REPORT FROM THE FILM FRONT - Get
out the Vote!
FIVE SISTERS PRODUCTIONS
As probably you know, my four sisters, my parents,
and I made our third film, MANNA FROM HEAVEN, in our hometown of
Buffalo. I adore Buffalo. I think of my childhood with an idyllic
peacefulness set in a sophisticated city bordered by water, ski
slopes, cool green lawns, and another country. However, Buffalo
has long suffered from low self-esteem. My sisters and I decided
that, no matter how hard it would be, we would make our third movie
in Buffalo and show the rest of the country what a beautiful place
it is. People said it was crazy; we should shoot in Canada and save
money -- but we were determined to make it in the U.S. and to make
a film entirely in Buffalo. The stars (who lived in Buffalo for
four weeks) fell in love with the city, the film is a love-letter
to Buffalo, and the city rallied around the movie's production.
Since a wonderful special preview at Shea's Theater,
we began traveling with the movie to film festivals, and MANNA FROM
HEAVEN proved to be a real crowd-pleaser. Liz Smith, Ain't It Cool
News, and other nationally respected journalists gave it a great
response. To our delight, theaters were selling out, extra screenings
were being added, and we were being invited to festivals by their
directors. The movie was beginning to have strong word-of-mouth.
So it was time for distribution. We had offers from
many distributors. Most thought it deserved a theatrical release,
but it would get lost in the marketplace if they didn't spend enough
on advertising. Ticket sales are typically directly related to how
much money is spent on advertising a film, and usually major money
is only spent on stars like Brad Pitt, Sandra Bullock, and Julia
So here’s the rub. The average film’s
publicity budget these days is $35 million dollars. Yes, that’s
right. Thirty-five million dollars just for publicity. That’s
People who have seen MANNA often ask us why more movies
like this arent made. The fact is that people often arent
aware of them.
Reports on movies are based on box office grosses.
No longer is the quality of the movie top story news -- its ticket
sales are. This is not a good state of affairs for the arts, because
production and distribution companies consider quantity of ticket
sales more important than the quality of a film -- and projection
from past sales are the basis for deciding what movies to make and
distribute in the future.
So what it comes down to is this: peoples ticket
purchases are like votes.
When you buy a ticket for a movie, you are voting
for that type of movie you are saying you want more
movie of that type to be made.
People should realize that because the film business
is a business, they have power over dictating what kind of films
get made. They have to value their own votes and vote for what they
want to see more.
You've seen the issues about media consolidation,
with the FCC regulations of late. Disney owns Miramax; NBC owns
Bravo -- these outlets create automatic advertising partners for
promotion of films by a parent studio. The advertising gets more
and more omnipresent and multifaceted, making small films simply
unable to compete.
We sisters have decided we are going to spend a year
promoting MANNA FROM HEAVEN, doing grassroots organization of communities
to “get out the vote” for more movies like it. Recently,
some films have proven that such an approach can work; they have
done very well, some playing over a year in cities simply from public
support. The biggest hurdle is getting people to the movie theater
on the first weekend (after which the theater decides whether or
not to keep the film in the theater the following week, based on
a mixture of politics & performance -- and for a non-studio-backed
film, it is critical to have strong ticket sale performance).
As we are a small independent film company, it is
an uphill battle to keep the movie playing long enough to reap its
word-of-mouth power. We’re doing creative marketing, offering
filmmaker Q&As for groups, handing out fliers for hours, promoting
with t-shirts, posters, etc. We’re determined to get MANNA
FROM HEAVEN available to the public, even if it is not fitting into
an easy marketing structure -- just as we were determined to get
such an incredible cast together, and to make the film in our hometown.
Alongside the majors and the edgy indies, there should
also be a space for intelligent, feel-good American independent
Too often people complain that there aren't
good movies, or enough selection. We all hold the power to change
the way movies are made, to change what studios and distribution
companies look for and provide us. The possibility for molding the
product is there each time you go to the theater. Your ticket is
a vote for the future. Use it wisely.
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