New York Times Limits Film Reviews: A Response

After reading this article from the New York Times regarding a change in their film review policy, TFC staff would like to offer their take on the decision and whether it will affect many independent films.

Bryan Glick (Film Submissions & Theatrical Support):

Last year the New York Times reviewed over 900 movies! While the announcement did not say how many films they will/won’t review, it’s reasonable to assume that this will work to deter some of the gluttony of Oscar Qualifying Docs and what otherwise would be straight to digital genre fare.

These films rarely get positive reviews anyway and I would argue there are better ways for them to generate exposure.

The business most impacted by this are companies like Cinemaflix (Formerly Quadflix) that have been profiting immensely from Oscar Qualifying runs, in part, by guaranteeing a NYT review.

Because of the major advertising $$ the NYT still will review the majority of films opening and certainly just about anything from the top festivals.”

Sheri Candler (Social Network & Digital Marketing Advisor) :

I think this has been in the works for a while, starting with this Manohla Dargis Times article in 2014  There ARE too many films being made with no thought to who is going to know about them or view them.

Does a Times review, on its own, help a film’s financial success all that much? Probably not. A good review probably did help with getting other cinema bookings, though. It is also something the industry read and measured the worth of a film by, even if consumer interest in watching independent films in the cinema is waning.

Newspapers themselves are in a waning industry and staff cuts, especially in arts criticism, are inevitable…so I can understand that is just impossible for every film playing in a New York cinema to get a written review from a dwindling newspaper staff.

Ultimately, I believe people go to see a film based on what their friends and colleagues recommend, so it is time to consider how to reach a passionate audience directly, without having to rely on media entities to reach them for you. Word of mouth has always been stronger than a critic’s voice, so concentrate on making something that excites rather than mourning that a New York Times critic won’t help you.”

David Averbach (Creative Director and Director of Digital Distribution Initiatives):

These reviews have always served a dual purpose. On the one hand, they inform New Yorkers as to what is going on in the city in any given week. On the other hand, they are an arbiter of taste that will, for better or worse, live on in digital archives until the end of time.

It’s hard to imagine, however, that the New York Times would divest its influence in either of these arenas, which is why I think that for films that have something to say, things will probably stay the same.

If we see some attrition in the number of films released theatrically because of this, perhaps the NY Times will still be able to remain completely current while at the same time cutting the corners it needs to cut.

Jeffrey Winter (Co-Executive Director):

“Since last week, I’ve already had an actual experience regarding this.

On Thursday (the day the article was published), I met with members who were raising money for the standard DIY four-wall in NYC/LA and who were counting on a NY Times review to help the digital. Then I got home and found that article and showed it to them. They immediately decided they didn’t want to raise the money if they couldn’t get a NY Times review.

Of course we all know that these NYTimes reviews can’t make enough of a difference to make their digital work, but filmmakers have a hard time hearing that absolutely nothing is going to make their digital work because their film is too mediocre that nothing will make it stand out.

So I think this will discourage the admittedly tired DIY standard, and theaters that have come to rely on that revenue will lose some business.

But I agree with the New York Times’ decision. Most of those film had no business being in the NY Times anyway.”

Orly Ravid (Founder and Co-Executive Director):

“On the one hand, this suggests what we already know, which is that media and information dissemination and influence is increasingly decentralized, giving more voice to non-traditional speakers.

But, on the other hand, this puts a lot of pressure on one’s ability to captivate people without a centralized or very widely consumed platform.

A great New York Times review still makes a difference in ticket sales and digital distribution success (DVD, too, of course, for now). It also helps get financing. It’s a stamp of approval—it’s good for ego, yours and your investors’.

Will that ever change?

Only if the folks not relying on NYT because they cannot actually manage to influence audiences en masse some other way. There’s still the issue of stamp of approval—I think many in the industry and many audiences still want to rely on known critics—but it’s true that many of us see a film because someone we know personally and trust told us to.”

The times they are a-changin’.

Thoughts on the EU Digital Single Market

Some of you may have heard that about a week ago the European Film Commission announced the Digital Single Market Plan (which may also apply to TV licensing). Variety covered the story HERE and HERE.

