Why ‘Meow Wolf: Origin Story’ Screened in 600 Theaters... For One Night
How do you get as many people as possible who might like your film to actually see it?
For the filmmakers of Meow Wolf: Origin Story, it meant exploding the theatrical scene on as many screens as possible... but for just one night.
Not only is all the energy focused on one night for your team, but potential film-goers also realize that this is the only chance to come out and see the film.
“When we started planning our distribution, our goal was literally to try and book 15 screens. It’s kind of fun to see your own high bar blown to smithereens.”
If you pull this off, you can make a huge splash in just one night.
For one evening only, the film about the rise of underdog art punks into a multi-million dollar enterprise, screened in 49 states, selling out in many cities including Boston, Atlanta, Denver, Albuquerque, and more through the robust network of Fathom, the nation’s largest live cinema network.
“We wanted to hit the widest reach possible, and Fathom has a robust network of theaters, so we chose the cities and towns that were important to us and went from there,” explained filmmakers Jilann Spitzmiller and Morgan Capps. How do you pull that off? Spitzmiller and Capps sat down with No Film School to offer insight into why and how others could pull off a feat of this scale.
Here they are:
You have to give people a damn good reason to make it to the theater
When asked about why to roll out your film this way, Spitzmiller and Capps explained that It’s a great way to release a documentary theatrically because otherwise, it’s hard to get people’s attention. “But by making it a one-night-only event, then it forces people to make a plan in advance, hopefully with friends,” elaborated Spitzmiller. “We are certainly not the first to do this - there have been several other documentaries that have had success this way.” Like Meow Wolf: Origin Story, with careful planning, it can mean a huge boost of eyeballs than screening your doc traditionally.
Bring on people who know how to market events
So how do you take this idea any make it work? According to Spitzmiller and Capps, it’s about getting the right team together to handle it. “As we got into the planning process, it became obvious that although people on the team had some great DIY distribution experience, we’d be well-served by bringing on a distribution expert to help us pull all of our ideas together and to strategize the best plan,” explained Spitzmiller. “We hired Mia Bruno as our PMD (Producer of Marketing and Distribution) and she brought us an opportunity to work with Fathom Events, which does special nationwide, one-night-only screenings.”
Save and plan for the release, but be flexible
"The first piece of advice is to save or raise money for distribution if you can and hire an experienced distribution strategist. They have the relationships with the buyers; they know what’s possible in the current marketplace and how your film fits in. Also, be prepared to be flexible. You may formulate a plan, and have to change if things aren’t working, or adjust it if you get great opportunities that you weren’t expecting.
Use one night of heavy social media to translate to VOD
The result of having such a unique rollout isn’t just about getting people in the theater – it’s also about getting more traction with the film on other platforms. “I think a filmmaker always hopes that tons of people will see their film,” explained Spitzmiller. “In this case, it was really fun because it felt like a nationwide community of fans when we were getting all of the social media posts coming in from all over the place on the night of the screening. We were hoping to sell lots of tickets first and foremost, and then secondarily to help raise awareness of the film for our VOD release, which is happening now. You can now see the film on our website.”
Have a multi-pronged approach
Finally, when it comes to reaching your audience, part of that is to think about all the ways your audience might watch the film (and what kind of version they might want to see.) “Don’t just think about doing one thing to release your film. Fathom Events was our first distribution “window” and now we’re working on several other aspects of our plan, such as an encore theatrical window to art house theaters in late winter, educational and non-theatrical events, and a release on the more well-known digital platforms,” explained the filmmakers. “Think expansively about your audience and make sure you’re creating versions that serve them. For example, we realized that we’d have a pretty big Spanish speaking audience, as well as a younger audience, so we did versions that were censored, with Spanish subtitles, etc.
Also, know that distribution is as exhausting as production and you’ll need to wear many hats and be in it for the long haul! Success builds from small victories, persistence, and patience. Work with people who believe in your film as much as you do."
Thank you Jilann and Morgan!
If you missed the one-night-only screening extravaganza, you can now check out the film on VOD here.