got to tell me some Roger stories, because that must have been a hell of a film school.
Steven Lewis Simpson 6:06
It well, it was. But this was actually I think, in a way. I mean, the classic era was the 60s 70s, late 50s in many ways, but since then, I mean, he just got more prolific but the video age his crappier films, but but I was there during the time of Karna, SAR, and the fantastic 401. The show Yeah, I was there I was there when they were casting and all the way through.
Alex Ferrari 6:35
For everyone listening for everyone listening who doesn't is not aware of this Roger Corman, the world famous legendary film producer out of hundreds, if not 1000s of films that he has created fantastic for was the only film he never released? I think it was it was if I'm not mistaken, correct?
Steven Lewis Simpson 6:53
Yeah. But it was made never to be released.
Alex Ferrari 6:56
Right? Because it was like they had the rights. Marvel sold the rights off. And they had to make it If not, they would lose the rights. So they they quickly made it,
Steven Lewis Simpson 7:03
Roger. Yeah, it was basically this, I think of Swiss or Swiss German company had the rights. And they were going to lapse by 31st. December. And so unless they were in production, and so Rogers production started, I think was either 27th or 29th of December.
Alex Ferrari 7:21
And then from my understanding, they actually, the movie was finished, give it to me. Yeah, it was.
Steven Lewis Simpson 7:27
It has a beginning a middle and an end a whether it's just don't want to see any part of it.
Alex Ferrari 7:32
Exactly. So when I think Marvel saw it, or one of the I think was Avi Lerner or one of those producers saw it, they're like, Look, we're just going to buy this, so you never release it. And that's what the document
Steven Lewis Simpson 7:43
I said, it really sorta does. But I and there's actually picture me in the dock, which is kind of cute. But there's the it's interesting watching the dock because my memory of it is from the beginning. We all just assumed it was made to be shelved. It was purely for securing the rights. And, you know, it was never in I think in his domain ever to have any of the distribution rights or whatever. They just gave him a flat fee to do it a nice little profit for him. And then this is a classic Roger thing. He went down to the studio this particular Thursday as they were winding up the shoot the SATs were shall we say somewhat better than usual? You know, I'm what, somewhat, but more importantly, somebody else had paid for them. And so he came back into the office on a Friday and he said, Okay, we got an eight day window coming up in the studio. So we're going to make another movie with the same sets over Saturday and a Sunday they rewrote a kickboxing movie set it in space. I mean, not not weightless space, I hasten to point out obviously wouldn't be much of a case Gravity
Alex Ferrari 8:48
Falls gravity. Obviously, I could I would argue that the the the weightless kickboxing movie would be very interesting to watch.
Steven Lewis Simpson 8:56
It would be unique, perhaps. But so so Saturday, Sunday, they rewrote the script Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, they cast and then that Thursday, they were shooting. I mean, literally from a Thursday through to the following Thursday, an idea strikes his head and they're shooting. I was an apprentice editor on that film. And it was, you know, it was worse than the fantastic formats.
Alex Ferrari 9:19
And that's saying a lot of things. But he made some money with it, I'm sure. Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. This is for sure.
Steven Lewis Simpson 9:27
Okay, so and then well, the tragedy for him in a way was that, you know, this was all being shot on 35 mil. I mean, imagine today, he's just, you know, churning this stuff out and putting it on a hard drive and not having to edit on film and all those sorts of things.
Alex Ferrari 9:40
He can move much quicker. Alright, so NASA, you went through the school of hard knocks with Roger, and were part of one of the worst, arguably the worst Marvel movie and that's saying something because it was Captain America there was Thor and Hulk, there was Daredevil and Hulk, in the 70s. these are these are bad films. I don't want to go down the Marvel. Because we'll talk for an hour on that alone. But after you're done with Hard Knocks of Roger Corman Film School, where did you go from there?
Steven Lewis Simpson 10:08
I immediately returned to Scotland and shot my first feature when I was 23. I had some of the crew came over from LA people that some of them I met a corpsman and some others had just met people through Corman's operation there. And so yeah, I shot that when I was 23. You know, back in the day, where, you know, it was much harder because you had to do everything on film and so on. And then the following year, it premiered at the Edinburgh International Film Festival. And the UK was a barren wasteland of filmmaking at the time, particularly micro budget. And you know, my I was the only Scottish filmmaker that year to make a movie. You know, 5 million people. You know, that's how Barrett was the only other film to go into production at the same time with shallow grave. It's started shooting a week after mine, which was Danny Boyle's debut.
Alex Ferrari 10:59
Yeah. Which is, by the way, if you have not seen that shallow grave, everyone should go out and watch shallow grave. It's an amazing, amazing film. So Alright, so there'll be how did you get involved with neither wolf nor dog? Tell me a little bit about that film.
Steven Lewis Simpson 11:13
Well, I 20 years ago, I found myself out on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, and some remarkable things happened. And I ended up starting filming a feature documentary there. The first person asked me to film there was Russell Means who was legendary activist of the 20th century of Native American cause, probably most famous activists and single and he became an actor years later, third lead, and last the Mohicans was his first acting role. And he asked me to film things there. And that snowballed into a feature documentary I made over 13 years about the reservation also made another movie, they're called rez bomb, which was love stories, thriller. And a number of years ago, maybe 11 years ago, I was showing that in a theater near the reservation, and this author approached me with his novel, neither wolf nor dog told me people in Hollywood have been circling it for, you know, since the mid 90s, he kept getting these grant promises, you know, that one Hollywood producer had developed a script out of it spent quite a lot of money development money on it, but they never managed to push it across the line. And he was just getting really fed up. And he thought, Well, here's somebody that actually gets things made, and totally knows how to make things from the reservation out rather than sort of Hollywood in which is the biggest flaw with you know, I mean, nobody's been depicted worse in cinema history than natives over 100 years ago, Jenna, pro genocide cinema for 100 years. And, and so he thought, well, hang on, let's see if this guy's nuts enough to do this. And took me a while to get around to looking at it. And then just almost nine years ago, I gave him a promise I get it made by by any means necessary. And you know, as any independent filmmaker knows, you know, it is by no means necessary, but this one has gone that much further. Because, you know, normally you make a film by any means necessary, then you throw it out there, you do a few festivals, whatever else, and then it just evaporates. Like 90 odd percent out of that, you know, the, I mean, what is it something like 5000 features, you know, features a year submitted to Sundance?
Alex Ferrari 13:22
No there's actually a total a total this last year was 15,000. Between shorts and features.
Steven Lewis Simpson 13:27
Yeah, between shorts and features. Yeah. And that's something like 20 20,000 features a year in the world period, you know, everywhere. Yeah. And, you know, you look at you even look at Sundance, for example, you see how many end up there, and how few of them end up doing really any business in cinemas. And that's the elected few Yes. Yeah. Right. And then so if you break down to 20,000, you know, maybe 550 650 Films end up in theaters within the United States, the first 200 or so or are blocked off by the studios and those other big releases, and then you've got a few prestige, major titles, like out of the UK and whatever else, and then you know, you got to 300 films that are free for all but 200 of them will do almost no business but it's just getting a marquee thing. So you're basically you know, normally you're just making a film and then kissing a goodbye. And in this case, I knew that wasn't an option.
Alex Ferrari 14:22
So before we wrap up before we get into the whole distribution, because we're gonna go deep into that how was the production of this because you know, I want I want people to understand that this was not a 40 man 40 woman crew running around, you know, with with sushi for lunch, and lobster tail for dinner.
