Vermont Chainsaw Massacre

August 23, 2007

Thursday, Aug. 23.

I have spent the last three days alternating between writing frenzied emails and cutting down trees with a chainsaw behind our house. A neighbor came by and remarked in nervous alarm, "It looks like a hurricane just came through here."

Apparently I've wreaked the same havoc online as well. The powers that be at Gestation have concluded that the small audience attendance in NY and LA for the Opening Weekend is due entirely to the lack of interest in the film. They were ready to dump the film two days ago, leaving the film to peter out its last few showings with no advertising whatsoever. I had to get on the phone and beg them, literally beg them to at least take out one ad in NY to show that we were not giving up.

You see, the fact that the film has drastically changed venues in its opening week will instantly begin a deadly cycle of doubt in audiences' minds. They will quickly assume there is something wrong with the film and then avoid it like anthrax. My greatest concern right now is stopping that cycle. Gestation's position; "Let's not spend any more money, let it play one more weekend and see what happens," is completely self-defeating if they don't generate new advertising to counteract this misperception.

I requested an ad that declared the film's victories; one that listed all the amazingly positive reviews we've gotten in an effort to remind audiences we were not dead, we were not slinking away with our tails between our legs. After almost an hour on the phone I managed to wrangle one ad in NY that would herald the positive reviews. My request to do the same in LA was refused. So, I've been online for the last two days, emailing every single person I know and asking them to go see the film, and asking them if they've already seen it to tell their friends. Why am I so frantic? The basic truth is this: to have this film die in NY after one week will have enormous impact on my ability to make another film. That is not paranoia or hysteria. It is a statement of fact.

I called Arnold, the head of Gestation, and left him a message to call me back. He did not. I emailed him; "If there was ever a time I would appreciate speaking to you it is now." This brought a response, "I will call in 2 hours." The call never came. Instead I got an email from Arnold saying he'd spoken to George, his distribution exec, and agreed with his assessment that any more financial investment in NY or LA is out of the question. "As a result," he stated, "I will not be calling you."

For any aspiring filmmakers reading this I urge you to look deep inside and ask yourselves, "Could I handle something like this? Could I deal with having a movie that took 6 years to make dismissed and abandoned by its distributor after little more than 72 hours?" Because this is what filmmaking is. It has nothing to do with getting interviewed or having your picture taken or standing around in a leather jacket yelling Action! It has to do with being able to withstand the most annihilating punches to the gut and then standing up and getting knocked down again. I'm not saying this to draw sympathy or attention to myself. I say it because it is the truth and very few people with tell you the truth about anything in this business.

I asked George why he couldn't spend a little more money on promoting the film (several people have written in to the blog saying they've barely seen a single poster for Delirious in both NY or LA). George replied via email, "This is the money I have invested in the film. The number I am spending is exactly what we can afford."

"But," I said, "If you can't afford to take out an ad in the paper how do you expect people to even know the film is out there?" He responded, "The size of my investment depends on the size of audience attendance. If more people go then I will spend more." Forgive me for getting just a little crazed here at having to keep running around the same circle trying to catch up to this guy. But, you can see, no matter what; the first impulse is always to make you feel it is the fault of the film.

So, I wrote an email to George and said, "I understand Gestation has a limited financial investment in the film. I too have an investment in the film--my enthusiasm. It is what I have drawn upon for years to keep me going. It is what motivates me when speaking with journalists. Without that enthusiasm I would be unable to speak at all. My enthusiasm has its limits just like your financial investment and right now I have run out of cash. It is impossible for me to continue doing press for the film if Gestation can't show it's support by meeting me halfway."

Sorry for all the detail. Thought you might like to get a glimpse behind the beaded curtain into the sweatshop itself. It might be useful for you to know that I've done every single interview request asked of me. I've also made phone calls to all of the cast, untangling the restrictive nets their publicists have wrapped them in and finally persuading them to do press for the film. I did all the podcasts, for free. Chioke got paid, I didn't. I spent 5 days in LA doing press and the whole time I was there not a single person from Gestation called me, came by the press site or attended any of the Q&A screenings I went to.

