For filmmakers Roger Nygard and W.K Border, it was at least the 20th screening of "Trekkies." This time, it was for a handful of executives from October Films, who were curious about the documentary that had been the source of some industry buzz this summer.
The mood in the small screening room at the Charles Aidikoff theater in Beverly Hills was somber. There was an occasional guffaw here and there, but the reaction was nothing extraordinary.
After the lights came up, the representatives of independent film distributor got up, shook hands with the filmmakers, exchanged pleasantries and were gone.
Weeks later, "Trekkies" is still unsold. About a dozen more screenings have been held since, hundreds of invitations and letters have been sent to studios, dozens of meetings have been held with Hollywood decision makers, and a Web site has been created to try to hook a distributor.
By last week, the filmmakers had stopped the screenings. Everybody in town who could possibly be interested in the film had already seen it. Next, they will make the film festival rounds.
Whatever happens, it stands to be a long wait before "Trekkies" is known to the general public. If ever.
More than 1,000 independent films are shopped to distributors every year, and only a tiny fraction are bought. Documentaries are an even longer shot.
But to the most ardent of documentary producers, there is still that chance that their movie will be the next "When We Were Kings," whose creator, Leon Gast, sold his film for $3.5 million the highest payoff ever for a documentary.
"God knows, there are many different ways for an independent film to get made and shopped and released," said Robert Berger, executive producer of the independent film "House of Yes," which found a distributor in Miramax Films. "Some never see the light of day, after people have maxed out their credit cards and have mortgaged their houses. For every success story, there's probably 40 or 50 that will never be seen."
Despite the problems finding a distributor for "Trekkies," its creators 35-year-old director Nygard, producer Border and co-executive producer and star Denise Crosby say it has been worth the effort.
The three are not exactly newcomers to Hollywood. Nygard has directed and sold independent films for almost a decade. Border owns a post-production house in West Hollywood, Neo Motion Pictures, and Crosby (Bing Crosby's daughter-in-law) is an actress who played Lt. Tasha Yar on "Star Trek: The Next Generation."
It was Crosby's idea to make the documentary. She approached Nygard over lunch early last year about the idea.
"Before I knew it, Roger ran back to Keith and said, 'What do you think about this?' " recalled Crosby.
The three then got together and decided they were going to go for it. There was just the matter of getting the financial backing for the film.
From the beginning, said the trio, studio executives were not interested in a film about "Star Trek" fans, let alone a documentary.
"We thought we would actually test the waters because we thought ... well, certainly someone would want to give us $50,000 or $150,000 on a fly to go off and make the movie," said Border. "We couldn't find anyone."
It was the "D" word documentary that turned studio executives off, Nygard said. Industry executives told him they were a waste of time, because they never make any money.
"Whereas everybody who was not in the business of selling a film was saying, 'Great idea, I can't believe no one's done it,' "
After being rejected countless times in their search for financing, the trio decided to put their own money into the film. The three of them invested more than $100,000, according to Border, who said it would have cost them a lot more were it not for the easy access given to the crew because of Crosby's association with the "Star Trek" series.
"Denise was our key into the whole 'Star Trek' world, she provided us entree and access to the talent," said Border.
She also got them free plane tickets and hotel rooms.
For example, if the crew needed to shoot at a "Star Trek" convention, Crosby would agree to appear as a celebrity guest speaker at the function in exchange for travel and hotel accommodations. Crosby would then roll over her first-class ticket into five coach tickets and bring the crew.
"I would say, 'Instead of my per diem, let's get a hotel room,' " explained Crosby. "We would find some way to pull it off."
The film required close to 30 days of shooting over a nine-month period. It shows "Star Trek" fans, also called Trekkies or Trekkers, in all their glory.
One Woodland Hills man featured in the film is considering having his ears surgically altered to resemble the pointy ears of Leonard Nimoy's Vulcan character from the show, Mr. Spock. The filmmakers also paid a visit to an interstellar language school in Redlake Falls, Minn., which teaches the nuances of the Klingon language.
With the film completed, the most tedious part lay ahead: trying to sell it.
"It's very, very difficult to get a deal," said Rosanne Korenberg, vice president of acquisitions at Goldwyn Entertainment, a distributor of one of the highest grossing documentaries ever, "You So Crazy."
Korenberg said she saw "Trekkies" and believes it "has theatrical possibility." But more important, she says, is the film's core audience of "Star Trek" fans, who could be expected to go to the film in droves.
"It's absolutely a factor," said Korenberg. "One of the bases on which you decide on a film is building a niche audience, which means you can get it open. The specialized film market is so difficult, if you don't get the publicity or great reviews, there is no floor. A core audience is absolutely important. I think there's a good chance that 'Trekkies' will get a distribution deal."
But not from Goldwyn. To date, Nygard says, several offers have been made by major studios, but he declines to name any of them. Currently, he said his best prospect is to take the film direct to video.
"We've met with distributors who specialize in sell-through home videos. We're actually working out the parameters," Nygard said.
Another possibility is to "four-wall" the movie (meaning to rent out a theater themselves for $3,000 to $10,000 and hope it generates a favorable audience buzz a strategy successfully engineered by the makers of the film "Slackers").
"It's better than having your film sit on a shelf," said Nygard. "By four-walling, you rent the theaters, and you get 100 percent of the gate."
Meanwhile, said Nygard, no matter what you do, or how many studio executives you persuade to see your film, it comes down to whether the audiences will like it.
"Ultimately, your film has to deliver," said Nygard.
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