Steven Lewis Simpson 14:41
Yeah, yeah, I mean, I mean, put it in perspective. It would be hard pressed to find a more kind of, you know, nuts way to make a film and in a way because we're we're filming you what is the harshest area In the country in terms of living conditions, Pine Ridge, Indian Reservation 80 plus percent unemployment, life expectancy for men 48 about 52 for women, you know, it's it's, it's pretty, it's really bleak conditions, but it's also somewhere I've got an incredible relationships and there's actually nowhere easier for me to film really because of the relationship I have with people there. But you're in the middle of nowhere, which has pros and cons. And, um, you know, I have a 95 year old star who's never been the lead in a film before, he's been in and out of films and small roles before, but often as a stunt man when he was younger, and, you know, but 95 year old memory long passages of dialogue, I mean, it's not a good, you know, mix, plus an overweight Corgi in the mix on a 1973 Buick that didn't behave. And, and, you know, we ended up filming this 110 minute long feature in about 125 filming hours, spread over about 18 days, you know, you got a 95 year old, you can only film so long in a day. But even then you're having to film very long. You know, sometimes there was one key scene dialogue scene, we filmed perhaps three hours on him, and then we turned around, and then everything on the other characters from a single take. And then you move on. You know, and, you know, there's a lot of single, single or to take scenes within it, there was about a seven page scene, which is more or less a monologue, where, you know, sun's coming down. The only day this actor or particular actor is going to be there. And it's the case that we shoot a wider shot, and then a very wide and then a reasonably wide because the nature was a big part of this. And then we move on. So it was about seven pages from sticks down just sticks up in about 25 minutes. Wow. And I mean, it's
Alex Ferrari 16:55
So you didn't and you didn't have a large crew, you had a few people average of two, average of two. And that includes you or in addition to you, sir.
Steven Lewis Simpson 17:03
In addition to me, I had a I had the most amazing sound mixer.
Alex Ferrari 17:10
I can tell from that trailer, it sounds amazing.
Steven Lewis Simpson 17:13
Well, you got you know, the thing is that you've you know, you've got a 95 year old you can you know, ADR and stuff, like that's not an option, you got to get what it is. And, you know, my mantra is, whatever stage of filmmaking you're in is the most important stage the script is by far the most important thing. While you're on the script, the Edit is the most important thing while you're in the edit that ended up except one, particularly micro micro budget. It's it sound at sound at sound at sound that sound totally says that's the thing that if left Fox up, everything gone. It's just that the House of Cards just shatters. You can have other things that people will, you know, bend with you somewhat, you know, but the sand, forget about it.
Alex Ferrari 17:56
And there was this? Was this self financed or and what was the if you don't mind me asking what was kind of the budget if you don't want to say Just tell me
Steven Lewis Simpson 18:03
Why I'm still not 100% sure, cuz I haven't needed to add it up for anyone. Um, and you know, you kind of there's a certain point when you're going to post it's like, well, where are the lines? You know, it's kind of like, you know, because, I mean, I was living through it and but you know, I already had the computer I already Yeah, whatever. Yeah. So the post was theoretically nothing but at the same time I had to live through all that time. Um, I mean, it was Kickstarter really covered the budget. The shoot was with everyone paid shooting on location was probably around 25 grand.
Alex Ferrari 18:40
That's not bad at all. That's what everyone paid. That's what everyone paid. Yeah, paid, put up fat, you know, all that stuff for 18 days for 80 production days.
Steven Lewis Simpson 18:51
Yeah, yeah. Yeah. And, you know, it was like, you know, one of them was you know, flying them in from Canada was like a grand, you know, it's like your there's a few things that are, you know, pain like that, but one of the things that makes a big difference and this is one of the things I've I've always done is I buy and sell the equipment. And I actually made a profit on the equipment in this film there was interesting, you know, I if you have the cash set aside, I'm actually bought three vehicles as well. You know, I bought the 73 Buick, I bought an 86 pickup truck and I bought a 26 foot RV. And you want to know a surefire way of making good money. Buy an RV in Rapid City or somewhere around there in the middle of November, middle of October, because nobody's buying an RV till May. So it's a buyers market. And you can get an amazing price right again, and then sell it in LA in may just before just before Burning Man. That's right. You're absolutely right. Yeah, yeah, yep. Cuz every every you know is going to be need an RV. So
Alex Ferrari 20:03
It's funny. You make a profit.
Steven Lewis Simpson 20:05
I bought I bought this RV for 3800. And it was in nice condition. I sold it for nine grand.
Alex Ferrari 20:12
So you You did a little arbitrage arbitrage.
Steven Lewis Simpson 20:15
Oh, he was getting it. Yeah, he thought he was getting a deal because he got me down from nine and a half.
Alex Ferrari 20:22
That is that is a filmtrepreneur right there. My friend that is a hustler. I like it. I like and you do the same thing with the gear as well.
Steven Lewis Simpson 20:27
Pretty much. I mean, I lost a little bit on I shot with the red one. Sure. And I lost a little bit on that because I held on to it for quite a while and but I bought the steady cam had it shipped from China rented it a little bit afterwards made a profit on it. Same with a lot of my lighting and and other pizza a few other pieces of kit. And so yeah, I mean, and you know, I won the other cars, I made a bit of money on one of them. I lost a little bit. But you know, overall,
Alex Ferrari 20:59
Overall, you were profitable on your ROI on buying your cars, your gear and then reselling on the back afterwards. You were profit. So basically, you got all of that for free to use for your film. Yeah. And then and I made a little cash.
Steven Lewis Simpson 21:14
Yeah. And I just but I funded that all myself that was separate to the sort of Kickstarter money and it was, you know, if if, you know, I mean, I always had some kids staying, you know, I mean, it's always that thing. Things like mic speakers, and lenses. You hold on to cameras you get rid of next year, there's something better.
Alex Ferrari 21:33
Right, exactly. And there's always someone who's willing to buy like you shot with the red one. I mean, I've shot with I shot with the red one back in 2010 2011, which was the early days of the red one when no one understood the workflow.
Steven Lewis Simpson 21:46
Oh, yeah, yeah, I was a little naive, shall we say I got it. Unfortunately, it was sent to read. But the purchaser in between went to read for servicing just so that I made sure I got it correctly. And they spent quite a while with it. So it landed in my hands just before going out there. And that was unfortunate. Because I yeah, I was a little naive.
Alex Ferrari 22:05
You should have testing for that.
Steven Lewis Simpson 22:09
Yeah, I mean, so I made a couple errors. And there's a little CGI to tidy it up. Fix it and post. Well fix it in post. Yeah. And actually one of the things that I've done a fair bit of, and it's sort of I mean, I think Gareth Edwards probably took this further than anyone with monsters is doing a lot of art direction in post. You know, we filmed there was, I think three buildings, where I changed the signposts, for example, in post, you know, just to change the locations and whatever else and that's actually quite easy and, and just the whole process of shooting as fast as you can. And then spending as long tweaking those things in post. That's, that's the great fix it in post part. As opposed to Oh my god, the sound is crap. How are we going to sort this out kind of thing, which I mean, but that's getting better and better. I had a scene where we were filming, we were sort of stealing a shot in a real gas station, which was really busy when we were filming I was shooting from inside the RV. And the characters are all radioed up and suddenly this car alarm kicks in through the scene and I'm going and then you know instead of one of these things where we're done we got to move on single take and then it's like I don't know if this seems ever gonna work how am I gonna fix it? And yet nowadays the software is so incredible I literally managed to move the remove the car alarm and I never even know it was there. When I hear a bag
Alex Ferrari 23:38
I shot I shot a movie there was a lot live on location as well. And there was like some construction we walked were buying Construction Set while it was going off there was banging and clanging I'm like no, that we were all wired at we will rate her up as well. So but you know, it was an issue. And I literally saw my genius sound designer at the end post. Open up the wave. And then he can pinpoint the vibrate and the octave and just delete all of those octaves. And it Yeah, you barely hear it now where it was a huge clang now it's nothing.
