On Location: Producing “Red Doors”

(Almost) Ready for Primetime

One of the most fortuitous events to come out of our film festival run was the chance meeting and eventual partnership with TV producer Steve Tao. Steve saw our film at Tribeca and approached us about turning Red Doors into a one-hour television drama. While we were at Outfest, we met with CBS, and they bought our pitch.

We spent the next four months adapting Red Doors for television and writing a one-hour pilot script. Georgia, Mia and I got a crash course in TV writing — especially handling the tricky five-act structure that culminates in a mini-cliffhanger before each commercial break.

While we already had characters to work with, we found that the vast canvas of TV storytelling required us to think much more broadly about each of our characters. This gave us more room for development; for example, in the TV show we planned on exploring Julie’s coming-out process.

We had a great time working with CBS and Paramount while developing the show, but in the end, we didn’t get a greenlight to pilot. We were told that while they loved the script, corporately, CBS was going more high-concept for the 2006–2007 television season. Looking at their fall line-up, I have to admit that it would have been tough to try and squeeze in a quirky family drama between all their CSI-type procedurals.

But it would have been really cool to bring an Asian-American family with a lesbian main character to prime time.

The First Weekend

The most important number for limited-release, independent films is the per-screen box office average during opening weekend.

Absolute box office numbers are meaningless since most indies release on just a few screens at a time. Distributors look at these numbers to determine whether or not they want to expand to more cities. Retailers look at these numbers to determine whether they want to carry a title on DVD.

Because these numbers are so important, grassroots organizations such as The First Weekenders group work hard to rally audiences to see indie films in their first week of release.

A strong per-screen average is $10,000. A phenomenal per screen-average is above $20,000. According to Box Office Mojo, Saving Face averaged $12,517 per screen on opening weekend. Brokeback Mountain averaged $109,485.

Red Doors opened on two screens in New York on September 8, 2006: the 260-seat theater at the Angelika Film Center and the 285-seat theater at the ImaginAsian theater. In an otherwise lackluster box office weekend, Red Doors opened as the top grossing film, per screen, in the entire country.

We ended up grossing $35,050 over those two screens, yielding a strong per screen average of $17,525. Because we have a very limited advertising budget, we are dependent on grass-roots efforts, PR and word-of-mouth to spread awareness.

We took advantage of inexpensive online methods such as setting up a MySpace page and posting weekly podcasts on our website and at iTunes. We blogged frequently on our site too.

So that’s the good-parts recounting of the making of an independent film. I hope to see you in the theaters … and bring a friend.