Lessons Learnt From Releasing A Stupidly Personal Adventure-Romance Documentary

Regular readers will have noticed that the blog has been rather quiet recently — specifically, since last Monday: the day before I launched Janapar.

DVD signing session 1

This is partly due to being snowed under from the moment I pressed the big red button, right up to Wednesday this week when the last big international shipment went out. The response was greater than we could have hoped or expected.

But I’ve also been quiet because I’m reluctant to report from the ‘front line’. Reactionary posts are sometimes fun; the raw honesty is cathartic and makes for good reading. But a little time and consideration is better in the long run.

A little back-story, then, in the lead up to the big-red-button-pushing…

Janapar being such a personal tale, I wanted to keep the telling of it personal for as long as it still made sense. For me, that meant being in control of distribution — both screenings and sales of the film itself — instead of aiming for a national distribution deal (with all the global fame and eternal fortune that doing so would obviously entail).

So we put together a plan to release the film soon after the Raindance premiere, rather than wait for any more film festival decisions. There was a good reason for this, and a story worth telling in itself…

* * *

The exciting-sounding world of the ‘film industry’ is enticing for a first-time filmmaker who doesn’t know where to start. And amongst those enticements are the festivals that promise to “advance the work of risk-taking storytellers worldwide” and to “discover, support, and inspire independent film”, ad infinitum.

Courting these benevolent-sounding institutions uncovered a different reality. About three grand later, it did feel a bit like we were the ones doing the supporting. From nearly a hundred submissions all over the globe, only one festival wrote back with any indication that the disc had even been put in a DVD player.

At least, I thought, the ‘adventure’ film festivals would be a clean hit.


Of the two bigger festivals, the first rejected the film and forwarded us the unedited notes of whoever watched it. These notes were a straightforward admission of having “skipped through” and not immediately found whatever it was they’d been told to look for, which was a lovely insight to have.

The second didn’t respond. We queried, and they replied that unfortunately it appeared our submission had been lost. This was bad luck, of course, but fitted remarkably well with our overall experience of the festival circuit.

This might sound like a tale of bitterness. But it’s not, because it meant I would need to go directly to the people who were already waiting to hear the story. I’d wanted to do this from day one. And when the big red button was pushed last Tuesday, that’s exactly what I was doing.

Hundreds of you have now been responsible for my staying up until sunrise, packing envelopes, writing messages of thanks and tormenting my local post-office manager on a daily basis. (Thank you again!) And I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

* * *

The feedback I’ve received over the last few days has been overwhelmingly positive, whether from long-standing readers or complete newcomers to the story. This has brought tons of encouragement, and also renewed confidence that most of our storytelling decisions have been the right ones. Janapar is not perfect — nothing ever is — but it’s doing what we hoped it would do.

Publishing creative work, however, is very much putting one’s head above the parapet. One or two messages have come in from individuals who seem unaware that they are writing to actual human beings. The most memorable was a direct insult towards the “unnecessary” non-linear nature of the story, suggesting I fire James and Rich before launching into a tirade about how my “expedition” should have been “better” and how 13,000-odd miles was “not enough cycling”. It finished by telling me that the writer was considering re-editing the four years of my personal life he now possessed. For his own amusement.

James told me he gets hundreds of permanently-enraged people blowing off steam like this whenever he puts a film out for the BBC. The physical separation creates a wall between storyteller and viewer. Some viewers take their frustrations out on the wall.

Criticism can be useful; this was the opposite. But part of speaking out is learning which of the other voices are worth listening to. So I guess, in a way, I’m glad I received that message.

* * *

Sunset over... Nottingham

At the start of 2012, I pledged privately that I would cut all ties to the previous line of work I disliked so much — website programming — and begin to make a living by doing what I love. Pressing the big red button represented exactly that!

Though it remains to be seen if or for how long this adventuring/storytelling mix will be sustainable, the element of uncertainty should never put you off trying something new. It’s been an incredible slog, but it’s beginning to pay off, and I’m looking forward to seeing where this new journey leads.

If you’ve seen Janapar, we’ve just opened up a ‘reviews’ page where you can share your experience of watching it. I’d love to hear what you thought.

Comments (skip to respond)

7 responses to “Lessons Learnt From Releasing A Stupidly Personal Adventure-Romance Documentary”

  1. Hey Tom, I have been following your antics for a little while, just watched the film with my daughter who is heading off on a solo ride up the East Coast of US and Canada. Keep following your heart and sharing it with us! You’ve helped inspire me to continue to venture out of my comfort zone albeit slowly and carefully, and to support her dreams as well …

    1. Really happy to hear that you both liked the film! And good luck and safe roads to your daughter!

  2. tom
    I have not seen your film yet but whether it is Oscar material or not is not the point. Kudos to you for choosing a road less traveled and living your life as you choose. Most of us never have the nerve to make the decisions you have made and to make a film and share with us is inspirational. I hope the arm chair critic who posted such a negative review will send us a link to their film…I will be waiting. Thanks again Tom and looking forward to seeing the film.

    1. Thanks Henric. In the end I’m just trying to do what’s right with my time here 🙂 I invite criticism, but the constructive kind…

  3. Hey Tom, got the film in the post last friday and was watching it within minutes 🙂

    It was a tough one for me to watch, twice in my life while travelling I’ve had that moment at the border. The first time I went for it and have since lived in the Netherlands (despite the divorce) the second time haunts me daily since leaving Zimbabwe and I’ll never know if I made the right decision to not go for it the second time.

    It was nice to see on the “big screen” that others battle with the same situation :).

    Good luck and many more years of happiness together.

  4. Andy Welch avatar
    Andy Welch

    Spare a thought for those of us still doing website programming! Good luck on the continued distribution.

    1. I know lots of people who enjoy website programming! But for those who don’t, the alternatives are endless…

Something to add?