Steven Lewis Simpson 24:09
It was insane. Yeah, it it's like taking an eraser to it isn't just going to go into that a little bit and Okay, just rub it out. It's It really is. It's pretty remarkable. Yeah, we're, I mean, it's funny. I A few months ago, I gave a couple of lectures at a film school in LA. And one of what I how I started one of them was I said, you know, it's the best of times and it's the worst of times. That's a steal that because that is great. Yeah, because in the film business, it truly is. I mean, in terms of technology, it's incredible for all these things that we can do particularly on the micro budget. But the problem is where it's the worst of times when I made my first feature, which I think is my weakest. Um, I had three screenings for Miramax. Um, you know, I managed to get somebody Columbia studios an executive phoning me up in Aberdeen, Scotland. asking to see it. It was easy to get attention from agents and whatever else because nobody was doing it. You know, it was like there was a handful of us. This was like the year after Marianne, she came out. And so even though it was and it was because it was so much harder, and in those days, executives used to spend time trying to figure out where the new talent was. Now, they're just leaving it all up to a different set of gatekeepers at festivals, whatever else. And even then it's all still so personality based and whatever else. It's, I mean, it's it's a very, very, very screwed up industry for sure.
Alex Ferrari 25:38
No question. And it's changing more and more, it's just changing so rapidly that people can't even keep up. And I always tell people that as well. The filmmakers, it's it is the best and the worst of times, because it's like, anyone can make a movie. That's the good news. The bad news is anyone can make a movie. And and that's that's the that's the problem. Yeah, because the competition is so fierce. I always tell people like in the 80s, all you needed to do was make a movie and it was sold. It could be the worst movie ever Toxic Avenger got a theatrical release? I mean, anything could get. And now Well, it's tough. It's,
Steven Lewis Simpson 26:11
It's true. I think the thing that hasn't changed so much, is, you know, back in the 80s, and 90s, and whatever else, anyone could write a feature script, there was nothing holding anyone back from writing a feature script, although in the days, the typewriter, it was more of a pain, for sure. Right. And that's, I go that far back, and second draft of God. But the thing about it is, you know, you've always had that you've always had the people committed enough to write a screenplay. So I think that even though the number of films being made might have gone up 100 times, if you're including Jim, Bob and Cedric going and running around the woods with their their iPhone, the differences, you know, you still got roughly the same number of people sitting down and writing a proper film script. And so I think that what's not really changing is the number of good scripts being written. And in a way, I wonder whether the way into the industry proper isn't so much, you know, going and just making that pretty much crappy film that everyone else is making. But it's still that people are looking for something that actually just really works on the page. Although, again, the problem is that we're in the industry, are they looking for quality writing these days? And actually, well, it's television. It's not, it's not the film business, certainly in the United States. And in Europe, it's a little different, and, and whatever else, but it's committee, ders and more in Europe, which sucks in a different way.
Alex Ferrari 27:42
Right? Exactly. There's, we all got all levels of crazy we have to deal with or around the world, depending,
Steven Lewis Simpson 27:47
That's the thing I find more objectionable in Europe is that, you know, because there's much more government funding for film, it's like, you're allowed to make art. But they don't, you know, it's like you, you have this greater freedom, and yet the committees and everything else, they get in the way, which is much more objectionable to me than somebody going, Well, you made something for a company with $150 billion volume, and they need you to do this, because, you know, they want something to fit on this shelf, and not that shelf, will have to me is more honorable than here, you have creative freedom, and you still turned out a piece of crap. You know, that to me is, you know,
Alex Ferrari 28:27
Sad. It's sad. It's sad. Sorry. So you finish this, this film? And now, what is your experience in the distribution room? Like, did you from the very beginning decide to do self distribution? Did you go down the traditional road and just say, this is not for me? What was your plan?
Steven Lewis Simpson 28:44
With this one, you know, I've been in the business long enough not to take the industry seriously, in terms of, you know, integrity, or, or, you know, looking at things and into greater detail bumped in because I had, particularly my 95 year old star give a very committed performance and my other stars be very committed to it. And also, in a sense, kind of pandering to the desires of the author. I thought, well, I'll I'll really try to get it a great platform. I thought more than any film I've ever made. This is the one that's got a chance of getting a big festival, all that sort of thing. And as it turned out, the highlight of my festival run with this film was actually a screening it just for the Select for the head of the Venice Film Festival personally in a screening room a valet and he ended up passing on it very late on, but he was so gracious in how the whole thing was handled and turning it down. being turned down by the Venice Film Festival was the highlight of my career with this. You know, we ended up playing a few festivals, some okay festivals and whatever else, couple of nice ones in Germany and whatnot. But I've never been knocked back more by festivals in this film. And this is my most festival friendly film. That's my most cultural Important film. And it is this thing where, you know, me festivals are as much about personalities and connections and whatever else is as as anything else. And, and, you know, as a certain point where I just thought, wow, this is a complete waste of time, but I, I should have just walked straight past that I should have just gone straight out to my own form of distribution and along the way, you know, I'm I'm messaging the usual players, you know, synaptic and CIA and all these folks and they're like, great, let us see it will you know, this sounds interesting. Let us see it. Beautiful Thing About Vimeo is I set a private individual links for everyone. A little controlling, perhaps, but so that I can see who watched it. Yeah. And none of them bothered even watching it. And so you're like, it's not like I got knocked back. They just never got around to it. And there's just a certain point where you go, Okay, well, tack that on to the next thing. And, and so, I thought, okay, now I'm just gonna see what I can do getting it out into theaters. And my strategy was very simple from the beginning, which was, I want to be a big fish in a small pond, not a minnow in an ocean. And I knew were, this work would be excuse me, well received. And so I mean, the first ever showing I did theatrically was in this tiny little theater on the reservation I filmed and, and that was just very, very simply because they're so tired of people coming filming there and never being heard from again and my relationship there is too precious to me, and they always get it first. That's just my golden rule. And then a few weeks later, I released it in four theaters. Conventionally Friday openings for a week. One of them was in Bemidji, Minnesota and a multiplex 10 screen multiplex. Did novel was written there and well known there. Rochester, New York also multiplex just convinced them to take it to screen on a reservation where my elder was from
Alex Ferrari 32:12
No one is I didnt mean,to interupt you are these bookings are you for walling?
Steven Lewis Simpson 32:16
No bookings, 100% booking okay. And until I get to LA, every single thing I'm talking about is a straight booking alley. I've only I've only four world one of 600 venues. And and then the fourth was this little museum cinema, but foreign cinema in one screen or on this Yakama Nation in Washington state where ironically, my white lead was born. My my white lead in this film was the only white guy I've ever heard to be born in an Indian Health Service hospital on a reservation. It was just pure random stuff. And we ended up averaging that first week about four and a half grand screen average
Alex Ferrari 32:58
Well, what's the split split? What's the split with the theater
Steven Lewis Simpson 33:00
50/50. And that was the average. And you got to bear in mind that some of these places it's like $6 tickets, and they're in the middle of nowhere. in Bemidji, we did I think about nine grand the first week. We ended up with 1600 admissions over two weeks from a town of 15,000 people,
Alex Ferrari 33:22
But are you marketing? Yeah. Your marketing. So what's the kind of marketing that you're doing in these towns?
Steven Lewis Simpson 33:28
A high is that the Bemidji reporter. My name is Steve Simpson. Did you get my press release? I got a film opening there. Blah, blah, blah. Sure. Okay, do an interview got a feature.
Alex Ferrari 33:38
Big fish small pond.
