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From Punk Rock to Think Outside the Box Office and Beyond

That's me on the left circa 1981 when I was in Europe at my first screening of Target Video (on the right) which started me on my "DIY" journey.

I’ve always been inspired by artists who have worked outside established frameworks for success and created their own models to get their work out into the world. I got my start in film via punk rock in the early '80s working with the documentary collective Target Video. I then worked with the street robotic theater group Survival Research Laboratories founded by Mark Pauline - moving onto documentaries about rave and graffiti culture (both extreme versions of DIY in their early years).  For a variety of reasons I have been reflecting on how my early inspirations have guided my work and ignited me to give up a career in economics and live in a rat infested loft shooting punk rock bands at Target.

But half what I did at Target, was distribute the videos we made of mostly California punk rock bands throughout Europe and the US. For those of you who know me, this would be "the new 50/50” from Think Outside the Box Office (so actually not that "new"). There was no network for screening videos in Europe (no institutions even had video projectors) at the time and no film distributor was going to take our 3/4" videos - forget that they wouldn't have accepted the content.  So FU to the gatekeepers. From a phone booth in San Francisco with a plethora of bootlegged satellite phone cards, I booked the films as if we were a band throughout Europe.  We travelled with our own projector and 3/4" deck going club to theater to cultural center to festival shooting more bands along the way.  Paul Rachtman just reminded me of how I slept on his couch when we did a show in Boston when he was in college. 

While the energy and perfect acronym of what DIY stands for has always inspired me, I never advocate pure DIY. (see the subtitle of my first article for Filmmaker Magazine)  I feel you have to create a team and work with elements of structures that can be bent to your purposes.

With contemporary gatekeepers preventing (or completely uninterested in helping) filmmakers getting their films seen, I feel myself doing the same work I was doing in my 20s but just as inspired to do it. I have been blessed to work with quite a variety of pro-active filmmakers who are open to experimenting with new ways of taking distribution into their own hands.

One of the filmmakers I have worked with is Lance Kramer who coined the new process we developed “impact event theatrical”.   Next week I'm excited to be joined by him for a webinar: Create Your Own Distribution Strategy We will outline fundamental principles and essential elements to defining, crafting and implementing a successful distribution, impact and marketing campaign. We will use our experience distributing his and his brother Brandon's doc feature THE FIRST STEP as a case study.


These recent musings - along with some strong nudging from Ted Hope - has got me planning to start a new educational initiative - a Frankenstein of Substack meets a version of the lab that Ted and I developed after I wrote Think Outside the Box Office which became the now paused/cancelled IFP/Gotham Filmmaker Lab.  More on that next week.