From the beginning of this project we were fairly certain that one way or another we going to have a special premiere for the film here in New Hampshire.
After all, the film was entirely shot in Peterborough—the same town Thornton Wilder used as his model for his wonderful play “Our Town”—and we raised roughly 90% of our financing in the state. In a very real sense, the production was a grand partnership with many NH people and organizations and we knew we wanted somehow to celebrate that fact when the film was finished.
With no indie distributors knocking on our door offering us a decent deal, we finally decided to take matters into our own hands and open the film theatrically ourselves in our own back yard. We set our sights on our hometown of Keene, NH, a small but beautiful city with a wonderfully restored 930-seat old movie house—The Colonial Theatre—a well-known art film house and performing arts center. For many years, week after week, The Colonial had been screening the better films that didn’t show up at multi-plexes—the kind of films that we personally always sought out. It seemed the perfect fit for our movie’s theatrical launch.
So we sat down with The Colonial’s executive director Alec Doyle and his staff and talked about the possibility of booking the theatre for a week’s run, including a gala opening night event for the actual premiere. Alec was behind the idea from the start and very supportive, wanting to give a locally made feature film a fighting chance and as big a splash as possible. However, he also warned us that our expectations shouldn’t balloon out of sight, saying that from his experience with booking films and other events at the theatre we should think in terms of a huge opening night success being 400 to 500 people—half the capacity of the house. That sounded good to us as well.
At the same time we were talking to The Colonial, we also were able to book following weeks at a small movie theatre in Peterborough, where we shot the film, and in Concord, our state capital, at a fabulous new art house complex called Red River Theatres that had just opened. Both of these venues were also very supportive and, as had been the case with The Colonial in Keene, both offered us a fifty-fifty split of the box office. Needless to say, we were excited to have booked a month-long run for the film right in our home state.
Immediately we set to work getting the word out about The Colonial premiere, knowing we needed to start our run with as big a bang as we could muster. We ordered more posters, both large and small, wrote press releases for the local and state papers, worked with the theatre on ads, sent out invitations to a long list of special guests including all of our investors, the Governor, the Mayor, Senators and Congressmen from our district, and invited everyone on our extensive email list.
We also planned special VIP before and after parties in downtown Keene. The Monadnock Fine Art Gallery, next to the theatre, and Trikeenan Tileworks, just up the block, offered to hold pre and post parties, and local downtown merchants generously pitched in with offers of hors-doeuvres, wine, coffee and desserts. Very quickly, it seemed, the entire town got behind us and wanted to help make the whole event succeed.
Other offers started pouring in, such as free limo service for VIPs, huge discounts on hotel rooms, and just about anything we needed to make the evening a success. We got a great price on a new forty-foot long red carpet that The Colonial helped us pay for, and we got a good deal on a set of four huge spotlights swivel-mounted on the back of a truck to blast streams of light up into the sky—so bright that people told us later they could see the beams from miles away. It became a true community project and the momentum built quickly—especially when we were able to report that actors David Strathairn, Ian Somerhalder, and Elisabeth Waterston (and her father Sam) had agreed to be a part of the festivities.
As the day of the premiere approached, I started checking with The Colonial Theatre box office to see how ticket sales were going. With a week to go, we had sold about a hundred tickets. Then as the days ticked off up to the premiere, the reservations steadily increased—passing the 500 mark with two days to go. We were thrilled—the buzz was happening. And then the day before the opening we sold out the entire 930-seat house. In fact, on the night of the event extra chairs were added in the balcony and over 300 people were turned away and had to catch the film later in the week.
Our premiere in Keene was, for all of us, one of the most memorable nights of the entire saga with the film—an opportunity to truly celebrate having gotten this far with so many of the people who had helped to make the project a reality.
(Next: Our DIY release continues…)