Steven Lewis Simpson 33:40
Yeah, exactly. Exactly. And so again, Bemidji that first week were the number one film we beat the nine Hollywood films in there. And from then on, it was a slow building process. It got easier to book venues in those areas. And it's sort of slowly started to build by April, I was said I've had enough coming in that I I brought somebody in to help me with no experience, but just somebody who, who sounded interesting interested in it and, and is still with me today booking venues and handling my media to valet. And then we had in the third week in May, we had well actually in in April, we had a significant development, which is Marcus theatres that are one of the bigger chains in the country, booked us into a few of their theaters. And we ran in one of them for four weeks. I mean, it wasn't huge numbers. We did but you know, four weeks in a multiplex is pretty good. And then we opened in mid May in Minneapolis, Denver, Tacoma, Washington and Lincoln, Nebraska. I mean the memory of all this, but in in Minnesota, it was at one of the landmark theaters Sure, change there. And it was phenomenal. I mean, literally the One of the managers was reaching out to me with. This is the first film to sell out a whole bunch of showings since the previous Star Wars movie. We did as many admissions in our first week, sorry, more admissions in our first week than the film with the top screen average in the entire United States that week, which was also on one screen. But it was in New York and also in one of landmark screens, but their ticket price was like 60 70%, higher hence them having a higher numbers of financial total, but we had way more admissions, we end up with three and a half 1000 admissions and that one cinema? Wow. I mean, we actually grossed I mean, the ticket price. I mean, if it was a New York ticket price, we'd have been walking away with a 50 grand gross from that one theater.
Alex Ferrari 35:42
Now. So what is the actual so for the listeners to understand what is the process of doing this? So are you literally calling up the theaters? And going, Hey, I've got this movie about Native Americans. It's based on a novel. Do you send over a Vimeo link? And do you want to book it? How does that work? What's the process?
Steven Lewis Simpson 36:00
Almost none of them watch it? Really, almost none of them. said to us? Well, in the US, we've been in probably 230 40, full runs, cinemas in terms of anything averaging maybe two weeks. 11 weeks is our longest than a single cinema. landmark looked at it as you'd expect. I can't remember Marcus. I don't Marcus might have. I think Marcus might have.
Alex Ferrari 36:29
So you're telling me that most of these. These theaters don't even look to just like, oh, you have a movie and you want to split 5050 they look at the trailer.
Steven Lewis Simpson 36:36
Yeah, but But the thing is, the beauty of it is cinemas to me are the greatest meritocracy in the film business. Okay. And it's almost like this thing about, you know, the, the Eddie Murphy movie out on Netflix about the 70s. I loved all my Well, I was but to me when it got to the end. And it was about his theatrical release, and then suddenly kicks in, I suddenly became immensely emotional because I completely understood you know, it was like, Oh, my God, kindred spirit there. But it was that thing that they didn't give a damn about his film. They gave a damn about the numbers, of course. And and that's where it is the great meritocracy. The two things that first two things a sales agent or distributor. Principle is particularly sales agents ask you when you're putting a film together or or one of them to see a finished product is who's in it. And what's at one? You know, the two questions pretty much I've never been asked by cinema. They don't get they never get asked who's in it?
Alex Ferrari 37:33
Is it because I don't mean to interrupt you. I'm sorry. But because I'm fascinated by this. I'm just trying to understand the business model of the movie theater. Is it because they have a steady run of people running as they have customers coming to the theater regardless? And that a lot of people in those smaller towns would just go to the theater and see what's playing?
Steven Lewis Simpson 37:51
No, it's because I've already proven it. Okay, so you're already in that numbers game. Now. The one in Bemidji, they took the risk because they're like, Okay, this was written locally. It's a it's a best selling novel. Okay, we can understand how this will do well, the two other reservations, they're going this film stars people from here, okay, that's an easy sell. From then on the fact our numbers were better than people expected. And then it builds and builds from there. And then you start getting to tipping points in certain areas. Now Minnesota is semi understandable why was so big that novel was well known, that sort of thing. And yet, a few weeks after that, in Vancouver, Washington, this amazing one screen theater 337 seats or something, Kagan's theater, they booked the film in, give it a handful of shows six six shows the first week. We do so well. Down the road 1011 screen multiplex in the height of the summer blockbuster season, only Wonder Woman did better than we did that week. And they had 35 shows we had six. And we ended up being their second second best performing film of the year off about 11 showings. The first was a film starring Sam Elliott, who was born there, and so had a vested interest in with the audience. We even came back there about two years later, and did about the same number of admissions from about a third of the shows. We did you know from about I don't know we I think we may be at 13, maybe about 18 shows in this place. And we did about 11 grand. Amazing. And so suddenly, other theaters in the area are like, okay, we'll book it. And we've played something like nine theaters just within 2030 minutes of Portland and Vancouver.
Alex Ferrari 39:45
As word gets around,
Steven Lewis Simpson 39:46
yeah, yeah. And it builds and then, you know, in in Washington State, we've been in almost 30 theaters in Oregon. We've been about 22. If you add it today from Minnesota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, Oregon. In Washington, this makes up less than 7% of the population in the US, but far a smaller percentage of the cinema market because the ticket prices are a lot lower things like that. We've been in over 110, full run cinemas
Alex Ferrari 40:14
for $25,000 movie about a Native American story.
Steven Lewis Simpson 40:18
Yeah, there's not a single film from Fox Searchlight, Sony Pictures, classics, or any of those guys, this being on anywhere near that, the writer actually shot on the exact same land as my movie. I was actually I bumped into Chloe, when she was shooting it because I was back out there. And it was released by by Sony did rather well, in a massive clip, critical acclaim, it was maybe on 60% of the screens, we were in within that region, even though it also had the same local interest as mine in terms of that market. But there's other parts of the US it's really hard to get into. There's other parts where we don't get a good audience. So, you know, we kind of feed more and more and more into where are our bases. And I think that's a core thing for any film is to look at it and go, where is our audience, but it's not just about booking the cinemas. For example, there's a movie Indian horse, which played cinemas in the US for about a year. It did really well in Canada, about 1.8 million in Canada was Canadian native film. And Clint Eastwood exact produced it they had an established company behind it established Booker, and I met with the Booker and we spoke about it and he said that his bosses were basically having him tried to reproduce a my release, because we had done so well. And with their resources far greater than mine, greater experience and context than mine. They ended up doing about 25% of my business. And because it's not about just getting in the venue, we then put in a crazy amount of work, grunt work to find our audience. Social media has been huge on our film, because we work incredibly hard. There's we have about 80 Facebook groups. For the film, one for every state, one for every country in Europe as well, that sort of thing. We have a very proactive audience base that that do a lot to spread the word. We reach out to local media in every single market we play in. You know, for example, last week, we had some showings in Ipswich in England, and I had three different radio interviews for it to the BBC regionally. Just for you know, one market there probably had maybe 500 interviews done for the film. And, you know, all of and we send out extensive outreach emails, we research people who might be interested in the film locally and try to email them all directly. The most we've ever done for a single venue is about 1400 emails. And how we managed to make that work and is, you know, initially this was just me. And I wasn't doing 1400 emails. But when it started to expand, there was a certain point about two and a half years ago, initially, I started doing it in Poland, and then I moved to to to Bulgaria, where I've been for almost two and a half years. Here, the cost base is such that I can hire in a team and have a lot of these databases. We have insane databases that are created to find our audience to find the venues reaching that type to the venue's again, it's crucial, we get back to that. But you know, it's cost effective. If I was doing this in LA, New York, London, whatever with the salaries, a new overheads, I'd be losing a fortune, whereas it's pretty profitable as it is. But back to the venues. I mean, we start off by by literally, we've emailed every pretty much cinema we can find in the US. And a handful get back, it's just that usual, kind of, you know, throw it all out there, see who gets back, and then we sort of tried to narrow it down. And, and, and it is so funny how hard it can be to convince somebody we went to Yeah, what was it about a year and a half to over a year and a half to get our first screening in Wyoming. And we'd been in huge numbers of theaters in the surrounding states doing incredibly well in some of them. And finally, one said, Okay, yes. And then within eight weeks, we've been in nine theaters in Wyoming, which parades to 5000 nationally, because it's a tiny population Sure. 5000 nationally, so suddenly, all the other ones in the state are going, Wow, this is doing good business, and it's the right timing and blah, blah. So, again, it's it's very regional, and it's about tipping points. But theatres are not designed to be contacted for this basis. You'll get movie lines for the most part. But that's it. A lot of them have very little to do with their own bookings. They go through independent film Booker's, and there's no real database you have to scramble around trying to figure out who these people are. It's a really messy system.
