Screen and Screen Again: A Primer for Distribution Neophytes

I Wake Up Screening: What to Do Once You've Made That Movie
By John Anderson and Laura Kim
Watson-Guptill
$18.95, paper, 224 pps.
ISBN 0-8230-8898-7

If you are a filmmaker, Buy This Book! How's that for a pull quote? John Anderson and Laura Kim have done filmmakers a big favor by writing this truly insightful guide to the very practical, and all too human, realities of dealing with a finished film. Anderson, a writer for New York Newsday, and Kim, a publicist for many notable independent films and now executive vice president of publicity and marketing at Warner Independent Pictures, have taken the time to put together a straight-talking primer for filmmakers who haven't navigated the shark-filled waters of festival participation in their quest for distribution.

I certainly could have used this book a dozen years ago when I made my first film. It was a good film (really, it was), and I looked forward to taking it to film festivals. Thirty-five rejection letters later, we were a bit stunned. Eventually we got the film to its audience and it played in 10 countries, but it was a very painful and disheartening experience. I had a lot of unreasonable expectations, and I didn't have any idea how to move forward with the film. I've learned a good deal of the information found in this book the hard way, and as such I appreciate what a great tool I Wake Up Screening is.

Anderson and Kim have sought out the insights of countless filmmakers, distributors, members of the press and publicists, all of whom weigh in with painfully honest observations. The world they describe is very small and incestuous--not unlike high school--where reputations can quickly form and be hard to shake. Anderson and Kim are integral players in this world, and would likely have been quoted themselves throughout the book, had it been written by another writer.

The authors open the book by advising filmmakers to take a long hard look at their work before showing it to anyone else. The number of films being produced has risen astronomically (which means there's a bigger audience for this book), as has the number of fairly decent films. So, the authors urge, do everything you can to make your film great. The next painful counsel: if it's not that great, maybe you shouldn't show it to too many people. Given the cliquey nature of this world, where filmmakers, distributors and press people interact in the clubby atmosphere of film festivals, this suggestion makes a lot of sense.

Each important point in the book is fleshed out by stories from a cross-section of colleagues. Distributor Bob Berney of Picturehouse, for example, talks about a filmmaker who showed his first short to Billy Wilder. Wilder's advice was to put it in a box and never show it to anyone again. The filmmaker listened, and went on to make other films. Jeff Dowd, a producer's rep, recounts telling one of his clients to either find the money to fix their film or pull it from a festival. They did a day of re-shoots, re-edited the film and subsequently made a big sale with it. While the book's focus is largely on the commercial aspect of the industry, the information is useful to documentary filmmakers, since, more than anything else, it is a book about social networking.

The first quarter of the book deals with the practical matters of finishing a film, such as legal issues and strategies for marketing and publicity. The middle of the book concerns how to approach the festival circuit. As the book is a series of no-holds-barred conversations, the subtle and quixotic nature of the filmmaker/distributor/press person/press agent dance is laid out in a clear and concise manner.

While it's clear that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to getting one's film out into the world, it's important for filmmakers to understand the different pressures that festivals, distributors and press people are dealing with. With thousands of films floating around, and only a few of them really marketable or truly fantastic, the vast majority of people who work in the industry are understandably a bit jaded, and hungry for good information. I Wake Up Screening might come across as a bit harsh to a first-time filmmaker, but the book is undeniably useful and I strongly recommend it to anyone who is hoping to get his or her film distributed.

 

Michael Galinsky is a photographer and filmmaker based in Brooklyn, NY.

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