Understanding The Work: The distribution of ‘Future Perfect.’

29 Sep


On Saturday, ‘Future Perfect’ premiered on Seed and Spark. I wanted to take a few minutes and write about how the film got from having no audience to being on an amazing platform like S&S.

Just about 2 years ago, I successfully raised funds on kickstarter to make the film. It was my first film with a budget of any kind, but like many first-timers, I hadn’t thought too much about the most important thing: distribution. I just wanted to make the movie. I hadn’t questioned, or considered, how I would get it seen.

Prior to ‘Future Perfect,’ I had had a few short films in festivals but nothing major. I assumed that was the only way to get your work out: get into a film festival, and that would be it.

Two things happened when I was in film school that made challenge my rather simplistic ideas about distribution. I’m glad they did. The first was having to come up with a topic for a presentation in my producing class, and I choose four-walling, which got me thinking about the idea of screening your film when and where you could.

The second was talking having a class with the wonderful Nancy Gerstman of Zeitgeist Films, who was the first to distribute films by Christopher Nolan and Todd Haynes. She has also distributed films by Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Guy Madden, and Margarethe von Trotta. Nancy offered sound advice, but beyond that, brought in wonderful guests like Rachel Grady, who self-distributed Detropia. It was master class in learning how individual filmmakers looked at their options and made bold choices.

All of this was happening while I was incredibly stressed. As often happens, I had run out of money to finish the film, and didn’t know where finishing funds would come from.

As I brainstormed how to handle the problem, I realized that what I was going through perhaps could be solved by screening the film as a work-in-progress.

But I needed an audience. Who would want to see my film?

During crowdfunding, I had called my hometown newspaper and they had done an article about me, which got some attention. I decided to try my luck again. This time, I contacted my local library, who agreed to screen the film. I screened the film and solicited donations to make the film. More importantly, the local newspaper did another piece about me, which will come in handy when I’m trying to get word out about my feature film.

I also contacted the NYC alumni branch of The University of New Hampshire, which I had joined the fall prior. They were eager and enthusiastic to screen the film, and we did a screening with the cast and crew, followed by a Q and A.

These screenings resulted in a little cash to help get the film through sound and color, but, more importantly, the response to the film was mostly strong. For the first time, a group of people had assembled to solely to see my work. And then asked me questions afterwards. It was thrilling, fun, and incredibly validating.

Then the festival rejections start piling in.

I started ambitiously. ‘No’ from Sundance, ‘No’ from Busan, ‘No’ from NYFF, and, most crushingly, ‘No’ from the New Hampshire Film Festival, where I had some connections. The head programmer sent me a note about how much she liked the film, but they had received many more submission than previous years (this was a common refrain).

The film continued to receive rejections, even from festivals with an Asian or Asian-American focus. I began to wonder if it was a crappy film. I became incredibly insecure.

At the end of the day, what I realized is that the film has a precarious problem at it’s core: it’s a film that deals with issues central to the immigrant experience (visas, etc.) but not made by an immigrant, which I think is significant.  I believe this tension, as well as it’s slow pace and lack of closure, make it a difficult film to program. In my mind, it’s well made, but problematic film with a tricky audience.

I also realized I can’t critique my work based on festival acceptance.

In December of 2013, frustrated with reaching for bigger festivals, I submitted the film to IndieWorks, which is a local event in the city hosted by filmmakers I know. They loved the film, and not only screened it at their event, but invited to be part of an online competition to screen at their end of year Best of Fest event. The film won the online contest, and screened with several amazing films at the event. I got to speak about the film, meet other filmmakers. It was a blessing. As a young filmmaker, being recognized by your peers feels great.

I wanted to keep the momentum going, because it’s much better to feel positive about your work than negative, so I began submitting to more film nights. The film screened at Encore IndieFilm Showcase in Portland, Oregon. Encore is programmed by Jason and Jeanne of Heliorana film, and they were nice enough to let me submit a brief Q and A video as well.

I also submitted the film to Portsmouth Short Film Night, run by Michael and Catherine of Film Unbound. I was able to go up to visit for that one, speak at the Q and A, and spend the weekend walking around Portsmouth, my college town, with my girlfriend. I took a screening and turned it into mini-vacation.

In July, the film screened at Videology in Williamsburg. Around that time, I was contacted by Seed and Spark about putting the film on the site, based on the recommendation of the programmers at IndieWorks.

I’m very proud of the road Future Perfect’ has taken. It has taught me some valuable lessons. Most importantly,

1)Know your audience and know your distribution goals before making a film.
2)Festival acceptance can say nothing about how good (or bad) your film is
3)The most important thing is getting eyes on your film, especially as an up-and-coming filmmaker with a short film.

Finally, Don’t wait for festivals. Show your film when and where you can. Make your audience, and get them ready for the next film.

I am in pre-production on that next film a family drama called The Cape House. It will shoot on Cape Cod next year, and I’ve already begun planning my distribution strategy and researching the press and people I want to get involved with the film. I need to make a good film, but I need to know how it’s going to get out there.

So keep your eyes peeled for that. In the meantime, watch the trailer for Future Perfect and please watch it, along with a slew of other amazing films, on Seed&Spark.