You can read for yourself what the fuss is all about but essentially, the EU Film Commission’s plan is to combine the 28 European territories into a common market for digital goods, which would eliminate “geo-blocking,” which currently bars viewers from accessing content across borders – and yet purportedly, the plan would preserve the territory by territory sales model. Filmmakers, distributors, the guilds, et al argue that this proposal would only help global players / platforms such Netflix, Amazon and Google, which would benefit from a simpler way to distribute content across Europe.

The IFTA (International Film and Television Alliance) expressed concerns that this would enable only a few multinational companies to control film/tv financing.  Variety noted that although politicians insist the idea of multi-territory licenses won’t be part of the plan, those in the content industry remain concerned about passive sales and portability and the impact on windows and marketing.

In the US, digital distribution is just hitting its stride and is also finally getting anchored properly in Europe.  Now this idea would be one step closer to one-stop-digital shopping, or selling.  Though allegedly that’s not in the plan – but it would sure be a step in that direction.

Cannes Marche du Film

photo credit: movantia

Some are railing against it and warning against eliminating territory sales and windowing, hurting financing, and truncating important local marketing. Well, maybe and maybe not.  I think it depends on the type of film or film industry player involved.  A blockbuster studio hit or indie wide release sensation with international appeal may very likely be big enough to sell many territories, be big enough to warrant spending significant marketing money in each territory’s release, and be culturally malleable enough to lend itself to new marketing vision, materials, and strategies per market. On a related note, I remember hits such as Clueless being translated into different languages not just literally, but also culturally – modified for local appeal.  That’s great, and possible, for some films.

But for most of the films we distribute at TFC and for the great majority on the festival circuit, they’ll be lucky to sell even 10 territories and many won’t sell even half that.  Some sales in Europe are no minimum guarantee or a tiny minimum guarantee, just like it is State-side. Some films are financed per EU territory (government funding often) but that’s on the decline too.

The dilemma here about a digital single market in the  EU recalls another common dilemma about whether to hold out for a worldwide Netflix sale or try to sell European TV or just EU period, one territory at a time. I’m not forgetting Asia or Africa but focusing on the more regular sales for American art house (not that selling Europe is an easy task for most American indies in any case).  Sure, if you can sell the main Western European countries and a few Eastern ones that’s worthwhile taking into account. However, so often one does not sell those territories, or if one does, it’s for a pittance.  Some sales can be for less than 5,000 Euros, or half that, or zero up front and not much more later. It’s not like the release then is career building either or a loss leader.  It’s just buried or a drop in a big bucket.

In cases such as these, it makes little sense to hold off for a day that never comes or a day that really won’t do much for you.  All this to say, I don’t think this proposal is one-size-fits all but I do think it’s worth trying on especially if you are in the petite section of the cinema aisle.  If you are not sure how you measure up, ask around, comparison shop – see what films like yours (genre, style, topic, cast, festival premiere, budget, other names involved and other aspects) have done lately.  Sometimes a worldwide Netflix deal may be the best thing that ever happened and I reckon that similarly, sometimes a plug and play EU digital deal (if this vision comes into fruition) will give you all that you could get in terms of accessing European audiences, while saving you money (in delivery and fees etc.). And then, get this, you can focus on direct-to-audience marketing – something few agents or distributors do much of anyway.

I kept this blog entry short as I stand by for more information out of Cannes and beyond and also await our TFC resident EU digital distribution guru Wendy Bernfeld (Advisory Board Member and co-author of the Selling Your Film Outside the U.S. case study book) to weigh in. In the meantime, I think it would be swell if one Cannes do digital in the EU all at once.

Please email me your thoughts to contactus [at] thefilmcollaborative.org or post them on our Facebook page so we can update this blog. We turned off comments here only because of the amount of spam we received in the past.

Spotlight on IndieFlix: a subscription-based streaming service for independent film

As part of TFC’s ongoing mission to help filmmakers find the right audience and the right distribution strategy for their specfic project, this month, we sat down with Scilla Andreen, CEO & Co-Founder of INDIEFLIX to talk about the service, what’s new, and what’s ahead.

