'Sadie' Director Megan Griffiths Tells Us How To Get People To Care About Your Indie Film

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Getting a film made is one of the most challenging experiences anyone can go through. From writing the script, to securing the financing, to picking a crew, to casting the film, to finally shooting and editing it, filmmaking requires a huge diversity of technical and creative skills.

But in today's media-saturated world, it's arguably just as hard to convince people to care about your small indie film. If you have a tiny movie, how do you get it out there? What strategy do you use? What elements do you prioritize?

I had a chance to chat with writer/director Megan Griffiths about how she approached these problems for her latest film, Sadiewhich is out now on home video (Disclosure: I consider Megan a friend, plus I did some behind-the-scenes photos for Sadie.). Check out the video of our interview read a transcript of the conversation. This transcript has been edited for clarity.

David: A lot of people don't understand that when you're making an indie film, getting the movie financed and made is only about half the battle. After you get the movie made, you need to actually get people interested to watch the movie and then deliver it to them in a format that they can actually watch it in, whether it's video on demand or in theaters. When you finish making Sadie, what was some of the decisionmaking that went into figuring out how to distribute the movie?Megan: We premiered at SXSW in 2018 and we did receive these traditional offers and none of them really excited us that much. There felt like a disconnect in the conversations we were having between us and the distributors about how to put the movie out and the way to frame the conversation around the movie that just went against the whole reason that we had spent so many years trying to get Sadie made in the first place. Because it was a long journey. It was like eight years.

So we just made the decision, not lightly, because it is a lot of work. We talked to a lot of filmmakers who had gone through the process of distributing their own films and decided that we were going to take it on. We just embarked upon this year long journey.

When people were giving you offers and you said it wasn't quite a good fit, what were some of the reasons that it wasn't a good fit? What were some of the [ways] that you felt they weren't going to honor the movie?

We made [Sadie] to start a conversation about youth and violence. And it seemed like the prevailing idea was let's just market it as like a bad seed thriller because there's this young girl in it who ultimately behaves fairly inappropriately. And so I just felt like the way that people were talking about marketing it was simplistic and didn't honor the larger cultural conversation I wanted the film to provoke.

Who knows? In retrospect, you just don't know whose decision would have been stronger or would have resulted in different numbers for the movie or whatever. But it was just important to me and my producers that we at least try to frame it in this way that we could host these conversations.

Another major thing was that we wanted to do an academic tour for the film. We'd had an experience where we'd screened it for young people. We'd had high school screening of the film and had this amazing conversation with these young people who totally got the themes and really engaged with the characters and were really invested in it. It was a really sort of intoxicating experience and I wanted to repeat it. But every distributor we talked to was like "Oh no, we're not going to it. An academic tour, that's too much work." It's outside of their normal sphere. And so they don't to go with that direction. We really wanted to do that, so that was a major factor too.

This is my sixth feature and I've been through a traditional distribution experience a time or two in my life. It has been kind of a,disempowering experience because you spend so much time and energy and passion trying to get the movie made in the first place. And then when it gets out into the world, you feel like not only is the person who's distributing it not putting that same passion into it, but you're sort of cut off from being able to get in there and get your hands dirty and do all the things you want to do because they have a process and they don't really want to mix it up too much. So we really wanted to empower ourselves to do it the way we sort of felt like we could have done it on other movies.

If people are out there are making their own movies, they're thinking about how to get people to see their movie. What is the advice that you have for them? What are the things they should consider as they're about to start on this journey for themselves?

I would say step one is determining what's important to you about how to get your movie out into the world, and what you want it to be saying to people. Sort of, structuring the conversation around the movie, making sure that our marketing materials were reflecting how we wanted the movie to be seen by people. Just making sure that like the reasons that we made the movie were clear and coming through.

If you're out there, you're making a short film or a feature length film, you're doing it for a reason. There's something you want to say to the world, right? So number one is figure out what that is. Be really clear on that. Be really crisp on like what is the message you want to say with the film and how you're going to use the distribution plan to say that message.

Right. If it's important to you, the way the movie comes out, I think it's important to focus on that message and then figure out how that translates to all the different ways that you're talking about it, right? Trailer, poster, all the different materials.

So step two: Budgeting, right? How much money do you have? How are you going to get the team to assemble to get this thing out into the world.

Right. Cause there's so many different ways to do this. We decided we were going to bring in a team of people. We were looking for someone who could be our theatrical booker. We ended up hiring this woman, Mia Bruno who was more of a sort of holistic distribution strategist. She booked our theaters, but she also was a designing an impact campaign, which is like going to individual communities after the film was booked to make sure that like organizations that might resonate with the themes of your movie are aware that it's playing, maybe doing talkbacks or Q&A's or post-film discussions with the people from those organizations. So she was doing a lot of that.

