New Highs in Do-it-Yourself Film Distribution? What Filmmakers Can Learn From a Documentary About Songwriters in East Nashville That Became a Drug-Fueled Comedy and That Is Already Racking Up Presales Online

You can now purchase a digital version of a new film entitled East Nashville Tonight for instant streaming or for HD DRM-free download.

Why would you?

Here's what I know (from the film's website):

"In February of 2013, the Barnes Brothers attempted to shoot a documentary about the lives of Todd Snider, Elizabeth Cook and other touring songwriters residing in the burgeoning East Nashville neighborhood. They failed. Instead, drugs and booze took over."

Even though you can't watch the film online until November 19th, 2013 - when East Nashville Tonight will be released directly via the film’s website - the filmmakers have started pre-sales.

Here's what the Barnes Brothers have said about the uncanny experience of having their film's website go live after all that planning, shooting and editing: "[We] were able to watch the ticker in the top right of our screens show money coming in as people bought the movie.  It was like a scene out of “The Social Network” and we wouldn’t trade that feeling for anything."

Notice: I am writing about this film because the marketing strategy for East Nashville Tonight is exemplary of what many filmmakers are striving for in the New World.

Specifically, the Barnes Brothers are relying on online word of mouth to sell their film (a film which I have not seen yet).

Although they haven't disclosed budgets or what commitments they've made to performers, it's likely that the small East Nashville Tonight creative team is planning on keeping a huge percentage (over 90%?) of whatever revenue their film can generate through online sales - without the eye-popping marketing expenses that keep most indie films (the kind of film I used to make) from ever returning a profit to the filmmakers.

So the Barnes Brothers have got my attention.

Their (faux?) anarcho-silly approach to filmmaking and marketing ARE the story right now.

And, as someone who loves outsider music, oddball characters and indie film, it makes for an entertaining yarn.

More to the film marketing point, the Barnes Brothers have created an event (the release of their film) that has meaning to a community - indie filmmakers and indie film lovers who don't take themselves too seriously - that I want to be a part of. That's why I am blogging about them...

But will the film deliver?

And will the (momentary?) online attention - a community of people reading about them - translate into real revenue for the filmmakers?

Those of us who are (let's face it) the customers may never know.

The gathering of like-minded film lovers that East Nashville Tonight is promising will be (again, let's face it) ephemeral.

And the online revenue numbers will likely never become public knowledge.

Unlike the communities that self-identify around some other media properties (like Star Wars and the Marvel superheroes), East Nashville Tonight won't have their grosses listed on the front page of the entertainment section and they probably won't offer us online games, novels, toys and opportunities for cos-play.

But the fundamental marketing concept - of building something fun that users can identify with - an entertainment experience that works because users decide to share it with their tribe - is the same.

You could say, the Barnes Brothers are taking a page from what the big media companies like Disney-owned-Marvel and Disney-owned-Lucasfilm are practicing...

Or is it the big media companies that are copying what indies filmmakers have been doing - albeit with much smaller budgets and more primitive tools - for decades?

The Barnes Brothers are about to find out if their investment is going to pay off in real revenue.

I wish them luck... if only because the tribe of indie film marketers needs superheroes.

In the global community of non-studio filmmakers, the Barnes Brothers could be like Luke Skywalker or a Marvel character behind a mask doing good.

What we used to call "indie film" has been left for dead while frozen in ice.

Wouldn't it be great if the Barnes Brothers emerged from indie film's all-but-certain death as superheroes?

Watch them soar - with film marketing skills beyond those of ordinary mortals - to continue the never-ending battle for truth, justice and access to eyeballs for our dreams of creative expression.

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Thoughts from a film producer about making and distributing films.