A Family Affair
A Family Affair
My life has been relegated to boxes… thousands, and thousands, and thousands of boxes. Boxes and labels, don’t get me started on the fucking labels.
This week THE DEVIL’S CARNIVAL was released to the world. DVD/ NETFLIX/ iTUNES/ HOT TOPIC/ the list goes on and on.
For those of you just joining us, THE DEVIL’S CARNIVAL is a new musical collaboration from Terrance Zdunich and myself.
It seems surreal. Just 10 months ago, we embarked on a journey without a safety net. We threw caution to the wind, and said ‘FUCK IT’ lets go make something we want to make, and do it completely independently.
Independently. I guess I never understood what that word meant until recently.
Before I made The Devil’s Carnival I would’ve considered myself an INDIE FILMMAKER. While I have had the extreme fortune to work on a fair number of successful movies, the truth is not one of them was within the major studio system.
Saying you’re an INDIE FILMAKER is kinda cool. Brings you cred, makes you hip… You’re doing your own things, and playing by your own rules. The reality is that it’s kind of bullshit. Each and every film I have made which was indie, I was protected… I had producers, and office managers, and legal teams. I had someone above me who had as much to lose as I did, if not more.
If I failed I could point to any number of countless individuals.
“It’s the marketing team’s fault! They don’t understand my genius.”
“It’s the producers’ fault, they didn’t fight hard enough.”
“It’s the studio head’s fault, he doesn’t like horror movies.”
While I have never been a director for hire per say, I have never had the power to sink the ship solo. My past failures have come with a long line of cooks in the kitchen.
That being said, I have been responsible for countless fuck ups that have sank my movies. 11-11-11 was rushed and not a great script. The Barrens was… well, fuck it, I actually really like that movie.
My point is, each and every film I have done I have had a team of people, companies, corporations who had a vested interest in seeing it succeed…
And then there is THE DEVIL’S CARNIVAL.
I am not sure what in the hell we were thinking.
We are indie filmmakers… We can do this!
ICE SWIMMING. You’ve all seen it. It’s when a group of insane people jump into FREEZING lakes/oceans/ponds.
People who have done it equate it to shocking the system. The water is so cold, your entire body seizes up.
I am at the point where I can step outside of the experience and view it somewhat objectively.
We jumped into a freezing cold lake with The Carnival, not fully aware what the fuck we were doing.
We, too, seized up.
HOLY SHIT, it’s cold!!!
For the purpose of this blog, I am only going to address the DISTRIBUTION of the film.
Wait… Distribution? We didn’t have a distributor.
Remember how I talked about my countless fuck ups? Let’s add this one to the mix. I shot an expensive short film, with big name talent and never secured a distributor.
Well, not really, that was the entire point of this experiment. I was tired of the run around, I was tired of the excuses, I was tired of being told NO. I was tired of that embarrassing phone call where I was forced to call the actor and tell them their amazing performance was not worthy enough of a proper release.
Wanna hear a secret? The Barrens was not distributed in ONE theater. Nope, not a one. (It was four walled by one of the investors who believed in the project.)
The people in charge felt it was a lost cause, and to their defense, all signs pointed that it was. It would cost more to put it in theaters than it would ever make. I was devastated as I truly felt and still feel The Barrens is a solid film, and one worth seeing.
When I heard Barrens wouldn’t get even ONE theater, I literally went into a self induced rage.
What do you mean it wouldn’t make any money? What do you mean no would pay to see it?
At this point we had just completed a SELF FUNDED 60+ city tour with The Devil’s Carnival, and sold out over 80% of the stops.
Big theaters too…
This wasn’t a one time thing, or a two time occurrence. This was a nightly routine. We were able to sell out theaters NIGHT after NIGHT, with no publicity outside our social media reach.
Now, let’s look at what this means.
WE, The Devil’s Carnival, a group of artists with no real business sense personally booked, and sold out a 60+ city tour, relying SOLELY on FACEBOOK/TWITTER/ and friends within the genre community to get the word out, and we were OVERWHELMINGLY successful. But an actually mainstream movie, featuring a mainstream cast WAS NOT worthy enough of an opportunity to actually put forth the old college try?
