Dennis Michael Lynch recalls standing on stage at a Long Island film festival, doing his best to answer the question all filmmakers get at some point–what’s your next project?
Lynch had nothing officially planned, but he understood he had to say something in grand movie publicity fashion. So he remembered a conversation he had earlier that day regarding illegal immigration and said that would be the focus of his next film, even though he knew next to nothing on the subject.
Lynch’s They Come to America and its sequel, They Come to America II: The Cost of Amnesty, are now available through the filmmaker’s web site via DVD and on demand viewing. The films find Lynch doing a series of interviews with legal residents shut out of the American dream for lack of jobs, interviewing border patrol agents on how the U.S. government doesn’t have their back and exposing the dangers of potential terrorists slipping through the country’s porous borders.
“This topic is so much worse than what I see on TV,” Lynch tells Big Hollywood, recalling his days in the field shooting hidden camera video along border hot spots. “What I saw in the country matches nothing of what I’ve seen [in the media].”
Lynch first decided to become a filmmaker after his previously successful business dealings led him near the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. He saw people leaping out of the burning buildings and knew his life would never be the same.
“When you watch what happens when they land, it’s burned in your head,” he says.
So he enrolled in film school even though he ended up being the oldest student in his classes. He began making short films on cooking and health issues, material he knew would be of commercial value.His first feature-length film, King of the Hamptons, explored his personal connection to the posh Long Island region.
The film was set to premiere at the Hamptons International Film Festival when Lynch saw a protester railing against illegal immigration. The man was a fixture on the local scene, and Lynch impulsively decided to chat him up just hours before making his “next movie” public proclamation.
Prior to his experiences creating They Come to America and its sequel, Lynch says he would have had no problem hiring an illegal immigrant to do work for him. His views evolved after he started work on his documentaries, capturing footage (partially through special skydiver-style glasses with a hidden HD camera attached) that revealed the truth behind the immigration debate.
His movies show Americans eager to take jobs that the media tells us they don’t want, illustrate the dangers along the border and break down the potential costs of an amnesty-style solution to the current immigration debate.
Lynch had little luck peddling his films via the film festival circuit, which meant his movies couldn’t get put in front of buyers like other indie directors can do.He even got rejected from the very same Hamptons International Film Festival which accepted his previous film. Film festivals in Arizona, California and Texas, where the immigration debate remains red hot, also declined his work.
So he went the self distribution route. He rented theaters to show his feature, leveraged a handful of media appearances and worked his Facebook page.
“Because the Left rejected me, I’ve used that to my advantage,” he says.He routinely showed the film for free–with the only caveat being he asked for people’s email addresses.When he started selling the film on DVD he offered several extra copies free of charge with every purchase (his web site currently offers a buy one, get five DVDs deal). He says those extra copies likely end up in the hands of other people who might otherwise not have heard of his film, and the subsequent word of mouth can be priceless. Plus, it means more people see the footage he risked his safety to secure.
He says he’s sold well over 100,000 DVDs and didn’ t spend a nickel on advertising.
Lynch has a tip for fellow filmmakers whose product may make the folks who pull the strings at mainstream distribution channels nervous. Consider Vimeo, a video site akin to YouTube which recently began an on-demand service that offers a 90 percent cut to the filmmakers.
“It’s the best [revenue] split there is in the industry,” he says.