September 1, 2015 marked Shout! Factory’s release of our micro budget indie movie Army of Frankensteins on Blu Ray, DVD, On Demand, and Digital. It can currently be found on the shelves at Best Buy, Walmart, Family Video, Hastings, f.y.e., and Vintage Stock, or streaming on Amazon, iTunes, VUDU, YouTube and Google Play. I’m very excited and proud of our team, but I’m not writing this to boast. As a matter of fact, I am just as surprised as anyone. Instead, I wanted to share the process of how this all happened. It’s my hope that anyone who dreams of making a movie and getting distribution can use this information to help move their own projects forward.
Army of Frankensteins was my first feature film. I wrote the screenplay and directed the movie working closely with local friends / producers Josh McKamie and Andy Swanson. We did everything we could to keep our budget as low as possible. I originally told my wife I’d need $10,000, but we ended up spending around $30,000 out of our savings. The rest of the budget was provided by the production company the three of us work for.
We made the movie because we wanted to.
The reason I made the movie is pretty simple. I wanted to grow as a filmmaker and have fun working with my friends - that’s it. People asked what our plans were for distribution and all I could promise was that the film would be completed. Anything beyond that was up in the air and, honestly, I prepared myself for it to do nothing.
We started shooting in September of 2012. We shot on nights and weekends (since we couldn’t during normal work hours) for about 8 months total. After the first month, we had enough footage to cut together a teaser trailer, and we posted it on Youtube. It was shared around on a few popular blogs and even Fangoria mentioned us in an interview with Frankenstein’s Army director Richard Raaphorst, asking him if he had heard of the “Frankenstein’s Army ripoff.” People were either loving the teaser or laughing at it, but they were talking about it. We started a Facebook page for the movie, began documenting our progress and worked on building a fanbase. Richard Raaphorst himself even sent us a few encouraging messages on social media. Articles about the movie were being written and shared all over the internet, and we were starting to see lots of positive buzz. People wanted to see our movie!
We didn’t listen to the warnings about sales agents.
Here’s where things start to get interesting. Since our film title and premise were bizarro, we started to get offers from sales agents to represent our film before we were even finished shooting it. Ultimately, we decided to sign with Empress Road Pictures out of Los Angeles. It turned out to be a great decision. They were down to earth and we truly believed that they had our best interests in mind. They genuinely wanted us to succeed. In September 2013, we sent Empress Road a copy of the movie that was literally half finished. They wanted to take the movie to the American Film Market (AFM) that November, so we rushed picture lock and went crazy trying to get the movie 90% finished in just two months.
If your movie goes to a film market, let it go without you.
AFM was a crazy experience. We screened at a theatre in Santa Monica to 20 buyers who all walked out within the first 10 minutes. It was hard for me to watch people leave even though I had been warned ahead of time by our sales agent that it was common practice. Lots of decisions are made based on that first 10 minutes. For this reason, it’s so important to make sure that it’s the best it can be.
Meanwhile, our agents had meetings scheduled with hundreds of potential buyers from all over the world. After about a month and a spreadsheet full of “passes”, we got our first “yes” from Transformer Inc. to distribute our film in Japan. Transformer designed cover art featuring a guy who’s not even in the movie and renamed the movie Human Weapon. Our film was released in Japan on DVD in August 2014.
Positive reviews can make a big difference. Negative reviews can kill sales.
After AFM, we spent the spring of 2014 frantically finishing the movie. Empress Road was able to secure additional distribution deals with China, Germany, and the UK, but we hadn’t had any domestic offers yet. Every few weeks they would update the list of studios who passed on the film. During that time, we were still building up our Facebook page and had close to 10,000 followers. Our page would get occasional requests from film reviewers and one day Ain't It Cool News asked for a screener. I was floored because this was a website I had been going to for years to get movie news. I immediately called Empress Road, who expressed concerns that a negative review from a big site this early in the journey could really hurt our chances of a sale. Together, we decided that it would be worth the risk and sent them our screener. A few weeks later, Ain't It Cool News posted their review calling the movie, ”amazingly fun” and “a love letter to classic horror movies”. That was a big relief to say the least.
