Understanding the Grassroots Experience
The Burton Five Sisters have done outreach with all their films, from the early screening stage, through festivals, and into release. They did an intense outreach campaign for our film “Manna From Heaven,” traveling with the film for over a year, reaching out to audiences with discussions (usually 5 a day in multiple theaters). Screening groups included college ethics classes, church groups from a variety of beliefs and enthusiasms, Rotary/Kiwanis clubs, special interest audiences including high school and college classes, etc. They’ve dealt with complex discussions, so they’re comfortable creating an open and welcoming environment, listening to varying opinions, and working with audiences through complicated issues. On “The Happiest Day of His Life,” FSP talked with audiences about gender roles (the film is a traditional wedding set in a gender-reversed world), at a time when most people really weren’t thinking about, let alone discussing, the topic of gender and social roles especially about our traditions like weddings.
FSP is strongly motivated by social responsibility in all their work, and they are passionate about making films that contribute to a sense of hope on a personal or social level. KINGS, QUEENS, & IN-BETWEENS in a film that fits directly in line with this motto; it will be a force for positive change in our culture.
Talking about the nuts and bolts of running an audience engagement campaign and grassroots distribution with Gabrielle Burton, director of KQIB:
My sisters and I spent 2 years on the road with grassroots marketing of our film MANNA FROM HEAVEN, which ended up drawing the attention of the CEO of AMC Theatres, leading both to the chain’s taking it on as a special film they helped, and to the creation of an indie film niche distribution stream (“AMC Independent Select”) developed with our input and advice.
Additionally, our grassroots marketing (bringing in $500K at the box office with an initial $20K P&A budget) also drew the attention of MGM/Sony, which bought the film for dvd distribution. We lived, ate, and breathed creative marketing, visiting with universities and high schools, Rotary clubs, local libraries, churches, local charities (Habitat for Humanity, Kiwanis, United Way) — hosting screening discussions, & being onsite in theaters 12 hrs a day in over 30 cities.
We partnered with HABITAT FOR HUMANITY, donating our proceeds from the opening night screening in each city to the organization. We also gave them press coverage and distributed pamphlets, fliers, etc. about the charity.
There were a number of articles (e.g. several features in the LA Times Calendar) and media pieces (e.g. NPR’s Marketplace and NPR’s On The Media) about us and the film also.
We did a smaller, shorter campaign with THE HAPPIEST DAY OF HIS LIFE, our 12-minute film about gender and marriage, which was bought by MTV and won a LOGO viewer’s choice award. That film is now in USC Annenberg School’s study on social change/activism through film with Dr. Stacy Smith. Additionally, we were guests at Geena Davis’ See Jane conference two years ago as a forum to discuss how film can change social mores and thinking.
We have also worked on grassroots PR for our mother’s recent award-winning books on the Donner Party (“Impatient With Desire” and “Searching for Tamsen Donner”), securing reviews in major outlets (most notably “Fresh Air” Maureen Corrigan’s calling them among the top 10 books of the year) and creating local book club presentations across the country. We did this without assistance from the publisher, all on grassroots, creative thinking and sweat equity. When we are passionate about something, we work hard for it, and KQIB is part of our life’s work to open up discussion and thinking about social assumptions, conceptions, and how we might benefit from examining some of these pre- and mis-conceptions when it comes to how complex and varied we all are as human beings in our one human race.