My guest is Danny Mac, a Canadian actor, screenwriter and filmmaker. His film HEEL KICK!: Unprofessional Wrestling found a hungry audience of pro-wrestling fans, which led to sold out screenings and helped his film beat major studio films pre-order sales on iTunes. He has some ideas on how to find your movie audience.
Danny turned down interest from mid level distributors after Heel Kick’s theatrical release, ON PURPOSE. Below, you’ll learn about Danny’s film distribution secrets including:
- How Having a Niche Audience for Your Film Will Get You To Sold Out Screenings
- How Social Media Influencers Can Help Promote Your Film and Get Those Pre-Orders Rolling In
- Why Self-Distribution Can Be the Best Option for Indie Filmmakers
How to Find Your Movie Audience
Jason Brubaker: First of all, I think your film is outrageous. I’ll just say that.
Danny Mac: Thank you.
Jason Brubaker: What prompted you to make a pro-wrestling movie?
Danny Mac: I mean, I loved pro-wrestling for like an eight-year period of time when I was younger, right before I got into a full-fledged teen and decided you know, that smoking pot with my loser friends was more entertaining than watching professional wrestling but, I always still love the business and I had an older cousin that went to a prestigious pro-wrestling school after like, decades of talking about it and he’s really fit and intelligent and athletic unlike the leads in Heel Kick but after like a week, he dropped out.
Jason Brubaker: Why did he drop out? Wasn’t he finally living his dream?
Danny Mac: It was different than how he thought it was going to be. But what I really couldn’t get out of my mind was him telling me about some other kids in class, and how grossly under-prepared they were. They don’t eat properly or exercise, and some of them were kind of delusional about their chances of becoming the next Stone-Cold Steven Austin or The Rock. I couldn’t stop thinking about what it would be like to follow two those guys into the ring. They say write what you know, and then Heel Kick became a thing.
Jason Brubaker: Did you guys do your own stunts?
Danny Mac: Yes, we did. I play Reggie, the lead in the film, one of the two backyard wrestlers that decides to go pro, along with Chris Wilcox who plays Maurice. So, in order to do what you’ll see us do in the film, we had to train with a real pro-wrestling academy. In fact, it’s the one that’s featured prominently throughout the film, called ECCW.
Jason Brubaker: How long did you have to train for?
Danny Mac: I trained as a professional wrestler for six months to prepare for this movie and yeah, everything you see is real. We do all of our own stunts for better or worse.
Jason Brubaker: When you guys go out to make a film like this, you have two ways to go about it. You can make a film that appeals to just about everybody on Earth or at least attempt that or you can really narrow down your focus in the niche topic and certainly pro-wrestling is one of these things. Was that a tough decision for you? I mean, were you thinking about how to market this thing even before you began?
Danny Mac: As we went on with the production, I realized that we had a great benefit on our hands of having a film about a niche market or the subculture because we knew exactly who to market our film to. You can’t just approach a distributor or any interested parties and say, hey this movie is for anyone that likes to laugh, you know. That just won’t cut it anymore, because most of the time people aren’t seeing comedies because they love to laugh. They’re seeing it because they love the actors involved and at the very least, the production value is millions of dollars thrown into it. It became like a blessing in disguise. What first made people go, oh that sounds weird, now became we know exactly where to zero in on millions of wrestling fans who are starved for narrative film content.
Jason Brubaker: Tell me a little bit about your casting process.
Danny Mac: I was writing some of the roles for fellow actors that I knew, and I worked with before. I mean, myself and Chris Wilcox who plays Maurice, we couldn’t even get anyone else to play those parts. Like who is going to train for free as a pro-wrestler for six months and you know, take the bumps and the bruises along the way? But besides that we had a pretty general casting process. Vancouver is a huge film town, so there’s a lot of talent here. And while it was a micro-budget production you know, that’s not totally uncommon so once people read the script and realized that there are some good parts in it, people were more than willing to devote their free time and make the movie happen.
Jason Brubaker: Early on, you mentioned utilizing social media stars and influencers. That’s an interesting thing that we’re seeing a lot of filmmakers do to help spread awareness for their films and frankly pay for some marketing expenses up front.
Danny Mac: Yeah that’s right. I mean, like I went to the AFM, within the last three years and a big trend that I was seeing was a lot of people pitching their movies with social media stars attached, not actors but you know people who just have YouTube subscribers. I’m a millennial, but I never really considered putting anyone except for professional actors in my films before. I still don’t think that you need to stray away from that. My co-producer is Greg Miller, who used to work for IGN which the world’s biggest overall entertainment website, and he left and started his own company called Kinda Funny and used a YouTube celebrity with millions of followers. This film was right up his alley.
Jason Brubaker: Was he an actor in the movie?
Danny Mac: While he appears in the film in a documentary type fashion to discuss his views on professional wrestling, he’s not in it as an actor, because really what these social media influencers are best at is spreading the word about things. That’s why they get so many endorsement deals and you see them shouting out mini ads within what they’re doing. I think that’s a better way to utilize social media influences personally. So, you don’t have to worry about compromising your film by putting non actors in it. That’s not to say that social media stars aren’t great actors because there’s a kind of crossover, but I mean involving a social media star doesn’t necessarily have to mean that they become a star of your film. There’s other ways to utilize them and that’s just something I wanted filmmakers to keep in mind.
