Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Festival Screenings and a Game Plan

Thursday November 12th, 2009: Shutterbug was screening at the 2009 3rd Annual NY Greek Film Festival part of the American Indie night. The screening was a wonderful event and the best way to start public screenings of Shutterbug. The audience was receptive - and largely friendly, consisting of many of the film's cast and crew. There is nothing like gathering a group of people in a theater to present them the fruit of their own work. The collective reactions of the audience as they interact with a film (laughing, gasping, shifting, being captivated) is something that the internet's various platforms will never be able to compete with.

The screening was introduced by the Festival director, Professor James Demetro. The screening was attended by acclaimed actor Mr. Stathis Giallelis, Greek American journalists, fimmakers, industry professionals, friends and family of the crew, and more importantly for me, my parents who had flown in from Cyprus. It was very moving to have them present and my father recounted the first screening of his first feature, The Private Right, in 1963 in London. 46 years later his son was premiering a film in New York.

I stood in the back of the theater, watching the audience intently. Where did they laugh? Where did they shift? Where were they captivated? Despite my nerves, the film was warmly received.

After the screening we were fortunate enough to have a party hosted for us at the Pink Pony on Ludlow street, courtesy of cinephile and friend, Mr. Lucien Bahrage. I was fortunate to have the evening filmed by Vasia Markides - who consequently shot more events related to the film, which will be featured on a special DVD edition of Shutterbug (Coming soon!). The evening is recounted very nicely in filmmaker Aaron Lehmann's blog.

After all the fun and games of the festival, it was time for business. I was initially planning to release the film right away, and was discussing a December date with Cinema Village. However, I soon realized that the film would be buried under the avalanche of holiday movies that would be released - and also there was hardly any time to prepare for it. We decided to push the release date into February. I hired the services of Mr. Vincent Nebrida, a seasoned professional in the world of film marketing and distribution, who acted as a distribution consultant and publicist. We sat down and made a plan.

In the meantime, my alma mater, The School of Visual Arts, became interested in Shutterbug. Film Chairman Mr. Reeves Lehmann, invited the film to screen at the wonderful new School of Visual Arts Theater on West 23rd street. In a speech by Mr. Lehmann he mentioned that it was one of the first films by an alumnus to screen at the theater. Professor Gene Stavis and his excellent staff hosted the evening which constituted Shutterbug's second 'sneak preview' - as a film made for $XX,XXX.00... The budget was revealed to the student body in an effort to encourage them that low/no budget filmmaking is possible. However we worked on keeping the number from the press as the budget is so low that I was concerned no one would take the film seriously! The screening was free for SVA students and alumni and an email blast went out inviting IFP members and Shooting People Members and was also attended by various bloggers.

The 300 seat theater was packed. The projection was incredible. I had invested in a blu-ray disk (impeccably produced at Hello World Communications) to screen just for that evening. It is the largest screen that Shutterbug has ever played on yet. A wonderful room - a treat to any filmmaker screening their film there.

After the screening, Mr. Lehmann led an hour long question and answer session with the audience. Avid student filmmakers posed questions to actors/producers Nando Del Castillo and Brett Molé, actress Stella Velon and composer Tao Zervas and myself. Another event which was filmed and will be featured on future DVD releases. Some people had great questions. Others were totally lost and dumbfounded. I was beginning to understand my audience. There were those looking for a distinct plot, with development and closure - which Shutterbug has plenty of in the first two acts, but the third ventures into realms of the surreal. Then there were the others, who were more than happy to succumb to the film's own logic and venture on the surreal trip and be immersed in the ideas behind the aesthetics, situations and visuals. The second lot seemed older. Hmmm...

The release date was still an issue. My main concern about releasing the film in February was the Oscars. Who wants to open a movie on Oscar weekend? Negotiations continued with Cinema Village and we settled on March 19th, 2010. The date was finally locked down and Vincent and I made more plans: it was time to get the ball rolling on the promotional efforts. A note has to be made here that almost everything in the promotional campaign was a personal financial investment that I made - savings and credit cards - and in one very special case I received sponsorship as you will see in the next blog entry. In the next entry I will try to outline as best I can the whole strategy we employed to promote and publicize Shutterbug on a shoe-string budget. Partly because I think it was cool - but also because we did great work that should inspire filmmakers in their creative marketing campaigns. The tools are out there.