Alex Ferrari 44:57
We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. Sir. And now back to the show. Swag was just like wild wild west style.
Steven Lewis Simpson 45:10
Yeah, yeah. And they do not care about your film nobody's heard of even though it can do well, in theaters. The theaters have to be the ones to ask, ask them for it. And so that's what we found. Typically you go to those theater owners and then go back the way through the Booker's. Because they're the ones that go actually I can see why this is going to work for my my audience. And the funny thing is, aren't how cinemas are the least friendly. This is insane with the exemptions of amazing ones, like the kitchens in Washington, whatever who have been our biggest friends. Yeah. For the most part, so many, like I even met the head of art house convergence. in Bucharest, we had great conversation about the film, and yet he never follows up. This is the perfect success story for their chain of cinemas that could have totally transformed the life of this film. But it's been multiplexes and small town commercial cinemas that are being our friends.
Alex Ferrari 46:14
And you were telling me also that you you do museums, you do other areas, what are the other areas that you are other venues that you do?
Steven Lewis Simpson 46:21
Yeah, we expanded into that in a big way last year, because it we were just getting exhausted for the number. I mean, there's some states where we're really running out of theaters, conventional cinemas first to place. I mean, seriously, it's it's that crazy in some areas, and then you occasionally get one. I mean, there was one in Washington where they booked us over two years after I first spoke to them. I mean, it's like, you know, some it's just patience, but but it was, you know, for example, just over a year ago, we had five afternoon showings in a museum in Rapid City, and we grossed about $4,300. And that weekend, there were something like two or three, hollywood releases that at a screen average higher than that throughout the US. And you have to bear in mind that film in Rapid City, on average would probably have a gross that's around a third of the national average, because the lower ticket price, lower turnouts. And so I mean, there's probably not a film from the full weekend or possibly full week in Rapid City that week, that did what we did in these five afternoons in this museum. And, you know, we've had others where, you know, we've had a one off, and it's worth 3300 bucks from a single show, we had one in Aspen like that. And then you know, and and others were, you know, we do direct deals with them where, you know, sometimes they just do direct buyouts with us. And
Alex Ferrari 47:46
that means that they'll just, they'll just like buy a Right, right, or you lease it basically to them or your license. It's basic,
Steven Lewis Simpson 47:52
it's basically where they'll just go, Okay, we're gonna do a screening for our community, and we won't charge them. And, you know, we typically charge you know, it's typically works at about at five bucks a head to us, which is great, you know, and we've had ones where, you know, probably our best one was maybe I discounted a little bit but you know, maybe for 600 people for one showing. And you're suddenly going well, I'm I get I'm getting more back from that one showing that I've gotten back from a lot of full run cinemas, once you break it down,
Alex Ferrari 48:23
how many years have you been doing this?
Steven Lewis Simpson 48:25
over three years on in theatrical
Alex Ferrari 48:27
Jesus see, you're doing this not three, it's a business. Now, this is basically a full time business I have, I have six employees. Amazing. That's amazing. So I want but I want people to listening to understand like you are the quintessential film intrapreneur, you are an entrepreneurial filmmaker, you understood that you have a very unique product, which many filmmakers I've spoken to would have just thrown it up on Amazon and iTunes or gone through an aggregator or worse just given it just basically donated it to a distributor who would have no idea what to do with it. And it would just be thrown up there and forgotten and never seen again. But you took this this no pun intended bull by the horns, and kind of just really built a business around it. You know, and I'm sure you've already easily taken it past by your budget and you're in profit and you're supporting six salaries plus yourself. Is this like the major thing that's like running your your life as far as fine? Yeah,
Steven Lewis Simpson 49:29
I mean, it's, I mean, it's, it's taken in a good income. Now, the thing that has to contextualize it, it's been nine years of my life. Sure. So it needs to, it needs to bring in a substantial sum of money at the end of the day to justify the nine years financially. Now, the good thing is I can live on very little and I live in Bulgaria, which helps you a stunning place to live, but it's very inexpensive. But it also means that now I have the infrastructure. Now, the thing about it is people go You're insane spending that amount of time on that. Why don't you just go Make your next film. Well, as we all know going to make your next film is spending X number of years trying to raise finance unless you're lucky and whatever else. I plan to shoot my next film, the moment I'm happy with the script, and I'm happy with the cast, because there's a decent income that's come in that I have not spent. So it is amassing. But the other thing is, I have this theatrical distribution set up. I have now done theatrical distribution in four countries. So far. We've also done Canada, we've done the UK, we're at about six days, cinemas in the UK. We also released here in Bulgaria, we did quite nicely, we did probably not far off some big independent films like The killing of sacred deer. I have no official distribution company here. So that film, I'm going to shoot an international thriller in Bulgaria, but I can immediately get into Bulgarian cinemas. And there's a reasonable chance we'll make a nice percentage of our budget back because I know it's going to appeal to local market and and some local films can do very, very well here. And and so I instantly have that that infrastructure now. Now people go theatrical doesn't make money. Well, it does. You just have to be clever about how to go about it. Yeah, also, I mean, and but the key point for me is before when I said, you know, forget all the other distributors. That was a lightbulb moment, eureka moment for me. A friend of mine, Director film years ago was Ewan McGregor and Eva Green. And you sink to good box office names. It was released by IFC, and it grows $2,900 in the United States.
Alex Ferrari 51:34
How is that a thing?
Steven Lewis Simpson 51:35
How exactly? IFC who are, you know, one of the major independent film distributors, something like 25% of their films, gross 15 grand or less? Why? Yeah, I mean, this is the crazy thing. There's, in the three years I've been on release, they have between IFC and Kino lorber, where the two most prolific arthouse distributors in the US, they've released about 140 Films 150 Max 160 films or So between them. And only I think about 12 of IFC Films if I've gross mine, not a single one from Kino lorber. And they're the experts in this and I've never done this before. And it's just pure graft. And they would have all both turned down this film. And they'd have done both done probably 20 grand with it.
Alex Ferrari 52:28
If you're lucky. If you're lucky, if the if the UN in the evil movie only made two grand.
Steven Lewis Simpson 52:35
Now I want to also tell your your listeners out there the biggest mistake I've made in this entire release. And for the longest time, I was thinking, you know, how am I going to get an that more national presence for this story, you know, the release is so unique, the film is so unique. The cultural importance is so unique because a day bald eagle and Wounded Knee and this is one of the most important Native American films ever made because of the bald eagle, our elder who's in it. And all of these amazing things about the release and how unusual it is. And it's like, we're getting amazing local media servicing the release very well but not servicing us in a national media context, not helping us for video on demand or whatever else. And I kept thinking, should I invest in a film publicist that has all these connections. And finally, in September I for wall to Theatre in LA, in Pasadena. And I contacted a lot of publicist almost nothing bothered replying. One of them who I spoke to with spoke for an hour. And the key thing I stressed the whole time is we can email all of these people, we can email all the film media in the world. They just don't get back to us. So the reason I'm paying I would be paying you this large amount of money is because you have these connections to pick up the phone and say, Hey, what do you think of this story? And that's the basis we work forward on. And as we head towards the release, she sets up a TV interview on KTLA in the morning, and you know, which was a nice piece. Wonderful. They did actually very nice job with it. But it was nice because the producer was part native and just felt a kinship with the story. So it landed on the right desk. I also did an interview with variety got a full page in that the following week after our opening, and other than doing three little online sloggy things that she set out for me that nobody would ever see. That was all the media that I got from my 1000s of dollars. And as we sort of do the post mortem on it, I said so how many of these people did you phone and she's one nobody picks up their phones. And I'm like, that is why I was paying you. That is why we had that hour long conversation. That is The whole point of this, we could be emailing them and all being ignored at the same time to, hey, you know, and and, you know, I had this very long and Okay, we got quite a few reviews. But we released it in the UK just doing our own publicity as well, like everything else. And in LA, we got LA Times LA, weekly, you know, NPR, all those various ones. In the UK, we got the BBC, The Guardian, you know, total, because your films coming out, they look at it, they go, Okay, these are the releases, we're reviewing them. How do we get a screener? It's, it's like, that's not worthy of spending 1000s to get, you know, that's not the hard sound for for, for a journalist. It is literally the biggest waste of money in my entire career. The single biggest financial single biggest financial mistake I've made in this whole process, now, perhaps as probably some other publicists there, who would have far greater integrity to say, Well, I'm not going to be, you know, I will be making all those calls, or I will not be making those calls. But if you won't meet him, if you're paying me to make those calls, and I'm not making those calls, I'm not going to take your money. You know, and so, it, you know, simply put, if I put those 1000s into Facebook ads, yeah, you would have gotten better, I would have done far better, far better. I mean, as it stood, we were the eighth high screen average in the US that week. You know, we did fine. Our so
Alex Ferrari 56:25
that wasn't so so as a positive experience in Pasadena.
