Last year I became incensed that Strand Releasing was too cheap to book LA screenings for Paddy Considine‘s Tyrannosaur, and so I asked HE readers for donations and raised enough to pay for three or four screenings. Now I’m wondering if Side by Side, the upcoming and very worthwhile doc about the great transiation from celluloid to digital, also needs a little HE charity work. Because I’m feeling those anemic vibes again.
Side by Side‘s distributor, Tribeca Film, and IDPR, the p.r. firm hired to promote it, haven’t booked any L.A. or N.Y. screenings yet, and it opens in LA and NY in about three and four weeks, respectively. (The VOD debut is 8.22.) Instead Tribeca and IDPR are offering to send DVD screeners to those who want them. Which, no offense, is a bullshit, half-assed way of promoting a film. I’m a Side by Side fan, and so right away I began wondering if Tribeca really cares.
I realize that many critics and journalists keep up with new releases via DVD screeners. It’s a perfectly servicable way of putting a film “out there,” and for all I know some critic-journalists prefer home viewing. But if you want critics and journalists and word-of-mouth starters to really pay attention to a film, you have to get them to come to a screening room. Screenings are a way of saying you mean business. It’s a way of saying “we really want you to sit down in a dark room together and study our film because it genuinely deserves your utmost attention.”
I know what I’m talking about when I say that DVD screeners never get that. Most of the time you’re multi-tasking or on the phone while watching them. You’ll wind maybe half-watching or two-thirds watching, but never 100%. Sometimes the film gets a third of your attention. Sometimes you wind up watching it in segments. Sometimes you’ll watch it late at night and nod out on the couch.
This morning I wrote 35 or 40 name-brand critics and columnists to ask if they’ve seen Side by Side, and except for three who saw it at the Tribeca Film Festival, one who saw it last February in Berlin and one who’s expecting to receive a screener, everyone I’ve heard back from said no, they haven’t seen it, haven’t been contacted, haven’t heard about screenings or generally don’t have Side by Side on their radar.
The respondents included Roger Ebert, N.Y. Times critic A.O. Scott, Hollywood Reporter critic Todd McCarthy, Marshall Fine, Variety‘s Steven Gaydos, Badass Digest‘s Devin Faraci, AICN’s Moises Chiullan, Hollywood Reporter award-season columnist Scott Feinberg, Boston Herald‘s James Verniere, N.Y. Times columnist Dave Kehr, Miami Herald critic Rene Rodriguez, Arizona-based critic Phil Villarreal, Indiewire columnist Anne Thompson, Indiewire editor Dana Harris, The Oregonian‘s Shawn Levy, MSN’s Glenn Kenny, freelancer Katherine Brodsky, and MCN’s Michael Wilmington. It can be safely presumed, I think, that most of those who didn’t reply haven’t seen it, and/or haven’t been told about viewing options.
So it seems to me that Tribeca Film is dilly-dalllying. Which is a way of saying that the film’s producer, Keanu Reeves‘ Company Films, is also dicking around with a nickle-and-dime, wing-and-a-prayer attitude. Am I to understand that Keanu doesn’t want to cough up two or three grand to pay for screening-room showings in NY and LA? That’s not a lot of dough, bro. Didn’t you make anything on those Matrix films?
I was told this morning that Tribeca will start getting serious about getting people to see Side by Side starting on August 1st. Fine. But if I wanted to kill Side by Side, I would play it exactly and precisely as Tribeca and IDPR have so far — no early interviews, no buzz, no long-lead screenings, no energy, NO NOTHING. In their defense Keanu has been directing a Tai-Chi film in China, and Chris Kenneally, the director of Side by Side, has been wandering around Southeast Asia and more or less unreachable for a long stretch.
Keanu will be doing a press day on Tuesday, August 7th. (I’ve got the IDPR invite in my inbox.) Which is 11 days from now with almost no one having seen it or even aware that they should see it. Is this any way to run an airline?
I get the concept of operating within a budget but I really like Side by Side and I cannot stand idly by. I just can’t.