1) How does IndieFlix work? Would you consider it a service or a platform?

Variety calls IndieFlix the Netflix of independent film. Based in Seattle and founded by filmmakers, Carlo Scandiuzzi and Scilla Andreen, IndieFlix launched with 36 titles as a DVD on-demand service in October 2005. In 2013 the model evolved into a subscription based streaming service for movie enthusiasts. IndieFlix helps you find great independent films from around the world and makes them available for $5 per month. We like to think that we entertain and enrich people’s lives by connecting them to more than 8,000 films selected from over 2500 film festivals and 85 countries. Our library includes shorts, features, documentaries and web-series. We have worldwide rights to over 85% or our library so members can watch our films from anywhere in the world on a variety of platforms including Amazon’s Fire TV, Kindle Fire, Xbox 360, Sony, Apple’s iPad, iPhone and Roku—basically any internet connected device.

2) Why should filmmakers work with IndieFlix?

If there is anything we have learned it’s that teamwork and transparency are essential to the future of independent film. Distribution costs a lot of money, and studios spare no expense with their blockbusters. But because of this the filmmaker is often the last person to ever get paid and they have no idea who their audience is or where they originate. We have created a model of efficiency, transparency and data that literally turns the old model of distribution on its head with our unique royalty payment system called (RPM) Royalty Pool Minutes model. In this model, filmmakers are paid for every minute their film is watched. We are currently building out the filmmaker dashboard to include analytics, and data on where the audience lives and on what device (such as Roku, Xbox, iOS etc.) they watch the film on. We will also be adding data on the point in the film at which a user exits a film. This is possible of course because technology allows filmmakers to be their own gatekeepers. My job is to grow the subscriber base and curate a library with a user experience that makes finding films to watch not only fun and entertaining but also meaningful. I want our audience to love finding and watching films on IndieFlix because the more they watch the more the filmmaker gets paid.

3) What are some of your favorite creative marketing solutions and/or partnerships that you have high expectations of?

Our most successful campaigns are with our device partners Roku and FireTV. We haven’t yet done a campaign with the others. As far as creative campaigns, we have no shortage, but those are more brand awareness campaigns like the time we had biking billboards ride up and down Main Street in Park city during the Sundance Film Festival. We were giving away cold hard cash to demonstrate to people what IndieFlix does…We pay filmmakers that’s why we created the company.

Another favorite campaign was handing out printed matches that said, “Strike a Revolution: IndieFlix is the perfect match.” I handed those out at the Cannes film Festival and actually met one of my investors there…Talk about a good match.

We also really enjoy marketing campaigns that we do with the filmmakers. When the filmmaker participates and we market together there is always a great return. Like our collaboration with filmmaker Kurt Kuenne. We met Kurt through Oscilloscope. We now offer three of his films on IndieFlix including: Dear Zachary, The Legend of Dear Zachary: A Journey to Change Law and Drive-In Movie Memories. We will also be releasing a rare black and white director’s cut of his film Shuffle in coming months. We will be highlighting his work through an exclusive branded director’s channel and an interview we conducted with him about the process of making Dear Zachary.

Of course Chris Temple and Zach Ingrasci the directors of Living on One Dollar, Lauren Paul and Molly Thompson of Finding Kind and Sarah Moshman and Dana Michele Cook of The Empowerment Project: Ordinary Women Doing Extraordinary Things are all exemplary filmmakers of the new order. They have mastered the art of making great movies and marketing their story globally.

4) Can you share any data? Revenues? Users? Number of films you have?

We are a privately held company and do not typically share numbers. However I am excited to say that we currently have low six figures of total users, and our library has grown to 8000 titles. A large portion of those titles we have worldwide rights.

It is exciting to have a growing user base but it is important to us that these users are watching. We want filmmakers to look at their dashboard and see their films being watched and minutes tallying up.

indieflix-film-library

5) Any success stories? And can you share details?

To be honest our greatest success stories started with the films in the IndieFlix Distribution Lab where we put the entire weight of the company behind these films to market them in schools and communities off-line as well as strategic windows online. Of course IndieFlix is the first window and then we roll out onto iTunes, Comcast and Netflix.

We’ve also found great success with short films. The Indieflix “QuickPick” allows users to sample movies as they would music. You can sort through shorts based on running time, genre and rating. It’s a quick and easy way to sample movies.

Films about zombies, include nudity, tattooing, and music docs also do very well on IndieFlix. Social justice films are equally successful.

I’ll leave you with a quick story about a German filmmaker that had a hard time finding broad distribution due to some of the challenging nature of his film and the title. We picked up the movie changed the title (with his permission) and the film is now thriving.

6) What type of content is and is not a good fit for IndieFlix?

We have learned that our audience is really a lifestyle connoisseur. They enjoy wine, art, books and travel. They like to discover and they care about how they spend their time and money. We have found that content that is entertaining high production value and covers a wide variety of topics here in the US and abroad including fashion, art and music is very popular. In the same breath I will add that zombies, horror, mystery and documentaries are very popular. And just like in Hollywood comedies are always a favorite.

What I have learned is that marketing content gets watched. The best movie can sit in our library but if we don’t bring it to the users attention no one will watch it no matter how good it is. I guess to answer the question the best movies are the ones that start great conversations and people feel compelled to write a review, leave a comment and share it.

7) What are common misconceptions about IndieFlix?

The most common misconception is that Indieflix will take anything. It’s true that when we first started the company back in 2005 our policy was if you had played at a film festival you could submit and be accepted at IndieFlix. We quickly learned that the film festivals are not the most reliable way to curate content. We started our own curation process, which has evolved over time. We now accept 5-10% of all submissions.

8) What are some key selling points?

There are many selling points to being on IndieFlix.com, but here are a few:

  • Zero fees
  • Quick Turn Around
  • Global Reach (with the ability to geo-block)
  • Exceptional Customer Service
  • A hungry audience

9) What’s the future of IndieFlix?

Part of what makes the entertainment industry so exciting right now is that the future is unknown and everything is moving very fast. The digital landscape is ever-evolving and we are always looking for what works best for our filmmakers to generate meaningful revenue. We balance this with providing our subscribers with an exceptional catalog of films they may not have access to elsewhere. IndieFlix has survived 3 technologies and remained a thriving player in the marketplace. We are bold in that we know who we are and who we want to be, and we are confident in evolving our focus and approach with the changing marketplace. At the end of the day, we want to be a household name, we have an excellent product in our catalog and we want to share our passion for it with the world.

10) Feel free to share any other predictions, analysis, data, and/or case studies or anecdotes. If you want to share about capital you have raised etc.

I’m just now starting a capital raise for IndieFlix. We have boot strapped for years. We have an amazing team of 21 people who are incredibly dedicated to the filmmakers, the audience, the film festivals and the entire industry.

I’m clear on what I want to build and I know exactly how I’m going to spend the money. There has never been a more exciting time to be a filmmaker. I am excited. We are looking forward to being a true change agent in our industry.

For more information, check out the website or follow them on Twitter: @indieflix and @indieflixCEO.

Sundance distribution wrap up

The deals were flying fast and furious at Sundance with no fewer than 19 films getting bought for seven figures. Though those deals were far from being distributed evenly. 7 came from the US Dramatic section and 9 from the Premiere section.

So why I am not ready to pull out the champagne just yet?

While certainly low budget films like “Dope”, “The Witch”, and “Tangerine” were profitable, even with $1-2M deals, many of these films will be losing out. Worse, because these are often all-rights deals (for the narrative films at least), it is unlikely they will see anything beyond the MG.

Similarly, on the distributor side, there were more films that sold for seven figures this year than generated over $500K in theatrical revenue from last year’s Sundance. Of course, digital has to be factored in, but it does seem to suggest many distributors are likely to regret their spending spree in the coming months.

