When Matthew Scott Krentz was an intern at Sundance in the digital media center, he went to as many panels as he could at the Film Festival, taking notes on how producers had raised the money to make their films. That came in handy when he decided to make Streetballers. He didn't come to his first feature film as a complete novice. He'd already made a music video, a couple of Streetballerslocal commercials, and three short films. But he felt that he had a feature film in him: Streetballers, Irish-Urban drama that explores the lives of two junior college basketball athletes, Jacob Whitmore and John Hogan and their experiences in St. Louis' tough Northside, in "the underworld of Streetball, an unconventional form of basketball where the rules are as unpredictable as the players."

“The story comes from my experiences – things I’d lived and heard about in the bars, on the courts and streets of where the movie is filmed,” says Krentz.  “The first time I walked onto the courts with my teammate and long time friend, I didn’t know what to expect.  I was the only white kid on the African-American playground.  I wanted to be a part of the best games in town and this was the place.”

In 2005, Krentz had two short films in the Silverlake Film Festival in Los Angeles, and took some meetings with studios about Streetballers.  "I was very naive about the business," he recalls. "I thought I would write a script, take it to Hollywood and get it made. I did get a few meetings but they thought I was crazy to direct and be the lead actor. I realized I needed to raise the money myself." And he went back to his hometown of St. Louis to do so.

He made hundreds of cold calls, sent out dozens of emails to every contact he'd ever made. "I used all my experience at those Sundance panels as schooling," he says. "I was inspired by the filmmakers' struggles to execute their films." He bought a book on writing business plans for indie films. "I had to approach it from a 100 percent business aspect instead of "this is a great story and a great message"," he says. "At the time, I was living with a friend who was a CPA and someone else in law school. One guy was cold-calling to build his client list and I took on the same mentality. If you owned hotel chains, an athletic group, I'd send copies of the business plan, set up luncheons."

He also shot a trailer, not only to give investors a visual but, since he wanted real streetballers in the film, to start casting it.  It turned into a two-year process not only to raise the funds but to cast it. "I did those two things at the same time," says Krentz. "I was holding auditions, going to city basketball courts. I let everyone believe I had the money for the film and cast the entire project. I had a good reputation at being very social, so I hung out with people from being in the neighborhood and had access to the people I needed. I wrote the script because I knew I would have access to the people I got. If I had 50 items on the page with locations, and so on, I only wrote the script knowing I had access to the things I needed to shoot."

Eventually, Krentz raised $950,000, for the $1.5 million budget, the rest of which was deferred compensation with cast and crew. Compared with raising the money, the production was quick: a 28-day shoot with DP Nick Gartner using the Panasonic Varicam with 35mm Prime lenses. Cinematographer's brother Dan Gartner was the gaffer and brother Sean and Krentz were the art directors. Actor Ezra Hubbard was also the  editor, and Ryan McNeely wrote a few original songs (other original music by Laura Kerr, Big Ant C. and Capo) and did the entire sound mix, Foley, ADR. The film was cut with FCP and all the audio was mixed in McNeely's apartment. "We had phenomenal speakers and equipment but no studio," says Krentz.

Krentz says his main inspirations for filmmaking is Martin Scorsese (particularly Mean Streets), Spike Lee and  Ed Burns. "A lot of those influences are people who put it on the line and told stories about their neighborhood," he says. "I tried to embrace my environment and show it for what it is. I shot it in St. Louis and all its locations. But the theme is that it could be any place, any neighborhood."

Distribution was the next challenge. "At no point did I ever think I'd try to be distributing it on my own," he says. "I had to come to the realization that this isn't going to get out there other than a small DVD distribution." By then, the movie was making the rounds of the film festival circuits. That bore fruit: one week after the film's  debut at the 2008 Hollywood Black Film Festival, Krentz got an offer from Maya Entertainment, a Latino urban-based company for theatrical release and DVDs.

"I started realizing that these offers weren't ever going to get the investors their money back," says Krentz. "Filmmakers were being offered 5 percent of their budget with no guarantees…and we're talking about award winners at Toronto and Sundance. It would have been great for my career to move on, but I wanted to show that I could get my investors their money back."

He turned down the offer and started looking at documentaries that had success with self-distribution.  He read in the Wall Street Journal about filmmaker Mike Sarner and Matt Gannon and their hockey documentary In the Crease. "They didn't pursue any theatrical or traditional distribution and utilized DVD-on-demand technology and targeted strictly the hockey audience," says Krentz. "That got my wheels turning about self-distribution." He began to research DVD-on-demand services.

streetballers2But Krentz didn't give up on the idea of a theatrical release. He knocked on a lot of doors and sent feelers and screeners out to bookers in Kansas City, Chicago, Los Angeles.It took months of convincing, says Krentz, but he finally partnered with Landmark Theatres, the largest independent movie theatre circuit, and Wehrenberg Theatres, the oldest family operated theatre chain in the nation. MSK Productions would pay for the film prints and the ads. "We've made this a community effort in terms of people getting behind this to promote filmmaking in St. Louis," says Krentz. "If we can do the numbers we hope on opening weekend, we'll be carried over."

At the same time, Krentz set up a fulfillment center with Neoflix.com where DVDs can be pre-sold (but won't be released immediately, as to not compromise the theatrical release). The soundtrack will also be released. Krentz invited bookers to the St. Louis premieres.The cast includes St. Louis athletic talent as well as hip hop artists who are radio personalities. "So some radio stations have also donated radio spots and count-downs," says Krentz. "We're giving out free tickets. We're coming up with creative ways to market the film for nothing."

"We knew we could get a local fan base and then possibly take it to a national scale," he says. "My goal is to be on top 3 in the country on a per-screen average. I know that's extremely ambitious but with the work we've been doing in terms of marketing, we have a fantastic marketing company doing pro bono digital work. I've been represented in publications and won awards. So we got some ads donated. We have some St. Louis hip hop talent in the film who are radio personalties so some radio stations have also donated radio spots and count-downs – we're giving out free tickets.  We're coming up with creative ways to market the film for nothing.

After the August 21 debut, Streetballers is on target to meet Krentz' expectations.On its debut weekend, the film took in $11,580.75 selling a total of 1,380 tickets.

“With the success we had at this weekend’s box office, we hope that it is enough to garner the attention of theatres nationwide to give a truly independent film a shot," says Krentz. " Our plan at this moment is to screen Streetballers theatrically in Los Angeles for at least one week and through guerrilla marketing and public relations, provide a venue to showcase the film to an eager audience, potential buyers.  I have faith that this will allow us to have enough leverage to submit the film to the Academy of Motion Pictures for consideration.”