For debut filmmaker C.J. Julianus, the word “interesting” would be an understatement describing the effort it took to sell his new independent crime comedy, The Misadventures Of Mistress Maneater. The film, which stars Lorrisa Julianus in the title role alongside Mickey O’Sullivan and Shannon Brown, was released for a limited time last Fall on Amazon Prime and Vimeo-On-Demand, and is now stationed at Indie Rights for distribution, and released as of last week on Friday, April 2.
The acquisition marks the latest update for the humble production from the Julianus’ shared Binary Star Pictures banner. Lead actress Julianus put in more than her own weight on the production on top of starring in the film from her own script, painting an acrylic replica written as a long-lost, priceless 17th century Baroque style oil painting. The painting becomes crucial as the film’s plot unfolds – about a dominatrix who stumble upon a chance romance with a handsome, albeit knotty Episcopalian priest, which forces her to choose between consorting with a courrpt politician in order to bail herself out of debt with her Russian mobster ex-boyfriend, or following her heart.
The film had a preliminary launch via Amazon and Vimeo On Demand in a small window last October. Piracy issues notwithstanding, the Julianus’ remained steadfast on solidifying the film’s distribution, a learning process pertaining to the business side of the film industry which he elucidated as “more of an eye-opener” and “very close to a bucket of ice water dumped on your head” in a statement to Film Combat Syndicate this week.
Potential distributors were reportedly misattributing his romantic crime comedy – the result, he says, of how difficult it is to simply get a distributor to even look at a film these days.
“The response? ‘Oh, you guys made a nice little HORROR [sic] movie.'”, Julianus says of one previous prospective buyer who he abstained from signing with.
Julianus states that it is “the rare filmmaker who can make a small budget film look like a million dollars was spent on it”, which, nonetheless, is the goal that filmmakers should strive for, despite the many hitches that come with being a beginning filmmaker in today’s industry which he mainly considers as “a numbers game”.
“In the not so distant past, if you got distribution, you might get a decent upfront sum, and your film had the opportunity to make a decent amount more if it was released theatrically, and on top of that, streaming platforms paid a relatively decent amount of money. Those days are long gone.” he said, alluding to what he considers as “the old days” a few years ago, when filmmakers getting distribution was considered the Holy Grail for independent filmmakers.
Among the plethora of topics Julianus elucidates, including marketing and the penchants of some distributors about movies they seek to represent, he tells us about the drastic decrease of commissions on a film streaming per hour that’s become the norm in the last few years – one cent per hour viewed on Prime, for instance – and if a film fares well on the platform, the compensation can go up to six cents per hour viewed, further adding to the difficulties of parsimony for filmmakers like him. At one point he warns against notions of upfront funding, or even accepting pittances if it can help ward off being reluctantly enveloped into a fifteen-year contract.
“Maintaining a low budget and sticking to it is paramount if you want to make a return to do your next film,” he says, while also mentioning the “double-edged sword” risk that looms from cost cutting, suggesting that audiences do know the difference between “good”, as opposed to “scant productions values”.
“For anyone who has seen a poorly staged play or a badly-produced movie, we know how painful that experience can be.” he says.
A lot of these details and insights go missing when it comes to the talk of supporting independent filmmakers and nipping piracy in the bud. Many of those who read niche sites like this one oftentimes share space in the Uri Boyka fanclub waiting for the next Scott Adkins action flick, most of whom never truly look into the specifics of what filmmakers go through when it comes to seeking distribution, save for what some of us read in the trades.
With a sequel currently in development, it’ll be another interesting case study to see how Julianus (with respect to other independent filmmakers) manages to craft it all together, particularly when it comes to the budget, and all the pertinent issues that would otherwise find people feeling stonewalled; factors that small time independent filmmakers can maintain control over, such as script quality, pre-production engagement, location scouting and security, and especially, distribution companies and the kinds of films they acquire.
“We found that there is a definitely an icky side,” says Julianus, who credits the sympathetic filmmakers he’s acquainted with and interviewed to learn more about many of the small, independent film distributors and what makes them tick. He goes on to say that many distributors “have an excellent pitch” and are skillfully able to sell you what they are capable of and claim they can do for you and your movie, while it’s important to dive into discussions with other experienced and aspiring filmmakers who’ve actually signed a contract with companies – as he says he was encouraged to do by Indie Rights – so as to learn what many of these acquisitions and commitments mean for the business today.
Othe topic of promises either made or kept by distribution companies – i.e. payments, accounting, statements, and tragically, even correspondence – Mr. Julianus says, “In many, MANY cases, we found out that those promises are rarely kept.” I’m reminded of a similar situation I recently learned about with Unlucky Stars helmer Dennis Ruel, and the expenses he ultimately endured acquire the rights to his movie back and finally attain a proper distributor. Another director I know of spoke of at least one UK banner who released a recent title only for it to get pirated and torrented, making no money in the long haul.
For Julianus, having been through the process and attaining first-hand experience that rarely gets discussed, the picture he paints is clear and simple: Keep a mindful focus on the craft no matter how arduous the process is in certain aspects, and an attentiveness to the realities of film.
“Most distributors don’t give a hang about the artistic accomplishments in your film, if it’s well-done, if it’s completely unique, if the script is stellar, if the production values are amazing, if the acting is superb, if the direction is top-notch…NONE of that. What they really care about getting you to sign that contract,” he says, tacking on marketing as one major factor in the remaining phases of a film’s post-production, and he makes a point; One other director I’m familiar with completed a film recently, and has been nary reliant on a trailer up until this year after months of staving off the idea of cutting one due to lack of inability.
“Distributors are not marketing companies, and they never will be, so be sure you keep a significant portion of your budget set aside for marketing, because marketing is expensive, and without it – again – your film will languish.” he says. “We want our films to be seen and appreciated. So not only do you need to make a film so good that it can’t be ignored, you also need to add to your skills and become a master marketer and advertiser. Most filmmakers don’t want to hear this, but it’s the absolute truth. No one cares about your movie as much as you do, and the sooner we accept the truth, the sooner success will come to us.”
The Misadventures Of Mistress Maneater is now available on Amazon Prime courtesy of Indie Rights.