Perhaps… just perhaps.
No need to tell you that the distribution game has radically changed in just a few short years. I recall it wasn’t that long ago when you would ask an independent filmmaker what their plans were for their film, and they would immediately tell you that it was to find a distributor, and make a deal to have their film released.
Today, you rarely hear filmmakers say that, considering all the other options now currently available that were unthinkable just a few years ago.
And one of those options is self-distribution – something that was considered nearly impossible until recently. There are black indie filmmakers who have succeeded in releasing their own films entirely independently, like Halie Gerima, and, more recently, Nefertite Nguvu, with her feature film debut film, “In the Morning.”
So is self distribution the only logical path for black indie filmmakers? Why beat your brains out trying to find a major, mini or indie distributor to handle your film, especially if it doesn’t fit the so-called “typical” commercially-accepted black tropes: drugs, poverty, violence, dysfunctional relationships etc… You get the idea.
One filmmaker who has come to the conclusion that self distribution is the only way to go is Steven Foley. A former Chicagoan now based in Los Angeles, his experience with distributors for his feature film “Strange as Angels” (which is a real love story as opposed to the usual rom-coms), was mostly bitter disappointment. As a result, he has now regained ownership of his film and plans to release it himself.
As he recently told me about his decision, “The distribution experience with the film was eye-opening, and one that I think filmmakers can learn from, even when you consider the current state of exhibition and options for sharing and viewing work.”
He explained further: “It is imperative that filmmakers have a clear idea of what they need from a distribution deal prior to making the film. It is not enough to know that your film may be exhibited on an online streaming platform, or in a limited or wide release of any kind. What must be paramount in the decision to choose a particular distributor, or enter into a distribution deal, is the protection of your practical and financial investment as a filmmaker, and creating a situation where you can pay talent and your investors once the distribution deal is in place,”
But is distribution the end all be all?
“For most filmmakers, distribution equals success. It did not feel like this for me. I initiated ‘Strange as Angels’ with the idea that it would take several years to find financing, and ultimately get the film exhibited. All of this, given the nature of the film business at the time, proved to be true. I initially sought studio and outside production company funding but ultimately had to raise the money on my own. This is not a unique situation, and in retrospect, proved to be the right situation for me, and one that I encourage filmmakers to explore, particularly given the current options available for crowd funding, and alternative means of financing.”
So where do things stand now?
“I’ve always felt, and still feel a strong sense of obligation to the investors, the actors, and people that supported Strange as Angels to make sure that their work is seen, and they receive the proper compensation for it. Now that the initial distribution deal for ‘Strange as Angels’ is over, my intent is to reintroduce the film into the marketplace, as the need for films portraying African Americans in everyday situations, dealing with feelings and emotions not directly related to negative pathological behavior is ever present.”
Who are your inspirations?
“Some filmmakers whom I admire that are living this practice include Ava DuVernay, Lena Waithe, Gina Prince-Bythewood, and Steve McQueen. I’d very much like to contribute to this generation’s contribution to advancing the understanding of African American life through cinema.”
Foley is currently developing a new project to be called, “The Moon, and the Stars, and the Sun,” which he calls “a comedic drama about two couples experiencing love, life and therapy in Los Angeles.” He plans to launch a crowd funding campaign within the next 4 to 6 weeks, to begin production “with the plan of thinking beyond the goal of distribution as a benchmark for success.”
As for “Strange as Angels,” there will be a special screening of the film this Friday, May 13, 2016 at UCLA, which is being sponsored by the UCLA Department of African American Studies, and ELEVATE, a student-run organization within the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television (UCLA TFT) dedicated to giving voice and visibility to the diverse contributions of women and multicultural filmmakers, actors, theater practitioners and scholars.
Here’s the trailer for Foley’s film: