Q&A with Chip Hiden & Alexis Irvin, directors of Blood, Sweat, & Beer

(Photo by Mike Oliver)

Chip Hiden and Alexis Irvin are filmmakers and beer enthusiasts. And it shows: Their latest collaboration is the documentary Blood, Sweat, & Beer

Their road to distribution is a great example of grassroots marketing. They’ve built up a following by finding and appealing to their niche audience of beer connoisseurs. And their own blood, sweat and tears have paid off: Their summer screening tour has been a big opportunity to create buzz and sales by pairing live events with pre-order coupons. Here is their story:  

VHX: Tell us a little about Blood, Sweat, and Beers: What inspired this project?

Hiden and Irvin: We LOVE beer! During our travels with our first film, we noticed a craft beer revolution brewing up in towns and cities all across the country. Breweries and craft beer bars are everywhere now. We started taking brewery tours and meeting the people behind the pint and hearing about how much passion they pour into their work. In April 2013, we decided to start filming a documentary about the industry and two startups.

VHX: When did you start marketing the film and what marketing outlets did you use?

Hiden and Irvin: We had our world premiere in March 2015 at the DC Independent Film Festival — it was a really awesome event, we sold out the theater, and we had the brewers in the film pouring beer in the lobby.They all kicked their kegs! After that, we continued playing film festivals all around the country.

In addition to festivals, we (mostly Alexis) planned a 45-city brewery screening tour. Here's how it has been working: We book the event with a brewery, then write emails to every beer writer, film critic, journalist, blogger, homebrew club, etc. in town. Sometimes we sell tickets to cover our expenses or the brewery just gives us gas money. Then, we show up in a taproom with our projector, a screen, and a sound system. We've had awesome turnouts so far and great feedback on the film. Plus, we get to travel all over the country. It's kind of like being a band!

VHX: It’s an impressive amount of screenings. How did you know where to go?

Hiden and Irvin: We have a screening request form on our website that has led to tons of screenings. We also reached out to breweries on our own. We started by making a list of all the breweries on the east coast and then sent them an email to see if they'd be interested in doing an event. We did everything we could to make it a win-win scenario. For example, we let them know that we could reach out to press in their town — good for the brewery, and good for the film. Next, we often worked out a 50/50 ticket split or a small screening fee so that the brewery could make some money and we could cover gas and lodging for the night.

VHX: You've created coupons to give screening attendees discounts on purchasing the film. Have you done any other promotions or offers that have drummed up traffic or pre-orders?

One other creative niche we thought of was beer festivals. We worked with the American Beer Classic in Chicago (10,000 attendees) to distribute coupon codes to their email list that allowed people to pre-order the film for 20% off. We also attended that event and handed out coupons to watch the movie for free.

As soon as we get some more free time, we want to reach out to a bunch of other beer festivals to see if they'd be interested too.

VHX: How did you find and build your audience? 

Hiden and Irvin: We're building our audience one screening at a time. We don't have a huge marketing budget so we totally rely on word of mouth and live events — we always ask each person at the screening to tell at least 5 friends about the movie and pre-order it on our website

It's also important to start with a well-defined niche. For Blood, Sweat, and Beer, our niche is craft beer lovers, people who go to breweries, homebrewers, groups like Girls Pint Night Out, Pink Boots Society, and Barleys Angels. We’ve also connected with social media apps like Untappd, and beer groups on Reddit, Facebook, Meetup, and many more.

For our first film The Dream Share Project, about people who pursued their dream career, our niche was colleges, the Career Services office, and Student Activities.

VHX:  The brewing community is an important component to the film. Did you already have a relationship with that world?

Hiden and Irvin: No, we started as fans. We learned a ton about the industry through making this film and filming with over 100 breweries. Beer people are the best!

VHX: What role have film festivals played in promoting your film?

Hiden and Irvin: Film festivals have been incredibly important for us, despite how expensive they can sometimes be. Here's an example: We recently got into Newport Beach Film Festival, which is just south of Los Angeles. Alexis and I were hesitant about whether we could afford to attend and pay for flights, a rental car, an Air BnB, meals, etc.

We eventually decided to go, despite out rapidly shrinking bank account. Two weeks after the festival, we got emails from 2 different distributors interested in the film. We also have met so many incredible filmmakers at film festivals and learned so much.

VHX: What made you decide to sell digital downloads in addition to DVD sales?

Hiden and Irvin: We know that everybody has different viewing preferences. Craft beer has huge cross-generational appeal and we want to have the film available in as many formats as possible so that anyone can watch it, even if they haven't made the leap into digital. Also, with print-on-demand DVD services like Amazon's CreateSpace, we can keep the costs down and not have to worry as much about fulfillment and shipping.

VHX: How did you put the budget together for your film?

Hiden and Irvin:  Ha,ha we didn't! We’re both pretty frugal and DIY types so we just kept an eye on our finances and spending as we worked on the film.

VHX: What has been the biggest challenge you've faced with this project?

Hiden and Irvin: The transition from creative work (filming, editing, etc) to business work (marketing, selling, etc.) was difficult at first. Creative is more fun, but the business side is essential. After all, what's the point of making a film if you don't find a way to share it with people?

Also, another challenge was that this film was made entirely by two people and we wore every single hat — producer, cinematographer, editor, fundraiser, marketer, sales agent, etc. That can be very difficult and stressful, but ultimately really rewarding.

VHX: How did you decide to go the direct distribution route?

Hiden and Irvin: We were inspired by Indie Game: The Movie, an awesome video game documentary by a couple like us and one of the early films on VHX. They have a great guide for self-distribution

VHX:  What do you like to watch? What are some of your favorite movies and shows?

Irvin: My favorite movies are Little Women, Adventureland, and a viewing of Spring Breakers with my best friends and a frozen cocktail. 

Hiden: I love Game of Thrones, LOTR, and a bunch of other epic fantasy / sci-fi / horror movies. 

Hiden and Irvin: We're both excited for The Leftovers to come back on.

VHX: When it comes to promoting and marketing a film what is the one piece of advice you wish someone had given you?

Hiden and Irvin: Start sooner, not later!

Has this interview made you thirsty for more on the wonderful world of brewing? Quench that thirst by pre-ordering Blood Sweat and Beer

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