FILMS GONE WILD: ATTENTION INDIE FILMMAKERS! LESSONS YOU CAN LEARN FROM A SEX TOY CONVENTION

My first Film Threat column entry…

Over the last few days, I’ve been mulling over my new Film Threat column. I knew I intended this column to offer an (arguably) insider’s look into film. It was also to be a confessional from someone involved in more than a few aspects of film festival life, entertainment PR and out-and-out moviemaking. So I naturally found myself formulating this column’s debut as I made the rounds at The ANME Founders Convention at the Burbank Marriott. To cut to the chase – it’s an industry showplace for the makers, buyers and sellers of sex toys and novelties.

Why was I there? Well, my wife works for a company that is one of the oldest and most prominent manufacturers of sex toys and this is one of their biggest shows. So, it’s more or less her equivalent of opening a movie. Especially with her company because they are legendary for the creativity and energy they put in to the presentation, the big show (as it were). One year, it had a “Route 69” 50’s diner theme (Get it?). Another year it was a Western theme. This year, they had a Circus theme. Sex under the big top, “Let’s all climb into the clown car with our dildos and vibrators and stuff!” Fun!

Well, first I did a tour of the rest of the show. And even though this is what my wife does to bring home the bacon…or do I bring home bacon and she brings home toast? I guess I bring home… I don’t know, it’s not like it’s a competition. The point is, even though this is her day job, my knowledge of this stuff is likely not that much more advanced than anyone else’s that has wandered past the right shelf at a Spencer’s Gifts or perused the naughty gifts his wife got at her bachelorette party. I’ve looked over her shoulder at a catalogue listing she was working on and asked, “How does that thing work?” more than a few times. So for me this show was just an endless parade of vibrators and dildos and lubricants and lingerie and toys, toys, toys. I mean, I wasn’t halfway through my first lap around the place and I was “seen it, done it, been there.” Actually, that’s not true at all. This was one case where I had neither “seen it,” “done it” (at least with said items), nor “been there” (not even within humming distance, if you get my drift).

And still I was bored.

And, that brings me to how this relates to independent filmmaking today.

I was bored.

I swear, every damn company had multiple variations of things that looked like the E.T.s that came out of the ship in CLOSE ENCOUNTERS that are designed to go in and around and adjacent to the vagina. Most had some kind of rings and prods and straps to “inspire” the penis to raise its head to salute time and time and yet, one more time again.

A banner read “The show and tell in adult novelties.” Well, what they were showing me is that in an effort to make this stuff “acceptable,” they were all homogenizing the crap out of it, rinsing all of the fun and weirdness away, and streamlining sex toys to the point that I was yawning. And what it was telling me is that this show -which markets SEX – was boring me in an effort to make their stuff safe and okay and inoffensive so I would buy it. Or to be fair, so some distributors would buy it and THEN try to sell it to me even more inoffensively. Like with tea.

This thing was making me think of all the indie filmmakers busting their asses to make cool little movies (those $50K to $200K kind), movies that “had to be made.” Not those million or multiple million dollar “indie” movies with TV stars in them or movie stars hoping that spreading some “grit” on their acting cracker will reward them with Oscar. No, the legit indie movies made for a fraction of that – those films. Those indie filmmakers putting the rest of their lives on hold and oftentimes all of their finances in the production hopper and then damn near wishing on a star they would get into and then subsequently get a big buy out of Sundance or Toronto or SXSW or you name it. Rolling the dice. Hoping against hope. Make the movie, just get it made and then figure it out. Or better yet, hope that you could afford a publicist and a sales agent to figure it out for you. Because that’s how it’s been done. Nevermind the fact that it’s working less and less even for the filmmakers with much bigger budgets  and stars – just do it anyway. Because, what else are you going to do? How would you sell your movie? That shit’s hard. So just do it like everyone else does it and maybe it will work out after all. Right?

Wrong.

It was time to see what was waiting for me under the Sex Co. big top. Now, the presentation was immediately fun and accessible. Basically, it was like each of their product lines had it’s own circus train car. Simple enough. One had military inspired toys: grenades and bombs that would go in places usually not suited for grenades and bombs. Another had tasty sprays and crèmes for the bed foodie. And another had stuff that was designed for the guy and gal that fantasize about hooking up in an insane asylum. Hot. I mean there was that Halle Berry movie, right? Where she’s insane over the amount of screen time Robert Downey Jr. was getting or something? Put some cuffs and a paddle in that and now it’s Hot Crazy.

