My Brooklyn will be opening for a 3rd week run at the reRun Theater in DUMBO Brooklyn. For tickets click here.
Kelly Anderson and Allison Lirish Dean’s My Brooklyn, a documentary about the forced gentrification of Downtown Brooklyn’s Fulton Mall, opened theatrically this past January as part of IFP’s new partnership with the reRun Theater, and promptly sold out every screening for a week straight. Each night, audiences crowded into the microcinema, some sitting cross-legged in front of the screen once the theater’s actual seats had filled up, others piling into a makeshift standing-room section by the bar. On most nights, a line formed just outside the door made up of people who’d failed to nab a ticket ahead of time, all waiting to see if they’d be able to squeeze in for that evening’s show.
In total, My Brooklyn sold over 800 tickets that first week. When the film returned to the theater for a second run, ticket sales were even higher. Now, as the film prepares for a third engagement at reRun starting March 8th, IFP sat down with director Kelly Anderson to discuss how her film was able to break out without the help of a formal publicist or distributor, and without her having to spend money on anything except physical assets like posters and postcards.
In the interview, Anderson details how she prepared for her theatrical release, how she structured her digital and physical marketing campaigns, her strategy for press outreach, and why an emphasis on post-screening events and conversations was key to engaging and growing her audience.
Much has been written over the past few years about the need for and purpose of theatrical in a landscape increasingly dominated by ancillary markets. But the success of My Brooklyn presents a viable model for a certain kind of independent theatrical, and a case study for how such a release can dramatically affect a film’s lifespan.
Inception & Production
IFP: Let’s start early. Can you talk about the genesis of the project?
Anderson: Interestingly, I think the way the film originated is connected to why it’s been successful. Everything started as a partnership with the organization Families United for Racial and Economic Equality (FUREE). (Producer) Allison Lirish Dean and I made an organizing film for them. And as we were doing that, which was a work-for-hire project, we came up with the idea of making this bigger film.
IFP: Were you already formally engaged in the topic of gentrification in Brooklyn when you partnered with FUREE?
Anderson: No. Not at all. In fact, I felt it was an issue that had already been done on film, and not the kind of thing that I wanted to get too deeply into. But one day I was in my office at Hunter College, where I teach filmmaking, and Allison came in. She was getting an urban planning degree at Hunter, and she said, “I want to make this film. Should I take a class to learn how to make a documentary?” So we started talking, and by the time she left, I had committed to working on this film for FUREE with her.
She’s the one who found FUREE – she was doing an ethnographic research project about Fulton Mall for the Pratt Center for Community Development in Brooklyn. So she had already met a lot of the people who would eventually be in the film. I think a lot of why the film is doing well is that these relationships are now years old, almost a decade in some cases.
IFP: How have those relationships paid off?
Anderson: To the extent that we could, we tried to forge partnerships with the people in and around our film as we were making it. Those play out over the long-term, and especially through distribution. This film took so long, and we talked to so many people, and then kept in touch with all those people. I mean not every week, but we had a good list of people that had talked to us during the making of the film, or served as a resource in the film.
And then – all of those people became part of this big database that we kept. So when we finally premiered it, we got in touch with them all. I think it definitely starts in production – with tracking everybody that you talk to. And you get busy, and it’s hard, but it’s important.
The thing about My Brooklyn is that we’re not creating a movement – we’re just tapping into an existing network of organizations and people who are interested in the film’s issues. So for me, it was more about just finding like-minded people, whether they were in the film or not, and being in touch with them about the issues in an ongoing way. I don’t think we talked to anyone specifically about helping or promoting the film once it was done. It was just kind of obvious to them that because they were interested in these issues that they would want to eventually see the film and be a part of it.
IFP: How hands-on was FUREE during production?
Anderson: Well, it’s very tricky. The first film that we made for FUREE – Someplace like Home – they controlled the editorial line, and distributed it entirely on their own. I went to a couple screenings, but we weren’t deeply involved in it. On My Brookyln, we were very, very careful with FUREE to say, “This is separate. You guys don’t have any editorial control over it.”
