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Festivals and Theaters Are Not for All Indie Films -- And That's Fine

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Hi, my name's Abe Schwartz, and this is my first post for The Huffington Post.

I'm a filmmaker, though I'd never been to a film festival before Sundance this past January. I've been watching movies all of my life, working on making my first feature the past 2+ years, and still, I'd never been to a film festival before this January.

It was a great experience. There were lots of amazing, technically sound films in contention in Park City, UT. Many featured stars and higher budgets; some featured unknowns and modest budgets.

My first feature film, Bad Batch, was not in contention though I wanted to check out the scene, anyway. I didn't submit to Sundance. Should I have? Maybe. I didn't have the deadline marked on my calender. I was focused on finishing the movie and getting it just right. I was in the middle of a falling out with a co-producer who originally signed on to handle festival submissions. Go long in post production and not settle until you have the best film possible (within your means), and you'll also realize that people's lives change and they might no longer be able to help out. Such is life. Whatever, though. Bad Batch was never submitted. S#$% happens when you set out to make a feature-length movie on a micro budget.

I'm all about being realistic, and film festivals are awesome. They're gatherings of people who love to watch movies in theaters, watching movies in theaters. If you have a film that you truly think belongs in theaters, then you should get your film into as many festivals as possible and hope for the best.

Personally, I don't feel I need to see mumblecore films, anything shot like The Office, and almost all low-budget documentaries on the big screen. I watched Nights & Weekends on a 30" HD flat screen and thought it transcended all things "mumblecore" and was brilliant. I viewed In The Loop on my MacBook Pro while on a plane ride and thought it was the perfect way to pass the time.

Driving 30 minutes to a theater, paying for parking, the price of tickets, and maybe some popcorn, adds up, too. It's also a major time commitment, and my time has been becoming more and more scarce of late. I don't think I'm the only one who feels this way.

So, I love going to see movies in the theater, but have become more selective about what I see in theaters due to those financial and time constraints. I'll gladly pay $15 to take in the Avatar experience once in 3D. I'll also probably never see the movie again. It's not that I didn't like Avatar; I just don't need to see 95% of the movies I see more than once.

It dawned on me between Sundance '10 and South by Southwest '10 (the 2nd film festival I ever attended) that my first feature, Bad Batch, doesn't need to play in theaters. This is not a reflection of the quality of the film, but more so, the scale of the film and the current economic climate. Bad Batch is a small, character-driven movie (about people getting way too high one night from eating pot brownies.) It's also 70 minutes long and in black and white. Do I think it works best this way? Absolutely. Do I think I made a funny, interesting movie? For sure. Do I think a distributor would want to put this film (with no stars) in theaters around the country right now? No, probably not.

The DVD market is also nothing compared to what it used to be. The thought of sitting on my hands waiting for a DVD distribution company to come through started to feel like waiting for the beautiful barista to ask me out, uninitiated.

I started thinking... If Bad Batch works best on DVD and as a digital download a la iTunes, or even as a stream, why don't I just distribute the movie myself? At least, for now. I've worked in entertainment marketing as a copywriter. I feel I have an understanding of movie marketing. (I've worked on at least 20 movie poster campaigns for big studios.) I'm fascinated by and ever-curious about new ways of communicating. Why not?

I still wasn't totally convinced and committed, though I went to South by Southwest with the mindset that MAAAYBE I could do this. But, I needed to learn more (and still do.) I purchased a Gold Badge, which allowed me to attend any Film and Interactive workshop/panel. I soaked in as much info as possible regarding digital distribution and the current state of independent film. Things are currently a little bleak, but it all feels like the wild, wild, west now, too.

I'm taking the plunge and I'm excited. Bad Batch premiered on 4/20/10 for the price of $4.20 to stream. (Again, this is a film about people eating pot brownies.) It's now available to download and own for $4.20 via Paypal at the film's homepage, PotBrownies.net. The download works on almost all computers, and most mobile devices that allow uploading of video. Bad Batch will be available on DVD (old media) and Youtube Rentals (really new media) soon, as well. I feel at times like I'm taking the "Subway $5 footlong" approach to marketing my first feature. It feels a little strange, though it oddly also feels right. It would be so much easier to just play to a packed house at Sundance in 1996, but that's not the world of independent film anymore.

I still may submit to some festivals. The exposure certainly wouldn't hurt. They're just not the main route to travel down with this project now. At least, that's what my gut's telling me.

If you're curious to hear more about the experiment that is and will be self-distributing Bad Batch... this is my first blog post, so please come back. I'll be writing about emerging distribution and social networking tech for independent film, sharing thoughts on marketing and PR for micro budget indies, reporting on my own project's progress, and blogging about whatever else seems pertinent. In the meantime, please check out Bad Batch at PotBrownies.net and feel free to share any thoughts with me on Twitter @AbeSchwartz. I'll get back to you. Peace.