spOILed Filmmaker Undertakes 'Grueling' Journey to Promote Film
If Mark Mathis, the director, producer and lead writer behind the documentary film spOILed, had one-tenth the budget behind marketing efforts for Gasland, his film would be playing in cities across the U.S. and worldwide, Mathis said.
Instead, Mathis is undertaking what he says is a "grueling, difficult" way to market a film, showing the film in one U.S. city at a time, hoping to get a break in the national press.
The Albuquerque, N.M.-based filmmaker decided to take this route after finding doors shut to funding resources on the film festival circuit.
"The distribution process is difficult anyway, but if you're doing a film that is not made with a liberal ideology for its theme, then your opportunities at film festivals is limited," Mathis told Rigzone in a recent interview.
After trying all these opportunities, Mathis took the four-wall approach to promoting the film: going town to town, paying theaters a fee to show the film, and then doing lots of grassroots marketing. With a limited advertising budget, that means Mathis goes on TV news shows, radio shows and seeks every opportunity to talk with people about the film.
Once the film is shown, the revenue generated from these showings comes back to Mathis. "If we do a good job, we make money and then have extra resources to go back into another market."
DVDs of the film are also made available for sale as part of the film's business model.
At the time of the interview, Mathis was on the road, marketing the film in Tulsa, Okla. The marketing junket has taken him to 20 cities. The film was screened in Houston in late February, Austin in early March and Dallas in early April. Mathis is planning to bring the film back to Houston for multiple night screenings, but dates are not on the calendar yet.
Mathis said he would love to know the source of funding for Gasland, which showed hydraulic fracturing in a negative light and criticized by oil and gas industry officials and others as being inaccurate.
"You can't go into all the cities they've gone into all over the world and not be backed by millions of dollars," Mathis said.
Mathis never sought funding from any oil and gas company of significant size "because we didn't want to be pigeonholed as a tool of big oil."
No Hollywood money went into the making of spOILed, just small investors. Some of the film's investors have interests in Little Oil but investors had no input in the content, Mathis said.
"For people who think that compromises me, I would like them to tell me exactly how someone with an interest in a small oil company can benefit from the film in any way," Mathis commented. "There is no way to benefit."
While major oil companies are aware of the film, none have whispered a word about its existence.
"I don't know if it's valid, but I've heard some people say they are afraid to say anything nice about the movie because they're worried they're could be retaliatory action against them by politicians," said Mathis.
The controversy "is not something that most oil companies want to be associated with."
spOILed Shows Impact of Oil, Deceptions about Its Reality
spOILed is not about oil and gas companies themselves, but about how oil impacts every aspect of our lives and the deception of the general public by various interest groups about the reality of oil, Mathis said.
The film lays out some disturbing reality in regards to oil production, Mathis said, making politicians who either are not serving the interests of the country or who are ignorant about energy and the national press unhappy.
spOILed: Movie Trailer
By making the film, Mathis commented that he wanted to give people "the straight up truth about what oil means to their lives, the fact that they're being deceived and why they're being deceived."
The film features interviews with:
- Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.)
- Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.)
- energy expert Michael Economides
- best selling energy author Robert Bryce
- Former Shell CEO John Hofmeister
- energy executive T. Boone Pickens
A Difficult, Inspiring Journey in Making the Film
Making the movie has "an incredible, difficult, inspiring, depressing at times journey," that Mathis started on four years ago.
Mathis had spent 10 years working in television news before leaving "to do something more meaningful". Mathis also has worked as a radio talk show host, actor and founded an energy education non-profit group CARE, and wrote the book "Feeding the Media Beast".
While working as a media consultant, he was hired for a project with a New Mexico-based oil and gas company.
"Up until then, I knew nothing about the energy industry," Mathis commented. When he began researching oil and gas, he found himself totally blown away by what he learned.
"So much of what I thought I knew was wrong," Mathis said. "If I'm this misinformed, what about the average American who hasn't worked in media?"
Mathis became obsessed with the subject, spending a lot of time reading and doing analysis. He then received a phone call from somebody working on a Ben Stein documentary about the controversy between Darwinism and intelligent design "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed". Mathis was asked to participate in making the film and wound up becoming the primary producer.
