D.E.B.S., which was originally produced as a short film through POWER UP, was picked up by Screen Gems, a subsidiary of Sony Pictures entertainment, to be made into a feature film and was released by Samuel Goldwyn Films, a major distributor. The film, however, opened on March 25, 2005 â€” that was Dinah Shore Weekend â€” opposite the Bernie Mac comedy Guess Who and Sandra Bullock’s Miss Congeniality 2.
Thrasher believes that the film’s distributor didn’t understand how to properly position the film. "They just didn’t get it," she said. "They really, I think, were afraid to have anybody know it was a gay film. They were really dancing around the issue; they were really trying to push it for a teen audience."
Ultimately, Thrasher, along with POWER UP’s founder Stacy Codikow and director Angela Robinson, went out to the gay community in Los Angeles and attempted to raise awareness of the film on their own. But though D.E.B.S. has since become a cult hit, it never succeeded in theaters. "This is a perfect example of how you can spend a lot of money making a great film that could be a huge audience-pleaser," Thrasher said, "and if you don’t know how to market it properly and you’re stupid about things, you can really tank a film."
Some queer filmmakers have opted to skip the studio system â€” niche or otherwise â€” altogether and produce and market their films entirely independently. An example of someone who chose this path is director Katherine Brooks, whose 2006 film Loving Annabelle screened on the festival circuit before being released on DVD by Wolfe Video last December. "They are passionate about getting the film out there," Brooks said of Wolfe’s efforts behind the film.
Loving Annabelle is about a boarding-school girl, Annabelle (played by Erin Kelly), who falls in love with her female teacher, Simone (Diane Gaidry). Though the subject matter could have set off a firestorm of controversy, the vast majority of responses to the film have been positive, and the controversial love story has been embraced by lesbian and bisexual viewers.
"Ninety-five percent of the feedback has been very positive and very supportive," Brooks said to AfterEllen.com. "I do not see the film as being controversial, but I am also able to step outside myself and form a different perspective. We have a 40-year-old woman; a 17-year-old girl; a teacher and a student; a Catholic school. Two women on top of that. I can see how it can be viewed as controversial, but most people root for them to be together because their love defies all boundaries and reason."
Out lesbian filmmaker J.D. Disalvatore (Eating Out 2, Shelter) credits much of Loving Annabelle‘s success to Brooks’ efforts in spreading the word about her film. "Katherine Brooks was doing so much of her own marketing on MySpace; she’s going out there," Disalvatore said at Q-Me Con, pointing out that not all lesbians know who Wolfe Video is or read the same queer publications or websites. "How do we reach these people? The internet and radio. And Katherine Brooks has really gone out there and done that."
According to Disalvatore, DVD releases of lesbian films such as Loving Annabelle, Girl Play or The Incredibly True Adventure of Two Girls in Love typically bring in three times the amount of a theatrical release. "Theatrical is the ad for DVD right now," Disalvatore said. "The DVD release is generally three times the box office release."
Direct-to-video is one option for lesbian films to reach their intended market. Samantha Sprecher, head of feature film development with Billy Crystal’s Face Productions, explained at Q-Me Con, "All of the studios have started direct-to-video lines where they want to make movies for a certain price, usually like under $5 million. â€¦ Those films â€¦ will just go straight to DVD."
Unfortunately, the studios are not necessarily interested in queer content. "What I see happening in those big studios," Sprecher said, "[is that] they won’t touch queer content, whether it’s lesbian or gay. It seems like â€¦ that’s the territory of here! and Wolfe and TLA."