Casey Moore, CEO of High Council, leads Columbus' digital marketing campaign. Having worked briefly with Kogonada in the past during his time at Criterion, the Columbus team feels Casey is the best fit to articulate and maintain the aesthetics of the film throughout the digital marketing campaign.
Having an extensive background as a graphic designer, Casey understands how important cohesive and captivating creative materials are when it comes to promoting a film digitally—it’s not just about promoting the film but making sure the creative assets stand out among the noise of the digital sphere. “How do you market a delicate, Ozu-inspired human drama in newsfeeds dominated by ever-brighter, ever-louder ads and content?” says Casey. “My answer was to try not to compete—instead, to let the many beautiful moments of the film and all the wonderful praise it received speak for itself with a modern, uncluttered aesthetic identity and a voice that was honest and grateful.” Casey helps brainstorm potential audience targets for digital ad campaigns and crafts all social media creative materials, including images with text overlays and short promotional clips, in-house. Danielle and Giulia regularly review the assets and discuss the strategy behind the digital marketing campaign, making it a collaborative process.
After Columbus premieres in New York and Los Angeles on August 4, the film plays in 13 markets, performing exceptionally well in San Francisco and Washington D.C., and peaking in the film’s hometown, Columbus, and Indianapolis, Indiana, on September 1. Cast and crew are in attendance for the New York, Los Angeles, and Columbus screenings. The New York and Indianapolis premieres sell out, and Los Angeles draws a significant crowd. In its opening weekend in New York and Los Angeles, Columbus reaches a per screen averageAn important indicator in film distribution, especially for opening weekends. Per screen average, or "PSA", denotes a film's box office divided by the number of screens played. of $13,410, which is significant considering the modest P&A budget. (To provide a comparison, this is approximately the same per screen average as the Sundance title Landline, which was distributed by Amazon, which historically allocates much larger P&A budgets.)
Columbus Opening Weekend Sales
Out of all the premieres, the Columbus, Indiana, showing over the Labor Day weekend is the biggest event in terms of buzz and turnout. To help with cost and event promotion, the film team partners with the Columbus Visitors Center for the premiere. John Cho, Kogonada, and Haley Lu Richardson all show their support by taking part in regional press leading up to the event and attending the premiere and accompanying Q&A. There’s a big local party, which many residents attend, including the Mayor of Columbus and the Governor of Indiana. Throughout the theatrical release, Columbus/Indianapolis remains a strong market for the film, and it ends up being their fourth best market overall, which is impressive considering Indianapolis is the 26th ranked market in the country. The Indiana Red Carpet premiere, managed on location by a team of four people from Dittoe PR, turns out to be a great investment of time and resources.
Kogonada at a Q&A after a screening
By the end of August, the theatrical release surpasses 40 markets. The additional bookings beyond the specified Landmark theatres are organized by Michael and come from individual exhibitors, or independent theater owners. (This independent theatrical run is promoted through the Arthouse Convergence Network, a collection of allied arthouse cinemas around the world, which are the source of many of these additional booking requests.) Once the film begins its theatrical run and more press rolls in, the team quickly realizes their theatrical run will be bigger than expected.
The film’s glowing press is crucial to this boost. The team uses their opening weekend event screenings to push as many reviews and press opportunities as possible. The PR teams focus mostly on the theatrical release, though some publicists help manage press that hits post-release, such as when the film is nominated for Independent Spirit Awards and Gotham Awards, as well as making numerous end-of-year top ten lists. Though the publicity teams expect traction in niche outlets such as Architectural Digest, most of the press for Columbus comes from more traditional outlets such as the New York Times. (For more on the film’s press strategy, see the next section.)
With the film’s expanded theatrical run comes considerable costs, some of which aren’t fully expected. Each theatrical market comes with associated costs such as VPFsVirtual Print Fees are a fee paid to the exhibitor by the distributor to subsidize digital cinema projection equipment and are intended to replace the shipping fees that the distributor saves by not having to ship a print., DCPsDigital Cinema Packages are the current standardized theatrical distribution format that has replaced 35mm film in nearly all cinemas worldwide., posters, and shipping, and there’s a wide variety in how different independent cinemas handle these costs.
Coordinating and handling print traffic for the growing theatrical release ends up becoming a big part of the team’s work, with two of the team members, Chy Chi and Ki Jin Kim, focusing primarily on these tasks—from coordinating with LaboDigital (the lab that makes copies of the DCPs and handles the duplication and distribution), making sure that all the theaters receive KDMsEncryption keys for DCPs for their screenings, and directly handling shipment of posters and back-up screening formats such as Blu-rays.
The quick market expansion and numerous holdovers result in budgetary stress, increasing their P&A budget from $147,000 to over $180,000. As of March 2018, VPF fees alone amount to $7,602. DCPs, shipping, and trailer mastering and delivery costs total $9,500.
To accommodate the expansion and lengthy holdoversWhen a movie theater decides to "hold" a film an extra week based on good performance. For many independent films, the first week in a given theater - with showtimes several times a day, every day - is often the only week it plays there. in theaters like the IFC Center, the team must strategically plan their market expansion. As Michael explains, “We were looking at every market, but we had to target theaters that didn't require print advertising and didn't charge VPFs or allowed us to play on Blu-ray. We knew we had about five weeks to strike both while the film was still hot and before the major Fall titles hit.” The added support of $27,000 to transport Kogonada and cast to Q&A screenings and to relieve the financial stress caused by the theatrical expansion was provided by an individual donor.