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Paul Devlin on the Afterlife of Blast!


‘Theatrical Launch,” Paul Devlin’s account of self-distributing his documentary Blast!, ends with his post-mortem on that release, a self-examination that takes into account not only box office but the press and further bookings the film received. I asked Devlin if he could update us on what’s happened since the article, specifically how he approached the educational market. (He had received offers from non-theatrical distributors.) Here is his response. And, if you haven’t read the article, you can pick it up on the stands or receive it immediately as a PDF when you subscribe to Filmmaker.

We turned down the distribution offers. In the educational/institutional market at least, they are truly ridiculous from our point of view. Instead we hired someone in-house to book the film and promote and sell the DVD. This is working out much better (of course you have to find the right person). This gives us complete control over distribution (and the money!) without signing away rights for 7 or 10 years. Nicole Potter works for us two days a week, one day at home and one in our office. She is motivated, effective and has more than paid for herself so far with many bookings.

If you take a look at our screening page, upcoming and recent screenings really represent a national run for the movie. (Chicago was great, reviews to die for posted below). But not all are running a full week in traditional art houses. However, I agree with Jon Reiss that we should still consider this a “theatrical” run. Most of these screenings are in theaters so “non-theatrical” is a misnomer.

So I also agree with Jon that the word “non-theatrical” should be abandoned. It has a negative, diminishing connotation which is misleading — some of those theaters in the museums and planetariums are much bigger and nicer than traditional art houses that used to constitute a traditional theatrical run. If a distinction must be made, I prefer the term “alt-theatrical.”

The other thing about some of these screenings is that they often pay BIG money. High-fee screenings require myself or my brother or both of us to show up and speak. Last week’s screening at OSU paid $10K! Nicole booked that – part of an endowed lecture series. I’ve never heard of a higher single screening in the alt-theatrical market, so big props to Nicole for her legendary booking. We have several others that have paid or will pay $5K and $3K.

We successfully booked these high-fee screenings for my last film Power Trip. Early on, we hoped to find the same success with BLAST! but it didn’t work. Then we did the theatrical run in New York and these fees became possible with BLAST! as well. Very tangible payoff and we’re hoping to book many more.

We released the DVD to the educational market in mid-November at a price of $250. We sold around 25 almost immediately. (Twice as much revenue as the best advance we were offered – a deal which would have tied up all additional revenue for at least 6 months to a year). Now we are working with mailing lists, reviews and social networking avenues to reach our goal of selling 200 within the next year before we release to the home DVD market. Lot’s of opportunities still to tap, such as cultivating direct sales to the National Science Teacher’s Association.

We were unable to obtain a U.S. national broadcast for BLAST!. After the NPR Science Friday and The Colbert Report exposure, Discovery Channel, The Science Channel and NOVA, all re-considered BLAST! and all rejected it again (Discovery for the 3rd time I think). My sour grapes response is – BLAST! is simply way too sophisticated and unconventional for them. Instead we have signed a deal with American Public Television (APT) to distribute to regional PBS stations. We have already sold 6 markets and plan to sell many more.

In summary, things have been going very well for BLAST! since the theatrical run. We’ve grossed something like $50K since the summer from our various sales efforts, which has sustained the operation (if I don’t have to dip into savings to keep the business running, I consider it HUGELY successful). I expect there is much more potential revenue. I’m not saying it’s easy or we’re getting rich. Sales is always a struggle, but without the national exposure I don’t think we could have sustained the effort – it would have been so much more difficult to do what we’re doing now.

By hiring other people to do the outreach work, I’m preparing to start post-production on my next project, Super Star Dumb. It’s a musical comedy about the broken promise of middle-class rock and roll stardom, following the story of a man punished by his talent in a society where anything short of celebrity is failure. I’ve been shooting off and on for over 8 years now and it’s time to wrap it up.

“Fast, fun, and beautiful to look at, Blast! (2008) communicates the joys and heartbreaks of scientific creativity.” — Chicago Reader

“The intelligence on screen thrills rather than bewilders, a tribute to both Devlin brothers.” New City

“Enjoy this look at a group of obsessive, brilliant people pursuing their passion. It’s like an extreme-sports doc for science nerds.” — Time Out Chicago

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