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22 February 2013 @ 10:09 am
Marketing Micro-Horror: SNOW SHARK Chews Chums  
Snow Shark: Ancient Snow Beast, which I produced and Sam Qualiana wrote, directed and stars in, was released on DVD this week and our sales figures have been a pleasant surprise.  The film has been bouncing around between #8 and #10 on Amazon's list of New Horror Releases, which is damn good.  Even more interesting, that list includes recent releases; if you narrow it down to horror films released just this week, it's actually ranked as high as #5.  The four films ahead of it are Sinister with Ethan Hawke, the Blu-ray combo package of the cult classics Terrorvision and The Video Dead, Factory starring John Cusack and Jennifer Carpenter, and Lake Placid: the Final Chapter (homey!).  Every one of those films has a star or a pedigree.

Now look at some of the films that follow Snow Shark: something called The Mooring, released by horror heavyweight Lions Gate; Night of the Demons 2, Riddle starring Val Kilmer and William Sadler; Bath Salt Zombies; Lake Noir from indie specialist Brain Damage; and Fangoria Presents: Axed.  Not a shabby list of fellow releases, with some pretty heavy promotional value behind some of them.  Now, the way Amazon sales ranking works, it only takes a few sales of any title to shake up the order, and the real test of a film's success is whether or not it has "legs," or in our case, fins.  Word of mouth could elevate or sink our prehistoric monster, but I'm encouraged by our debut, and this is the kind of information I like to share with our investors.
Remember, this film cost $7,000, it was directed by a first time director with an amateur cast, and... did I mention it cost only $7,000?  By comparison, my own Slime City Massacre, hardly a big budget film, cost $55,000.

So what accounts for the film's initial success?  The quality of the film is not a factor at this early stage - that's what will determine the film's long term life.  The reviews have been average, ranging from "This is stupid and low budget, but sincere and fun" to far less charitable comments.  Here are my theories:

What's In a Name?

Sam Qualiana created a brilliant title.  The title is what attracted me to the project in the first place.  PollyGrind Film Festival even gave the title an award!  This is a title that grabs your attention.

Special Effects

Some of the film's reviews have been quick to point out the film's CGI, but in reality there are only a few CGI shark shots, and several more CGI blood-in-snow effects, and these were added by our editors Brett Piper and Mark Polonia.  I love them.  But that isn't all there is.  The gag of the shark fin gliding through the snow is practical, except for one shot at the end, it was carried over from the short film Sam made several years ago, and it is awesome.  John Renna, who plays "Santa" in the film, built a giant shark head that is borderline ridiculous, but Piper and Polonia edited it just right.  Who can look at that thing and not think of the dinosaurs in those Amicus Edgar Rice Burroughs adaptations, The Land That Time Forgot, the People That Time Forgot and At The Earth's Core, or the giant rats in Bert I. Gordon's adaptation of H.G. Wells's The Food of The Gods? Andrew Lavin sculpted, and Arick Szymecki painted and equipped with amazing little shark teeth, an 18" hand hand puppet shark that pops up and down a tabletop snowscape not unlike those used in the Rankin Bass stop motion holiday specials, and which rears it head in forced perspective shot with an actor (a shot I gleefully designed).  That's a hulluva lot of fun effects...in a $7,000 film.


We had an advantage when we started looking for distribution: I have a longstanding relationship with POP Cinema, the company that re-released Slime City and released Undying Love and Naked Fear (all available on the 2-disc DVD Greg Lamberson's Slime City Grindhouse Collection).  POP just formed a new label, Independent Entertainment, for micro-budget genre titles.  Who knew that my friend Paige Davis would place the film for rent with Family Video in the Redbox in Canada, or for sale in FYE and Suncoast, and Walmart Canada?  We really beat some odds, and Paige did a fantastic job for us.  I co-run a film festival called Buffalo Screams Horror Film Festival, and twice Paige has delivered a fascinating and informative talk on DVD distribution.  I pleaded with local filmmakers to attend both talks, and the filmmakers who heeded my advice are better off for it.  Those who passed missed a great opportunity to speak to a distributor in person, an extremely valuable contact.  I tell indie filmmakers all the time to aim for real distribution and only settle for brokered VOD deals once they've exhausted all other possibilities.  Filmmakers who license their VOD rights first will have a very hard time landing a DVD deal later.  Next up for POP CInema, next month, is Crimson: the Motion Picture, another micro-budget film from Western New York, which we screened at Buffalo Screams.


There's a right way to market a micro-budget genre film and a wrong way.  I do freelance publicity for indie filmmakers if I like them, and I have a pretty good track record promoting these projects.  As others have discovered, it isn't hard to get a press release posted online, and now there are even sites which allow you to upload your releases.  But here's a free piece of advice: tell the truth and show a little humility.  Don't represent that your film is bigger than it is, because if anyone sees your epic and it's just another badly directed, badly acted micro-budget film, people will remember you the next time you shoot off your sensationalizing mouth.  Don't use adjectives to describe yourself and your film; leave that to viewers.  Your job with a press release is to present a dry depiction of your production; leave it to magazine and website editors to add color.  Any indie filmmaker who presents himself as the next David Lean or Steven Spielberg earns every bit of ridicule he receives.  My approach for Snow Shark was to call it "a fun creature feature in the tradition of Don Dohler's films."  Don Dohler was a micro-budget filmmaker who made bad low budget films that had fun special effects in them.  He was a hero to many of us, and we hold his films in our hearts with affection, but no one is going to say, "Who the fuck do you think you are, comparing yourself to Don?"  If your film is going to be finished on April 1st, 2014, and you're planning to have a premiere on that night, don't tell the world that this is the film's release date.  That isn't a release a date; it's a premiere date. Your release date is the day a distributor makes the film available to the public beyond your friends and family.  If you don't have distribution, what's the point of saying you do?  "Misrepresentation" like that will only bite you on the ass.  We actually announced our distribution deal for Snow Shark at our premiere,, and we left it to our distributor to announce our release date.

Anyway, that's how we launched our little $7,000 monster movie, which you can buy on DVD right here: