Book Review: Think Outside The Box Office

The successes of low-budget independent films at Sundance like Slacker, Clerks, and El Mariachi in the early 1990s created the myth of the independent film “discovery”, a myth that continues to pervade to this day. For this year’s festival, Sundance recieved 9,816 submissions (113 were eventually picked), even as studios have pulled out of the specialty business.

Last year, three movies got picked up at Sundance. In other words, having your movie at a major festival is no longer a guarantee to secure distribution, nor was it ever, really. Even the movies I mentioned in the first paragraph had much more complicated backstories that one might believe.

Although always a firm believer in the DIY aesthetic, Jon Reiss always preferred to leave the distribution to others. His previous documentary, Better Living Through Circuitry, was handled by the small distributor 7th Art, and at the time of its release, benefitted from the electronic musicians profiled in the film: The Crystal Method, Roni Size, Moby, and BT. (As Reiss explains in the book there were two other movies in release at the time, and all the releases complimented one another.) When it came to debut Bomb It at Tribeca in 2007, Reiss believed that Bomb It would follow the same pattern. Except that it didn’t.

Reiss did everything that every filmmaker is expected to get their movie out there. Reiss saved the world premiere for an acquistion-friendly festival, got a sales agent, a well-connected publicist, and held off on circulating DVDs of any kind. In one aspect, this paid off–2,500 people attended the screenings, and 800 were turned away. However, this failed to materialize in an acquisition. Within a week, Bomb It was available on Canal Street as a bootleg. Reiss decided to take distribution into his own hands, and eventually landed a DVD deal with New Video. He documented his self-distribution experience for Filmmaker magazine, which in turn led to the writing and publication of this book.

Think Outside The Box Office examines a number of ways of distributing the movie–DIY Theatrical, Video On Demand, The Festival Circuit, the college circuit, the educational market–and considers all of these methods equally valid. Reiss realizes that what worked for Bomb It won’t work for every movie. To fill out his book, Reiss interviewed several other indie film figures, including Matt Dentler, Joe Swanberg, Todd Sklar, Mariana Palka, and Chris Hyams among others.

Anyone who is serious about surviving in the contemporary independent film world needs to read this book.


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4 Responses to “Book Review: Think Outside The Box Office”

  1. Sheri Candler Says:

    Hi Erin, thanks for your kind and thoughtful review. Please know that Jon is about to release a pdf version of the book on his website for those that think snail mail is too slow!

    And he will be launching a tools website that will include a lot of the resources from the book, but will be open source so people can add their experiences and companies who cater to the indie filmmaker can add their details.

    Jon will also be speaking at the Filmmaker Summit at Slamdance this year. For those unable to attend, the Summit will be on LiveStream via the internet on Jan 23 from 11-2pm MT. I am sure there will be mp3s as well later on. Details to the Summit are here

    as well as on a panel at SxSW in Austin on March 14 entitled The Main Event-finding an audience for your film. Details here

  2. Think Outside the Box Office Review by Erin’s Woodstock Movie : Jon Reiss News Says:

    […] review from Erin’s Woodstock Movie gives a good background as to my path to writing the […]

  3. Clemente Weirather Says:

    Very informative text. I’ve found your blog via Bing and I’m really glad about the information you provide in your posts. Btw your blogs layout is really messed up on the Chrome browser. Would be really great if you could fix that. Anyhow keep up the good work!

  4. Staying Positive, Staying Sane « Erin's Woodstock Movie Says:

    […] note, an interview I did with Jon Reiss is now up at The Film Panel Notetaker. As you may recall, I reviewed his book back in January. To read my interview, click on the cover of Jon’s book […]

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