Currently, I can confirm deals for 58 of the 117 premieres in the festival. Here’s how they break down by section:

US DRAMATIC (10/16)
US DOCUMENTARY (11/16)
WORLD DOCUMENTARY (5/12)
WORLD DRAMATIC (3/12)
NEXT (1/10)
PREMIERE (13/18)
DOC PREMIERE (7/13)
MIDNIGHT (5/8)
NEW FRONTIER (1/6)
KIDS (0/3)
SPECIAL EVENT (3/4)

So who are the winners and losers in this? Let’s start with the sales agents.

WME is by far the biggest victor of the bunch. Their sales deals generated over $30M in MG’s. I am sure there are bonuses to be paid out. Though they still have not sold all of their lineup.

ICM, UTA, and CAA all generated over $10M in deals but still have a large chunk of their slate yet to get bought. It is also worth noting that CAA is behind the two biggest deals at EFM that combined to be worth more than $10M.

In the middle of the pack is Submarine. While they sold their narrative film and generated the three biggest doc deals, the majority of the US docs yet to be bought are also Submarine titles. Personally, I have a hunch this has more to do with them having too many films and too high an asking price than anything else.

Cinetic, meanwhile clearly has some explaining to do. While none of the independent sales agents can claim a seven figure deal on their own, most can at least say about half their product has been bought. Cinetic left with not even 1/3 of their films announcing deals. It is safe to assume that even with a dozen films combined this was far from a profitable festival for them.

The Films

Some none star driven fare generated bigger buys including “Dope”, “The Witch”, “The Hallow”, and “Tangerine”. “The Witch” and “The Hallow” were also seven figure US rights only deals which means there should be quite a bit more to come for these two genre pics. On the documentary side “Best of Enemies” and “The Wolfpack” both sold to Magnolia for high six figures.

While most docs still opted for a piecemeal distribution strategy there were two that went for the ease of an all rights deal. “Racing Extinction” basically sold off worldwide TV to Discover Network and “Hot Girls Wanted” opted for Netflix. Frequently we are seeing more and more docs focus on TV and with small Oscar qualifying runs being provided. While theatrical releasing for docs is getting harder and the audience for TV/Netflix growing this makes sense. Almost half of the doc deals are specifically geared towards TV in a trend I don’t see letting up anytime soon.

Meanwhile on the narrative side films like The D Train ($3M) and “The End of the Tour” ($1-2M) saw major deals, they likely still are not profitable. Talent like Jack Black and Jesse Eisenberg are unlikely to have worked for scale. In most cases I cannot verify budgets but from prior experiences can make informed guesses. For example, there is a film that has yet to be bought from Sundance 2015 that has an eight figure budget. It would have to generate a festival record to be profitable. At this point it’s simply not possible and there is no doubt that investors will lose millions.

Distributors

There is no way of covering these deals without addressing the new (or reenergized) players in the room. Alchemy (formerly Millennium) spent big for “Strangerland” and “Zipper” with each costing them between $1-2 Mil. Reviews were mixed on the titles but with stars like Nicole Kidman and Patrick Wilson they are likely pushing for digital $.

Bleeker Street took “I’ll See You in my Dreams” starring Blythe Danner and managed to keep the acquisitions price under $1M.

And Broad Green Pictures snagged the Robert Redford starrer “A Walk in the Woods” for high seven figures. At this point none of the companies have yet to release a film. History suggests there could be trouble for the filmmakers (just look at the tragic situation that was “Gun Hill Road”).

While these new distributors ultimately left with mid-level product, what they managed to do was drive up the price of the most desired fare. In this arena it was the seasoned players and semi-new all-stars that was against dominated the field. A24 spent about $5M combined for “The End of the Tour”, “The Witch”, “Mississippi Grind”, and “Slow West”.

Far and away the bidding champ though was Fox Searchlight. With over $20M combined for Audience/grand jury winner “Me And Earl And the Dying Girl,” “Brooklyn,” “True Story,” and “Mistress America.” Obviously Fox Searchlight badly needed titles, the real question is how much they overpaid and what will ultimately recoup?

What is interesting is two different films opted to turn down higher up front deals. “The Bronze” rejected a $5M offer from Netflix to go with a $3M deal from Relativity. And “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” saw its bidding war go into 8 figures but went for a participatory arrangement that could see them make millions more if it’s a success. It came with a base MG of $4.7M.