After discussing what he'd learned about the oil and gas industry with the crew on "Expelled", they decided to make a film about oil. Eight key people were involved in the film's camera work, writing, editing, sound, music and graphics--all contract labor--with another 15 people serving in minor or spot roles.
Progress making the film was slowed by fundraising efforts, the onset of the U.S. recession in late 2008 and the Macondo incident in April 2010.
"At great expense to myself personally and at the cost of a year's delay we went to the Gulf, shot the spill, and completely restructured the film, putting the spill at the front of the film, at the end and in the middle," Mathis said, adding that he felt it was important to include Macondo in the film, which is "about a realistic examination of our relationship to oil. Terrible accidents are part of that reality."
Major oil companies come out looking okay in the film, but Mathis said they did nothing to help him with the filmmaking process.
The film entered the film festival circuit in late spring/early summer 2010; after seeing doors slammed shut there, Mathis and the other producers decided to take the film directly to the people. Plans are in the works for a shorter version of the film for marketing internationally and an educational version that can be shown in schools.
It's been a big challenge getting word out about the film.
"You think you're making a big penetration and connecting with people, but there's a whole lot of people out there," Mathis said.
Debate over Hydraulic Fracturing Returns to Theaters, TV this Summer
The oil and gas industry, or specifically, the controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing, will be the subject of films coming to cable television or theaters nationwide.
A sequel to the film Gasland, a documentary about hydraulic fracturing that was criticized as being inaccurate is expected out this summer on HBO.
HBO reportedly provided $750,000 to fund production of Gasland 2, said John Krohn, vice president of FTI Consulting in Baltimore. Gasland 2 is expected to air on HBO this summer before a tour of screening across the country to coincide with the election season.
The Park Foundation, which supports scholarships and media that heightens public awareness of critical issues and protection of the environment has also funded promotion of Gasland for the past two years with $75,000 a year, said Tom Shepstone with the EID Northeast Marcellus Initiative.
Actress Debra Winger, who has a home in the Upper Delaware River Valley, played an instrumental role in getting the original movie off the ground. The Journal News of White Plains, N.Y. reported in a March, 27, 2010 article that Winger worked as an advisor on the film.
According to The Journal News, Gasland director and star Josh Fox contacted the actress for advice, and she jumped at the chance of becoming involved in getting Fox's message to a wider audience.
"I am a property owner in the Catskills, which is the home of my heart, and so that's how I began to find out about the gas drilling that was coming to the area. I became horrified."
The article reported that Winger consulted with friend and "Legal Eagles" co-star Robert Redford. Redford has been active in environmental causes.
Proponents of the documentary FrackNation in early April successfully raised the $150,000 needed to complete the film, with 3,305 backers pledging $212,265.
All the donations were made from individuals, none from companies or senior executives. Approximately $20,000 was pledged by companies and executives, but returned to prevent the appearance of being bought by oil and gas companies.
"I think we are the only indie filmmakers in the history of the world to send money back!" said journalist and filmmaker Phelim McAleer.
McAleer and Ann McElhinney, who previously made the documentaries "Mine Your Own Business" and "Not Evil Just Wrong", said in a statement on their website that the film will tell the truth about fracking.
FrackNation reportedly is expected to be released to coincide with the release of Gasland 2.
Actor Matt Damon has co-written and will star in "The Promised Land", an anti-fracking movie that will begin filming in late April, Politico reported.
McAleer and McElhinney responded to news about The Promised Land, saying that it would not be easy getting their message out about the truth behind fracking, with a sequel to Gasland underway and a big budget Hollywood movie.
"Now, we recognize Hollywood movies don't have to be truthful – they just have to be entertaining, but it's likely that Promised Land will increase unfounded concerns about fracking," said McAleer and McElhinney said in a statement on their website.
The producers of films and television shows need to realize that portraying the oil and gas industry and its practices with incorrect or incomplete information does have impact on how the average U.S. citizen and younger generation view the industry, said Dustin Price, who has worked in the entertainment and oil and gas industries.
"If Hollywood wants to put a message out there, is needs to be done in a responsible manner," said Price, adding that a balanced view of the energy industry is needed.
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