We have a good relationship with them, because they’re in the film, but I think it’s very important when you’re thinking about partnerships not to give away your independence as a filmmaker. So especially since FUREE is so invested in the downtown Brooklyn situation, it was important to us not to have them anywhere on the packaging on the film. They’re just like any other subject that we included, except that when it came time for distribution, they really took an active role.
IFP: Let’s talk about marketing during the production phase. What types of social media tools did you utilize before the film was finished?
Anderson: The first thing we did was a Kickstarter campaign, to raise money to hire an editor. I’d been editing on my own for a couple years, but with this one, I was just too close to the material. So we did a Kickstarter campaign and raised $20,000. What was great about Kickstarter is that it was the first time we really put the project out into the world. After the Kickstarter campaign, we already had several hundred people who were invested in the project, even if they had just contributed a dollar, or five or ten. If they donated, we had their contact info in our database, and we were able to reach out to them down the line. Kickstarter is really good for that.
IFP: How early were you on places like Facebook and Twitter promoting the film, and what was your initial messaging?
Anderson: To be honest, at first I was annoyed… I went to this workshop and heard all about how filmmakers have to be doing social media and all of that community-building stuff during the making of the film. And for me, it was really overwhelming. I couldn’t believe that in addition to getting this film made, I was supposed to be on Facebook telling people production stories, or whatever you’re supposed to do. We didn’t do that kind of thing so much. But the Kickstarter campaign forced us to start building an audience. I wouldn’t have done it if it wasn’t for Kickstarter. I never saw the value in saying, “My movie’s coming out in two years.”
IFP: How did the audience develop over time? Were there periods when people were especially active on social media, or engaging with the film in other ways?
Anderson: The Kickstarter campaign took about a whole summer, so during that time there was a lot of press and a lot of interest. And we just gathered those names. But after that, we didn’t really do much until the Brooklyn Film Festival, where we premiered the film in June of 2012. We did a lot of outreach for that.
Festivals & Event Theatrical
IFP: Tell me a bit about your festival premiere, and the lifespan of the film on the festival circuit from there.
Anderson: The Brooklyn Film Festival was great, and I think it was really great because Nathan (Kensinger) from the festival really got our film – he understood it and really wanted to show it. It wasn’t completely ready, and he kind of pushed me. He just said, “You have to do it, because Bloomberg is going to be out of office in a year, and now is the time.”
So we did it, and it was great. We sold out every screening, but those were the kinds of screenings where a lot of your family and friends come, so you still don’t really know if it’s going to translate into a bigger push. But we did win the Audience Award, shared with Su Friedrich’s Gut Renovation. That also made me think, “Wow, something’s going on with this issue,” because her film was dealing with gentrification in Williamsburg.
IFP: And how did you move from that festival premiere to holding one-off community screenings?
Anderson: After the Brooklyn Film Festival, we just got inundated with requests from community organizations. A lot of people and local organizations who are either in the film or close to the issues started to hear about it, and we did probably fifteen one-off screenings total.
That included Filmwax. I was talking with Adam Schartoff (the founder of Filmwax) about how there were all these films coming out about development issues. And so he came up with the idea of doing a series called Brooklyn Reconstructed. What was great about that was how it helped us to build an audience over time – there was this collaboration among filmmakers to get the word out about each other’s films. We were working together to figure out how to get the audiences from one film to go to the next one.
IFP: Who were some of the other partners that you held those one-off screenings with?
Anderson: There were a couple churches that hosted screenings – either their social justice committees or in collaboration with a grassroots community organization. And then people started contacting me. Schools were big – I did one screening at Long Island University, and another at Brooklyn College.
IFP: How were your deals for these one-offs structured?
Anderson: One thing I learned was – at first, you’re so broke that you want to get something back from every screening. Unless you’re the kind of person who just wants people to see your film and you show it for free everywhere, which isn’t a great idea either. But doing all these community screenings – many of them I ended up wanting to do for free. There were times when I would even negotiate an agreement to get a screening fee or split the door. And then, when it came time for the screening itself, I just couldn’t take the money, because the organizations were doing such good work.
