Jon Ryan is a New-York based filmmaker who has successfully released multiple short films online. In August 2023, Jon Ryan released his short film Gut Punch on YouTube and was able to get 100k views within 30 days.
Since then, and across various channels, the film has amassed over 250K views. In this interview, Jon Ryan talks about the process and steps he took to increase his chances of visibility and a successful online release.
The following interview with Jon Ryan Sugimoto was conducted by by Lydia Muir. Please do enjoy.
LM: For Gut Punch, what made you choose to do the online release before submitting it to film festivals?
The main goal this time was to get traction online because I’ve done the festival route many times. If you think about it, in terms of time and money, you really can only do one film a year at the most (depending on what you’re spending). So this is just a plan to be able to do more films and get the fastest response possible from a public audience. I think the reality in making money off of a short film is it almost never happens. So what you’re really looking for is asking the world, is my idea good? I figured, if I put it out online, I can get that answer faster.
There’s also a strength in building your own following with coming out with more films. If you’re able to put out multiple films faster your next film is gonna be better because you learned from the reaction. So many filmmakers have an idea and sit on it for a long time and just never make it. You’re never gonna know what you did right and wrong until you ask the world. That’s my main philosophy behind putting things out online—what are the comments gonna say, what’s the Letterboxd review, what’s the IMDB review? Are people reaching out to me… You really only get that from an online response, especially at that speed.
LM: That makes sense. Instant feedback, and at a lower cost. When do you know the film is ready for the online release? How do you schedule it?
Normally I have a plan from the beginning before I hit pre-production. So, it starts with a script and once it is more or less locked, I will enter pre-production and formulate every detail of the production with a date in mind that I’m posting. I won’t tell anybody, but that’s my deadline and on that day I will throw an event. It can be of any size, but it must revolve around you and your film. So, then you’re building everything up to this big event. Part of the plan is to rent out a theatre and it can be a 50-person theater, it can be a 100-person theater. It doesn’t really matter, just as long as an event is happening, that you can invite the right people to. People wanna go out and do something and if you can give them something to do, that is focused around you—you’re building an audience. Then the plan is to premiere the film in person at your event and schedule the YouTube premiere at that exact time. That way when people are out and they post it on socials it’s all around your movie, and their audience doesn’t just look at the photo or video, they can then watch the YouTube link at home straight away.
LM: So, your online premiere coincides with your in-person premiere event. Let’s go step-by-step, you have your idea and you set a premiere date. What’s next?
It really starts in the casting. Find your community that is strong in solidarity, but also in numbers. I wouldn’t say just cast any ol’ influencer based off of their numbers, but find what makes sense for your story. I gravitate towards comedians. Comedians are out there every night, putting their work out there. They just so happen to work for my genre. You should choose based on what you (as a filmmaker) and your story needs. If your story is about race car driving, try to get an amateur race car driver that has a sizable amount of followers. You’d be surprised how flattered people are when you want to offer them their “acting debut”. Now, that doesn’t mean that that’s all I do, but this is just for a successful online release.
Credit: Jon Ryan Sugimoto
LM: Aside from the cast, what other strategies did you use to attract people to the premiere?
It’s great that you give people something to do, but don’t tell them to come out for a 10 minute film. So what I did was I hit up a lot of filmmakers that I wanted to get to know and that I was inspired by. I asked them, “Hey, can I screen your film? I’m playing like six films at this theater, and I would like yours to be one of them”. So I got six filmmakers and I played theirs all before mine. They attend sometimes even with their cast/crew and they are also now posting, “Hey, I was at the “Gut Punch” premiere and they played my film.” I’m not paying them, they’re not paying me, but it’s about curating content for your audience, and also connecting with filmmakers you admire.
LM: Did you invite anyone else to the premiere?
I invited a lot of people from magazines, writers, vloggers and critics. It helped because I got the Angelika Theatre. So people heard that and were very impressed. It’s all about hype—anything you can do to hype your thing up is really important.
LM: You did your premiere at the Angelika in New York? How did you get that venue? Did you consider any other theatres?
Anyone can rent any theatre, it is just about how much money you have. I rented the Angelika. There’s many different rooms with different sizes and costs. I got the 115 seater and it’s only because it kept selling out. I got the small one sold out, I got the next one sold out, and I got the next one sold out. There are a lot of theaters who do this. What they’ll do is a minimum deal. So you invite your people to fill the theater, and they just have to spend money at the theatre on popcorn or drinks etc. If that adds up to a certain amount, then you don’t have to pay anything or have to pay very little. Sometimes it ends up free. So you just have to promote the event so that people spend money. Nighthawk and Draft House also do really good minimum deals and it’s competitive for them. They want to rent their theaters out.
Credit: John Cafaro
LM: Do you have any tips on how filmmakers can minimize those costs?
I ended up getting a sponsor. One of my friends just so happened to be starting a weed company and needed to get the word out there. So I told her, well, why don’t you hand out gift bags and pay half of the fee for the theater. If you can get a sponsor, it’ll make renting a theater much cheaper. Just let them put their logo on all the flyers and promotional material.
Also, I made some money back on selling tickets for the bare minimum. I tried to keep the price low so it is accessible for audiences. It was nine dollars for someone to come see a night of six short films. Most sales went to fans of my actors.
LM: How much would you say filmmakers should budget for when planning an event of this kind?