We also had an academic outreach person named Anna Feder. A company called Thin Pig Media that did digital marketing and social media management for us. We had an intern. We had a publicist, Adam Kirsch at Brigade, who was our publicist for our SXSW premiere.

We had some money set aside from our production budget and we had some money that we got from Amazon who did our SVOD release. And so we had money to work with, we had a little pot. And that empowered us to make the decision in the first place.

So step two is budgeting, making sure you either have the right team, can pay the right people or do things yourself. What comes next?

Step three is determining your release strategy. And there's still a lot of conversations that you have to continue that revolve around numbers. Trying to figure out if you're going to play in theaters and how important that is to you, what it's going to cost you, because most people end up spending more money on their theatrical release than they make. Doing things like tastemakers screenings where you're aligning with other groups or like having an event over one night. We did one with the Geena Davis Institute. That was fantastic. And we had all of our actors and Mike Mccready who did the score come and do a Q&A. We had a little like cocktail hour afterwards and people who were part of the Geena Davis Institute came out and were introduced to the movie and then talked about it like on social media.

And that's the goal. You're trying to get people in the room who haven't seen the movie yet or didn't know about the movie, but might be interested in this kind of story that you're trying to tell that will then go be an ambassador for your movie out in the world. But those aren't free. Typically they're not. And so you're trying to figure out how many of those do you want to do, right? How many audience members you want to use up while on these free screenings that you're doing to raise awareness or how many people you're trying to get to  come out and pay for it in the theater.

So there's that. There's whether you want to continue your festival run after you've decided to do your own release. Again, are you, are you mining new audiences? Or are you tapping [existing] audiences? So there's a lot of choices. This is all part of determining your release strategy. So getting into the weeds on all these decisions. There's a lot of different ways to get your movie out.

Once you figured out a release strategy, what comes next?

Building your online presence. Making sure you have a good website and it's search engine optimized and all those things. We started doing a newsletter twice a month that would alert people to milestones in our movie's life, like when we're gonna release. "We're coming up on our theatrical [release]! Make sure you tell your friends in New York and LA" and all that stuff. Make sure you have Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, some of the rest of them. We just did those three. And that they're aligned and they're talking about the same things and you're trying to build your audiences in all those worlds.

What's step five?

Step five is building the buzz, making people aware that your movie exists. Utilize all of these things that you've already done in this process where you've hired all these great people and you're attracting all these new faces to your social media profile and all this stuff. How do you translate all of that interest into people actually going out the door and buying a ticket in the theater, or if they're at home, buying on iTunes or eventually down the road, streaming it on Amazon, which is what they can do now. You're attending all these screenings, you're doing as much press as you possibly can get. I guess some people may be more choosy about like who they talked to you, but I figured any conversation I can have about Sadie might yield and another viewer. So for me it was like if I had the bandwidth to do it, I would do it.

I traveled. Between August and December of last year, I was home 18 days because I traveled so much for Sadie. That was almost entirely Sadie, with the exception of one week that was a different project. I was on the road for Sadie, I was going to academic screenings, I was going to theatrical screenings, I was doing podcasts, I was doing phone interviews. I was sitting down with people. I was just out in the world trying to get people to care about this movie.

Incredible. So at the end of all that, you've done all that, right? You've done the figuring out what's important to you, budgeted, built a team, determine the release strategy, gotten your online presence up nice and good. You've hustled and you've made people aware of the movie and got people to care about it. You've done all that. This sounds exhausting, by the way.

It is. Not going to sugarcoat it.

You have done all this for the movie Sadie. What have you learned from this experience? If you had to do it all over again, would you?

I would do it again for Sadie. I don't know if how many movies I would say that about going forward. I hope to not have to do it again. It is so hard and it was so exhausting, but the positive spin is that I totally felt empowered. It did go out into the world the way I wanted to see it go out into the world. The conversations that I had at the Q&A's and at these academic screenings and all these discussions that happened around the movie at all these different places I went to, it was so fulfilling. And it really just made me feel like that was connecting with people. It was start starting people's minds thinking about youth and violence in a different way. How we're training young people to respond to the problems in their lives with violence by the way our society and  our nation response to problems with violence.

I felt like there's a lot of conversations about school shootings and just violence in general. But I think there is a lack of people taking a look at themselves and what they put into the world and what they support in the world that I wanted to address. I wanted people to look at who they're supporting, what media they're supporting, what is that doing, and have a little culpability in the fact that there's so many kids out there who are growing up with the idea that violence is the solution to problems.

Learn more about Sadie at the film's official website. Note: David Chen is the host of the Slashfilmcast and currently works at Amazon.