Reversal of Fortune — An Internet Success Story
By: Laurie Boudreau
In the world of distribution, there are quite possibly as many options as there are deals made. Then again, if you can’t nail down the deal you want, why not take matters into your own capable hands and self distribute?
That is exactly what writer/producer Jimi Petulla opted for with his original feature, Reversal, when he chose to sell it on DVD and VHS directly to movie-buyers via the Internet. And so far, he’s finding success. Petulla sold an amazing 10,000 units in only 90 days, recouping approximately $325,000, or 65% of the movie’s production costs.
Based on Petulla’s own life story, Reversal is about the drive for excellence and how it can affect relationships. Centered around high school wrestling, it explores the relationship between father and son and the rise from obscurity to fame. The story is enhanced by overall high production values, including DP Bill Molina’s remarkable footage of Pennsylvania countryside and Jeff Danna’s musical score.
A cast comprised of mostly non-actor athletes turns incredible, natural performances. Petulla plays the role of Coach Leone, a father who pushes his son to win at wrestling in order to win college education he himself never had. Among the non-athletes, newcomer Kelly Vint stands out as the lead character’s girlfriend.
With it’s sports-oriented, family-friendly theme, the movie has drawn praise from a variety of athletesincluding Olympic medallists Kurt Angle, Carl Lewis and Shannon Millerfor its realistic portrayal of the challenges, rewards and conflicts arising from strict training, discipline and competition. Academy award winning author John Irving calls it “more truthful and authentic than Vision Quest”.
The movie has screened at several fests around the country over the last year, receiving, among other recognition, an Audience Choice Award at the 2002 Malibu Fest, the Dove “Family Approved” Seal, and the most recently, Best Feature at the 2003 Durango Film Festival.
Petulla attempted the theatrical release route, but found the cost of promotion and marketing to be prohibitive. Looking to the Internet as viable alternative, he added three hours of extras to the movie particularly designed to appeal to supporters of the sport of wrestling and offered both DVD and extended VHS versions for sale at www.reversalthemovie.com. Petulla has set a goal of selling 25,000 by the end of 2003; if it happens, it will be a first.
Observes noted Hollywood entertainment attorney and author Mark Litwak, “Often independent filmmakers receive little or no money from their films. The growth of DVD as a popular format and the advent of the Internet as an efficient marketing tool gives the independent producer a potential venue to generate income by selling directly to the audience.”
Having built-in ‘niche’ audience greatly facilitates distribution of this kind. Knowing your target audience, thorough market research and strong, low cost Internet marketing techniques may help turn indie projects that are currently sitting ‘in the can’ into viable money-makers.
Reversal Cast: Danny Mousetis, Derrick Nelson, Jimi Petulla, Kelly Vint, Justin Spates, Guido “Cougar” Foehrweisser. ExProd: Jimi Petulla; Dir. Alan Vint; DP: Bill Molina; Music: Jeff Danna
Originally published in Indie Slate magazine.