So, what do you think George's response to my email was? One sentence: "We will continue to release the film without your support."

Hey Kafka, come on back to life, man! You've got to help me out of this pit of slick-handed quicksand.

I wrote back, "George, I already played the "no support" card in my own defense. If you're going to impugn my efforts then I'm afraid you're going to have to think of something else."

This brought a very sharp rebuke from George. George does not like anything that even hints he may be mistaken. He thinks it is inflammatory. In fact, that is what he quickly wrote back to me.  "I will not respond to your inflammatory email. Nor will I give in to your demands by supplicating to you."

As I was burning my chainsaw through an 8 inch poplar I found myself wondering if an email even existed that George would not find inflammatory. I pictured him at his computer with a shotgun and a sledgehammer only inches from either of his trembling hands and decided probably not.

I went back into the house and wrote a final email, my own hands trembling from gripping the bucking saw. "George, it is your choice to view my email as inflammatory. It is also your choice, though a strange one, to view my offer to meet you half way as supplication. My choice is to try and keep the film alive."

And that is where it stands at 11:04 PM.

My sincere thanks to everyone who has written to offer support, sympathy, tough love and encouragement. It is tremendously appreciated.

THIS JUST IN: Michael Pitt's manager called. A week after all print, radio and web features for the film are done he has decided he wants to do some press for Delirious.

Chris, you are the man. What an amazing feat you have just accomplished.
Thank you, thank you.
I agree. Mona has a great site and she just gave me a Zen mantra for the ages:
“When clearing trees always make sure you leave two for the hammock.”
my best to you.
I knew something would come of your being the first one to ever comment on this, the first blog I’ve ever written.
Chris W
I actually got a very nice reply back from the theater today, saying that they probably would be showing Delirious in the near future and they’d heard it had great buzz coming out of Sundance!
Thanks, Mona, and I really enjoy your blog–you find links to some really great stuff and your comments on them are fun to read!
Yeesh, if I keep getting positive feedback I might just do something whacky like write my congressman…y’know, about those other causes.
Hi Tom,
I was relieved to see the ad in the paper today. I’ve been telling people to go see the film. I hold out hope. Story isn’t over yet.
All the best,
No supplication for you! (In Seinfeld Soup Nazi voice)
What a prick.
It boggles the mind. I won’t pay until the film does well, which can’t do well until I pay. Ever get the feeling you were stuck in a mason jar while scary, shadowy executives and so-called ‘investors’ laughed manically as you tried and tried to climb out? Maybe toss in some alligators or ghost pirates for effect.
That’s pretty much how I’m picturing things right now.
Chris is right. I wouldn’t have ever thought of that, calling up theatres, but it’s an awesome idea. Dallas, if nothing else, just loves to see itself as forward-thinking and maybe I can use that to my advantage.
Leave a few up, Tom. Where will you hang the hammock?
Well, my friend Chris W. Are you really so sure those attributes apply to you–shy and lazy? I think not. What you’ve just done is nothing short of miraculous. You took a step for something you believe in. I am immensely grateful you made that effort for Delirious.
And listen, I’ll be the first one to tell you there are a million more important causes that need our courageous actions than this little film.
But for that action, I thank you.
Chris W
Well, your enthusiasm got me to stick my neck out, which I hardly ever do, because I’m quite shy…well, and lazy. I emailed the head guy at our local theater that generally runs limited release films (The Michigan Theater, which won the best historical theater award last year–and it is a great theater) and implored him to take a look at Delirious. I included a link to the official website, mentioned your festival awards, as well as the awesome video-promos and where to find them.
Guess it’s time for theater-goers to rise up and demand better fare, if the money people are gonna be such weasels about promotion. I don’t know if it’ll do any good, but it IS a drag to be in the middle of the country where films like yours rarely get to, until the DVD comes out. So: all you people out there who aren’t in NY or LA–start writing your theaters. Can’t hurt.
I am bummed the film isn’t doing better…but I’m glad you’re sticking to trees to vent on. Hang in there.;)

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Independent Filmmaker & Musician