Making ‘SWALLOW’ — Entry #5


On March 12, at 10 in the evening, I got an e-mail back from Jon Reiss (author of “Think Outside the Box Office” and director of “Bomb It”) saying that he could, in fact, work us into his busy schedule. I immediately got my shift covered and after a very late night working on Saturday, the “3 Thumbs Up” crew drove down to Austin to meet Jon at SXSW on March 14. Regarding our film, Jon was on my list of the top three filmmakers/experts that I felt we had to have their input as part of our documentary.

Jon Reiss is an award-winning filmmaker, teacher and a leading expert on film distribution and marketing for the digital era. Simply put, when it comes to the future state of film and media distribution alternatives, this man gets it. And thankfully, he’s willing to impart some of that knowledge with other filmmakers, although he’d be quick to note that the title “filmmaker” limits the potential audience outlets of distribution and disregards the creative range that artists now have in utilizing other transmedia options. I know, a lot to wrap your head around … you wanted to make a film, have it picked up and not have to bust your ass to get it in front of as many people as you possibly could … you thought that finishing the film was the tough part. Think again. Finding your audience is crucial, and it begins in the conception phase of the project.

With “The Other Side of Paradise,” we had an initial small, loyal fan-base, but nothing too crazy though. As we went out, traveling with the film on the festival circuit (attending as many fests as we could), we slowly realized that we could have done substantially more work, very early on in pre-production, to help our audience start to grow.

Jon Reiss

With the documentary “3 Thumbs Up,” Arianne, Ryan and I set out to exhaust almost every attempt we could think of to further engage our audience. This ranged from live events (featuring music and more), gallery openings, CD release parties, and the list goes on. At that point, it was the end of 2009, and we hadn’t even cracked the surface of the millions of different ways to connect with an audience and make them aware of the project.

As we continue shooting the doc, now we are shifting from the conception phase to pre-production with “Swallow.” There is a continual urge to push our creativity and find other ways to build early awareness for the film. The early promo art and this weekly column for It’s Just Movies are early crucial keys to expanding the market of the film. Again, we haven’t even cracked the surface.

What else can we do? What are some ideas (comments are VERY welcome — in fact, one random comment on this article by March 19 at midnight EST, no duplicates/no jokes, will get a free physical copy of the STANTON “The Other Side of Paradise” soundtrack!)? We have an indie sci-fi in the works … what special interest groups fit in that potential fan demographic? Should we put on a live concert or make it even bigger? Should we take the crowdfunding via IndieGoGo and Kickstarter and really push that to the max, seeking out a donor with a large challenge donation (like Ken’s) and turn it into a city event? Are there any charities or organizations that would have a specific interest in our project? What other video promos or promotions could we be doing? These are just a sample of all that “continual urge” to keep thinking of new ideas, ways to get our low-budget film in front of as many people as possible. We have to build our audience, and we have to do it now.

I’m going to let Jon do his own speaking – check out this promo clip for “3 Thumbs Up” – a partial interview with Jon Reiss we shot early March 14. Visit for more information about his work (and pick up the book – it’s amazing!).

. . .

“Making SWALLOW” — a weekly column exclusive to It’s Just Movies — is following the film from pre-production through distribution.

Justin D. Hilliard is a writer/director/producer and co-founder of Striped Socks Productions. He attended the University of Texas at Arlington and received his BFA in Film – Cum Laude in 2004. His previous films are “The Other Side of Paradise,” “3 Thumbs Up Doc” and “Wednesday.”

21 Comments Add Yours ↓

  1. Dani #

    Is going to Comic Con feasible for a movie of your size? That would seem to be the audience for a movie of that type, right?

  2. deepdarkred #

    Wow, this is slighlty depressing, the sheer amount of things that get lost through the cracks when they are/or could be actually good but no one will ever know, save for those two people that always seem to have the extra edge.

  3. moviefan #

    sounds very cool. good luck with the project.

  4. 4

    full disclosure, I work with Jon to help promote the book and I posted this blog on our TOTBO FB page.

    That said, I cannot emphasize to you enough the importance of finding “influencers” or “sneezers” (a term Jon hates because it reminds him of snot, but is actually a Seth Godin term) to help you gather an audience. You should be reaching out to the blogger community in the scifi fantasy genre, finding the writers or editors of those publications and introducing your project to them. Not as a press release, but as a personal note showing them why your project fits their audience, not how it benefits you guys. If you give them some compelling content, they will respond. Ok, not all will, but someone will. I did this with YELLOWBRICKROAD for Slamdance and we got great response. Having a kick ass trailer definitely helped too.

    You should be building deep relationships with these people, not just using them. So building up trust is key and will take some time. They won’t necessarily respond immediately but keep trying. They are your key to your audience. Their recommendation will bring way more eyes to your project than you ever could on your own.

    I like the ComiCon idea too, but I hear it is expensive for a booth. Just attending and meeting with some of the same bloggers/writers that you will be building relationships with is worth going. You might also connect with Michael D Lynch @michaeldlynch on Twitter because he’s got it going on in the scifi community with his short. and he is a top guy, super friendly. Hope this helps.

  5. Julie Kotwitz #

    I think you should make a free iPhone app… A game would be best, about your movie.

    And thank goodness the two cowboys over Jons right shoulder left… I couldn’t stop watching them do nothing.

  6. Chris #

    I think this column is a great way to drum up interest.

  7. Kat #

    I love the column!

  8. Chuck D #

    It is amazing how many films are made and never picked up. I think back to some of the gems I’ve watched in the past and wonder how many more I have missed. There has to be a way to get more films in front of an audience.

  9. Disco #

    I’m still wondering how effective Twitter is. I see some of the indie filmmakers on with thousands (if not hundreds of thousands) of followers and I wonder how that will affect their movie in the long run.

  10. H Solo #

    Bringing the writers from movie sites (such as this one, which I love) to the set to write about the movie is usually a good move.

  11. Denise #

    Very insightful, especially for someone like myself with little knowledge of what happens behind the scenes!

  12. Ava #

    Why not let some Internet movie sites, the good ones like this one, to go on the filming site. I think that would be a great idea.

  13. Chris #

    Nice column. Very interesting.

  14. Russel #

    I also wonder how effective Twitter is. I think things will change as social media plays an important role in marketing.

  15. Rob H. #

    I agree that directors have a lot to do to market their movies.

  16. Johnni #

    I’m not sure what you really can do to get the word out enough.

  17. Harold Johnson #

    Excellent Story!

  18. 18

    WE HAVE A WINNER…and that winner will be announced in the next entry!
    A special thanks to Sheri Candler for some terrific advice! Thanks for your time & input.
    – Justin

  19. smokey the bandit #

    Keep up the great work!

  20. Owen #

    Love the series!

  21. Babs #

    This is a good way to promote your movie. I wish I had a good platform like this.

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