Now that Menthol was finally released online last week, let's check in with the release status and watch the 3rd part of our interview series with the makers of the film. This post will complete my 6-part series on releasing the film with a $0 marketing budget. With direct distribution I've learned that what appears to be the end of a long road usually leads to be the beginning of a new one, but for this post I've selected some big takeaways and put them together in a Direct-Distribution Lesson Roundup. Read on.
Release Day + The Following 2 Weeks
It's here, it's finally released and it feels really good. The festival process took 7 months to complete despite only attending 4 festivals -- not very efficient in terms of momentum for a release. Next time I will definitely consider releasing the film online the same day we premiere at a festival during the peak of our "buzz". The extra months of waiting and slowly promoting, while insightful, proved to take a lot of wind out of our sails. We made a lot of people wait to see the film who had been waiting. So in a sense, the best part of releasing was being able to send links to the people who have been waiting; people who have followed the project for years. It's really satisfying to deliver on a promise.
Though the release day went well and we've received a slew of really great reviews, I can't pretend that this film is a financial runaway success. We probably won't come close to making our money back, but it will be a slow trickle as it is discovered by the people it was intended for. People viewing and sharing the movie provide little bursts of interest, and I'll continue to interact and connect with viewers as time goes on and the film propagates. To me, that part is exciting, because you never know whose hands the film will fall into and what conversation it might start.
Though we probably won't make any real money on this film, the lessons we learned through this process will be invaluable the next time around. I strongly believe that direct distribution can work to sustain a filmmaker's career, it just needs as much consideration as the filmmaking itself. It forces me to think about the hats we wear as independent filmmakers today; do we have the luxury of merely being creators or do we have to market ourselves as well? I pontificate on this question and more in this podcast I did with Film Specific about releasing Menthol on our $0 marketing budget.
Here's part 3 in our Behind the Story interview series, which covers some of what we went through in post:
Direct-Distribution Lessons Roundup
As promised, here's a compact list of lessons -- things that I've learned or things I'll aim to do better at the next time around:
- Treat the release of your film with the same sense of care and creativity you would making a film.
- Spending months on the film festival circuit might not be worth it.
- Stay in close contact with your core audience, together they are stronger than you might think.
- Start early and update often. Momentum is everything.
- Consider making multiple versions of your trailer for marketing to different audiences.
- Always be prepared for the plan to change; adapt or die.
Expectations / Find Your Audience Now
Our goal for this project was never to make money, but to treat it as a learning experience, and there's no better film school than experience. I exceeded my expectations for what this project could be, where it would take us and how others would connect to it. This of course is helped by having exceedingly low expectations going in, which I think raises an important question. For most first time filmmakers the ability to adjust expectations accordingly to be in line with what you're trying to accomplish is a valuable tool in itself.
Certainly if your goal is to make a profit or pay back investors with your film, most of us are gonna have to think about our distribution plan in pre-production to figure out what makes marketing sense for your subject matter. The independent world is becoming more and more of a niche market, so I think it's imperative to find out who you are and who your audience is to get the snowball rolling as quickly as possible. Maybe you won't see financial success after your first few films, but once a critical mass is reached, I believe filmmakers will have a viable way to make a living off of their art.
Thanks for reading this series and supporting small films. If you've seen the movie, please consider leaving a review on our Vimeo on Demand page! It really helps the conversation about the film remain alive! If you watch the film this week and leave a review you'll get entered to win a poster. :)