Overall, I think doing all those free community screenings worked out great. First of all, it built up a huge amount of goodwill among people who could then turn around and promote the screenings at reRun. We had built those relationships. And it wasn’t just a monetary transaction – it felt like we were in some kind of joint venture.
IFP: Did the organizations you partnered with for those one-offs help with promotion? Or was it still mostly your team spreading the word about the film?
Anderson: The organizations would always help spread the word, but I would do it too. I would post about any and every new screening on our Facebook page, and get the word out via email as well.
This is where that email list becomes important – at every screening, I passed around a clipboard. I didn’t just leave a clipboard sitting by the door. I stood up there afterwards and said, “Hey, if you like this film and you want to know where it’s playing, or if you want to tell people to see it, we need your word of mouth. Sign this paper.” It’s so obvious, but I feel like people are shy to do that. I would put all of those names into the database, so after the summer, I had at least 1,200 emails on that list.
And going into reRun, I wrote to those people and said, “Look, you’ve seen the film, so you’re now an ambassador for the film. If you want other people to see it, spread the word. We need you to do it or it’s not going to work.” So I think that was what was really important about those curated community screenings. We used them to develop this really good list of people who are really close to the issues in the film – what you would call the low hanging fruit. Those are the people who are going to come out if there’s any film about gentrification in Brooklyn, so they’re the ones who can then talk it up to other people. From there, I think we did eventually break out of that like-minded audience.
IFP: One worry I’ve heard is that these sorts of community-based events might cannibalize the audience for an eventual theatrical in the same city. Did you find that to be the case?
Anderson: No, I didn’t find that to be the case at all. But I’m kind of glad I didn’t know about reRun, because I might have had that same fear, and held off on the community screenings. Because like I said – we really did do a lot of screenings. I would say that before we went into reRun, at least a thousand people had already seen the film in New York, mostly in Brooklyn. But instead of that being a problem, it actually became an asset.
I think the thing you have to consider is – who is the audience for your film? If it’s just your friends and family and people who worked on it, then yeah, don’t show it too much before your theatrical run. But if you have a film that you think really has an audience out there, then I would take the gamble and throw it out into the world first, and get a core of people talking about it.
IFP: Where were some of the other places that the film was available before your theatrical?
Anderson: Well, I’m part of New Day Films, which is a cooperative educational distributor. I’ve done all my films through them, including My Brooklyn. The way it works is it’s a collective, and it’s owned by all the members. We basically do the work that an educational distributor would, and we do about 1.5 million dollars in educational sales a year.
So it’s a pretty successful model, and what I’ve learned at New Day is that the educational market – which is selling to universities and colleges – is a potentially lucrative one, especially for social issue films. But you can also undermine yourself completely by making the film available too cheaply too early. I’ve made the mistake of putting a film on Netflix too early in the process.
Look, if somebody wants to use the film in their community and they ask me for a copy, I’m going to sell it to them at a home video price. But I’m not going to make it all that easy for a professor to buy a copy of my film for $25, because that does undermine sales. New Day has done a lot of research on this, and it really does. But the film is also available to stream directly on the New Day site – there’s an option of a $4.99 individual stream that you can enable.
IFP: Do you know what the total numbers were for the educational and streaming sales before reRun?
Anderson: No, because I just started distributing it through those channels around the same time as the reRun run came about. I haven’t done any real marketing yet, and I’m still getting the packaging together. I’ve probably sold only ten educational copies – but hey, that’s a few thousand dollars.
IFP: Did you always envision doing a traditional theatrical run for My Brooklyn?
Anderson: No, because first of all, I had never made a film that was feature length before – all of my previous films have been broadcast length. But with this one, I hired an editor, and she kept cutting it really long. It’s the first film I had that felt like it could do a theatrical. And then what happened was, after we were at the Brooklyn Film Festival, I started getting this outreach from certain small theater owners in the city saying, like, “Oh do you want to come show at this theater?” But the deal was you had to pay – as I got into the details I found out that you had to pay $11,000 dollars.
