“We made this film against all odds…Why not undertake this final chapter of the film’s journey ourselves?”

you look like me

After a great premiere in Venice, 30 awards in more than 70 festivals around the world, our special film you look like me had no significant distribution offers on the table. We couldn’t believe that our only option was to make a deal that would not only put the movie in a catalog of movies that we didn’t think were on the same level. We also knew that making these deals would mean ceding the rights and control of the film for 10 years or more, having little say in how it came out, and closing the book on any possibility of financial return. We had made this film against all odds, facing countless no’s, constantly facing impossible circumstances and persevering, so why not try to undertake this final chapter of a film’s journey ourselves?

We had absolutely no idea where to start. I opened up a Google Doc and took notes reading every article on the internet about movie distribution, listening to every podcast, watching every panel on YouTube we could get our hands on. Then we decided to ask the experts. We reached out to everyone who wrote these articles and spoke on these podcasts, sharing our situation and asking for advice. We spent a lot of time creating lists of people who knew what we didn’t know, people who could be allies, people who could support us in different ways. Looking back, I believe that founding these meaningful conversations and rallying the support of a community around the film that was invested in seeing it succeed was a crucial step in this process, even when it seemed like it there was too much to do, and too little time.

We read all of the case studies from Sundance’s now-shuttered creative distribution initiative and reached out to Liz Manashil, who ran the program. She galvanized our confidence that it was even possible to do it ourselves and helped us break down the different pieces. She introduced us to Noah Lang who gave us invaluable advice on his experience releasing This Is Not a War Story independently, which led to this film receiving an Indie Spirits nomination and a deal with HBO. We spoke to the inimitable Giulia Caruso, who independently distributed Columbus, and to Jim Cummings who released thunder road to great success. We spoke to Gloria Stella who independently organized an incredible theatrical run for her film Tulsa. We have read all the case studies on Film Collaborative website and contacted Orly Ravid, who was an invaluable advisor on this journey, explaining all the different parts of the process and helping us figure out where to start. We couldn’t afford to hire a full PR team yet, so we partnered with Bunker15 who targeted certified Rotten Tomatoes critics who reviewed the film, which boosted our score (we had learned that bookers often watched Rotten Tomatoes). Next, Orly introduced us to Greg Laemmle, who took a chance and booked the film at his theaters in Los Angeles. It was a crucial first victory on this journey.

As the plan took shape, we reached out to our executive producers to get their support. They saw the value in helping us put together a dignified release that was as radically independent as the filmmaking journey had been.

My Willa Productions team came up with a target list of theaters based on mockup movies by looking at those movies’ websites and Instagram posts. Once our reservation in Los Angeles was confirmed, we asked the many American festivals we attended to introduce us to their cinema contacts, and we wrote hundreds of cold emails. We guessed a lot of email addresses. We knew that simple and short materials were essential for the pitch. We didn’t have the funds to create a trailer yet, so we asked our additional editor on the film to create a simple video with selfie videos from our EPs, festival videos, shots from the film. We didn’t have a poster yet, so we created a very simple sheet in Pixelmator (like Photoshop for dummies) with festival laurels, photos and quotes. We paired these resources with impactful, eye-catching emails (key elements in bold and short text) and reached out to our dream cinemas, like Angelika and AMC. After some follow up, they responded and wanted to book the movie! Having some of the most renowned artists in the world as the film’s executive producers certainly helped a lot.

At every stage of the process, we always reported the news of each victory to all the parties whose response we expected. It seemed crucial to give the impression that this film was moving forward and that no one would be the very first person to take a risk on this film. One of our executive producers, Sean Glass, has joined in our day-to-day efforts to set up the independent release. Sean called this the “stone soup” approach. Sean was instrumental in ensuring bums were seated for the outing and developing Q&A booking strategies for as many screenings as possible to boost ticket sales and build word-of-mouth buzz. ear.

