Within the independent film world, prestige is the name of the game.
It’s all about where you premiere, who represents you, what kind of release you have. (Theatrical, limited, wide? Oh my!) There is an almost superstitious belief that the entire course of your film’s life is determined by what is really just the beginning… and if you blow it, you’re damaged goods.
Yet it’s not that simple anymore. On-demand streaming platforms provide an endless array of options to get your film out to the world, and one doesn’t necessarily preclude the others. Many indies find their home, and possibly even their distributor, long after their premiere. In fact my very first feature, Nothing Sacred, just landed one this year—and it was shot when I was a (very green) 19-year-old, in 2006, nearly a decade ago!
The 10 Commandments of Chloe is an understated, smart little film about overcoming yourself, directed by Princeton Holt and starring myself as Chloe. The film was also co-written and co-produced by Princeton and me, and the story of its creation and its journey into the world of indie film is some parts dream-come-true, some parts cautionary-tale—and, just like Chloe’s story in the film itself, its last scene should really be interpreted as a happy ending.
Chloe was made on a wing and a prayer, planned over phone conversations between Princeton and me from across the country, and cast and shot in less than a week in Nashville, Tennessee. The talent we found there and the dozens of happy accidents were nothing short of miraculous; for a no-budget film with hardly any pre-production or a concrete script, it ended up winning nine awards and having a serendipitous premiere at Calgary International Film Festival, where it was a Discovery Award Nominee. The late 2013 premiere was followed by a nice U.S. festival run, where it scooped up some more awards and notability.
During that festival run, we got some interest from a well-known, reputable distribution/production company that offered to step in and back the release of a new, slightly altered cut of the film. They would provide the music licensing rights, and give it a post/FX cleanup job done by an Academy Award-nominated in-house team.
I asked our film’s new (and very prominent) attorney: Did it matter that the film had already shown in places around the U.S. and, in fact around the world? Or that we had, at one point, briefly put it out online? The lawyer waved away the question like it was fruit fly: “That’s not a problem. I think you should just play [the existing version] down as much as possible; we’re not talking about millions of sales here.” He then regaled us with tales of other well-known indie film reincarnations that had made minor changes to deftly avoid the “premiere” rule.
No, we weren’t talking millions of anything. Maybe a hundred views during a two-week period in mid-2013. We’d gotten a handful of rejections and were just burnt out—before the premiere, after dozens of festival submissions, but before any bites—so we’d decided to put the film up on our production company’s website. We didn’t promote much, because neither of us were sure it was the right move, and shortly thereafter we got our first jury prize (Best Actress at IndieFest) and took it down…