When making independent films is your passion, but making them profitable gets harder and harder, what do you do? If you're Albemarle resident Barry Sisson, producer of several pictures including 2003's critically acclaimed The Station Agent, you find a way to get more people watching. That's the idea behind the Indie Film Minute, the business that Sisson launched last year to steer moviegoers toward small-budget art films through short radio spots.
"I kept thinking, how can I expand the market for these films?" recalls Sisson, 57, explaining how the popularity of movie-by-mail behemoth Netflix has decimated the market for DVD sales, once the bread and butter of indie filmmakers.
"I needed to find a medium where I could push the information," Sisson explains.
He's pushing it, all right. In the year since it launched, The Indie Film Minute– which is actually a minute and a half– has been syndicated to 50 radio stations across the country, including three here in Charlottesville: 106.1 The Corner, 102.3 Generations, and news talk radio 107.5.
"It really ties in with the local and independent mindset of our audience," says Brad Savage. The program director of The Corner, Savage says his listeners love learning about little-known cinema gems and hearing some recognition for movies already seen and savored.
Sisson writes most of the reviews, but he's also partnered with several other local movie lovers including retired high school English teacher Bill Rough as well as Mark Graham, the owner and sound engineer at The Sound recording studio. Most reviews are read by Marcello Rolando, a Charlottesville actor whose smooth baritone lends confidence and an almost Shakespearean style.
They've tackled better known films including Monster's Ball, for which Halle Berry received an Oscar, and What's Eating Gilbert Grape, starring Johnny Depp. However, finding unheralded gems especially thrills this cinephile.
"The Scent of Green Papaya is the most beautiful film I've ever seen," gushes Sisson, noting that it was a listener's recommendation that alerted him to the Vietnamese-language film about a young girl sent to work as a servant.
Keeping the reviews short is a challenge, says Sisson, who'd hoped to go longer but set the 90-second length after consulting radio professionals. The reviews are offered to the stations on barter– they provide the airtime in exchange for the content. The revenue comes from a 30-second ad attached to each review. Sisson hopes, now that the number of participating stations has expanded, to soon find a national sponsor.
"We're starting to get some interest," he notes.
But while reviewing movies is keeping Sisson involved in the industry he loves, he hasn't given up on adding a few more titles of his own making to everyone's Netflix queues.
"First we're going to save the movie industry," Sisson laughs, "then we're going to make new movies."