The director of the addiction doc 'The Anonymous People' explains how his film made $200k in four months without traditional marketing or distribution, and makes an argument for bringing issue documentaries directly to theaters on demand.
After people see my first feature film, The Anonymous People, an independent documentary about the emerging addiction recovery advocacy movement in the United States, they sometimes ask me why I’m not peddling it at film festivals in hopes of a more traditional release.
I usually give them one of two answers.
First, there is a huge sense of urgency around bringing solutions to the issue of addiction in our communities. Addiction is second only to diabetes in terms of the numbers of people who have the illness and is now the leading cause of death for young people under 30 in the United States. So, I needed to get the movie in front of as many of those people as I could as fast as I could. This leads me to my second response and the beauty of a brand new distribution method for independent films.
There is this new cinema-viewing model called TOD or Theatrical On Demand pioneered by Gathr Films. The model is perfect for Kickstarter-backed social issue films like The Anonymous People that have a viewing audience already invested in the project. There’s virtually no traditional marketing involved with TOD; social media and word-of-mouth triggers ticket sales.
Since my film has a giant target audience among those who have been touched by addiction (if you don’t think you have been, watch the movie because that’s all of us), using the Gathr model rapidly emerged as the quickest and most efficient way to get the movie in front of more than 20,000 viewers in just four months at the end of 2013.
Thus far, The Anonymous People has grossed more than $200,000 through Gathr’s Theatrical On Demand model, second only to a film they distributed TOD style, called Girl Rising, a documentary about educating and empowering girls in impoverished countries that has grossed over $1.6 million!
The difference between my movie and Girl Rising, which is a terrific film about a worthy cause, is Girl Rising’s team has a large staff promoting the movie. Plus, before the film premiered, they took several years to engage women’s groups around the issue. They also had a CNN broadcast deal early on.
The Anonymous People promotions crew is me, a couple of part-time paid contractors and a few thousand loud-and-proud recovery advocates. We have no marketing budget or broadcast distribution deals. What we do have is people, lots of people.
The trajectory of our Gathr screening and box office numbers grows exponentially each time the film is shown because at every single screening, viewers can’t stop talking about the movie. They want to know how they can help the cause. How can they get involved?
As successful as 2013 was for The Anonymous People, we’ve only clipped the tip of the iceberg. Learning from Girl Rising’s targeted success with TOD, instead of creating a traditional shotgun commercial marketing campaign in the film world, I focused my precious time and minimal resources on outreach efforts towards the people and organizations already connected to the cause -- there are 23 million people in the United States alone who are in recovery from addiction not including their families, friends, and supporters -- and since Gathr provides a way for me to capture a theatrical audience virtually wherever and whenever it exists, the hyper-local outreach I’m doing is truly paying off.
The film highlights this phenomenon and the story centers on the emerging recovery advocacy movement that follows the example of other social health movements similar to breast cancer and HIV/AIDS awareness movements. The key to our Gathr screenings is that people come together and, inspired by the film, have the all-important community conversation about next steps and taking action.
Our film has also been helped by a partnership with a national non-profit organization, Faces & Voices of Recovery, to build a brand new call-to-action platform, ManyFaces1Voice.org, specifically designed to provide guidance, support and direction on how to screen this film in your community and have that all important life-saving conversation.
For this filmmaker, far more important than festival awards was my motivation for making the film in the first place: real world utility and social change. If this applies to your film, I advise you to do what I did and bring it straight to the people!