Waiting in the Wings

There will continue you to be a large number of deals announced all the way through SXSW. Distributors that have yet to strike include Strand Releasing, Drafthouse Films, CNN Films, Amazon, Bond/360, Amplify, Radius-TWC etc.

I fully expect ¾ + of the Sundance lineup to have some form of US distribution by mid-March. While there have been some big deals at EFM it is much harder to say if the high prices will continue for SXSW and Tribeca. I maintain (especially in the documentary and horror space) that patience can be a virtue. In fact TFC has frequently seen our biggest bookers came from one of the Sundance backups (“Weekend”, “I Am Divine”, “Regarding Susan Sontag”, etc).

So what about the films that haven’t sold yet? On the narrative side they appear to be in two camps. Star driven but with difficult subject matter (“Stockholm, Pennsylvania”) or no names at all. In fact at this point only one film in the entire Next section has distribution. This despite the solid success of “Obvious Child” and “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night” last year.

Meanwhile, there were big deals aplenty to be had. More intellectual films (“The Stanford Prison Experiment”, “Advantageous”, “Experimenter”) are all still looking for buyers. The films that sold big are either thought to have crossover appeal or high digital $ potential. All of the above mentioned films yet to be bought are certainly set to be money losers. The question is, how much? And if it would be beneficial to pursue some form of DIY distribution.

There is also a widening divide between what wins and what gets bought. ½ of the award winners still lack distribution deals. With 5-7 films in each category getting something there is minimal value to a prize unless it is the Audience or Grand Jury Award. Even then, we’ve seen that for the World Dramatic section they help with festival bookings but rarely in the theatrical space.

This brings me to my final point. All is not lost for the films that have yet to be bought. Some of the bigger deals this year went to LGBT themed films like “Grandma” and “The D Train”. Their distributors will almost certainly pull the films from the fest circuit making titles like “Take Me to The River”, “Tig”, and “The Summer of Sangaille” far more popular on the quite vast LGBT festival circuit.

There is space for all the films in the festival to find an audience. The more big players pursue wider releases, the easier it is for these smaller titles to maximize revenue through ancillaries like festivals and special screenings. Of course for star driven fare that fails to get bought this may seem quite disappointing, but I’d rather make $50K from festivals than not exploit the revenue source at all.

Below are the list of all the films with distributors. Highlighted films were bought before the festival announced their lineup and cannot be considered festival acquisitions.

Sundance Films with Distribution

  • A24: The End of the Tour, The Witch, Mississippi Grind, Slow West
  • Alchemy: Strangerland, Zipper
  • Bleeker Street: I’ll See You In My Dreams
  • Broad Green: A Walk in the Woods
  • Discover Channel: Racing Extinction
  • Film Arcade: Unexpected
  • Focus: Cop Car
  • Fox Searchlight: Mistress America, Me, Earl And The Dying Girl, Brooklyn, True Story
  • Gravitas Ventures: Being Evel
  • HBO: 3 1/2 Minutes, How To Dance in Ohio, Larry Kramer in Love and Anger, Going Clear, The Jinx, Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck
  • IFC Films, IFC Midnight and Sundance Selects: The D Train, Sleeping With Other People, Reversal, The Hallow, City of Gold
  • Kino Lorber: The Forbidden Room
  • Lionsgate: Don Verdean, Knock Knock
  • Magnolia: Results, Tangerine, Best of Enemies, The Wolfpack
  • Netflix: Hot Girls Wanted, What Happened Miss Simone?
  • Open Road: Dope
  • Orchard: The Overnight, Digging for Fire, Finders Keepers, Cartel Land
  • Oscilloscope: The Second Mother
  • Radius-TWC : The Hunting Ground (CNN has TV), It Follows
  • Relativity: The Bronze
  • Relativity Sports: In Football We Trust
  • Samuel Goldwyn Films: Fresh Dressed (with StyleHaul; CNN has TV)
  • Screen Media Films: Ten Thousand Saints
  • Showtime: Dreamcatcher, Listen to Me Marlon, Prophet’s Prey
  • Sony Pictures Classics: The Diary of a Teenage Girl, Grandma, Dark Horse
  • Tribeca Film: Misery Loves Comedy
  • Vimeo: Going Clear (Exclusive digital after HBO window expires).

