6Qs with Paul Devlin of Blast!

Paul Devlin has a new movie, Blast, coming out this week in NYC.  He was kind enough to share with IndieGoGo some of his tactics for promotion and experiences from using the Internet.


Q1: Can you tell us about your film. What were the goals for the project?

PD: BLAST! is astrophysics Indiana Jones style! I follow my brother Mark Devlin, PhD and his team to five continents, from the Arctic to the Antarctic as they try to launch a revolutionary new telescope on a NASA high-altitude balloon. They hope to look back in time to reveal a hidden Universe of never-before-seen starburst galaxies. From catastrophic failure to transcendent triumph, their journey reveals the surprising real life of scientists.

The goal of BLAST! is to emphasize the adventure of science and to draw out a suspenseful narrative from this awe-inspiring work. Also, having grown up in a family of scientists, I wanted to depict them as they really are. Usually we see scientists either as talking heads in documentaries, utter geeks on sitcoms, or mad geniuses bent on destroying the world in comic book blockbuster movies. In fact scientists are real people, with ambitions, disappointments, family struggles and religious faith. This simple truth is a revelation that makes BLAST! unique.

Q2: How are you identifying, targeting, and building your audience?

PD: International broadcast co-production and acquisition has generated our largest audience so far. Through our international sales agent, Louise Rosen Ltd., events such as the IFP Market, Toronto Documentary Forum, and film festivals, BLAST! has made broadcast sales to BBC, Discovery Canada, SVT-Sweden, DR2-Denmark, VPRO-Netherlands, YLE-Finland, and Al-Jazeera. So far broadcasts represent an audience of approximately 500,000, and that number should grow with additional broadcasts and acquisitions.

On a grassroots level, BLAST! has a clear core audience who are interested in astronomy and science. We are using the internet to identify audiences at Universities, astronomy clubs, planetariums, etc. We are also partnering with major institutions to cultivate this international audience. These include screenings at the American Astronomical Society, Joint European National Astronomy Meeting, International Astronomical Union, and Astronomical Society of the Pacific. BLAST! is an official project of the International Year of Astronomy 2009 and screened as part of the IYA2009 Opening Ceremonies at UNESCO in Paris.

So we’ve got the core audience covered, but because BLAST! has a strong narrative and compelling characters we believe there is crossover appeal to a general audience as well. We will premiere BLAST! theatrically in New York City, June 11 at IFC Center and June 12-18 at Cinema Village. We have hired MURPHY PR for publicity and hope that positive press will lead to additional screenings and enhance ancillary markets, including that elusive sale to U.S. television.

Q3: What role has the Internet and social media played in your DIWO (Do-It-With-Others) filmmaking?

PD: We have conducted specific web research for planetariums, science and astronomy organizations, and university contacts that will have a special interest in the BLAST! content.  We add these new contacts to Constant Contact, our e-newsletter data base, and in this way we can notify new contacts about festival screenings, press reviews, and the theatrical run. We send out a newsletter semi-monthly to over 8000 contacts that have been collected over the years across several projects. 

We will also utilize Facebook, My Space and Twitter to engage our contacts about BLAST! news.

Q4: What tools or tactics would you recommend to other filmmakers for fundraising or promotion?

PD: International co-production is a still a viable model for funding some documentary filmmaking. However, potential revenue from these sources is diminishing and substitutes such as crowdfunding are going to have to fill in the gaps if ambitious non-fiction films are to continue to exist.

Tapping into that core market and convincing them to help with financing through tools such as IndieGoGo and Fundable.com are potentially effective, especially on a piecemeal basis. Frankly, I have not made this model work yet, and I find that often filmmaker’s are required to commit personal finances to sustain their passion for filmmaking. Generally, independent filmmaking is not an economically sustainable enterprise.

In other words, a high-paying day job (my solution) or a trust fund helps a lot.

Q5: What was the budget for your film? Can you tell us about any creative techniques for fundraising?

PD: BLAST! was the first film to use the ArtistShare crowdfunding model. ArtistShare has been very successful with musicians, using their “participant model” to allow fans to purchase participation in the creative process. This model has fully funded many prominent musicians, some who have won Grammys with their fan-financed CDs.

Although the ArtistShare model does not translate completely to filmmaking it was a valuable experience, which I analyzed in detail for DOX Magazine ( http://www.blastthemovie.com/BLAST_Archives/Press/DOX/Dox79.pdf )

Q6: What is your plan for distribution? Do you have a plan for self distribution?

PD: Our distribution plans started with film festivals and pre-sales to broadcasters through our sales agent, Louise Rosen, Ltd.

Generally we have been self-distributing. This includes non-theatrical sales to universities and astronomical organizations through our grassroots outreach efforts and now the BLAST! New York theatrical run June 11 at IFC Center and June 12-18 at Cinema Village.

Immediately after the New York run, we plan to self-distribute DVDs to the educational market though brochure mailings, email contact and phone sales. We are considering one non-exclusive offer from a distributor in this market.

The home market is much more difficult to penetrate with self-distribution, so we are are fielding offers from distributors in this market.

In general, we would love to work with distributors, so that we could focus more on filmmaking rather than distribution. However, we find that often we cannot afford to work with distributors – they take too much of the revenue and we need to keep that in order to recoup as much of our investment as possible.