Jason Brubaker: You also had some social media influencers in your cast. Did this allow you to further leverage their audiences to find your movie audience?
Danny Mac: Absolutely yeah, because when you come on board with a social media star, if they’re committed to your project and spreading the word about it their audience becomes your audience. So, we were able to host sold-out screenings in cities that I never would have been able to go to.
Jason Brubaker: Where were your sold-out screenings?
Danny Mac: We did pack screenings in my hometown Edmonton, Alberta, obviously here in Vancouver Canada, Toronto, as well as Austin Texas and San Francisco. One really cool thing was that Greg and just Kinda Funny company were doing a live show in San Francisco and they invited all the fans from all over the world to come down for it. They made a screening of Heel Kick part of that big weekend. We had people from all over the world: U.K. Mexico, Brazil. Canada, all over the United States, Germany, Australia, all packed into this one theatre to kick off this big weekend.
Jason Brubaker: How did it feel to have an audience like that at your screening?
Danny Mac: I can’t even describe how great it was to have that many far-reaching corners of Earth converge to watch your film somewhere in a city you never would have been able to have a screening in. So yeah, we definitely took full advantage of it and it’s been going really well so far.
Jason Brubaker: Most times when I speak with independent filmmakers and they’ve had such a fantastic run on the theatrical side, even if they’re running their own theatrical screenings like you guys did, usually they get the appetite for getting some sort of massive distribution deal. But you chose to self-distribute the film. What brought you to that conclusion?
Danny Mac: There was a couple different reasons. I mean one, we were going to reach out to some of the larger distributors who seem a little more on the level. We did get a number of offers from smaller and mid-level distributors but, I think every filmmaker listening at this point who has filmmaker friends has probably heard a horror story about working with a distributor that they did not like, and they couldn’t get information from and they never really saw a dime.
Jason Brubaker: Yeah, it is crazy the stories out there about distributors.
Danny Mac: I didn’t want to be another statistic and so, I thought you know, win or lose, if I can self-distribute my film, the amount that I will learn from doing that by myself will be invaluable and I could use that to inform everything I do going forward. But you know, if you sign a distribution deal and you’re not seeing any money roll in and you’re sending them e-mails trying to figure out what’s going on and they’re not getting back to you, the only thing you will have learned is that that distribution company isn’t for you in the future.
Jason Brubaker: Since you self-distributed your film, what platform did you use?
Danny Mac: I used Distribber and there are a few other ones out there from what I understand. I mean I’ve learned so much without it completely breaking my back that I just feel like I’m a much better producer going forward.
Jason Brubaker: After you made the decision to self-distribute and you got it out in the marketplace, how well did your movie audience embrace the film?
Danny Mac: Yeah, our pre-sales were really cool. So, we really promoted iTunes even though we had pre-orders up on Google Play and Amazon as well. My girlfriend messaged me one day and said, hey you’re climbing up the pre-order ranks and we started spreading the word and then that’s where our co-producer Greg Miller started spreading the word. Before we knew it, we were in the topmost ten pre-ordered films in the U.K and Canada and the U.S and then we were in the top five and then we were third. There was Star Wars, Thor and then Heel Kick and it just looked so cool and then, sure enough, the next day we took the number one spot. So, we were the most pre-ordered film in North America for close to two days straight.
Jason Brubaker: How did it feel to see that your film beat movies like Star Wars?
Danny Mac: There’s nothing more surreal than seeing your film beat Star Wars at something for more than 48 hours, it was super wild and then yeah, the film managed to have a pretty healthy life-span on the New and Noteworthy charts and it’s still doing quite well on the comedy charts.
Jason Brubaker: Does the pro-wrestling community love it?
Danny Mac: People have really taken to it, the pro-wrestling community, if you can imagine a community besides filmmaking that has way more podcasts dedicated to it, the pro-wrestling one has like 1,000 times more. We always get people reaching out to us asking if we want to be guests and introduce the film to other pro-wrestling fans who don’t really have any narrative films for them, especially comedy ones. So, the community has just been awesome and all our reviews with fans and critics alike have been spectacular. We feel pretty blessed right now.
Jason Brubaker: Are you glad that you went independent with the making and distribution of Heel Kick?
Danny Mac: A lot of people have asked me, “You’ve worn so many hats making this wasn’t that overwhelming for you?” But I’m really glad that I took on as much as I did, because if you have a strong vision for something, you might as well go full force with it in all creative aspects. I was in the editing room for every frame of the final cut like I said, I co-directed the film. It’s one of the few screenplays that I’ve written completely by myself.
Jason Brubaker: What advice would you give to other filmmakers that want to have similar success?
Danny Mac: Don’t be afraid of getting overworked. A far worse fate is for you to bring on other voices that don’t gel with yours. That’s not to say don’t be collaborative but if you really have a clear vision for something and it’s a little out there and a little weird, maybe like a pro-wrestling comedy, make sure that your voice is the one driving it home because at the end of the day after years of hard work, win or lose, you want what is on screen to be yours and that’s how you learn most as well.
HEEL KICK is Available NOW on iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, VUDU, Xbox & PSN.
If you want to hear Danny’s voice on how to find your movie audience, you can listen to the full podcast here.
If you’re ready to take action and make your movie now, grab a copy of the filmmaker checklist.