Steven Lewis Simpson 56:29
No, I mean, it was it was, if I had no publicist, I'd have walked away reasonably happy. You know, I'd have washed her face, almost with it. It's the publicist, that was the flushing money down the toilet. And that is I'm going to be furious about that. For the longest time.
Alex Ferrari 56:48
I had the same experience with with a publicist in my book of my one of my first but my first book, it just was such a waste is such a waste, I could do much more myself, and reach out to people myself, so and that's something I realized that publicists are not, you know, maybe when you're at the very highest levels, and you got these publishers are being paid 20 grand a month, that they could literally pick you up and like, you're gonna go on Entertainment Tonight, you're gonna go on CBS, you're gonna go on 60 minutes, you know, maybe, maybe, but even then, the ROI is just not there. It just, it's just not there. And that's for this kind of scenario that you putting out. So I wanted to just kind of, you know, wrap it up with, you know, you, you've basically created a film for a niche audience, which is a specific kind of audience who want obviously fans of the book, fans of a Native American stories, you then put that film in markets and areas where your audience lives or you can cultivate relationships with that audience. And you have built a business around it for the past three years doing solely theatrical and public screenings. Is that a fair?
Steven Lewis Simpson 57:59
Essentially Yes, I mean, we have the capacity for you know, DVD, we have a sort of import model we haven't we're not selling it within the US but people can buy it an important we have this model where we have a warehouse in China, where they do our shipping the shipping from China to the US is cheapest or actually cheaper than us to us. But it also means we can ship the entire world for the same price instead of charging people $14 in Europe to get it shipped from the US whatever else the manufacturing cheaper everything's cheaper but it's also our you know, it still keeps the US pristine in terms of theater theatrical only you know, as a pure concept if you like and the DVD sales are healthy, or they're they're quite nice so you are selling
Alex Ferrari 58:50
or selling DVDs so that is another revenue stream that you've created but
Steven Lewis Simpson 58:53
it's but I mean, it's at a theoretically a boutique level but where our average sale per store visit i think is probably about 35 bucks. Okay, and so that's really good that's really good. Yeah, so so we don't need to sell a lot to do quite nicely
Alex Ferrari 59:08
so when do you have a plan to stop this crazy train? You know when you did another five years another two years? I mean, how long much longer you gonna keep it in theatrical or you ever gonna go to on demand? If you even want it? Does it make sense to
Steven Lewis Simpson 59:22
well the thing about it is the thing I found is I want to be signing up this business so we're dealing with all these companies directly and I don't want intermediaries taking money yes, just for the sake of it and I've had some A while ago approached us about that. So for me it's like getting to the point where they can ignore us they can't ignore us any longer. I mean, my my position is quite simple on this I don't for a second believe as well as I've done with this film. I don't for a second believes that a really big hitting distributor who knows what they're doing I mean, I I mean, imagine if one like the way the Weinstein is or Miramax before them. Were where they could take something and market the hell out of it, that they couldn't do at least 10 times the admissions that I've done with this film with zero experience with Mina, I spent less than a grand as my outlays beginning of distribution. Now, if they attend times the admissions as I had on this film, that would be a million admissions in theaters, which would, on an average ticket price put us maybe up at eight and a half million as a gross domestically, which puts us really hitting the higher echelon of what you know, independent films are doing. I mean, that's, you know, we're, as it stands, we've outperformed, you know, like I Daniel Blake, palm d'Or winner, we've done four times the admissions of that, which is just shows how desperate the US market is, I mean, it was making millions in France, millions in the UK, and that sort of thing. And in the US, it's doing like, 250, grand or something. But yeah, I mean, it's this, the secondary platforms, the thing I always have is, we don't get media for being in all those other things. And the more we're, you know, the more media coverage that we get, the more we build for all those other market streams. And, you know, I can be in this in for the long haul, the film has to get to a point of having a cultural existence. And it's something where people see it as communities is very important. And, you know, also in terms of when it gets a hold in, I mean, even with a DVD sales that we get, I see the times we've already played in heavily in those places, and not a lot to the regions we haven't played in yet. So there's definitely a huge benefit. But you know, the other thing is that I'm very loyal to my team, because they've been very, very loyal to me. And so it's also a case of, while we're profitable, and we're gonna keep this going as well. So, you know, they're in those positions long enough, hopefully, before I put the next thing in the pipeline. But also, I'm open to potentially doing service deals for other distributors going into South distribution, whether it's picking up part of part of it, one of the things we've done that saves money, a lot has been dealing with their own dcps. In the UK have taken a lot further where I do a lot of theatres having having a lot of theaters downloaded directly from my own cloud. So the zero delivery fees, that doesn't really wash it in the US particularly, but we do our own, you know, crew hard drives, we do our own formatting and everything else. And yeah, we've, we've, you know, we've saved a lot that way is a lot of things that we can do for other people, especially on the database, gathering the local media, things like that part from anything else, because we got, we're starting to build a lot of connections.
Alex Ferrari 1:02:41
So you, you created this infrastructure, you've created this basically indie film, self distribution infrastructure, that you could plug in other films into that structure, and definitely in you.
Steven Lewis Simpson 1:02:53
I mean, to be honest, the what fits best is if we, if we find similar films of set of meaning to communities, you know, other native american subject films would work well for us, but and I, you know, the funny thing is, with a lot of places we've played in, it's, it's a little bit like the faith based market, which kind of is not where I would normally go with anything, shall we say, but it's a similar way to how they market it, you know, they, they, they know whether we reach out to a lot to churches, because, you know, there's a there's a lot of understand, you know, journey to understanding and so on, and so on with our narrative. So, and these are groups that are easy to find. And But again, it's sort of that thing where if somebody at a skateboard movie, and they said, you know, we want you to find every skater community within the United States. It's gonna be rough. Yeah, we got our we got our we got a team on it. I mean, the thing is that our cost base is here is such that we can explore that, you know, we've got already got a database of essentially the emails for every library in the United States. Pretty much every college, every cinema, pretty much every small town theater, we're talking about 10s of 1000s of email addresses and contacts for these things. And this is the thing we're we're picking up a lot of these small town theaters that have the ability to project there, they do a lot of other things, but you know, they can project would you would you take a film that's already available online,
Alex Ferrari 1:04:33
even if it's culturally or it has to be a theatrical window.