Three days after the review another message hit our inbox. This time it was Shout! Factory asking if we had sold the domestic rights to our film. I immediately passed the message along to Empress Road. They did a great job of representing us and negotiated a deal with Shout! Factory that they recommended we take, so we did. We then spent almost a year on the festival circuit, screening at about 15 small/medium film festivals. The movie was well received, won some awards and more importantly, attending the festivals connected us with several filmmakers all across the country, many of whom we are now working with on our next project.
The US Release
Three years after the first day of production, Shout! Factory released Army of Frankensteins on September 1, 2015. People everywhere are now watching the movie, leaving comments and writing reviews. Some good, some bad, but that’s to be expected. It’s crazy to see the cult following the film is starting to create. Loyal fans embracing the film and “geeking out” over it is something we honestly never expected. We get pictures from fans every day of them buying the film, watching the film with friends and in some cases asking for autographs. We’re amazed to see people all over the world having fun watching Army of Frankensteins. It also doesn’t hurt that we’ve paid back our investors and they’re ready to fund our next movie!
What we did right:
- We came up with a compelling premise and title.
- We made the film in a genre where low budgets are more acceptable. We still get criticized for our special effects while others see them as fitting in with the tone of the movie.
- We couldn’t afford a movie star, so we used a “name” that was in public domain. We then used it incorrectly (according to purists) to get people talking.
- We kept the budget as low as possible. Most of the money was spent in front of the camera. We were able to rely on the enthusiastic support of a tight-knit Oklahoma independent film scene. We had many volunteer crew members and we didn’t have to pay for any of our locations.
- We chose to shoot on the cameras we had in house rather than rent expensive cameras. No one comments about how we didn’t use a certain type of camera. We had used our Panasonic AF-100s on many projects and knew how to get good results from them. 4K was never an issue although this is now changing to where 4K will soon be a requirement.
- We relentlessly promoted our teaser trailer and Facebook page. I’m sure we annoyed a lot of people, but I’ve learned that every week, there’s a whole new army of people who have never heard of the movie.
- We signed with a sales agent that understood and specialized in our genre. They helped us navigate the business side of selling the movie, something we had very little experience in.
- We submitted the movie to festivals that were accepting of our type of movie. We screened the movie for audiences and formed long lasting relationships.
What we did wrong:
- We didn’t realize the importance of the first ten minutes of a movie. That’s all a potential buyer will likely watch.
- Because of all of the visual effects work and a very tight deadline, we had to lock our final edit before we got to test the movie for audiences. The result is a runtime that’s a little longer than we would like.
What was pure luck:
- Movies featuring Frankenstein’s monster were coming out left and right. I Frankenstein, Frankenstein’s Army, plus The Frankenstein Theory to name a few, and now Victor Frankenstein is about to hit theaters. Our movie is easily the most lo-fi of all of these, but is mentioned with them all the time.
- We set our "period piece" in the right period. We were fortunate to find an amazing civil war re-enactment group in our area. They provided soldiers, costumes, guns, tents, locations, horses and even a working cannon. They were very affordable and great guys to work with.
If you take anything away from this article, I hope it’s this:
Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it! We live in Oklahoma and had absolutely ZERO Hollywood connections when we started. If we can do it, anyone can!!
If you are a fellow filmmaker or a fan, I’d love to hear from you. It’s always fun to talk to other filmmakers and swap stories and give / get advice!
Our email is [email protected]
In the meantime, go out and pick up your copy of Army of Frankensteins today! You can find it at Walmart, Best Buy, Hastings, f.y.e., Vintage Stock and Family Video, or streaming on iTunes, Amazon, VUDU, YouTube and Google Play.