The film doesn't do great numbers. Does no numbers, actually. Shows at, like, nine theaters. No press cares to review it, except for a few Web sites that don't treat it kindly. Even here in Dallas, where the director's from, where the production facility's based, where, hell, the movie was shot, nobody's heard of it. A Killer what? A Killer Within? Uh...
But it's now on the racks of Wal-Mart. It's available for purchase at Blockbuster. On April 19, you can buy it at target.com, barnesandnoble.com and circuitcity.com. It's the sort of DVD distribution an independent filmmaker dreams of. Indeed, Brad Keller, A Killer Within's director, says, "It is a monumental task that an independent film is so widely distributed, you can pick it up anywhere."
So how did he do it? How did he go from filming an independent (and a decidedly schlock-y independent, according to the critics) to Barnes & Noble, to Blockbuster, to--for God's sake--Wal-Mart? "I think it just comes from being a nice guy these last 10 years and not screwing anybody over," Keller says.
Don't listen to him. He's being humble. Truth is, Keller took a mighty risk when he decided that he and the rest at Fireside Entertainment (A Killer's development and production facility) would handle domestic video distribution alone. The plan worked so well that today Fireside has its own distribution arm. Today Brad Keller flies to L.A. not to pitch a movie, but to have movies pitched to him.
A Killer Within was Fireside's debut feature film; it premiered last year at Cannes. It's about a Dallas attorney who comes home one night to find his wife murdered and the words "Now we're even" scrawled on the bedroom wall. Cops think the attorney, Addison Terrill (played by C. Thomas Howell, of The Outsiders fame), did the ugly business. Terrill thinks it's the guy he sent to prison who's now out on parole.
"Lazy to a fault, A Killer Within's biggest problem is that as a whodunit, there's no other whos to dun," wrote filmcritic.com, one of the few outlets willing to screen the movie. "Badly acted and featuring a script that needs about a dozen rounds of rewrites, you're best off giving this one a pass."
But that's not what Blockbuster thought. Throughout the writing, throughout filming, Keller checked in with Blockbuster distribution reps--and, really, any reps anywhere--asking them what their consumers look for in a film.
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"That's smart of him," says Dana Harris, a film reporter at Daily Variety, Hollywood's trade publication of note. With a film like this, one Harris describes as a "garden-variety potboiler with B- and C-grade actors...basically, you're not aiming for quality [of film]." Your aim, Harris says, is to get it to video and "move units." Best way to do that is making nice with the people who can move them.
But it sounds so Hollywood, doesn't it? So un-independent. Keller says it's not: "I won't shoot a frame until everybody's happy." Therefore, no artistic freedom is compromised. Harris says, "Yeah right. Whatever."
But she is impressed by his business acumen. "It's unusual for a small company to do that," she says about Keller and the company handling its domestic distribution, to land on the racks of Blockbuster and the rest, to found its own distribution arm.
Keller says, "It's very rare that you get an opportunity to be a full-time film director in Dallas." With distribution sales, he can be. He and Fireside are under contract for two more films. Time will tell whether it's a good thing.