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‘Ballast’ braves self-distribution

Sundance darling spurns indie market

When Lance Hammer returned from Sundance with both critical raves and two awards under his belt for his directorial debut, “Ballast,” it wasn’t much of a surprise that several distribs came knocking in search of an acquisition deal. The big shocker was that after more than two months of deliberations, he decided to exit negotiations with IFC and instead distribute the film himself with the help of a veteran indie marketer.

Hammer says he went to Sundance hoping for a lucrative acquisition agreement, but quickly discovered the struggling theatrical marketplace for indie films prevented him from getting much more than a $50,000 advance for his little gem. “The offers were coming back and they were very small, and that was my first reality check — they were pennies on the dollar,” he remembers.

However, it wasn’t the money that ultimately made him change his mind, he says, but rather some stipulations of an exclusivity deal between IFC and Blockbuster Video, and concerns that he’d lose creative control of marketing for the movie. After the more than two months of negotiations, the two sides amicably parted ways.

Soon afterward, he convinced Steven Raphael, a marketing and distribution consultant with years of experience working with specialty distributors, to help him take the movie to the streets with a team of other experienced marketers.

“You have to give it a lot of attention for a long period of time,” Hammer says. “You have to think about it all the time every day as if it’s your child, and that’s the kind of attention a corporation can’t give

“Ballast” will rollout in theaters this October starting at New York’s Film Forum and later opening at other major independent cinemas around the U.S. Then it will run the gamut on a tour of universities, museums, arts centers, and even unspool for church groups in the south.

Raphael says “Ballast” will launch an advertising campaign that is “very conservative” but with a budget comparable to what a small distrib would put into the project. He says the campaign will emphasize positive critical reviews, and the Sundance awards for cinematography and director. Screenings at film societies typically have a tight ad budgets, if they have one at all. Marketing will also save dollars because Hammer designed the film’s theatrical poster, which he plans to sell online and at theaters for extra profits.

Hammer says he isn’t concerned about making money from “Ballast,” but is more focused on getting his film to audiences. “If you’re an artist, and you want to keep making art, and you don’t want to compromise your art, you better take control of the (release) of your project.”

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