Part 22, Our DIY release leads to a distributor

As described in my last post, our theatrical world premiere opening night at The Colonial Theatre in Keene, NH was a big success.

We sold out the nearly 1000-seat house and turned hundreds away. We were fortunate to have our congressman Paul Hodes join us along with the state’s first lady Susan Lynch, Keene’s mayor and many other dignitaries. The local daily paper carried the event as their lead front page story. Our spotlights beamed through the sky and our red carpet was rolled out in style for actors David Strathairn, Ian Somerhalder, and Elisabeth Waterston. It was an incredible night for all of us.

That was on a Friday. On Sunday The Colonial called in our box office numbers to the various national reporting services as they do for all of their films. On Monday, to our pleasant surprise, Variety and the other trade papers listed The Sensation of Sight as #4 in the nation for per-screen average box office gross. That was fun to see. At least for our opening weekend, our little indie film was holding its own with the big guys.

After our week’s run in Keene, NH we opened for a week in Peterborough at the Community Theatre, the local movie house. This was the town where we shot the film and the first weekend sold out. As a result, the theatre immediately added a second week to the run. It was great to see so many people from town turn out for the film—folks we had gotten to know during the shoot. They loved seeing so many local landmarks in the film, like the bridge over the waterfall, the granite benches in the park, and the Peterborough Diner where we shot two key scenes.

Our next stop was Concord, New Hampshire’s capital city. We were fortunate to land a week’s booking at Concord’s new art house complex called Red River Theatres. They treated us as a major release and put our film in one of their two large theatres. Playing opposite us was No Country For Old Men, which had just started its national release on the way to winning the Oscar for Best Picture a few months later. One of my favorite pictures is the one below of the Red River Theatres marquee featuring No Country and Sensation the week they were both playing (thanks, Matt Newton of the NH Film and Television Office, for the photo!). And I’m happy to report that Sensation topped No County at the box office on opening weekend in Concord—it’s important to savor the little victories when they present themselves!

As we progressed through our month-long run through these New Hampshire towns, we started getting calls from art house bookers in Boston and as far away as Madison, Wisconsin inquiring about the film’s availability. They were following the trades’ box office listings and could see that the film was attracting audiences. Several favorable reviews from state papers were also available online, which also may have caught their eye.

Then we got a call from Scott Mansfield, head of Monterey Media, a respected small distributor based in Los Angeles. They too had heard of our New Hampshire release and were interested in talking with us. We immediately did our research and found that Monterey Media had been around for many years and distributed serious dramas like ours, including the recent David Strathairn starrer Steel Toes, as well as a large number of quality family dramas. They were also the biggest outside supplier of programming for PBS. We talked with a number of producers and directors who had had their films distributed by Monterey Media and heard positive things about their honesty and the respectable way they treated filmmakers.

So Scott Mansfield and I began talking. He loved our film and understood it and wanted to help us get the film into national release. They offered us a decent advance and a pledge to give us an initial limited theatrical release. They sent us a draft of a contract and we had our lawyers look it over. Everything seemed legit. We started negotiations and although it took a while to finalize a deal, a deal was struck and we finally had a legit distributor on board for our film.

In hindsight, I’m convinced that we wouldn’t have attracted an established and respected distributor if we hadn’t jumped off and first done our DIY release. It was a lot of work, but it sort of gave us an edge in terms of the large number of indie films constantly trying to enter the marketplace. And at the time of our release, partnering with a distributor was by far the best shot we had to get our film out there and into the public consciousness in any substantial way.

(Next: Our national release…)

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  1. Allin Kempthorne said,
    February 7, 2010 @ 2:48 pm

    Inspiring to read your story and to know what you’re going through. I’m the director of an English vampire comedy “The Vampires of Bloody Island” which is getting a real buzz about it going in the UK. We released it around Europe two weeks ago and will be out in the USA and Canada in about a months time. There’s so many of us out there, pushing away the barriers to Indie film distribution on our own film projects. We’re really changing the landscape of film distribution. It’s painfully hard work, but with the passion of your own film project, it’s all incredibly exciting too. I wish you all the best with The “Sensation of Sight”. You can see more of my film at

  2. Buzz McLaughlin said,
    February 9, 2010 @ 11:05 am

    Hi Allin–
    Good luck with your film. It is a new landscape that’s emerging out there and although we read everywhere these days about the death of indie films, it’s not true. It’s a misread of what’s happening. The truth is that we’re beginning to handle the backend (distribution and marketing) in such a new way that the traditional industry observers who think they have a pulse on what’s happening are in fact totally missing what’s occurring.