Commerce students breathe new life into indie film ‘Hot Air’

Despite initial performance woes, filmmakers turn to Entertainment Marketing class for strategic re-launch solutions

Screenshot 2018-12-04 at 4.59.26 PM

Filmmakers Derek Sieg and Jeremy Goldstein, pictured left to right, in the production process.

Courtesy of Jeremy Goldstein

The struggles of indie filmmaking have long existed, as filmmakers Jeremy Goldstein and Derek Sieg experienced first hand with the initial release of their independent film “Hot Air.” But with the help of Commerce students in Assoc. Commerce Prof. Natasha Foutz’s Entertainment Marketing course, Goldstein and Sieg hope to change this narrative.

After Sieg and Goldstein won the Jury Award at the 2016 Austin Film Festival, “Hot Air” struggled to obtain the viewership and distribution offers that the filmmakers were hoping for.

“The offers were pretty low and not very promising to make any money back,” Goldstein said. “We’ve done those deals before on previous films and just kind of came out disappointed ... so we wanted to take it into our own hands.”

Sieg is an alum of the University and owns the social club Commonhouse, while Goldstein, who has guest lectured at University marketing classes and been involved with the Virginia Film Festival, owns North American Sake Brewery — both businesses are in Charlottesville. 

While working for Sieg at Commonhouse last spring, Foutz’s former student Yash Tekriwal proposed a partnership between the filmmakers and Foutz to re-launch “Hot Air” — potentially on a streaming platform — and hopefully attain greater success. Specifically, this collaboration involved students in Foutz’s Entertainment Marketing course.

Foutz — who is renowned for her research into data analytics in entertainment media decision-making — said collaboration with real businesses is typical of the course. Past class projects have ranged from transitioning a Richmond-area golf course into a multifunctional center to working with the NBA. This is the first time, however, that the course worked with filmmakers directly.

“We have a collaboration with a number of local, national and global media entertainment firms to produce final projects, because I’m a big believer of project-based learning,” Foutz said. 

Foutz feels positively about collaborating with Sieg and Goldstein.

“It’s a perfect final project, a perfect fit for this class,” Foutz said. 

This sense of optimism for the future of the film is mutual, according to Goldstein, who said he and Sieg appreciate the additional marketing ideas students offer. 

“We’re only two people,” Goldstein said. “And so the opportunity to have 30 plus students, really bright students of the McIntire School, get involved — we thought would be fun and very unique.”

The class is divided into eight groups of three or four students with each group focusing on a specific aspect concerning re-launch marketing or media presence. These subjects cover a wide range, from brand assets to attracting indie film fans to even niche categories — like vegans and hot air balloon enthusiasts — who would enjoy “Hot Air” for its incorporation of certain topics they like.

Fourth-year Commerce student Madeline Coder is a member of the brand assets team and said her group has worked on film posters, a trailer and “Hot Air”’s website as ways to entice more consumers to watch the movie.

“Both the director and the producer kind of made everything and they don’t really come from a business background,” Coder said. “So they wanted the perspective of business students to help them market the movie when they relaunch it.”

Fourth-year Commerce student Elizabeth Pringle — whose team is focused on marketing to the Charlottesville and Austin audiences — points to the presence of Matthew Gray Gubler as another point of attraction for the film. Gubler, an actor known primarily for his work on the TV crime show “Criminal Minds,” plays the main character in “Hot Air.”

“I think Matthew Gray Gubler being in the movie would greatly appeal to the University students, which is why we’re also really excited to have the Charlottesville market as one of our main topics for the project,” Pringle said.

Pringle mentioned other notable actors of the film such as Jere Burns, Gary Cole and 2006 University graduate Schuyler Fisk as further points of appeal.

With business and family obligations, Sieg and Goldstein admittedly struggle to meet the demanding time commitments that producing a film requires. 

“Typically, if you work with a big distributor or a big studio, you have an entire team of people,” Goldstein said. “We both have full careers … [collaborating] with Professor Foutz and the entertainment marketing class [has] taken a lot of burden off of us.”

Though Charlottesville isn’t concentrated with big film production companies like Hollywood, Goldstein is excited for what’s in store for both the film and the students.

“It’s like what you would go through sort of in a Hollywood system, just at the student level,” Goldstein said. “All of these students are graduating soon and if they’re interested in this type of work, this is what they’ll be doing at the next level.”

Foutz echoes this statement of real world applicability and said students have expressed similar sentiments.

“Students have worked on it the whole time very closely with the producers … They’re very excited,” Foutz said. “Before the students graduate they probably will witness ... the results … They feel like they own it, and they made an impact on something real.”

Fourth-year Commerce student Sherman Tabor attests to this tangibility of results. Tabor said he has worked with businesses before in the Commerce school, but most don’t usually enact student proposals.

“Since this film is on such a small scale, they actually have said that they will use the things that we’ve pitched to them,” Tabor said.

The exact date of the film’s re-release is still under consideration. Students have proposed dates such as January and Valentine’s Day in 2019, but according to Goldstein, “Hot Air” is loosely scheduled for re-release in early 2019. 

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