The Devil’s Carnival WAS NOT mainstream, AND it was a SHORT and people SANG in it – that’s like three strikes against it right there!!!
So when I hear that The Barrens, a movie starring Stephen Moyer, arguably on one of the more popular cable TV shows was not worthy enough for ONE screen, as it was a losing financial venture, I scratched my head, then got drunk…
It was this moment, when I heard the fate of The Barrens, that we decided to once again and say FUCK IT, let’s not turn our work, our passion, our art over to someone who can trivialize it, then convince themselves they made the right decision.
We will put together a team, and turn our living quarters into HOME BASE.
We self financed this movie, we self distributed it theatrically, we will now SELF DISTRIBUTE the DVD.
Future filmmakers – let me break it down for you how the DVD game works.
A distributor will take roughly 20% to 25% off the top to ‘release’ your movie. Then, you sell your movie to the retailer at a wholesale price, meaning a number MUCH less than they will sell it to the public for… So let’s say you get a good number from the retailer, they STILL hold that money in an account for returns, broken discs, damaged items. It could take months and months, before you ever see a cent from your sale. Just because you are in retail however does not get you placement, or exposure… No, that costs you extra.
Then, once you have made your sale, then comes the laundry lists of fees… Oh, yes, there will be fees owed! SAG, DGA, WGA, Mechanical license fees, accounting, legal, this list is so long it’s mind-boggling.
Four years ago, my head space was only concerned about what format I was going to shoot my movie in… 16mm, or 35mm now I am forced to spend my day on the phone with SAG brokering all sorts of nonsense.
I have gotten nowhere in the industry by playing it safe… Why start now? We will sell DVD’S personally… We will create the art, we will package them, we will box them, take them to the post office and mail them… We will do everything! We will keep the 25% and not down sell them at wholesale prices. We will keep every aspect of this film within the family. From the creative to the accounting to the overwhelming paperwork brought about by the unions.
Remember taking that ice cold dive we talked about?
Well the water is fucking freezing and I’m not sure if I can tread much longer.
I now have turned my back on the safe route to get this movie out there. I have made the asinine proclamation that we as the artists will handle all distribution.
Laura will handle customer service, and keeping track of the orders.
Courtney will handle organization.
Kimmie and SeanE will handle manufacturing. Spooky Dan fan outreach.
Terrance and I will number all the DVD’s and box them.
I mean, realistically how many can we really sell by ourselves, right?
We don’t have money to advertise, so it can’t be that many, right?
WRONG… wanna see what 1000’s and 1000’s of DVD’s look like?
For the last two months, we have not stopped. Printing shipping labels, numbering DVD’s, driving to and from the manufacturing houses… Our lives were paused. We woke up, went through our days, and then went to bed just working on these orders. I even conducted outside business meetings from the trenches, forcing those who needed to meet with me to pick up boxes, and starting stuffing DVD’s inside of them! (thanks Chris Monfette)
Wanna know what hell is? Hell is peeling thousands of mailing labels and placing them on boxes. Hell is cutting thousands and thousands of labels by hand.
Hell is my backyard, and the never-ending, always expanding mess of boxes, and boxes, and boxes that seem to multiple faster than gremlins when they get wet…
It is not an exaggeration that 10 hours of our day is spent doing NOTHING but organization DVD shipments, and distribution. I literally have no life.
It’s easy to become disillusioned… Want to throw your hands up in the air, and say fuck it, this ain’t worth it! This is NOT what I signed up for…
Nor however was The Barrens, or 11 11 11, or Mother’s Day, or… I didn’t sign up to make a movie, and one I was passionate about, to be dumped, or ignored, or relegated to the bargain bin at my local grocery stores. I would fight, WE would fight to prove 7 people could make a difference. Could get exposure, could do, and accomplish what so many people continually tell me I CAN NOT DO!!! Even if that meant doing EVERY aspect by hand, myself. We were INDEPENDENT.
My last few films had been dumped… Released on DVD, and then vanished like farts in the wind minutes later. And I was powerless… All my bitching, and crying over its release, I couldn’t change its fate. Yet here, with this, I was not powerless… I was only confined by my own laziness…
We could do whatever we wanted as we were our own bosses… There was no one pulling our strings, there was no man behind the curtain.
