Hunter Adams | Crain's Twin Cities

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Hunter Adams

Background:  

Hunter Adams is a writer and director whose most recent film, "Dig Two Graves," premieres March 24. Set in the 1970s, the supernatural thriller tells the story of a 13-year-old girl whose brother drowns in a mysterious accident.

The Mistake:

I think you have to be a little self-delusional to make an independent film — you have to believe that the film is going to be the greatest thing since “Citizen Kane.” Otherwise, it's hard to justify spending years of your life and hundreds of thousands of dollars to do it.

But that delusion of grandeur can lead to unrealistic expectations about distribution. When I started making film, I had this belief that you just make a movie, and if it's good, Harvey Weinstein or some studio will come by and offer you millions of dollars for the film, and your career is going to be off and running.

When I made my first film, it was called “The Hungry Bull,” and it was an ultra-low budget film that I made with friends. It took about three years [to make]. I thought that if we make this real low-budget film and it gets major distribution, then my career's going to kick off.

But that just didn't happen; it's really rare that happens. We didn't get into Sundance and we didn't get a huge distribution deal offer. So when my career didn't take off and I didn't get that big deal, I was crushed.

It definitely took a toll emotionally. Nobody saw the movie — that was the big problem. I was so devastated that I just sort of gave up on the film.

Just making a good movie isn't enough anymore. You have to build your fan base.

The Lesson:

As a filmmaker, you really have to have a robust marketing plan. You can't rely on a distributor to do that part for you. You have to be thinking about marketing and distribution and all these aspects of filmmaking. Just making a good movie isn't enough anymore. You have to build your fan base. You have to cultivate that fan base and market to that fan base. You have to do a lot of the stuff that a traditional distributor used to do.

So, for “Dig Two Graves,” I started pretty early with developing a marketing plan and building a fan base. And I knew that we weren't going to get a big distribution deal offer from a major label, but there are a lot of great avenues for promoting a movie like this — especially with genre sites where there are a lot of fervent fans for this kind of content.

We also played festivals that were geared more towards people that like supernatural thrillers. And we created a dialogue with these fans on social media like Facebook and Twitter, so you build the anticipation for the film.

It's just a matter of finding those folks and marketing to them. We didn't just wait around for some big distributor to come along and save us. We were proactive with our distribution.

But if you don't have a plan in place and you don't cultivate an audience, then no one will see the movie. And it will sit in an oblivion on iTunes or Amazon or whatever platform it lands on.

Follow Hunter Adams on Twitter at @thehunteradams.

Photo courtesy of Hunter Adams.

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