Steven Lewis Simpson 1:04:37
It just has to be relevant to the venue. And, you know, for example, we you know, for example, this week, we have back We're back in the same museum and in Rapid City, and we're having four films showing there over nine days rotating, and three of them are three features I made on that reservation. And one of them's a film elsewhere, a set of mockumentary comet Native American comedy called more than frybread and it came out many years. ago, but it never played there, as my two features, other features hadn't. And it sort of fit nicely in that strand together. It's just it things really have to make sense to the venues. You know, and it's interesting that there's, there's some guy, what's his name, Warren, who's been doing these ski films for, I think, 30 years or something like that. And it's really interesting when you see that he's created a extraordinary distribution network of venues, both cinemas, halls, other kinds of places that are now plugged into this kind of thing. And it's, it was a model being created, years before fathom. Right. But it's a similar sort of concept. The other thing I would say, which is important is a lot of people will look at these audience sort of crowd you know, the, the, the crowdfunding talks, that know, the, you know, the tugs, and the, you know, talk just went under right. Oh, really?
Alex Ferrari 1:06:02
Yeah. Took literally just went bankrupt and screwed 1000s of filmmakers. I just, I just broke the story a little while ago.
Steven Lewis Simpson 1:06:07
Oh, really? That doesn't surprise me at all. Yeah. You know, and gather change their business model it right. And, you know, there I mean, and there's another one as well, yeah, there's another one I dealt with out of Australia. There's So apart from anything else they've been, all of them have been really problematic to deal with, you know, we've had maybe 567 1000 showings or something in the United States. And I started off doing some stuff with tog and then walked away, try to switch to the other two, and they just were so pointless to deal with. And it's such a travesty. Because done right. It's the future. Yeah. And they've just all totally blown it. Because they've just a, they just made themselves difficult to deal with. But also, just in terms of the pricing points and the theater sound. I mean, the theaters are asking for way too much. You know, I mean, to be honest, if you're talking about a theater in, you know, small town, and, you know, Minnesota, they should be happy to get 200 bucks for that one showing on a Tuesday night. And again, a few people buying sodas and top popcorn, because they're doing better out of that than anything else. They're playing that night, pretty much correct. Yeah.
Alex Ferrari 1:07:21
Yeah. It's,it should be a win win.
Steven Lewis Simpson 1:07:24
Exactly. And and so, you know, hopefully, that'll that'll sort itself out. But
Alex Ferrari 1:07:29
And do you think what do you think the future is? Do you think because people are going to theaters less and less. And I feel that that there is I think personally that there is a lot of potential for independent films in a theatrical environment, because there's only so many movies the studios are putting out every year.
Steven Lewis Simpson 1:07:46
There are I think the future is amazing. And it's it's just right for somebody set up a different model. Now there's, I try to remember the name of the model preludio sort of delivery system out of the living room theatres, people set up now, they were trying to do a thing where just theaters can pull a film off this platform gate, you know, bypass dcps, so that you could get secondary venues doing things in in a more straightforward system, even then it's too much proprietary stuff. There needs to be sort of open source solution, where it's still films are are protected, but where they're being pulled onto the systems at no cost. where, you know, the theaters just basically do a poll saying, Here's 10 trailers, which one do you want to see the most, oh, three weeks on a Tuesday night. And, you know, we'll pick whatever one you vote for, and they'll be there and there's just zero cost getting it there. It's and the VPN system vpf system is a nightmare. vpf companies are nightmares. They're just pains in the behinds. They don't even understand their own contracts. That's when we're particularly one of them, which is the most disturbing part. And, but you know, that we will move beyond as the technology price points come down, there will be more secondary venues as well. And it is this thing where it'll be more like some of the art. You know, in Europe, you have a lot of art cinemas where they'll have a really curated selection. So you know, in, it'll be for four different films on same screen, sometimes each day, and they can afford to do it because they got a lot of subsidies. It's very much a public service. But the reason they need that subsidy is because the whole print process and whatever was always so expensive, even with dcps. Whereas once we get to that technology point where there's zero cost involved with that, where even there's I mean, I don't even know why right now why we're still dealing with posters. Why every venue doesn't just Have an electronic LCD screen. Yeah, I mean, it's just from an environmental standpoint, overall, when you ag added up over, over everything, and, you know, there were in the 21st century and and the film business just is way behind catching up, and then their, their financial model will be much better. Now, you know, a lot of people, like my mother's generation would never go into the theater much 20 years ago, 30 years ago, they're going much more now. Because it's a night out, even though they have the Netflix's and whatever else. And so for them, it's really about the desire, you know, here's something we want to see. And they and when it's on they go, it's not like, what are we going to Friday night? What are we going to Saturday night, the young audience that are that way inclined, or have been pander to too much. And, and it needs to be a case. I mean, what might work well, for cinemas with my movie, because it's got a much older audience, and they go to see it. When it's on. Like, in Nottingham, in England, we had something like 135 people going to see it on a Tuesday on a Thursday afternoon. And, you know, all people pretty much because it was something that appealed to them. Now, on a Friday or Saturday night, we don't typically do as well. And, you know, so again, there's a variety of films that do well, you know, like, you know, in histories, terms, is anything done better at midnight, and Rocky Horror, you know, or, or the way the room has worked, or that and, you know, there's a lot of other venues that would, I mean, the room probably would never have had that life back in the day of the mall needing a 35 mil print, right? Because it would, it could never have had that tipping point. Whereas Rocky Horror did because the prints existed. And whereas now, you know, there is that great scope for, you know, let's put on the monkeys movie had at midnight on a Saturday night and then follow with A Hard Day's Night, there's a double bill, because we can just pull these off this service, and it's not going to cost us nothing. And even if they walk away with 100 bucks from it, we're all winning, right? So there is there is I think there's an amazing future, it just needs to walk into the tech age. I personally think and this isn't something that is a good thing. But if Facebook wanted to get into the theatrical realm, they could take it over into yours, because of their has their access to audience,
Alex Ferrari 1:12:31
it's not a bad idea.
Steven Lewis Simpson 1:12:32
They could literally go, we know exactly what they want to see, we know exactly how to get to them. So everyone who is going to like the room or is going to like a rerun of the sound of music or whatever else and and they can just mark it straight to them. And, you know, they're winning, because it's their own advertising spend to themselves, you know, and it's almost like looking at it the way that that, you know, Netflix, you know, when they're advertising through their own platform, or through their own email list, there's zero cost to them. Um, and, you know, so the amount of data they have on on our habits and that sort of thing. And then they could take it secondary as well, that you just play the movies through your, you know, a different part of your Facebook account that you know, they could have unbelievable dominance incredibly fast.
Alex Ferrari 1:13:24
Very interesting. Well, I'm gonna ask you a few questions that asked all my guests. What advice would you give a filmmaker wanting to break into the business today?
Steven Lewis Simpson 1:13:33
If you ever have a seconds doubt about it? Don't get the hell out. Do anything look if there's literally a second doubt Don't do it. Because you're not strong enough. Fair enough. that true? Oh,
Alex Ferrari 1:13:49
Oh 100 110% it's 110%. No question
Steven Lewis Simpson 1:13:52
I never had a second? I've been in this a long time, sadly now. I haven't sadly. I you know, I've had a lot of doubt about other things. You know, should I have that cheesecake or not? But never ever about making films? It's not because I love it. It's just, it's who I am. It's 100% of who I am.
Alex Ferrari 1:14:10
Now you were bitten by that bug. And it's a virus that you can't get rid of it. It just you know, it flares up. Sometimes it goes dormant sometimes, but it's always there and it can never get rid of it no matter how much each. Yeah. Now what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film business or in life?