We ended up booking the film in over 35 markets across the country. To support ticket sales, we have decided to concentrate all of our efforts around indoor screenings and not to organize side events or screenings. The Willa team pulled a page from the Documentary Impact Campaign Toolkit, informed by my work on the impact campaign of my previous film The Great Hack. Caitlin Boyle, who I knew from DOC NYC, gave us some great additional strategy advice. We reached out to organizations, advocacy groups, businesses and individuals who might be inspired to help our mission. We realized it was essential to make it clear from the start that we were not asking for financial support – all we asked for was any in-kind digital promotion they could provide, such as social media or newsletters, putting us in contact someone to do a Q&A, or do a small ticket giveaway to help spread the word. We got creative thinking of all possible partners and sent them a compelling email. We ended up partnering with various organizations such as New York Women in Film and Television, Free The Work, The Future of Film is Female, Letterboxd, Women In Film, The Gotham, NYU, The Africa Center, WScripted, Lighthouse Film Festival , BIPOC Editors, Human Rights Watch, Hollywood Office of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, MENA Arts Advocacy Coalition, Pillars Fund, Wscripted, Film Fatales, Africa Film Festival and more. We have asked all festivals where we have played to post information about our release. We asked every friend of the film crew with a follow-up or something to add to the conversation about the film to host a Q&A, and we’ve created some amazing programming.

Then we had to figure out the logistics, like DCP delivery (not as hard as it sounds, we worked with Deluxe), negotiate the terms after learning a lot of jargon (ask for 50/50 splits or a minimum guarantee and try to avoid fresh VPF). We’ve also gathered some key information to share with the theaters we feature, such as the combined social media reach of people who would post about the film, and a list of allies and supporters with name recognition.

Sean also introduced us to Christie Marchese at Movie theater and Kate Gondwe at Dedza Movies. Kinema reserves the film in non-theatrical spaces like community screenings. Dedza is consulting on the release, supporting additional bookings, audience engagement and strategy, given Kate’s deep knowledge of the distribution landscape and working on amazing films like Neptune Frostwhich has been a benchmark for our distribution objectives.

It took us a while to raise the necessary funds to hire PR and digital marketing teams. In the meantime, we’ve done all the groundwork we could, compiling a list of media contacts to reach out to and creating eye-catching social media assets inspired by some of our favorite campaigns. We were fortunate enough to partner with Obscured Pictures on PR and Genuine Article’s Dor Dotson on digital media, who, even though time was tight, pushed tirelessly and with great talent to get the film out there. .

One important clue we learned is that sometimes when a crew member gets a pass for something, it doesn’t mean that if someone from the film crew has a personal connection to that post and can achieve that no cannot be turned into a yes. Personal relationships are essential in this journey.

Once we raised more funds, we dove into our trailer and poster, having learned that these assets were key to the release. We worked with Jumpcut, who edited the trailer for my latest movie On the fracture, and created a powerful trailer. On our poster, we worked with the immensely talented designer and longtime film friend Phil Gribbon.

by Dan Mirvish Director article on airline sales inspired us to continue on this path and we have reached an agreement with Gate 23 Entertainment. We are in the process of finding partners for educational and DVD sales.

I contacted our dream distribution company in the UK directly (announcement to come!), summarizing what we had built so far in the US and our commitment to supporting all projects in the UK. We made a deal. My fellow producer Karim Amer contacted Front Row Entertainment directly and confirmed our distribution in the Middle East and North Africa. Dina, Sean and I continue our prospecting activities for new sales abroad. We hope to find a distributor in France, where this film takes place and where there is an urgent need to share this story.

More importantly, we’re now focusing on how to leverage this fantastic theatrical release to find a streaming home for the film.

This process represents a colossal amount of work. But when you’ve worked so hard to make a film, it’s worth it and you’ll have built the networks and resources to release your next film independently should the need arise, which is an important option to have. in today’s distribution landscape.


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