Katy Wright-Mead, formerly of Fryeburg, Maine, left the Mount Washington Valley in 2001 to become an actress in New York City. Now, eight years later, she is returning, but not empty handed. She brings with her “The Graduates,” featuring her first major film role, for its New Hampshire/Maine premiere.
“The Graduates,” a coming-of-age comedy about a group of friends who head to the beach for one last hurrah before heading off to college, will be playing one night only at the North Conway Twin Theater in North Conway, N.H. Thursday, Nov. 12, at 7 p.m. There will be a question and answer after the screening with the cast and crew and an after party at Flatbread. Tickets are $8.
“I'm really excited about it,” said Wright-Mead, a 2001 graduate of Fryeburg Academy. “Every time we bring 'The Graduates' to the theater again I get really excited because it is new people that I am watching it with and that energizes me to see people react to the film every time. So to bring it to my hometown and have people I know reacting to this great film and knowing that I brought it there makes me really proud.”
Although Wright-Mead's role in the film is small, she has been intimately involved with the film's post production and marketing.
“I really believe in it,” said Wright-Mead. “I also think it is a great opportunity for me to start learning the behind-the-scenes stuff, how to market. I've sort of been living in the world of 'The Graduates' for a while now.”
And it has been a world that has been good to Wright-Mead and one that she is still excited by. She is eager to see the response on her old stomping ground.
“The first reaction is: 'Oh my God, it is a real movie,' and that is compliment of course,” said Wright-Mead. “My family are all movie lovers and it is really cool to hear them dissect the film and pick out points that they really like and show respect for it as a film and not just my movie, not just something I did, but as a real professional product.”
“The Graduates” was independently produced outside of the Hollywood system for $95,000. The typical model for the distribution of Hollywood film is a saturation of advertising on TV, the Internet, newspapers and radio for a simultaneous nationwide release with a DVD release to follow a few months later. A small percentage of independent, or indie, films are picked up and given this treatment.
“You'd be amazed how many indies just die on the shelf because people have gone onto other things or they just give up or they just don't see how or if they can do it themselves,” said “Graduates” director Ryan Gielen.
But Gielen didn't give up on his film when it wasn't picked up for distribution by one of the Hollywood studios.
“He [Gielen] considered this a business that they were starting and I don't think a lot of independent films do that and that's a unique thing,” said Wright-Mead. “Ryan shot indie film tips and tricks on set thinking ahead of time that this is another way to promote the film. And I know there were other things he did right off the bat in pre-production that were meant to help promote the film done the line.”
The cast and crew have been touring with the film across the country setting up screenings similar to the one in North Conway since May and previous to that were on the film festival circuit picking up awards at the Seattle True Indie Film Fest and the Rhode Island International Film Fest.
"We jokingly refer to it as: 'We don't have a movie, we have a circus,' ” said Gielen. “You just have to flog it everywhere because you don't have the television or radio presence that major studio films do.”
In self-distributing his film, Gielen has embraced free social media outlets like Facebook, Twitter and MySpace and it has yielded him a massive online following. He also has “The Graduates” on amazon.com, iTunes, Netflix and the free video site Hulu.
“If someone is completely dedicated to watching movies through Netflix or completely dedicated to finding movies on iTunes and watching them on their hand-held device and that is how they consume movies, why shut that person out if you're an indie film?” said Gielen.
Getting on these sites wasn't difficult and, according to Gielen, it is possible with a little hustle to be in all these places within a few months of completing a film.
“The downside of those outlets is they don't give you a great turn financially,” said Gielen. “You benefit from those outlets by being available everywhere, so if someone decides to watch your movie they can and will be able to find you in all their usual places.”
Even with that downside, the easy access of his film has helped drive interest to it and push DVD sales and for Gielen, it has always been about finding new ways to keep interest in his film. In keeping with that idea, he is developing new spinoffs from the film including a making of documentary, a remixed version of movie that will be available for free in the spring and a soundtrack contest in which people can vote at www.thegraduatesmovie.com to help create a new soundtrack for the film.
“We gave away our first soundtrack for free," said Gielen. “We had over 10,000 people download it in the first six months. It did great because people really fell in love with the film before they even saw it just from the music and so we wanted to extend that.”
The next step after “The Graduates” is, naturally, another film and Gielen has begun financing a film about a troupe of young, hungry actors who decide to put on an original musical to resurrect their failing careers.
“Now that 'The Graduates' has done so well, we are going out and raising a much bigger budget to do this next one independently as well," he said.
But that doesn't mean that “The Graduates” has been kicked to the curb just yet. As long as there is interest, Gielen will keep “The Graduates” out there because for him there's no greater experience as a filmmaker than to sit with an audience and watch the film.
“Just from a film guy's perspective, the film is so much more enjoyable to watch in a crowded theater than at home,” said Gielen. “We'll tour as long as we can fill a theater, as long as there is excitement about it.”