Distributors Increasingly Turning to Roadshows to Promote Projects (Berlin)

BERLIN -- Distributors are getting ready to put the "motion" back in motion pictures with unique distribution plans that will see filmmakers and actors doing roadshows in an effort to drum business.

When it was revealed that last week Tribeca Films picked up the U.S. rights to Unified Pictures' rock n roll road trip pic Janie Jones, what was kept secret was a plan that will see stars Abigail Breslin and Alessandro Nivola hitting towns as a mini-rock act, playing in venues near the art-house theaters.

And distribution details emerging for the Harry Belafonte documentary Sing Your Song reveal that the singer-activist will travel with the film around North America, singing and engaging in Q&As at venues. The same strategy is planned for the international release as Belafonte's name remains a considerable draw to worldwide audiences.

The two plans come on the heels of Kevin Smith saying he will be conducting a multi-city tour that would include Q&As for his horror thriller Red State in advance of a larger release. Smith last week told buyers in Berlin he was more than ready to do the same in other countries.

"For films of a certain size, you need to find alternative ways to activate people," said Unified president Keith Kjarval. "In this day and age, running a roadshow or doing surgical campaigns are the few ways to get people's attention competing against films with $50 million marketing budgets. If you only have $1.5 million to market, you need to maximize that."

Song's international sales agent K5 echoed the sentiment, saying the alternative distribution strategy was a key part of its sales pitch and would give the film a significant profile push without a major advertising spend.

The new movies may party owe their inspiration to the way David Lynch handled the distribution of Inland Empire. With only $150,000 in marketing, the movie made $4 million worldwide thanks to Lynch's relentless city-by-city touring which saw him engage in Q&As and speaking engagements, on top of media appearances.

But sellers and buyers caution the movie needs to lend itself for the roadshow format. Lynch, for example, has a cult following who were interested in hearing talk about the making of the movie. Smith has legions of loyal and outspoken fans (he has over 1.7 million Twitter followers) that he has amassed over the years and a tour would bring out his flock.

Janie Jones and Sing Your Song, meanwhile, have built-in musical components to them so bringing to the fore a performance aspect is a logical extension.

"I don't think Elite Squad could do this," Kjarval said.