Steven Lewis Simpson 1:14:28
Um, I don't know about the longest per se. But I think the most important life lesson and this goes for everything. This goes for creative and whatever else is never judged something as a good or a bad thing until it's played itself out. And I learned that quite a few years ago. And as a slight anecdote, I had this occasion quite a few years ago, where this lady who had been in my life not so long before came out of the blue and told me I had a one year old child with her, and I didn't panic. And I thought, well, this is curious in 20 years time, this relationship with this child might be the most beautiful, best thing that ever happened to me. Or it might be 20 years dealing with this crazy mother or whatever else, as it turned out, took me a while to find out, she invented the whole thing. And so it just turned out to be a great story for moments like today. But the point was, I never freaked out because I had no idea how it was going to play itself out. And there was a moment when I had about a half million dollars on the table for this film from a tribe. And it was great. And we were negotiating with our lawyers and all these other things. And they were big fans of the novel and whatever. And a friend of mine, old friend of mine in Hollywood said, Why are you not more excited about this? And I'm like, well, we'll see. We'll see how it plays, you know, this film business. And, and then a year went by, and a lot of different things changed and problems on their end and problems I had to deal with and whatever. And the whole then the finance collapsed. And he said, why not more upset? I'm like, Well, I didn't really get invested. I don't you just you know, let's see how it plays itself out. Good. So, you know, but then it's hard not to take a lot of things personally in this business as well. I mean, I like to be I'd like to be Zen about it. But, you know, I'd say to other people don't hold grudges. But I'd like to take my own advice.
Alex Ferrari 1:16:24
I mean, obviously that publicist still bothers you. Well, yeah. Now, what are three of your favorite films of all time?
Steven Lewis Simpson 1:16:34
Um, well, I always say Seven Samurai just because it's perfect it is. And just for the hell of it. Because my mind is going there. My favorite comedy is love and deaths by Woody Allen. Yeah. That's good. It's about the only film I could watch back to back. And, gosh, I'll say oh, I'll speak for I'll speak for my my teenage south. I would say a speak from my teenage sound for picking up the camera for the first time. And for the dragon and the entire 80s works of Jackie Chan. Ah, he's such a genius. He's such a genius. absolute genius. Not just a genius, though. It's, like the hardest working. You know, everything you can imagine ever. And you know, from a kid. I mean, I don't know if you ever saw painted faces. Yeah, no, no. Yeah. I mean, I was like, that was a hell of a childhood.
Alex Ferrari 1:17:39
He's no, he's got a he's got a very interesting life to say the least very interesting life. A lot of people first saw him in rush hour. I'm like, No, no, he's been. He's been he's been doing this a little bit longer.
Steven Lewis Simpson 1:17:53
It was funny. I when I first lived in LA, the famous new art cinema, yeah. Had a two week festival of Hong Kong movies. Double bills, two to two days each. And it was heaven. And they were packed. And I've never been in an audience's that laughed and cheered and applauded as much ever. It was like a project a two and armor of God to double bill. I mean, just extraordinary. And I guarantee you Tarantino will have been in the audience for most of those times. I was there. I saw everyone too. And there's no way he didn't see every single film there. And and it was when Hollywood just discovered
Alex Ferrari 1:18:32
Steven Lewis Simpson 1:18:33
What many of us already knew. But seeing it on the big screen like that was a revelation to us. I'd seen every one of them before.
Alex Ferrari 1:18:40
I still I still remember going to see in the theater hardboiled. Because I saw a poster. This is like 90 90 92' 93'. It was right around Mariachi time. And I remember going to the theater and there was a poster with a dude with a shotgun holding a baby in a diaper. And I was just like, I need to see this movie. And I was just like, What is going on? And I just was blown blown away. And where can people find you and what you're doing and your work?
Steven Lewis Simpson 1:19:10
Well, the film you know, I have Facebook pages for my film for myself for everything else that I've done. Join the conversation there are you know stevenlewissimpson.com I post a little bit I need to start doing more with it. One of the things I'm actually going to do in the next few months is I'm going to be creating what I would imagine will be the most in depth micro budget film masterclass has ever been, because and I say this as an insane person who makes a film with a crew of two that ends up being in six 700 venues Sure, between a few different countries that will be detailing everything from and it's I mean, the stuff I've done is beyond that it's been insane from you know, I've prosecuting my own arbitration hearings against international sales agent or auditing them and Various things like that or doing your own, you know, deals with foreign broadcasters or, you know, there's, there's a lot of different sides of things are how to structure auditions in a way that that will maybe do more to persuade an actor to come on to something that might be a little smaller than they normally do. There's, you know, so many little tidbits along the way, as well as, so in depth about the distribution, and every stage of that, and buying and selling the equipment, of course. And, you know, because, you know, I do everything in house, I mean, the, literally from, I did 100%, pre production, myself, and 100% of post production, including DVD authoring, blu ray authoring, DCP, authoring, ACP delivery, all those kinds of things. And, and we are in that world now. And, you know, now I'm in the position where I can just train my team up to take care of those things, which is great. But, you know, I think it's crucial for all of us to, you know, there was something very influential when I was growing up, there was a book he like, has ended about relating to directing. And there was this bit towards the end, and it was like, here's what you have to learn to be a director. And it was like, each subject was like, a paragraph. And it was page after page after page from, you know, understanding, you know, 15th century costume, if that's the kind of thing you're doing or to understand. I mean, it was literally the minutiae of the minutiae of so many, whatever, you know, and, you know, like, over the weekend, I was blowing up a private jet in my new script, and I'm like, learning things about jets, you know, and, and it is that incredible thing about what we do.
Alex Ferrari 1:21:43
Steven, then thank you so much for the inspiration, telling us the story, and hopefully giving some hope to filmmakers out there, because it is pretty rough in the distribution space, nowadays, and to give them some sort of hope. And what I love about your story is that it works, but there's a lot of work to get it to work, it's not going to be like, Oh, I just uploaded and collect checks. It's that's generally not the way it works. And my experience dealing with filmmakers is a lot of times they just, you know, they just want to work on the movie and not worry about how the money is made. But they don't want to put all that work that you've obviously been able to put into it.
Steven Lewis Simpson 1:22:20
Yeah, one thing about the distribution, there's a very interesting study that the Sundance Institute did on the release of Columbus that they gave some grant money towards. And it's very interesting, a lot of your viewers will learn quite a bit from it. What I also learned from it was that the Booker the experience Booker that they had, was negotiating lower end deals, and I've been negotiating at the same in the UK, I started off with a specialist guy who's getting nowhere. And he was always trying to go in for 35%. In the UK, the percentage in the UK are lower. Whereas I keep pushing them up there. And I've only think done maybe 130 5% deal in the UK, I've got quite a few 50% deals, 45 and whatever. Whereas in the US, it's almost entirely been 50%, whereas they were averaging was Columbus around maybe 36 37% or something. And their outlay was far far greater than mine. So we've done about the same number of admissions, their gross was quite a bit higher because they're playing in main cities with much, much greater ticket prices. Plus, I've got a lot of older people coming to see it and they pay less. But I've been far more profitable, far more profitable. And and so it is sort of that thing about what I want, again, through the master class. It's, it's, it's literally how to, you know, I mean, make money, make a profit out of your poster budget, because you're selling them to your fans as well.
Alex Ferrari 1:23:45
Stop it. Stop it make money with your film, you're talking crazy talks. Crazy Talk. You're saying, Steve, thank you so much, Steven, I appreciate your time, brother. I know pretty insane. I didn't think it was possible either. But this is why I have the show, because I'm able to bring you success stories and case studies of successful filmmakers doing their own thing thinking outside the box, being filmtrepreneurs, and really changing the paradigm of distribution for the indie filmmaker. If you want to get links to anything we discussed in this episode, including watching his TED talk, and also taking a look at Stephens new masterclass that he has a Kickstarter for head over to the show notes at indiefilmhustle.com/390. And guys, if you haven't already checked out my free three part low budget indie producing video series that is taught by the best selling author and veteran film producer Suzanne Lyons, go to indiefilmhacks.com and sign up and get three videos sent directly to your email with about an hour worth of content that will help you produce your next independent film. That's indiefilmhacks.com. Thanks for listening, guys, as always, keep that hustle going. Keep that dream alive. Stay safe, and I'll talk to you soon.
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WATCH A FREE 3 PART LOW-BUDGET FILM PRODUCING VIDEO SERIES
Taught by veteran award-winning film producer and author Suzanne Lyons. The filmmaker behind over a dozen profitable low-budget feature films.