IFP: It’s called fourwalling.
Anderson: Yeah – fourwalling. And I couldn’t do it – I was broke, and there seemed something kind of cheesy about paying for your own theatrical. I don’t know – I think it’s okay if you do it. I just wasn’t convinced I could make the money back. So that was the end of that. I thought about it for about a day. But then Adam from Filmwax came to me and told me about the new collaboration between IFP and reRun, and I was like, “great.”
IFP: What was your initial reaction to hearing about the program?
Anderson: The first thought I had was, “Great, maybe I’ll get the Times review.” Because that’s the thing you can’t really get out of the community screenings – the press. It’s really hard to get certain press interested without a week run. But really, there didn’t seem to be much of a downside to the deal. It seemed cool. I’d never been to reRun, but I’d heard of it, and I liked the idea of it being this kind of artsy venue.
I did initially worry about how much money I would have to spend, because I was kind of stressed about money. But I thought about it and realized I would just mostly have to pay for postcards and posters, and that I would probably at least break even given the share of the door I would get from IFP.
IFP: Did you consider hiring a publicist or a distribution consultant to help with the process?
Anderson: No. Though I did hire (Associate Producer) Fivel (Rothberg) to help with outreach for the second week, once things started to take off.
Events and Partners
IFP: One of the things that I think really helped with the run was the fact that you had so many different partner organizations co-sponsoring nights. What was your initial theory behind doing that, and do you feel like it helped bring people out?
Anderson: Well IFP suggested doing that, which was great, because I hadn’t really thought about it as an option. I mean – I knew I would come out and do Q&As, and that Allison would come for some too, but then IFP suggested having sponsors and partners come out to participate in each screening, which turned out to be really helpful. I really tried to think about it not only in terms of who would be a good speaker, but also who had a good outreach capacity themselves. So a group like moCADA – the Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts – I knew they had an amazing social media presence. I see their stuff all the time all over Brooklyn. So I thought they would be great to take an active role and help spread the word. I also reached out to groups that I knew because they’d invited us to show the film already over the previous summer. It was all people we had connections to, really.
Another important thing that IFP suggested was to make sure we weren’t reaching out to all the same types of organizations. I realized I had six events planned, but they were all around the same topic. That’s when we started thinking, “Hey, maybe we can get the photographer who’s in the film to come and show some photos, or somebody to come out and talk about the cultural life and hip hop history of Fulton Mall.” So we started getting creative – thinking a little bit more outside of the usual suspects.
IFP: And what do you think the benefit of that was?
Anderson: It was great, because not only did it bring out a different audience each night, but it allowed us to put the film out there as a multi-faceted work of art. It wasn’t just an activist tool, you know? The film has a lot to say about culture, and about history.
IFP: When you were attaching partners to come and help with each screening, how did you frame the ask specifically?
Anderson: Well, more often than not, they’d already seen the film, so I knew they liked it. After I saw how things were going at reRun, I’d talk to them about how much fun it was to do these screenings, and how the discussions afterwards had been amazing so far. Then I’d ask if they – or their organization – could sponsor a night, and if they could come and speak afterwards. I’d make clear that they didn’t have to prepare anything formal, because it’s so short – it’s just a forty-five minute discussion. I would say, “After people see the whole film, they don’t really want to listen to a lecture. They just kind of want to have back and forth, but your expertise is so strong in this area that I’m going to frame it as a discussion around a specific topic.” And people would really respond to that. You’re not asking that much of them. It’s one night, and I think a lot of the guests ended up having a great time talking to folks. That whole vibe of hanging out and discussing these issues was very rich at reRun.
IFP: Were there things about your post-screening events & conversations that changed or evolved as the run went on?
Anderson: Less formal presentations. I learned that the main thing is to just turn it over to the audience. And even if we billed it as a conversation about the next election, you don’t have to talk about that. You just bring someone who could talk about it if people want to. I mean, the best discussions we’ve had were with guests who, instead of talking, moderated a discussion with the audience.
IFP: Do you think that giving audiences that kind of experience helped spread the word of mouth for the film?
