Interview: 'Not Waving but Drowning' & Its Unique Distribution Philosophy
If you're working on a project now, the thought of forming a plan for distribution is probably pretty daunting. There are several avenues to go down, the most popular ones being landing a coveted theater release and self-distributing on a VOD platform. Well, what about putting it up on YouTube for free and asking people to pay what they feel like paying? This is exactly what the filmmakers of Not Waving But Drowning decided to do upon its online release. The film's Writer/Director Devyn Waitt sat down with NFS to talk about not only the distribution strategy, but what it was like shooting in 3 states, and the goodies you can expect with the DVD -- like prescription drugs.
Not Waving But Drowning stars Vanessa Ray (Pretty Little Liars) and Megan Guinan, as well as Adam Driver (Girls) and Lynn Cohen (Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Munich,) and went up on YouTube at the end of August. It's a film that I've seen a handful of times, and each time I see get something new out of it.
First of all, it's shot beautifully. The cinematography is absolutely stunning. But the narrative is also moving. It's raw. It's honest. Daring at times. Painfully listless. It's like being homesick. It's like getting your first place. It's like growing up -- really growing up, at different stages of life. Unlike films in the catch-all genre of "coming of age drama", the film isn't so much an emotional roller coaster as it is an emotional sledgehammer to the face.
Before we get to the interview, let's take a look at the trailer for Not Waving But Drowning, as well as video with excerpts from the film's prelude, a short film entitled The Most Girl Part of You.
NFS: So, tell us about how you got started on this project. How did it all start?
Devyn Waitt: It started with a collection of images and ideas that I wanted to see brought to life. Feelings I wanted to try and make other people feel.
NFS: "Not Waving But Drowning" is a poem by Stevie Smith. What, if any, significance does the poem have in the film?
DW: I think that sentiment relates mainly to Adele's story. I think she even wants to keep up the illusion, though, that she isn't drowning.
NFS: Can you tell us a little bit about The Most Girl Part of You . What role did it play in your film?
DW: The Most Girl Part of You is a short story by Amy Hempel that we made into a short film that plays as a prelude before the feature. I really like the idea of pairing films, and having one sort of prepare you for the other.
NFS: What was your budget and how did you raise the funds?
DW: [She replied with the following -- except it was a gif.]
NFS: I heard you filmed in 3 states over a course of 45 days. What was the production process like?
DW: Long! We filmed in Florida first and that was a totally different experience than filming in New York. It was more like summer camp and everyone was really excited to have us. Sometimes friends of friends would like, bring folding chairs and mixed drinks and just post up by the truck and watch which was funny.
In New York it was much more frenetic and we didn't have permission to be a lot of places so everything was quick and hazy. Then when we filmed The Most Girl Part of You in New Jersey it felt like a dream. Very simple and well planned and it was fall and every day new trees in the suburbs were bursting with color. Also most of the time my mom and my grandmother did the craft services and they were really good. I think it was good for morale, as grandmothers often are.
NFS: What kind of gear were you guys working with?
DW: We shot on a RED and a RED MX, and a 5D when we had to be sneaky and a go pro when we needed to see the night sky through swinging hair. We edited on Final Cut 7 in the living room of my apartment, my roommate was really nice about it.
NFS: What was your directorial approach?
DW: I think it was different for every relationship. I had a really clear idea of what I wanted, but how to get there was different with each person. I like to play music a lot, to give people an idea of how different scenes should feel.
NFS: What/who are your biggest influences as a filmmaker?
NFS: So, tell us about your distribution strategy. What release your film on YouTube for free?
DW: Really for us it is about getting as many people as possible to see it and to be able to share it as easily as possible. It was definitely a hard pill for me to swallow at first, because the idea of someone watching it on their iPhone really stresses me out. I definitely made it with the theatre in mind.
I think though, somewhere along the way we got realistic about who our audience is and how and where they watch things. And all of a sudden it felt exciting to just put the film right there in front of them, a click away you might say!
NFS: On the NWBD website you say, "We believe that in the future, you should be able to decide how much you pay for movies." Can you tell us more about that?
DW: Yeah. I think the idea of paying for things on a speculative basis doesn't make as much sense as paying for something based on how much it meant to you or how much you enjoyed it. It seems to me that would allow the things that people felt most connected to or moved by to rise to the top.
NFS: It's such a novel concept, one that I'd like to believe would work, but do you think this method would work for other filmmakers, too?
DW: I'm not sure. I'm not sure it is working for us, yet. But I believe it can work, and I hope it will.
NFS: Will there be a physical or digital copy available for those of us who want to own it?
DW: You can download the movie for free right now from our website. I think we are going to make some pretty DVDs in the future, with treasure maps and prescription drugs in them.
NFS: What advice would you give to independent filmmakers reading this?
DW: Oh man, I don't know if I have any good advice. Spend a lot of time on the script? Don't be lazy about dental hygiene.
Given the availability of distribution through VOD, it's fascinating that these filmmakers would hand over control to their audience and say, "Pay what you want, because you should be able to decide." This is an entirely different philosophy than simply putting your film up on YouTube or on a torrent site, because it's not only about dispersion (people are more likely to watch a free movie.) It's about giving your audience a say, which again, is a novel idea that I want to believe would work, but the crotchety, bitter cynic in me says it'll take some doing.
A big thanks to Devyn for the interview and the laughs! If you want to check out Not Waving But Drowning, you can view it on YouTube here. For best results, listen with headphones, and for god's sake don't watch it on your phone (if at all possible.) Also, if the movie moved you, meant something to you, of if you just have some cash to toss around, visit the film's website and donate what you can.
What did you think of Devyn Waitt's Not Waving But Drowning? What about their distribution strategy?