It’s not new news anymore. Dave Wruck and Ron Patrick and I have spent two-plus years making a movie about the international women’s flat-track roller derby scene. Two years may seem like a long stretch of time, but it hasn’t been nearly enough time for us to figure out the Rubik’s Cube of film distribution. Making a film is fun and challenging and rewarding and hard and creative and tedious and exciting and tearful, all at once. But you make it happen by putting one foot in front of the other and trying not to misstep. Respect your subject, love your audience, strive for truth. That was our battle-cry in making “Derby, Baby!”
Distributing a film is a whole ‘nother thing. And we’ve had to mull over some tough questions in the process: How do we get this film seen by the world? Do we want to pimp our wares on the film festival circuit and hope to attract the love of a behemoth distributor? Should we try to prove our marketability to the Big Theater Chains in the U.S? Do we try to get our hands on hundreds of thousands of dollars in corporate sponsorship dollars so we can buy 7-day runs in independent theaters in all the biggest U.S. markets? (Will we ever get back a fraction of the money we’ve spent on this film?)
The answers are ‘we don’t know, yes, maybe, no and probably not.’ “Derby, Baby!” is currently on the international film festival circuit, and we are flattered and hopeful at the discussions we’re having with distributors – both conventional and digital distributors. But who knows where that will go? The conservative business-side of my brain is mistrustful based on the numbers of sob stories I hear from my fellow filmmakers. Enter our “crowd funding” gamble and our first-time effort on Kickstarter: www.kickstarter.com/projects/1745833384/derby-baby-a-story-of-love-addiction-and-rink-rash
Regarding “Big Theater” — We filmmakers of ‘Derby, Baby!” DID start to expand our already-massive spreadsheets to prove scientifically to Big Theater that the rules of Supply and Demand are in play here. We know this film will attain the ultimate Corporate Dream of BUTTS IN SEATS. PLUS, we thought, if we can just get this film played in the Big Theater Chains, we can make sure that Karen in Duluth – who’s been writing us faithfully on Facebook awaiting the finished film – can go see the movie in a theater near her home.
And why WOUDLN’T this film be successful in Big Theaters? We have made the first international documentary film about women’s roller derby, and hopefully the best (or at least the most thorough) of all the roller derby documentaries out there. By answering our own journalistic questions about roller derby and the fascinating women who play it, we are helping to explain to the world that there is more going on with roller derby than meets the eye. (Like every other filmmaker, artist, musician and writer out there, we all think our baby is pretty. And of course “Derby, Baby!” is the prettiest baby of all.)
To further support our case to Big Theater, we KNOW that the “demand” part of of the equation we need to prove to Big Theater is multiplying at such lightening speed that even those tasked with managing the sport of women’s roller derby are challenged to keep up with the numbers. How do we know this? Not because of any spreadsheets. But because of social media and Facebook: not only is the international social network blowing up in front of us, we are becoming part of the story. Our film MAY be becoming a catalyst in the movement!
Not that we’re claiming to take credit for the the growth of women’s roller derby worldwide. Women and girls were falling in love with roller derby long before Dave and I started shooting it. But it sometimes feels that by asking so many questions about the this phenomenon — questions like “How Big Can this thing Grow?” — we’ve been pouring gasoline on a fire. Case in point: When Dave and I started this odyssey to demystify this weird-fabulous sport, there were just over 500 women’s flat track roller derby leagues worldwide. Today, a little more than two years later, we’re at more than 1200 leagues and counting. We suspect there are probably a lot more than 1200, and we hope our movie is helping the sport to spread like wildfire.
But being vetted by Big Theater (which is riddled with all sorts of other creative, financial, legal and marketing restrictions) doesn’t help us take this film around the world: It’s not just Karen in Duluth who wants to see this film. We also have Fernanda in São Paulo, and Bonnie in Auckland, waiting patiently to see the film in their hometowns.