Anderson: Yeah, I think so. I have no way of knowing for sure, but I know that we did generate a lot of word of mouth. I’ve had people tell me that they were in a café, and somebody was sitting next to them talking about My Brooklyn. It seems like there’s been a lot of filtering out into the community in general. The other thing that started to happen a lot was people would come see the movie, and then come back again and bring a friend the next night.
IFP: People wanted to keep participating in the conversation.
Anderson: I think people like the fact that it’s not just a screening – it’s a conversation And if they feel upset about the issues, or if they want to talk about it, they know that if they go to reRun, it’ll be screening and they can talk about it.
IFP: When I talk to other filmmakers about this model – about putting an emphasis on events and conversation each night, a lot of people sat, “Oh, that works for My Brooklyn because it’s a social interest documentary.” Or, “That works because it’s a Brooklyn film screening in Brooklyn.” But do you think that this type of model can be adopted across the board by independent filmmakers?
Anderson: I think it’s a really deep question. I don’t think it’s just because the film’s about Brooklyn and we’re in Brooklyn that it’s worked. I think that’s made it a little easier, but I’ve had the same type of experience screening the film in Vienna. People come out to see it, and talk about it, and relate it to their lives.
I think that it gets at this deep question of – why do you make films? Maybe that’s what people need to do – sit back and think about why they made the film that they made. Do you just want people to come into a theater and look at it and go home, or do you want people to talk about it afterwards? If you think people are going to want to talk about your film, then I think, yes, this model can work. What you want is for someone to leave and go tell someone else to go see it, so why not start the discussion right there.
If you have a film that you think has value for people – whether it’s political or not – then this model can help. But you have to think very specifically about the types of people that your film might speak to, and then you need to think about how to find those people. So if your film’s about music, you find people who are really into thinking and talking about music, right? And then you find those organizations and places that can reach those people, and you get them involved.
IFP: I also think that it goes to the question of, why a theatrical at all? What’s the point of putting your film on a screen and asking people to come out and see it when they can stream it at home on their couch for five dollars. Turning each night into an event, or at least a conversation, it lets people participate in the experience rather than just view passively.
Anderson: I had audiences at reRun that were upset that the speakers took up all the time, because they had so much they wanted to say. That’s the thing – people are coming out not only because they want to see the film and listen to a speaker, but because they want to be able to speak out about what they just saw.
Press & Outreach
IFP: You mentioned earlier about the importance of compiling a large email list. Can you talk a bit more about your process with that?
Anderson: I started a list that was at first just the Kickstarter people, but then I added to it anybody who was interested. This is important – you need to get an email program like Vertical Response or Constant Contact – one of those. Those are true opt-in lists, so you don’t have to go off-shore to one of the ones that let you spam. These are very strict about who’s on your list and who you can mail to – it’s true opt-in email list development. So the people from the Kickstarter campaign were the basis for that list, but anytime anyone would write to me or the website with a question – asking when the next screening was going to be or talking about how the types of issues the film explores were happening in their city, they would go on the list.
And there are obvious people that you forget. At one point I realized that my crew – people who worked on the film like the sound mixer and different PAs and the music people – they weren’t on that list. You have to make sure that all of the people affiliated with the film are on the list that you’re sending out updates to, because they’re a key audience.
IFP: What was your outreach strategy surrounding the festival premiere?
Anderson: We compiled a list of blogs – Brooklyn based blogs. Fivel Rothberg did it, who’s our Associate Producer on the film. Any blog that dealt with development, or with Brooklyn, we compiled a list. And then we did a press release about our premiere and additional press releases every single time we had an upcoming screening.
The other thing I did, which I think is important, was after we had that initial list of blogs, anytime I read an article that referenced a topic like gentrification in Brooklyn, I would write down the name of the reporter. So I had this growing list of reporters who were interested in my topic. I don’t know if any of that turned into anything tangible, but I think it might have.
IFP: Did you ever consider hiring a publicist?