Orly chimes in with her 2¢:

I ask myself what does this mean? Is it irrational exuberance? Or rather, will this trigger such a continued reaction? It’s not as if digital distribution creates audiences that did not exist before. As always, there are new players in the market, which always drives a market because everyone needs “product” or else they have to close their doors. That’s the neat and scary thing about film—it’s sexy and people with money are always attracted to it, even if more often than not, on a per film basis more is spent than earned (A-list talent vehicles, tentpoles, and certain genre blockbusters excluded). It’s always great for the directors whose careers may be made. Hopefully enough money trickles back to producers and investors—and that’s what we will aim to track going forward, doing our best to estimate spending and suss out from filmmakers if they made their money back from MGs and royalties, etc. We encourage you to share so that when filmmakers approach us asking what budget ranges they should be constrained by if they want to recoup, we can better assist then to determine that. Knowledge is power people, so please don’t hold back, even if anonymously. And for all those filmmakers who did not close distribution deals, don’t worry, there’s nothing they distributors can do that you cannot do, if you have the money and the time.

Filmmakers-Direct-to-Platform

We thought we’d start off 2015 with a bit about digital platforms that filmmakers can utilize directly, without giving rights to a distributor and without necessarily having to go through an aggregator. When I say “platform,” what I mean is a place on the Internet that film viewers would go to consume cinema. While filmmakers are always encouraged to distribute off their own websites and social media pages, that is not the subject of this blog. To accomplish DIY off the film’s site and social media pages, filmmakers are encouraged to work with Distrify or VHX, for example. For now we cover the following distinct platforms that filmmakers can directly access: MUBI, FANDOR, VIMEO, WOLFE ON DEMAND, and DOCURAMA (just a tad, and more will be discussed in a few weeks).

MUBI

mubi.com

mubi

MUBI is a curated video-on-demand subscription service.

MUBI describes its offering as a hand-picked selection of the best cult, classic and award-winning films from around the globe. “Every day MUBI’s in-house film experts select a great new film and you have 30 days to watch it. So there’s always 30 brilliant films to enjoy. We have a huge audience of passionate cinephiles from every corner of the planet who watch, rate, review and share great cinema.” See more at mubi.com/about.

Q: How film viewers can access it?

The service is the only subscription service available worldwide (193 territories). So whether you are in Venezuela or Vancouver you’ll be able to experience a beautiful collection of 30 hand-picked films. MUBI works on the web, mobile devices, internet-connected TVs and games consoles. On MUBI’s mobile apps you can download films and watch offline.

Financial model of platform How audiences pay (if at all) and how do filmmakers make money:

MUBI brings one new film to the platform every single day. Each film plays on the platform for a 30-day window. Revenue is split 50/50 with the filmmaker (or whomever is the rights holder) based on views over the 30-day run. A MUBI membership costs around $4.99 USD in most countries for a month or £2.99 in the UK or €4.99 in the EU.

Deals Offered to Filmmakers:

MUBI typically licenses films for a 2-year period, non-exclusive. They license by territory, but also do global deals or groups of territories.

How Films Get Onto MUBI:

MUBI takes films directly from filmmakers and also from studios, distributors and aggregators.

Q: What does your company do to drive audiences / consumers to this platform?

“Beyond the normal channels (digital, social, offline) we work in partnership with festivals and organisations [organizations] like Cannes, Berlinale, MoMa, AFI, Lomokino, Picturehouse Cinemas, we curate seasons and retrospectives, host screenings, run events… the list goes on! Also, in the UK (one of our focus countries) we have a mutli-level advertising campaign launching in 2015.”

Revenue ranges:

[This question is almost never answered by any businesses so don’t hold it against MUBI for not answering.]

