Self Distribution to UK Cinemas: The Joy of Diaspora Greeks

I did have a plan to blog about Greece and our release there. I was making mental notes about our North American premiere at the Palm Springs Film Festival in California, but I’ve just remortgaged my house so I can self-distribute Papadopoulos & Sons in UK cinemas.

Beat. Silence. Heroic outsider writer/ director/ producer now prepares to add one more heroic title to his growing heroic film maker status: distributor.

Stop! Before you gasp in both equal amounts of awe and horror, it sounds more dramatic than it is. If you meet me and I start to tell you an elaborate tale of my remortgage and how I’ve risked it all on the pursuit of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness – please take it all with a pinch of theatrical salt. In fact, ignore me. If you don’t, I will use this act of remortgaging my house as a stick to beat you with… “You see what I’m prepared to do? That’s living… Are you living? Huh?” If you’ve read this blog you have permission to dismiss me. For those who don’t read this… You are my prey!

The truth is mundane. I’ve taken out £70k. Over 25 years, interest only, it works out to less than £175 per month. It’s kitchen extension… (yes, I admit, a very nice kitchen extension) but one that my wife will never get to see. I say that because I’ve been told to dig a big hole, put the money in this hole, then burn the money. I may as well do that. Such is the doomed nature of ‘service theatrical deals’ – when small low budget indie films self distribute their dream to a small number of cinema screens.

So… the way I look at it is this: I’ve taken out the money for a kitchen extension that’s gone terribly wrong. The builders have done a runner and I’ve lost £70k. It’s a kick in the nuts. But thankfully, I haven’t lost my house. In fact, I haven’t even lost a kitchen because I’ve still got the old one. It’s not the end of the world. You see?! Already, it’s not the end of the world. I can’t lose. That’s living! Are you living?

The plan is to go into around 10 cinemas across the country for just one week. It has been described by many in the film business as a ‘suicide mission’. One insider emailed me to say: “Are you insane? Theatrical releases are used to sell DVDs…” Don’t you just love the romance of silver screen?

“You’ve got two hopes kid… Bob and No! Now get outta my sight!” (No one actually said that but I like to imagine an old Hollywood movie producer giving it to me straight).

Some of the cinemas we’re talking to – who like the Papadopoulos family and would welcome them into their four walls – have told us to be realistic with regards admissions (I assume that’s ‘putting it politely’). It’s what they would tell any indie film maker.

“Wake up kid! It’s brutal out there… You’re gonna end up lost on a handful of screens, without any publicity, whilst being pummelled to sh**t on either side by the Hollywood heavyweights – many of which won’t survive themselves – even if they do have a Tom in it…”

That’s true. We don’t have ‘a Tom’ – a Tom Cruise, Tom Hardy or a Tom Hanks or even a Brad or an Angelina. “Kid… next time, get yourself a Tom! You hear me?”

You start to understand why producers pay $15m for a ‘big name’. The ‘big name’ not only brings a built-in audience but has the ability to create the sense of an event. It’s ‘Big Star’s’ next big movie – that’s the story before we even know what the actual story of the movie is.

Could the marketing strategy of the entire film business be based on the following conversation:

Teenager in Street: Hey… Want to come and see the Justin Bieber movie?”

Teenager’s Friend: Sure, what’s it about?

Teenager in Street: I dunno. It’s a new movie with Justin Bieber in it.

Teenager’s Friend: Oh. Okay… Yeah. Sure.

There are a handful of ‘names’ on the planet who bring that pull to a film (maybe even less) and paying $15m isn’t so crazy if your goal is to gross $250m at the box office. It’s an investment in creating an event. Of course, it won’t guarantee a thing. But you’ve ticked one of the many boxes needed for box office glory.

Sidenote thought… I wonder if all the very famous and very rich depressed actors and actresses in the world are depressed because they know their fame and fortune is based on the ‘Teenager’ conversation above. If so, please contact me to arrange a wonderful challenging role, that doesn’t pay at all, to enrich your soul.

According to the exhibitors (the people who run our cinemas), the big problem for the Papadopoulos family is that people don’t want to pay to see a drama (even a comedy drama) at the cinema when there’s so much good drama on the TV for free. That’s what they tell you. It’s what they believe. They say that because Justin Bieber isn’t in it. If he was, such an idea wouldn’t occur to them. They would take the movie as easily as the Teenagers would see it. And they wouldn’t even need to see it to take it. And they probably would never see it and Justin isn’t even an actor.

