I finished this recently and I couldn't help but get mad while reading it. But not really at the distributors (though they are to blame for quite alot of their reckless and stupid handling process) but at the filmmaker/author, Vincent Rocca.
The book basically goes like this: once upon a time a guy liked watching R-rated movies when he was a youngster, grew up, dropped out of high school, made and distributed porn, maintained a billiards store, decided to make a full length feature after casual consideration (cause hey, if you can do porn, might as well take the next step and make a commercial feature), did it with much trouble and heavy spending in the process, finished it, tried to find someone to buy it, had a deal then lost it....then got another one with the same people, but for considerably less. The end...?
I guess i'm supposed to pity the underdog, the artist who through all his trials and tribulations made a film that nearly ruined him financially. That he slaved many of his years away and felt very strongly about from the beginning. That'll help launch a lucrative film career but the almighty powerful machine that is Hollywood refused him this. We should be up in arms! Cheer for him! Hope that he succeeds!
Unfortunately, this doesn't happen. And to me, it doesn't come as a surprise at all. As the book casually mentions off and on (and judging solely by the trailer, i'm waiting for Netflix to deliver the DVD for Kisses and Caroms), his final film...just isn't any good. Vince just never had the capacity and talent to make the film that would help launch his career. He certainly had the ambition, no doubt about it. And the experience as well. But ambition and experience alone will not propel you upwards (though in some weird rare cases it does, look at producer Jon Peters). You have to know what you're doing too.
EDIT: I've since seen the film. Yep, it's not very good at all.
The five day shooting schedule, the unnecessary requirement to "be best buddies" with your cast (rather than finding people who will make your film better/add more exposure), realizing there were issues at the storyboard stage, initially dismissing reaction from a general audience and just listening to the "Yes Men" (in the form of families, friends, and cast/crew), the eye-rolling and embarrassing sucking up to Kevin Smith, not making contractual agreements ahead of time and getting screwed over financially because of it, the egotistical insistence of getting his name on the title despite it being his first film. Man, I can go on and on. There were TOO MANY wrong things that lead to the film's ultimate downfall. Not to mention reading him spend so much cash on so many things, it started to make my head spin on how fast he was spiraling down into debt.
No doubt the movie made money in the end, and would've made alot more if the initial distribution deal between National Lampoon, Warner, and this now-defunct company Polychrome (which was apparently filled with the SLIMIEST disgusting group of irresponsible people, DESPERATE for cash and had no idea what they were doing). But the real question is: if the initial Lampoon deal would've gone through, would Vincent gotten another shot at making a film? Would he have had the career he was dreaming of since he typed up the first few words of the Kisses and Carom script?
My guess is no. He'd have alot of cash but no chance at a career. It's all in the film. Had he made something that had that unique stamp to it, be it the endless wit of a Kevin Smith or directing chops of a Todd Phillips, he would've rebounded by now. Or at least kept trying. Instead, according to IMDb, he's only been an indie producer since. The latest effort called "Making Waste", a documentary about a filmmaker who dived into poverty to make the film he dreamed of...and I guess never went anywhere.
Kisses and Caroms should've been a test film or the short film he pondered about during development. Quentin Tarantino's first film, My Best Friend's Birthday, was pretty bad (or what remains of it). Even Tarantino derides it as nothing but "guitar picks", wasted celluloid that only served as his film school. But then he went on to write three scripts, one of which he directed a couple of years later and made movie history. Thing is, Reservoir Dogs wasn't just a "lucky hit". The reason the film had a big budget and an all-star cast was because Harvey Keitel and the other talent LOVED the script, Tarantino has the gift of interesting gab. He was set to blow MORE money on another film cause he had the drive, passion, and TALENT to make it so. Kevin Smith also made a hit cause he was too an exceptional writer who worked with leads who played their parts right. Robert Rodriguez made it big not because he merely made a film for $7000...he made it cause he made a GOOD WATCHABLE film for $7000. Making it cheap was what got him picked up fast. Not to mention cast people who fit the part like Peter Marquardt as Moco cause he looked like Christopher Walken and MEAN (they happened to be friends in the process but it wasn't the driving reason for his casting).
But if you don't play your cards right, can't write as good as the majors...then yes, it is a fairy tale. A pipe dream. You are going to have a hard time trying to get people to watch your stuff, cause no one will want to watch it! No one will want to invest in it and instead give you the runaround! And if you do somehow get it out there and have people watch it (be it through the shadiest of businesses), no one will want to watch anything with your name on it ever again!
Even when it finally got on the shelves in Wal-Mart, Vincent was feeling hesitant about it being there instead of relieved. Worried he was going to disappoint the person who will see it rather than be proud that someone out there will see and like it. The extreme lack of confidence just told me he accepted (or knew) he was putting out a sub-par product on the market, and that was the end of that story for me. Dudes like Smith and Tarantino were spending tons of cash making films they knew will put them in financial ruin...but were very proud of the end product anyway. That's the main difference between the Christopher Nolans and Wannabes of the world.
If there is one really good thing i'll say about the book, it was its wealth of valuable knowledge of the film process. From the inception of the idea to the DVDs on the shelf, it's a great experience to read on how hard and laborious the process is. Everything you need to be wary of, and especially avoid, is pretty much here. But even in Hollywood, there are lots of experienced people in his industry but only a handful of people made it to the top. Why is that so? Is it truly an unfair system? Are people trying to avoid watching your cheap-to-make film and bar you from making their next $100 million blockbuster?
I say no. Alot of it IS luck due to over-saturation in the market and the ever changing face of technology, but here's another snippet: Fede Alvarez is set to direct the remake to Evil Dead. Who is he and why is he directing the remake to a darling cult classic? Well, he's a small time filmmaker from Uruguay and he made a short film that looked like it was made for millions of dollars...for $300. And it was pretty good. Based on that he got noticed and picked up. THAT is how you play the game. You show the fat cats you can make an impressibility high quality looking WATCHABLE commercial product for dirt cheap. Then they'll come running and take care of you (though you should watch your back).
If you make anything less, prepare to struggle. And if you truly love what you're doing, willing to kill yourself to improve your craft and network your butt off, you might earn a decent living like the many "American Pie direct-to-video" directors, producers, and writers of the world.