Film locally: Familiar Strangers seeks big open
Two years later, when they couldn't find the distribution deal they wanted, the duo decided to release the film themselves. The characters in Familiar Strangers come home for Thanksgiving, and the film's producers hope an audience will come out two weeks before Turkey Day to to support their homegrown feature, which opens November 14 at the Regal Downtown and in Fairfax.
"Regal has been good to us, and they like the film," says Sisson. But Regal isn't going to give the picture an indefinite run, which makes the opening weekend numbers and word of mouth crucial, he says.
The following weekend, the movie opens in Staunton at the Visulite and in two theaters in Tennessee, and then expands to Richmond and Kansas City.
"In the industry, it's called a platform release," explains Sisson. "You start small and widen."
Movies typically open in Los Angeles and New York. Creative Artists Agency, the powerhouse agency founded by Michael Ovitz that formerly represented Cavalier, "felt it was a heartland film," says Sisson. "It's a heart-warming film, and they felt it would do better in the heartland than in taste-maker cities. That continues to be our strategy."
Familiar Strangers, starring D.J. Qualls (Road Trip, Hustle and Flow), debuted earlier this year at the Method Fest Independent Film Festival, where it won the best ensemble award. The movie has made the round of festivals, says Sisson, but hasn't been picked up by a distributor.
"The distribution side is in bad shape," says Sisson, whose first venture into the movie biz was to co-finance the critically acclaimed 2003 indie, The Station Agent. "Half the distributors a year ago are gone. The ones that are left, if they're healthy, they're offering less. We've gotten offers, but the offers are poor. We think [Familiar Strangers] deserves better."
Sisson describes the film as "very touching. It's real. It could be your family."
Cavalier has taken a grassroots approach to marketing the film. They've hired a PR firm, put posters and trailers in theaters, set-up an email list, and hired college students to spread literature in hopes of boosting attendance for that critical opening weekend.
"Independent filmmakers have got to take the reins themselves," says soon-to-be-departing Virginia Film Festival director Richard Herskowitz. "Distribution is very rough. Filmmakers are becoming their own distributors. I really admire Barry for doing this."
"As a business man, this is not a good place to be," acknowledges Sisson, "but more people love independent film than ever before. I want to do what my passion is–- and make money at it."
Sisson just hopes Familiar Strangers "gets some wind under its sails–-" and if it does, that's what he'll be thankful for this holiday.