Whether they’re conscious of it or not, what they mean is that a cinema movie has to feel like an event. That’s what they’re trying to express. It is the sense of an event that brings people out to see a film. It is the sense of an event that builds the audience before the film opens. Because there are so many films out at any one time, and for a short time, unless you capture the spirit of something special happening – the event – a film you have to see – you simply won’t register on people’s radar. You might have an absolute gem, with wonderful performances, that’s beautifully shot with a great timely story etc. But you don’t have time to build an audience. You don’t have time for word-of-mouth.

“You got one weekend kid… That’s all you got.”

It’s why the opening weekend is so important – it is the indication of whether a film is an event or not whether we film makers like it or not.

I’ve seen dozens of great films that I’d completely missed at the cinema. Even with great reviews and a great cast, I still managed to miss them on the big screen – because I never knew about them. They just didn’t enter my consciousness. I may have seen the posters, caught an interview, glazed over a magazine interview but I failed to register. One example of this is Margin Call (released in the UK in Jan 2012) with cast to die for: Kevin Spacey, Paul Bettany, Demi Moore, Jeremy Irons, Stanley Tucci. Did you see it at the cinema? Not many people in the UK did. It grossed around £350k from 50 or so screens. It was on 50 or so screens for one week, when it opened, and in its second week it dropped to around 25 screens and so on. It was an easy film to miss – even with good reviews and a great cast. Even though its a good film.

So even having  famous actors or a famous director is not enough for it to become a ‘must see’ movie before it opens (Bieber aside). You may also need it to be a film based on a well known book. Or a movie that’s just been nominated for awards. A movie that earns half-a-dozen five star reviews by itself may not become a ‘must see event’ – I’ve seen many critically acclaimed films in empty cinemas. Perhaps what you need (unless you’re the next Bond movie which seems to live in a cinematic eco-system of its own) is a combination of all these elements, all at once – and then you have a chance of getting the ‘word of mouth’ bandwagon going. Otherwise, your film will go unnoticed. I think that is what the cinemas are saying now. I don’t think they will express it as well as this but that is what they mean.

But wait! It doesn’t have to be like this. Let me quickly deviate before I get into the ‘How I am going to try and make Papadopoulos & Sons feel like an event movie’. Let me put a soap box on top of the soap box I am already standing on.

The big idea.

Perhaps the cinemas don’t realise that the act of going out for a lot of people IS THE EVENT.

There. How about that?

Perhaps the cinemas have perversely taught themselves to rely on blockbusters with good reviews and a cast to die for with award nominations to create an event. They have forgotten that the act of leaving your home and going to the cinema – regardless of the movie – is the event. Like going out for a meal or meeting friends in the pub.

I will say it again and add capitals (forgive me). The act of going to the cinema SHOULD BE THE EVENT. I am sure that’s what it used to be. I was a kid in the 70s and we went to the cinema a lot. Some films were good and some were bad but it didn’t matter because going to the cinema was the event – not the movie. The movie was second to the act of going out. Yes, I know TV is good but people still want to go out! Give me a good reason to go out! Don’t keep telling me to stay at home and watch TV. It has nothing to do with TV being good.

The problem is the cinemas and the experience. They are mostly dirty, overpriced, rude, over-airconditioned places. If things carry on as they are, I’m going to need more than a CGI blockbuster in 3D with stunning reviews, major stars and award nominations to get me out. I’m going to need Robert De Niro himself introducing the film if I’m going to fork out the equivalent of a cheap flight to Paris and back to get me in there. Otherwise, I may as well go to Paris and back. Even rich people complain that the cinema is too expensive. Rude people complain at how rude the staff are.

How did British companies like Waitrose get it so right with their staff? Or John Lewis? How do they do it so well and how do UK cinemas do it so badly? How did they manage to find the most unhelpful and rude people in Britain to staff their cinemas? They may as well wear badges that say… “I get paid f**k all and I hate being here… please don’t ask me how I can help you.”

Cinemas have lost belief in themselves as a night out. The stale, overpriced popcorn is a symbol of everything that is wrong with cinema. The popcorn is where they allegedly make the biggest profit margin. I wish I could say that’s an urban myth but retailing at five times the cost of oil per litre I suspect it’s true. I’ve heard some people in the film business refer to themselves rather depressingly as the ‘Popcorn’ business. And whilst Stephen Dillane and Georges Corraface are two of Europe’s most beautifully skilled actors (who are both quite wonderful in Papadopoulos & Sons) they won’t sell popcorn like Justin Bieber.

Most airport terminals are more inviting than most British cinemas. The seats and flooring are often a mass of sticky mess of god knows what. I’ve sat in cinemas with the house lights on because no one could find someone to switch them off. I’ve sat in freezing cinemas and cinemas where they nearly deafened my children because the £6.19 per hour projectionist had ‘turned it all the way up to 11’ and then gone AWOL.