Anderson: No. Someone did say to me recently, ‘Oh, it’s so interesting this strategy you have for PR. Most filmmakers hire a publicist.’ And I’m like, “Are you kidding me? We have no money to hire a publicist!” I was already thirty thousand dollars in debt when we did the Brooklyn Film Festival. Look – there are certain people that I personally don’t know how to reach, like the New York Times. But that for me was the insane upside of reRun. This partnership with IFP and reRun was amazing. I never realized that once you get a theatrical run, you can gain entry into getting the big reviews – Variety, Bloomberg News, The New York Times. I don’t know if those places would have written about the film if we didn’t have a theatrical.
But you always have this sense that there’s this magic that PR people can do. And there are lists of press that we just don’t have. But I’m trying to get them – like lists of African American media in Brooklyn. You just have to keep thinking – who are the people who have an interest in seeing this film? Because a lot of people have come out to reRun, but it’s a tiny, tiny fraction of the people in Brooklyn who are probably interested in this topic.
IFP: And how do you activate audiences during the reRun run itself? How did you task them with staying involved?
Anderson: I say, “Before we start the Q&A, I’m going to pass around two clipboards. You don’t have to sign if you don’t want to, but one of them is for My Brooklyn – if you like the movie, sign it and we’ll keep you updated. We need you to tell people about it, it’s all word of mouth.” I’d usually say something like that. And the other clipboard I’d pass around was a list for FUREE. I knew people would want to know what they could do about the issues that the film brings up, and I couldn’t answer that question specifically. It seemed like passing around a clipboard with FUREE’s contact was one way for people to get on a feed. And I would tell people, “You’ll hear from them once a month, and that’s it. If you want to know what the next big rezoning is going to be, or where, get on this list.” And I think people appreciated that. I’ve had other filmmakers say to me, “Oh, don’t you find that to be aggressive – to hand around a clipboard?” No. People don’t have to sign it. So that was the ask, and a lot of people signed.
IFP: Let’s talk a bit more about press. What were some of the other major outlets that you targeted personally?
Anderson: Well as I said earlier, we had no idea how you get a Times review, so we let IFP handle that. IFP did, like, the big film press – critics and so on. But there was definitely a certain amount of personal outreach that we did to people that we knew.
The big one was WNYC – Brian Lehrer’s radio show was huge. So many people came to the theater and said they were there because they heard us on the radio. We got that show because Allison knew someone who worked at WNYC who was able to put in a word for us. I don’t think that’s the only way to get on the show, but I think when preparing a press strategy, it’s important to do an inventory of who you know. Like, for example, during our second run, I was thinking about who else I knew, and I remembered that Errol Lewis – who has a nightly show on NY1 – had taught at Hunter College, where I teach. So I contacted the professor that he had dealt with, and said, “Can you give me his information?” And I just reached out to him and said, “I never met you while you were at Hunter, but this is my film and what I’m doing.” And he ended up saying, “Sure, come on the show.” So I think working those personal connections is really important. And they may be like a friend of a friend or something, but that’s okay.
Other press… we got this piece in the Atlantic that was great. This reporter came to the theater – she covers gentrification. Tons of people saw that piece. I know because we track the trailer hits on Vimeo, and it was like 1,500 people watched the trailer from that one thing. Sometimes when I’m reaching out to press I make it a more specific ask. Like – you can offer to write something. That’s what I did with the Huffington Post. We linked up with a reporter there when we did our Kickstarter campaign. He was a great connection, because every time there was a news peg related to our issue, he would do something to get us involved. There was a report that came out about gentrification as it was shown in the last census, and he called us, and was like, “Can you guys be interviewed?” I was like, “Sure. Right away!” Cultivating those people who are really into your issue – not just the film critics- I think that’s really important.
IFP: Were there pros or cons to you doing this outreach yourself as the director of the film, rather than somebody else doing it for you?
Anderson: Well I know what the cons are – it’s hard to just keep asking people for things. What was great was having (Associate Producer) Fivel Rothman doing it too. Because a lot of times, I did the ones that I had a personal connection with, but for some of the colder ones, it’s just nice to have someone else to work with you.