The reality is it takes way more time than money. I probably spent 200 plus hours on all of the designs on the posters, the trailers, the clips …. It also takes time to facilitate the RSVP list, reaching out to people, emailing, agents and managers, actors, and filmmakers you like and people that you just want to get your film in front of. All that takes so much time. In terms of actual costs, there was the cost of renting the theatre, which you can try to subsidize with sponsors and ticket sales.
I also spent around 200 dollars on flyers that had a QR code on it that said, “Thank you for coming”. It had screenshots from the film and the film poster. The point of the flyer is that they have something physical to take. The less steps there are between a viewer and them watching your film, the better. That’s a big rule of thumb. If they need to go to youtube.com and then type in your film and then look for your film on the search results, that’s too many layers. If you can just give them an item in their hand with a QR code, they are more likely to watch it again. I also had these little pill bottles made. My film is about antibiotics. So I thought this would be a fun thing for them to take and remember the film. I got around 200 of these made. I just had to design and print the label and then just stick them on. And again, that just took a lot of my time, but these labels cost nothing and the bottles cost 60 bucks. Then, I just put little Tic Tacs in there. The more you make it an interactive event or a hype, the better.
“Gut Punch”Credit: John Cafaro
LM: Once all the planning is done and you’re a few days away from the premiere event, what else do you have to do?
You have to coordinate it: get RSVPs and make sure you’re not overselling it or underselling it. The two days leading up before the event is nothing but hype, hype, hype. Make a trailer, make two trailers, post a scene from the movie, make movie art based around each character so that they repost. Then, once you have the premiere, everything’s in motion: you’ve set everything up, you have all the other filmmakers here, you have your cast there, which, you know, if they’re starring in the film, they’re gonna be posting about it. And ideally at this point, you would’ve gotten people who have somewhat of a following.
I scheduled my online premiere to play at the same exact time that it was playing on the screen and you can call it a posting party or something like that. It doesn’t really matter if they have a million followers or 10,000 followers. The algorithm on YouTube just wants to see, are you sending people to this video? That’s it. And if you are and if it’s a decent amount, it’ll shoot it up for you. I’ve had this process repeated three times now where the films are getting like a minimum of a hundred thousand views. Now, this is not to say that this is gonna work for every film. I mean, it’s very possible someone can make a bad film and no one’s going to watch it and the algorithm will recognize that.
The more you can create an interactive thing, where by the time people are posting about it, their followers can interact with it as well, the better. So, I hit up a lot of bloggers and vloggers to get it posted on their YouTube channel. For me, there’s a lot of comedy outlets that report things on comedy and so I just hit all of them up and was like, “Hey, I got this film coming out, if you want to feature it, here’s an advanced link to it.” They all posted it because they are within that community.
It’s important that YouTube is getting views from every different direction right when it premieres. I did a Q&A after the film on purpose because if I put the cast up there, their fans and everyone that came is gonna be taking pictures of them on stage during the Q&A and they’re gonna link the film. So, that’s the way that I’ve done it a couple of times where you design all the deliverables, you have the premiere and it’s all posted the same day.
Credit: John Cafar
LM: From a marketing perspective, do you have any tips for filmmakers trying to boost their online presence?
An online presence is built off of consistency and quality. Find what you can do for this and don’t stop. The followers will come.
Around the time of the premiere I’m really big on designing artwork and supplemental content before the film comes out to kind of tease it. So it’s a lot of deliverables, but it’s all adding up to this one event. Also, tag everybody. The makeup artist, the PA. Tag everyone in your stories and the reason why is because that when you get tagged in something in Instagram, it’s one click for you to repost it. So again, that’s taking steps away from people to do the thing that you want.
“Gut Punch” is about health and pills. More specifically, probiotics. So I hit up doctors and I said, “Hey, I made this thing about probiotics. Do you want to come to the premiere? Do you want to feature this on a vlog?” To spread awareness. Now, I didn’t really get many responses from doctors. However, it’s just an example of a way that you can use whatever your film is about to not just reach out to industry people, but people that the film would move. If the film’s about tattoo artists, you hit up some tattoo artists and say, “Look at this film I made about tattoo artists.” If you’re a tattoo artist, wouldn’t you want to watch that? Be literal with your outreach.
Gut Punch – short film (Joe List, Radel Ortiz, Greer Barnes)
LM: Any final tips?
What I’d say to anyone reading this would be to think like a movie studio. Be your own movie studio when you’re making a film. Why wouldn’t you copy what they’re doing because they’re a business. All they want is the return and so do you as an independent filmmaker—you want the views. You should be thinking about,“Where am I gonna put this? What community am I going to reach out to? How am I going to distribute this?” It’s important to think like a studio when you’re starting out because it’ll benefit you in a lot of ways that you thought ahead so much and you only get better the more you do it.
Jon Ryan Sugimoto is a New York-based film writer, director, and producer in the comedy/drama narrative space. His viral short film “Out of Love” earned Best Screenplay Produced at the Beverly Hills Film Festival. His two newest short films, “Full Time” and “Gut Punch,” have earned entry to Directors Notes, No Budge, and Omeleto. “Full Time” also played at the Oscar-qualifying film festival Holly Shorts. Jon’s work has been featured on Film Threat and NY1, among other outlets. As half-Japanese, half-Mexican American, Jon strives to tell stories about the commonalities among cultures, like love, humor, existential crises, and fart jokes.
This post was written by Lydia Muir, a New York based filmmaker. She is a producer and showrunner who has independently produced a web series and various short films. She is currently working on a horror short and a romantic comedy short. If you have any questions or want to chat, feel free to reach out to her on Instagram @lydiamuir_film