Tickets are extortionate. I can buy the Stanley Kubrick boxset for the price of taking my family to the cinema with popcorn and icecream – and still have change for a Rainer Fassbinder limited edition. Frankly, I don’t blame the kids downloading for free… and like everyone else I laugh at the film industry’s attempt to try and make us feel guilty for doing so. How dare we take money out out Brad and Angelina’s pockets… Shame on us. But… do you know what? This is another conversation for another day. (And I don’t include some Curzon cinemas in this rant or the Wandsworth Cineworld – which isn’t perfect but has the better popcorn.)

I’m off the soapbox on the soapbox and I am now standing on just the first soapbox – the plan to make Papadopoulos & Sons a small but perfectly formed event.

I understand perfectly when someone says that releasing Papadopoulos & Sons to 10 or so cinemas for just one week is a ‘suicide mission’. I know that the goal is to simply release, get a few good reviews and quotes for the DVD, and then get out of there as quickly as possible with the minimum damage – the cost of a kitchen extension.

But Papadopoulos & Sons can break the mould. It can. It can, I tell you. And it can help the cinemas make money and I can prove that going out to the cinema can be a great experience and feel like an event even without Brad, Oscar nominations, glowing reviews (I’m assuming the reviews won’t be groundbreaking), big advertising campaigns etc. And I can do this with pricey tickets, stale popcorn and grubby carpets.

How? I have a secret weapon: The joy of Diaspora Greeks. No. This is not a sex manual. It’s a guerilla markeing campaign.

For every Greek in the UK – just the title Papadopoulos & Sons – makes this film an event. I’m not saying that this film only appeals to Greek immigrants and their handsome offspring. Far from it. This is a fairy tale with universal family values and a feel good factor. In Palm Springs (the last film festival we attended), every audience member had to vote 1 to 5, with ‘One’ being ‘Poor’ all the way up to ‘Four’ being ‘Excellent’ and ‘Five’ being Superb. Over 75% of Americans voted the film excellent or superb. I love Americans. I love the US. God bless it. But whilst the film can and does appeal to non-Greeks for the purpose of my cinema release I am exclusively targeting their joy. It’s our film. It’s about us. It’s our big moment on the big screen – with a lovely story, some wonderful music, some excellent performances. It’s our event.

The call has gone out to all the Greeks I know. And I have asked them to forward the rallying call to all the Greeks they know. The marketing strategy is simple. Greeks know Greeks. We will be targeting Greek churches and community halls, Greek businesses, Greek Facebook groups and anything Greek. If you are Greek, or know a Greek in the UK then we are collecting your email address here:
http://www.papadopoulosandsons.com/screenings

Sign up and then we will let you know where and when you can see Papadopoulos & Sons. You won’t need to see a TV advert or read about it in Chat magazine. Sign up because if you don’t, you will miss it. I can’t see Stephen Dillane doing ‘Loose Women’ – although I think he would be wonderful and charming on it. And I can’t see some serious critics giving us a ‘must see review’ either – the film is far too much fun. So you need to sign up and spread the joy of Diaspora Greeks.

Heroes have come forward already. One Greek from Birmingham, who I only know vaguely, offered to put a flyer into 300 invoices – as he deals with mostly Greek clients in the catering trade. Another has offered to plaster the local Greek Orthodox Church with Papadopoulos Posters – whether they like it or not. People are tweeting, retweeting and facebooking and talking. People I’ve never met who I’ve bumped into on Twitter are getting the message out. Thank you. Organising this event is bringing me the kind of joy I never imagined – connecting again to my own community. Something I tried to convey in the themes of this film.

I would like to thank for following Greeks (and honorary Greeks) who were the first to help spread the word: Kostas Georgiou, Petro Nicolaides, Mario Zachariou, Chris Koshionis, Harry Millas, Jimmy Roussounis (he’s in the film too), Ioulia Kourmpidou, Yoddi Papa, Andy Marcou (also known as Andy Fish Bloke on Twitter), @Koullashaker (from Twitter) Stephanos Papantoniou, Ariadne Kritonos, Nikki Hogan, Niko Miaoulis, Chris Ellinas, @TypicalGreek (from Twitter), Terry Eleftheriou, Dino Markou (my little brother), Nick Xydias, Pavlos Anastasi, Xenia (from Twitter), @GreeksInLondon (from Twitter), Andy Prodromou (and family), the Pili family and Tonia Buxton and many more who are coming forward each day. Ευχαριστώ!

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