IFP: Do you have any other advice for filmmakers attempting to spearhead a press campaign without the help of a publicist?
Anderson: You have to get good quotes from people. Even before your theatrical, you need to get your press quotes. Call up influential writers or academics, anybody. We had a quote on the postcard from a guy named Don Mitchell that said, “Anybody who cares about cities needs to see My Brooklyn.” And Don Mitchell happens to be a very famous geographer – I don’t think most people know who he is, but they see that quote on the postcard, and it looks like someone who knows what they’re talking about. And that’s such a great way to get people interested in seeing your film.
IFP: What about physical marketing? Can you talk a bit about how many posters and postcards you printed, and your strategy for distributing them?
Anderson: I think I’ve probably had about thirty or forty 11×17 posters in addition to the ones I gave reRun to hang up. So those we went around and distributed. That’s a really good way to involve people, actually. There was one guy who lived in Bed Stuy, who said he’d be willing to distribute posters. He just offered to do it – he came to the movie over the summer, and he was like, “Whatever I can do. I’d be happy to get the word out.” So I was like, “Sure.” Now he’s a rep for the film. Before every run, I just give him a pile of postcards and posters, and he goes around and distributes them in his neighborhood.
And that’s great – because he’s got those relationships. People living in a neighborhood are likely to have relationships with some of the business owners there, which is really good because then they’ll let you put a poster in the window. There aren’t many places that you can randomly hang stuff in – you need to ask. So I think it’s really great to have a person in each neighborhood near the theater if you can.
In terms of postcards, I would recommend printing around 2,500. And it works. During the run, I asked a lot of people how they’d found out about the movie. And people told me that they picked up a postcard in a local business in their neighborhood. That’s how they heard about it.
IFP: Did you devote any money to advertising – either online or in print?
Anderson: Nope. I didn’t think of it. Maybe I would have. Actually – I did a couple of Facebook pay to promote posts. I think I spent around twenty dollars promoting Facebook posts.
IFP: Tell me a bit about the online campaign surrounding the theatrical release. How did you use Facebook, Twitter, and your email list to promote the run?
Anderson: Well one thing we did that I want to mention is – we got a website up. We designed a WordPress site that basically listed upcoming screenings, and had a description, the trailer, a list of key people involved with the film, and a blog on the front page. And as much as we could, we tried to keep that blog from feeling too stale or old. We would also accumulate press on the website, and had photos so that press that needed pictures could grab them. That’s all really important – to make that stuff easily available.
So besides that, there was a Facebook page. Twitter we haven’t used as well as we could. But one thing we’re doing now is – we’re actually setting up a bulletin board for people who want to discuss the film. That’s not up yet, but it’s something we’re thinking about, because Facebook and the website, they just don’t seem like the best places to have a conversation.
IFP: What about the Facebook event for the run? How early did you set that up, and what was your general strategy around promoting that?
Anderson: The difficult thing about doing a Facebook event for a theatrical run is that you can really only have the event show for one day in the calendar. So one thing I learned to do is go in every day during the reRun run and change it to the next day so that people continue to see it in their Facebook accounts. Otherwise it’ll just go into the past events folder and you’ll never see it again. Another key thing we did with the Facebook event was make people hosts, people close to the film who could then turn around and invite their own friends in a personalized way. That’s important.
I do think it’s also important though to not to think of Facebook as the world. There are still so many people who are sending out emails about events. The most valuable thing to me is – you have to personally ask. I remember at one point thinking, “Who are the ten people I’m going to get to sit down and write emails to their friends to tell them about this movie?” And the ask is not just, “Please share.” No. It’s, “Isabel Hill – you know a lot of people who care about this issue. Will you commit to me that you’re going to sit down in the next two days and write an email telling friends how important it is and why?” People don’t want to do it, but if you can find a few, I think it goes a really long way. Like, if a personal friend sends me an email saying that I have to see this film and it’s not just a forwarded thing, it’s actually really valuable.
IFP: What are your next steps for the film? Do you have more theatrical planned outside of New York?
