I had a chance to talk to Matt Garman about his experience marketing and distributing his feature film. This is interesting not because he got rich but what worked for him and what didn't and how he got some limited play based on very little work.
In addition to the audio podcast that I've linked to below, I've also included the answers he gave to me in prior correspondence as it goes into some detail. Again, while this wasn't a massive breakthrough for him, we can all learn something from each other. I personally found useful a number of elements of things that he did both right and wrong and it's worth taking note of them for your own campaign.
Interview with Matt Garman:
The name of my micro budget feature (or featurette, depending on who you talk to) is "Wireless". It has a runtime of 60 minutes (which according to the Academy of Film Arts & Sciences qualifies it, and everything 45 minutes and longer, as feature length). I would consider it to be a Mystery, Thriller. (Editor's note: You can find it HERE on Amazon USA)
I shot the film in 2010, and used the Canon T2i, (550D in Europe).
"Wireless" was a true no budget production, in that I did not set any kind of budget before starting to film. If I needed something, I purchased it, and didn't really keep track of receipts. On Imdb I listed the budget at about $300.00, but that doesn't include any equipment purchased, or food that was donated. I borrowed some Lowell softbox lights, and a shotgun mic from a friend and former employer. My sister and brother-in-law donated their time and food, and prepared meals, when a meal was needed. Mostly, we shot for three to four hours blocks on weekends and evenings, so we only needed two or three meals over the course of the shoot. All the actors were local and volunteers, and I was the crew. So, the $300.00 went to some costuming items, some pizza boxes for set decoration (I wanted generic ones without any logos), and replacement bulbs for the lights I borrowed.
The catalyst for making the movie, at the time that I did, was a film contest I wanted to enter, which was called "Your Big Break". One of the channels I subscribed to on YouTube was promoting the contest, and I decided to give it a shot. I think the contest was announced in mid July, and the deadline to enter was October 15th. I had started writing the script a few months prior to seeing the video, but after reading some comments in the comment section, decided to try to finish the script and shoot the movie in time to enter the contest. By the time I had finished the script and cast all of the parts, we had like four or five weeks to shoot the movie. I was shooting and editing at the same time, trying to have something completed in time to enter the contest. We shot through the entire timeline and I had one night to put together an assembly and get a DVD burned to be sent FedEx overnight to the contest office.
So, it's kind of a blur, but I would guess we shot for four weeks or so. Post was much slower pace. After the naked, very rough assembly, was sent in for the contest, I was a little burned out, plus the "deadline" for the project had been met, so I wasn't in a big hurry to finish the film. A composer got in touch with me after I had contacted the local film commission, (the contest version had no music at all) and he really wanted to score the film. He gave me a great price, but it probably took him at least six months to finish the score. I was in no hurry, so as he turned in music cues, I would refine the edit, and I released the finished film onto YouTube in early June of 2011. So, we probably shot for four or five weeks, and then took a lazy river through post production from October 2010 to June 2011, so probably nine months for the whole project.
As for the life of the movie, once the first assembly was completed I got fairly pragmatic about the film as a whole, (which is why I didn't mind taking my time getting it released). I knew we weren't going to fare well in the contest. I had promised the cast that we would get as much done as we could, and then send in what we had, so that is what I did. As a filmmaker though, I wasn't super happy with the results of my filmmaking. I've seen Martin Scorsese, in the ads for his master class, say something like, a first cut of your film should make you feel physically ill. Using that as the standard, I was right on track with Mr. Scorsese, but that was probably the only thing we had in common. So being realistic, I didn't feel the film would fare well on the festival circuit, and I decided I would see if I could generate an audience for the film on YouTube. I also had DVDs available on Amazon through CreateSpace, (a company owned by Amazon that offers to make DVDs on demand).
I posted about the film in Facebook groups, reached out to other YouTube users using YouTube direct messages, (which was a thing you could do back in 2011), posted about the making of the film in my blog, (Matthew 13 Blog), looked for websites talking about filming with the Canon T2i, and posted in user groups there. I did everything I could think of to try and generate online traffic for the film, hoping to build any kind of following, and possibly generate some DVD sales. (There was a film called Four Eyed Monsters who had run a similar campaign several years earlier. They claimed that they saw a large increase in DVD sales after they put their full film on YouTube. They later sold their film and got distribution from IFC, The Independent Film Channel). The film certainly did not go viral, and probably after a year, views had stopped at around 6,600. Only 1,600 of those views were genuine. I paid for a service to boost the views by 5,000 to see if that would get anything kickstarted, but alas it delivered the 5,000 promised views, but nothing further. No additional subs to my channel, no likes, no comments. It was only $30 or so, and back then you could not "boost" a video on YouTube like you can now, so I thought it was at least worth a try.
After the views on YouTube stopped, I took the movie off of YouTube, and placed the it on Amazon Instant Video through CreateSpace. It could be rented on Amazon for $1.99 (the lowest price they would let me set) and purchased for $2.50. In hindsight, you're supposed to do your Transactional VOD first, but I wasn't super confident in the film's overall quality, and wanted to try the YouTube strategy. I also didn't want to have the movie up for rent while it was available for free on YouTube. It would bother me as a viewer if I paid for something, then found I could have watched it for free. Once the YouTube traffic had dwindled away to nothing, and I was out of ideas on how to boost the traffic, I figured it would at least be fun to have it on Amazon to rent and buy, and it only took a couple of clicks on my CreateSpace dashboard to make it happen, so I took it off YouTube, and put it on Amazon. Also, Amazon Prime was a new service at this time, and I thought perhaps if I had the movie available through Amazon Instant Video, the 'powers that be' might see the film and choose to put it on Prime. Of course, I now know it doesn't work that way, but I had nothing to lose, so I gave it a shot.
Five years after "Wireless" was released into the world, Amazon announced they were opening up Amazon Prime to filmmakers using Amazon Video Direct. Because I was already part of their system due to CreateSpace and Amazon Instant Video, they were going to migrate "Wireless" over to Prime. However, Amazon Instant Video, only allowed for SD versions of the film, so rather than have the movie transferred, I uploaded an HD version of the film, along with a .scc file for closed captions. I did the captions myself using a program called MovieCaptioner (for Mac).
I had done several short films, (even some longer ones coming in around 18 or 20 minutes each), but "Wireless" was my first attempt at pulling off a feature. In the six years since, I have written two other feature length screeenplays, and managed to, in the last year, shoot half of one of those, a romantic comedy, before the production collapsed. I am currently trying to regroup, and move forward with making that project.
"Wireless" was a wonderful testing ground for me. I was able to use it to learn so many lessons I would not have learned otherwise. Both in the process of filmmaking itself, and in film distribution. For example, I've learned about release windows, and how I did it wrong, but next time I will do it right... or at least better. I made many, many, mistakes, but I have learned from them, and I have zero doubts that my next project will be much better because of the lessons learned through making "Wireless". Plus, it does feel good to tell people I have made a movie, and they can watch it on Amazon Prime. I also have a baseline of how "Wireless" has performed on Prime, which I can use to compare to my next feature's release.
Some lessons learned:
Click on the image