Toronto-based Sinking Ship was all set for the theatrical release of its first feature-length film, Dino Dana The Movie, but then COVID-19 took a tyrannosaurus-sized bite out of its plans. As a result, the producer was forced to pivot to a transactional VOD model and has learned a lot about feature-length release strategies and how to pivot quickly when everything goes awry, says head of sales and distribution Kate Sanagan.
“This was our first film, so we wanted the red carpets, but this is an organic shift,” she says. “We were inclined to bury our heads in the sand at first, but we knew we had to accept that our original plan wasn’t going to work and look for new ways for the property to fill gaps.”
With COVID-19 in mind, the company behind Odd Squad and Endlings inked a deal in June with Canadian theater chain Cineplex to offer the movie to consumers in a transactional video-on-demand model (where viewers can either buy the movie for US$22 or rent it for US$15 and have access to it for 30 days) on Cineplex’s website. Sinking Ship is also rolling out new resources and content to museums under a Discover@Home banner launching in the coming weeks, in order to engage stuck-at-home audiences, says Sanagan.
“This isn’t how we originally planned things to go, but the pandemic forced us to shift, and we’ve worked hard to keep our partners updated and make sure kids are still going to see the movie,” says Sanagan. “Transactional makes sense because kids are watching online, but the question remained of how do we pivot our relationship with museums? And we realized we could enhance the deal through online offerings.”
As part of the new Discover@Home museum-exclusive program, Sinking Ship launched a podcast in which the star of the film interviews paleontologists, as well as a Dino Dana: Dino Field Guide book and promotional materials like personalized callouts and educational worksheets to keep the brand top-of-mind for kids.
But this two-pronged distribution approach is a far cry from the producer’s original plans, which involved a major theatrical launch across North America and the release of a shorter version of the film to museums, which also were set to run themed day camps and an AR/VR project, Sanagan adds.
Sinking Ship shifted to VOD at the end of June to make money back on the film as soon as possible, and to get it out to audiences around the same time it was originally scheduled to hit screen.
Despite all the problems the pandemic has caused, it hasn’t been all bad for Sinking Ship because it helped drive a spike in the brand’s popularity, says Sanagan. The new Dino Field Guide book, which dropped in May, was a top-seller on Amazon, and there’s also been a spike in viewership on the YouTube channel.
Looking forward, Sanagan is hopeful that the company will be able to lock in more transactional partners for the movie. The experience of launching Dino Dana The Movie during a pandemic was also a powerful experience that will inform sales strategy for the company’s future films as well.
“We’re definitely in the movie business now,” she says. “I’d love to think that theatrical and live events will return. And although we don’t want to be a big film distributor, I’ve learned that for our future movies, it’s key that we’re always finding innovative release strategies so we can come out on top even during situations like this.”