Anderson: I hope so. I certainly know that I get emails from all over the United States, if not the world. I’ve gotten really serious emails from Washington DC, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Chicago, Boston, LA, so I know there’s an interest in doing more. Whether we can figure out how to organize a whole theatrical run in all those places, I don’t know.
But because of this reRun run and the attention around it, I’ve also gotten a lot of requests from festivals that I never even applied for. Those include Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival, Frankfurt. Belfast, Vancouver, New Orleans. I’ve gotten a lot of people just requesting the film out of the blue. And I got invited to go to China! That came in through the website too, so at first I thought they maybe have the wrong person or something. But it turns out that the American Planning Association does this conference in China, and the goal of it is to bring in people from outside the professional planning world. They invite a couple of provocative keynote speakers, and then everyone breaks out into groups and discusses. So I’m totally excited about that, that’s hopefully happening this summer.
For me, being able to travel with the film is amazing. The conversations internationally are super interesting, or even in other cities in the US where there are differences in terms of what’s happening there. It’s always very substantive. I get very few filmmaking questions – nothing about what I shot on or anything like that.
IFP: So it sounds like you’re going to be on the road with this film for a long time. Do you have a cutoff date? Do you know if there’s a specific time when you’ll say, “Okay, that’s it. Now it’s time to move on to the next project?”
Anderson: No, because I feel like it’s not that often that you make a film that hits. And I think that’s what’s happening with My Brooklyn, and it’s really enjoyable. We all spend so much time asking people to fund our films, to help make our films, and to watch our films, and when people actually want to watch your film, to me that’s special. It feels like I’ve been pushing this rock up a hill for years, and then finally, it just started rolling on its own. And I’m just trying to keep up with it, I guess.
IFP: Has this whole experience changed the way that you’re thinking about the filmmaking process and how you’ll approach your next project?
Anderson: I guess in a certain way I’ve realized that it’s okay if your film doesn’t get sanctioned in the traditional sense. This film is not on POV, it didn’t get money from Sundance, it didn’t go to Sundance Film Festival or SXSW, and it’s not going to be on Independent Lens. I guess what I’ve realized is that despite all of that, the film is kicking ass. And I think it’s really important to realize that your film can do really well, even if it’s not one of that small handful of films that gets a huge spotlight shown on it. And I think that’s really encouraging. I know friends of mine who are filmmakers who are encouraged by what’s happening with this film. Because it used to be easier, you know? A lot of my friends have been making films for twenty years, thirty years, even longer. And it’s hard – it’s very hard now. It used to be easier to make a film and get it shown. I think that what I’m learning with My Brooklyn is, yeah – do I wish it was going to be on POV? Of course. But that doesn’t mean that it’s not a tremendous success in its own way. And I think it’s really important to not peg everything to those few names, you know?
IFP: What types of filmmakers would you recommend the reRun program to?
Anderson: I think it’s really good for people who have strong films that can’t afford to fourwall. I think if you’re really shy and you don’t like to talk about your movie, or be around when it’s showing, it might be hard. It’s not the kind of thing where I’d suggest just dropping your film off and never being there. It’s better if you can go, and I think it’s important to want to engage with other people around your film. I think if you’re comfortable doing that, it’s great. But really, I would recommend it to anybody. I just think it’s a really great way to give good films a leg up. There are so many films that are worthy of it, and it’s just so hard without a theatrical or broadcast.
It opened the door for my film to do well on a higher level. It was doing well locally, but I didn’t know how to move it out further than just Brooklyn. And this platform really did allow me to expand the visibility of the film in a huge way, and in a way that I never could have done on my own. I think I’m pretty good at talking up my movie, but there’s just something about having those reviews and that consistent screening every night that took it to a different level.
If you have a distributor who thinks you can open in Manhattan and in a bunch of other cities, great. But there are so many good films that don’t have that. So it’s just another little shot at something that will make your film successful. There’s not too many good opportunities compared to the number of great filmmakers out there. And it did feel like a door to something else to me. We were poised to take advantage of it, so it was us too, but I do think that without that opening, we wouldn’t be doing anything like we’re doing now.