By Mat Levy
This year, we had a very welcome guest sponsor host the Filmmakers Lounge at SXSW kindly offering free lunch and guidance to filmmakers.
With a huge kiosk in store and sitting around in red polo shirts, one would never guess that the three people hanging in this lounge were some of the most powerful heads of the Home Video industry, they are the buyers of RED BOX.
With 40,000+ Redbox rental kiosks, you may have even taken advantage of their ultra-convenient rental services. With an average of $1.00 per night, it's hard to resist taking 2 or 3 films out for the family with your daily grocery store visits.
The exposure element for these films are quite impressive as well.
40,000 KIOSKS PEOPLE. Just 12 rentals of your film a week from each system means nearly half a million people are watching your film in a 7-day span.
This is great for new filmmakers that want to get known on the scene quickly as well as the ancillary benefits of your film getting recommended to a ton of friends, being written about on social media, and the inevitable blog postings.
So does this prolific renting translate to profits?
The short answer – yes! For arguments sake (and profits of course depend on your distribution deal), even making $.50-$1.00 per outright DVD purchase at 40,000 locations will most likely propel you to higher profits than even the most bullish of indie ITunes sales for one single week.
Of course, one of the drawbacks for indie filmmakers looking to get into Redbox is the limited storage space. Remember...It's a BOX. Many major studios do have direct deals with Redbox, which make indie buys a bit limited . But Redbox does have a history of picking up indie films that they think will sell.
So what does your film need to propel itself to Redbox glory?
The #1 ANSWER is KEY ART!
While pitching OUR titles to Red Box, key art will always be top of the radar. I could have the new Angelina Jolie/Brad Pitt romantic comedy and if the key art does not have either star's name or image on the box art, it will actually be a tough pitch!
Of course celebrity is first and foremost. If you have a major star, EXPLOIT them. Use whatever you have that you think would interest an average consumer.
Often times, I have filmmakers that don't want to jeopardize their story and subject by putting a major star on the front cover that doesn't exactly have a key role in the film.
Doing something like this is very loyal to your craft and I'm sure your "not so recognizable" leads in the film, but unfortunately won't translate to sales.
SELL OUT! SELL OUT! SELL OUT!
If you have a star like Kate Hudson or James Franco, but they are in the movie for 10 minutes, they should absolutely get a front cover appearance. Maybe not JUST put them on the front cover, but give them a key feature in the cover that tells the viewer that they play a crucial role in transforming the story of the film.
People often complain about posters like "The Mexican" where Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts are featured on the front cover, but have very little screen time together. Sorry to tell you, but the studio still got your butt in the seats and didn't particularly "lie" to you either.
"The Godfather" ONLY has Marlon Brando on the front cover although there are at least 5 key characters that have important features in the story (and on a side note, I still argue he should have received more a supporting role Oscar for this film).
And what if you don't have any stars in the film? What to do now?
SEX! VIOLENCE! SHOCK VALUE!
Look, the truth is you probably don't have much time to stand there and read in depth descriptions of every film in the Red Box. You want something that excites you and you want it NOW! Therefore, you want a film where you know the KEY plot elements in less than 5 seconds.
A beautiful woman with a confused look on her face sandwiched between a Jock in a letterman jacket and Geek with glasses, plaid pants and a bow tie both fawning over her really doesn't leave much element of surprise for the story. This is a great thing! Who gets the girl? Will it be the typical jock victory or a twist? Chances are we know exactly what this is about in that 5 second period. Lets read a further description!
Remember though, this will only work if the actors and their stereotypes associated with them are in clear view to the consumer. Their expressions must be spot on as well. If you make them all happy, we will imagine they are all friends and there is no conflict. What fun is that? If you have a pompous look from the jock, a sweet element from the geek, and once again that look of bewilderment from the beautiful woman, we now have enough elements to stay on this page and not move onto your third rental of "Gravity."
And how about horror? Probably the easiest way for an indie to get into a Redbox system.
Do you have a scary villain? Do you a grotesque version of that villain that nobody else could compare with? More importantly, a grotesque image of what the villain does that makes them evil? Does he hack you with an Ax? Does he live in your closet? SHOW ACTION SHOTS. Once again, there are a lot of scary films out there, but it is about choosing just the right image that makes your scary film pop out as a horrifying element that stays with the consumer.
Title treatment and color are EXTREMELY important elements as well. My buyers at Redbox will be very critical if you use a dark shade of red rather than a lighter shade that won't stand out in the system.
SPEND MONEY on your graphic design. If you throw your buddy $300 for graphic design, it will surely look like $300. We are talking exposure to 40,000 boxes here. Save a pretty penny of your budget to not create those behind the scenes DVD extras that will probably just appease your cast and crew and actually put it into what will translate into SALES!
In short, YES, other elements will get you nice consideration for Red Box, such as an Oscar, at least $1 million in Box Office, or a Palm D'or, but considering many of these elements are a bit more of a challenge to the true indies, I'd start working on the surefire element that will help you "break into the box". Start working on that front cover and while your movie might not cost as much as "Gravity," at least one key element of your presentation can certainly appear that way while it sits side by side with the Oscar winning flick.