What’s important is that they were making it fun and easy to differentiate between their toys and accessories and everyone else’s. Before I was in a sex mall and now I found myself in a sex SHOW. Well, not Tijuana sex show, but you get it. The difference was THAT startling. And it kept getting better. The company’s publicist (a friend) came over to give me the official spiel about some products that are basically “feels like flesh” figurines of women. Not life size sex dolls, but smaller, fleshy little companions large enough to, uhmm…spend time with. Quality time. That no one else really needs to know about kinda time.  And they have given each “woman” a name and a back story. And the publicist says, “it’s more of a high maintenance line, but then again, so are women.” I thought to myself, I’d touch one of those flesh-tastic dates long before I would touch that line.

Brilliant! They put a lot of work into creating these elegant “ladies of the night” that are so well done, fans of the line buy them and never take them out of the packaging because they don’t want to “ruin” them. And beyond the product itself, they went another nine yards by creating these “personalities” around them making each “girl” even more desirable and collectible.

So, let’s go back to movies. Let’s assume that the little indie movie is great. You still have to entice people to see it (and ultimately buy it). And if you can’t depend on it making it’s way to a bunch of theaters ushered by the likes of an IFC or Sony Pictures Classics or Oscilliscope, then it’s up to you to PUT ON THE SHOW to get someone to BUY THE SHOW. You’ve gotta be William Castle now. Put the buzzers under the seats, string up a skeleton and pay some hot “nurses” to give out insurance policies (just in case an audience member dies from fright during the screening). If making the movie was that important to you, then getting people to watch it and buy it should be just as important to you.

And it doesn’t end there. It’s the merchandising, baby. While Ms. Filmmaker is plotting out her intimate little masterpiece or Film School Whiz is storyboarding his opus they also need to be working on the images for the posters and t-shirts, working the business deals for the soundtrack, maybe even culling the design materials for a coffee table book. Because everything counts in all amounts.

The conclusion of my sex toy tour took me to yet another example of why apparently every other company outside the tent in the sex mall has it in for this one in a major way. On one side of an exclusive little showpiece room was their high end, yet still affordable line. It was like, if sex toys were cars, then these vibrators would have a Lexus “L” on them.  And in the adjacent room was a line of toys that were apparently made for the man and/or woman who saw THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE more than once. And considered it a love story. Vile, gross, and heinous in each and every way, the line was so shocking that it was the “can’t miss” highlight of the entire convention. People claimed they couldn’t stomach it, but they had to keep coming back for another look.

And that was the final lesson. The one thing that people are almost certainly still talking about from that four-day convention was the idea that no one else had. And even though the vast majority of those buyers would never buy anything from that particular line, they certainly won’t forget the people responsible as they decide to order a ton of “Lexus vibrators.” For the indie filmmaker, you must now enthusiastically make a name for yourself and gain some notoriety for yourself as a brand. Be fearless. Take no prisoners. Make everyone look. Because more and more, that will be your way into the big tent.




Posted on July 15, 2010 in Features, Films Gone Wild by
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3 Comments on "FILMS GONE WILD: ATTENTION INDIE FILMMAKERS! LESSONS YOU CAN LEARN FROM A SEX TOY CONVENTION"

  1. Monique Parent on Thu, 15th Jul 2010 1:27 pm 

    Love it! As someone who is involved with many independent films – the good ones get lost in the shuffle but the really bad or cheesy ones get seen forever – I see some valuable lessons here. Thanks for helping me look at it in a different way. And I really want to see the circus YOU saw…


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  2. John Wildman on Thu, 15th Jul 2010 2:51 pm 

    That is a key point in this, Monique. So often, really accomplished films kinda do a fade while the mediocre have a staying power due to the work of the filmmaker to plant them in the marketplace (let alone our heads).

    I remember a conversation I had at the Dallas Film Festival with Tze Chun (whose fantastic little film CHILDREN OF INVENTION just became available on Amazon.com) about this very subject. And he was saying he didn’t want to do any of this. He just wanted to move on to the next film. Well, tough. Indie film doesn’t have a Di Medici to finance your “art.” You have to get out there and hawk your wares.

    And, yeah… That circus WAS a sight to see!


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  3. annalee on Mon, 19th Jul 2010 12:49 pm 

    Hi John!
    I LOVE this article – it SO speaks to me because… well, i’m a filmmaker AND one of the people responisble for these crazy toys. I love what you said at the end: as a filmmaker, make yourself a BRAND. Great suggestion. And also that you have to make your movie, but you also have to make your t-shirts, your posters, your coffee table book. SO true. That’s the world we live in now. A filmmaker has to be an artist AND a business person. Same is true for musicians.
    Thanks!


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