In our ninth installment of Roy Frumkes’ Little Blog of Horror, Roy discusses the dangers of mismanaged sales & distribution.
My ‘Producing the Horror Film’ class took a turn for the better this past Fall. One of my guests two years ago – Bill Lustig – director of Maniac and Maniac Cop, made a valuable suggestion as we shared a meal at Wo Hops in Chinatown after the class wrapped.
“Why don’t you make the class watch the guests’ films on their own, rather than showing them in class,” he opined, “That way you have an extra hour and a half to get into a deeper forensic analysis of the producing process, from development all the way through distribution and promotion?”
It was a smart idea, I replied, ingesting my duck Lo Mein. I ran it by Chairman Reeves a week later, and he agreed. So this past Fall I augmented the new class structure. Guests such as Evan Husney (who discovered and promoted Birdemic), David Gregory (who Produced and co-directed Theatre Bizarre), Lustig (who chose Maniac Cop 2), etc., addressed students who had already watched the designated films, allowing for a more in-depth class discussion.
It worked. It’s always a good thing to keep a class in an evolutionary stage. This, combined with my only instruction to guests – “If you’re willing to come, then imagine that you’ve been shot full of sodium pentothal as you enter the classroom, and that you have to tell the truth. That’s what the students need to hear.”
This advance-screening approach, while generally offering guests the opportunity to dissect their work more fully, proved particularly compelling in the case of one Jeremy Gardner, the writer, director and co-star of The Battery, a no-budget zombie flick shot in New England, which ended up winning festival awards, being picked up by a big video distributor (SHOUT! FACTORY), and generally being regarded as one of the best zombie flicks of the past several years. I’d never met Gardner, but through friends I got his contact info and invited him in, and he accepted.
Delighted to oblige me on the terms I demand of guest appearances – honesty about the industry – he shocked the students by leading with the fact that he was pretty much broke. Despite having scored a hit with his first feature, he’d mismanaged the sale and distribution of the film, purely through lack of knowledge, and was now knee-deep in the consequences. Tales of this sort go all the way back to George Romero’s mind-boggling oversight in neglecting to copyright Night of the Living Dead, and consequently making next to nothing (which he discusses openly in Document of the Dead) even though the film was a worldwide smash hit. Gardner’s sobering tale mirrored the opinions of Lustig and the others who’d come to the class before him: Find a mentor, or be eaten alive.
And in the meantime, check out The Battery. The solutions to its budgetary limitations are so smart that I can’t stop thinking about them. They’re as compelling as the narrative. All of that is discussed on the DVD’s commentary track. It’s a good teaching tool just by itself.