The bottom line is this: Our lure into this documentary process, and our connection with those who helped us tell the story has been organic, more like a gravitational pull from the universe, than a result of any bean-counter’s formula for supply and demand. So distribution should also be organic, right? (Don’t get me wrong: I am still a numbers-geek and I do personally think that this film “Derby, Baby!” – like roller derby itself – has a brilliant business model.)
From the start, this story of derby has been so multi-faceted, so filled with contradiction and irony and humor, that covering it was natural. We could no easier turn off our cameras, than we could stop watching a rocket launching over our heads. It was that simple. So of course we interpreted all of the positive reinforcement we received from the universe – from actress Juliette Lewis coming on board as our narrator, to some of our “foreshadowing” themes materializing before our eyes – as a sign to keep following our guy instincts. Some of those early questions which answered themselves as the story unfolded were this: We had started out wondering if there could be a for-profit roller derby business model; we had asked if the sport could ever be considered for X-games or Olympics inclusion; we had pondered the possibility of an international event or “World Cup” type event where countries could compete against each other. Oh yeah – and we had asked if the sport could use a good “Derby Rock Star” to propel it into mainstream. Enter Suzy Hotrod.
As the sport of women’s roller derby propelled itself upward at meteoric speed, we quickly became passengers on the journey. And what a thrill.
So.. when Facebook fans from around the world started asking where and when they could get their hands on the film, we felt our instincts had been right: This story needed to be shared worldwide, and the characters in the story have the desire and energy to help get that story out there.
Putting the movie into the hands of the D-I-Y culture that is the center of this film’s storyline IS part of this story. The distribution model has become crystal-clear. We are letting the leagues carry the film out into the universe themselves, with the help of Kickstarter.com.
By now, most people are familiar with Kickstarter, or with the model of crowdfunding in general. You post your project online and invite backers to pledges – at varying levels of reward. If you meet your financial goal, the money the backers pledge goes toward getting your film either made, or in our case, distributed. But not only are we raising the money to get our film distributed. Distribution of the film is one of the rewards itself: At a relatively low cost of entry., leagues can receive the screening format of the film and show it in their own local theaters on behalf of their own leagues. Now bear in mind this is still a scrappy, DIY, mostly self-funded sport we are talking about. Skaters have to pay to play. So it’s been important to set price points where the fan base can affordably bring it into their own communities – be it Auckland, Berlin, San Paulo, Montreal, or Pueblo, Colorado. The goal is to spread their message, build their derby fan base, recruit new skaters, and increase the love from their local communities.
We in turn get to see derby spread at a more even level internationally — no more 500-point-plus blowouts where the U.S. kicks the ass of every other team of skaters in the world. We get to see women and girls become part of something that – from the stories we’ve seen – is good for both females and for the community at large. Because this isn’t just a story about women playing a sport. This is a “league of their own” on steroids. This is evidence of the power of a group of women and girls who put their minds toward one common goal. It’s sisterhood – and oh yeah, it’s community service to the 9th degree. It’s women’s empowerment. “Derby, Baby!” like the sport of roller derby, like the women who play it – is so many things. It’s endlessly diverse, contrary powerful, complex, intelligent and strong-minded. And it is truly “D-I-Y.” Thank you ladies and gents for helping US be DIY. Or maybe we should say DIO, “Doing it Ourselves.” We couldn’t do this without you.
So you go, girls and women and men of derby. Get the film out there. Let the film explain to your dad and your mom and your boyfriend and your boss where you’ve been lately. And why you’re willing to go so so far to play, preserve and propel this thing called Roller Derby. It’s not just a sport. It’s a Girl Thing.
Thank you, women and men of derby, for taking our film to the masses.
WESTWORD Article (NYC Village Voice affiliate) : bit.ly/I5jJJ3
We are only on Day 2 of our 30-day campaign on Kickstarter. So far so good. Maybe I’m jinxing us because the fact is that if we don’t raise our goal of raising $30,000 in 30 days, we get nothing. But so far, the universe has been kind. By not chasing the butterfly, by observing and reporting on it respectfully, lovingly and with awe, we’ve made it this far in our quest to tell the true story of women’s flat-track roller derby. KICKSTARTER: kck.st/HZn6eE
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