Suddenly, I found myself embracing that cold water… I actually found it comforting! Fuck trying to tread water, I’m gonna do the backstroke! If I drown, so be it, at least I am doing it on MY terms.
In the beginning of August, TZ, myself and the rest of our team starting kicking in every single door we could find. We refused to take no as an answer. We wanted to see if we could get our strange, weird, short film EVERYWHERE without the safety net we had all grown so accustomed to.
You hear no, it can’t be done, so many times as a filmmaker, you begin to believe it. Why would you question it, these people must know what they are talking about, right?
Suddenly, this adventure, this quest to prove our worthiness yields results… There is a euphoric feeling as you realize nightly YOU are accomplishing something. Something that just the day before seemed like an impossibility.
Within a month’s time we had secured deals with HOT TOPIC, NETFLIX, iTUNES, HULU, XBOX, AMAZON, and many many more.
Not only did we land these avenues, we landed them with PRIME placement.
My life became solely about this DVD, this release, this statement: that my fate was not determined by the stigma of ‘no studio attachment’.
This collective of artists, and family members would be my studio, the fans would act as my publicity team.
My wife would act as the fulfillment house, the overlord, the woman with the iron fist!
Her mother, my mother in law, would be in the trenches making sure our voice would not go unheard.
Every person in my life would have some responsibility that would aid in changing the odds in our favor. It became all-consuming. Literally every waking hour for months would be solely devoted to assuring that this project would not vanish like so many projects before it had.
Well my dear readers, the DVD has been out less than a week, but I can tell you we have won. We have succeeded… We have exposure. And we did it without having to sell our souls, or part with a percentage of our hard work, and art. We believed in what we were doing, and we were victorious!
Moments after the DVD’s hit the post office, FAN’S responded!
We formed our own studio. And found that we could rely on like-minded artists who, like us, weren’t scared to fail, but were scared of NOT trying, or just accepting.
I pray that in time I will once again be in the position of doing films where there is a safety net. Where the studio is the studio, and I am just a director…
As much as I complain about the decisions to ‘dump’ my films. I get it… It’s a business, and all businesses need to make smart financial decisions to their shareholders. But I as an artist and creator should not be beholden to a formula that I see is changing.
Even with the sleepless nights, and blinding migraines, the severe depression, I am still a director.
I am a director of fulfilling orders, thousands and thousands of orders from all around the world.
I am a director of shipping labels and customs forms. I am a courier to the post office!
I am a director of brokering deals with retailers like HOT TOPIC.
I am a director… and for the first time in my career I can honestly say, of INDIE FILMS, cause it doesn’t get any more indie than this!
Thank you to all those who helped make The Devil’s Carnival a reality, who spent the last two months boxing DVD’s and printing labels. Thank you to my wife and her mother who spent more hours than I care to calculate Hailing Satan with us.
Thanks to Courtney, Kimmie, Ben and Spooky, who jumped in the water with us and embraced its icy greeting.
Thanks to Thomas and Steve and all of Film Funding Alliance who trusted us to do something outside of the box, and who put their money where their mouth is! Film Funding Alliance stepped up to the plate when no one else would!
Thank you to Joe and Tim at Virgil Films, who renewed our faith in digital distribution and stayed true to your promises. That in and of itself is a rarity.
A special thank you to SeanE the films producer, who was the first guy who came in and actually started making shit happen. We play in an industry where talk is cheap, and everyone loves to talk. This guy followed up his talk with real action.
But most importantly, thank you to the fans, who have once again amazed us with their passion, dedication, and love for what we do! You have proven yet again that filmmakers and artists do not need the fancy bells and whistles to reach you! You have taken a short film, an experiment, and made it stand for something…
The Devil’s Carnival will continue. Our number of Sinners will grow, the episodes will multiply.
I have learned more in the last few months than I have in the last few years… The landscape for independent filmmakers is changing. While I am blessed to have had movies distributed by Lionsgate, and Anchor Bay, a lot of times my work will falls through the cracks. It is my responsibility as an artist to not let that happen; to exposure the work no matter the cost!
We as artists and filmmakers are done playing by their rules… it’s time to make a few of our own.