Speaking from experience, however, we at TFC have enjoyed seeing hundred of dollars that eventually added up to some small version of thousands for a film that did not do better business anywhere else. In fact, I would say MUBI was a source of revenue that was particularly useful for a smaller art house film that would not be sought out on the more commercial platforms such as iTunes.]

What MUBI does to market films:

“We have huge communication channels offline and off. When a title is selected as the ‘film of the day’ all these channels are directed towards promoting that film. The difference with MUBI, for the filmmaker, is that instead of your film sitting in a library of a thousand films, your film is one of just thirty. Every day we send out a dedicated ‘Film of the Day’ email to hundreds of thousands of people globally, the email features “Our Take” – the reasons why we selected the film and why it’s worth watching. We build editorial context around films rather than leaving them fighting alone. We run one of the most respected online sources for film criticism, Notebook. So if your film is on MUBI it’s less about creating a long-term revenue stream and more about exposure for the film in a targeted, well-contextualised burst which can be a great complement to (or continuation of) a theatrical or DVD release. A film is on MUBI for 30 days but for those 30 it is the centre of our attention. It works for the audiences and filmmakers alike, great films can find people that want to watch them.”

Special initiatives MUBI has brewing (this is from December 2014):

“In the UK we’re currently showing a Godard retrospective, and right now in the US we have a Joe Swanberg double bill.”

New from MUBI: iPad and iPhone App

Follow MUBI on Facebook: facebook.com/mubi
Follow MUBI on Twitter: twitter.com/mubi

FANDOR

fandor.com

fandor

Fandor can be accessed via apps available through iTunes (iPhone, iPad) and Google Play (Android phones and tablets including Kindle Fire), and as a channel on Roku.

Fandor offers an extensive and rich library of over 6000 films, from around the world, in over 500 genres, and of all lengths, handpicked for people who love the transforming experience of great cinema. Fandor fulfills the promise of an online cinematic experience, marrying curation with contextual information for a global community of film lovers and filmmakers.

Fandor Availability / Accessibility:

Fandor is available in the US and Canada, accessible anytime to subscribers.

Financial model of platform—How do audiences pay (if at all) and how do filmmakers make money:

Fandor members subscribe on an annual ($90) or a monthly ($10) basis. Both subscription types offer a 2-week free trial. Subscription revenue is shared, with 50% going to the film rights holders, divided based on availability and audience viewership.

Deals Given to Filmmakers:

Because our model is a revenue share, the amount that filmmakers earn will vary based on viewership. 20% of the shared revenue is split among all films on the platform; the remaining 80% is allocated based on seconds of viewing to individual films.

Fandor Gets Films Direct From Filmmakers And Distributors:

Fandor has partnerships with hundreds of distributors and approximately 125 filmmakers (direct).

What Fandor does to drive audiences / consumers to its platform:

“We have an extensive marketing program that includes advertising, social outreach to over 160K fans, public relations, personalized email and integrated promotional campaigns. We also have a network of 4 blogs that addresses Fandor customers (The Fandorian), film aficionados (Keyframe), the film industry (Hope for Film), and filmmaker-to-filmmaker (Hammer to Nail).”

Fandor’s response to our request to share revenue ranges for films on its platform:

“We’re a private company and typically don’t share our financials and membership data.”

Special initiatives Fandor has brewing:

“We have two initiatives currently targeted to film festivals (Fandor|Festival Alliance) and to filmmakers (FIX). These initiatives are part of a larger effort to build relationships across the film world as part of a larger mission to advance and preserve film art and culture.”

See the release explaining these…

An example of a Fandor marketing campaign:

“Probably the best example is the Shocktober campaign we did for October. We showcased a different horror film each day through the month of October. The campaign was integrated across our ads, our website, our social networks, and email. We also did two video trailers. I’ve attached a .gif we used for social and email, and following are links to the videos. The campaign culminated in a day/date release of the remastered THE CABINET OF DR CALIGARI on Halloween.”

fandor_gif

The Sin Within
Stranger Danger

VIMEO ON DEMAND

Browse available films and shows at vimeo.com/ondemand
Sign up vimeo.com/creatorservices/ondemand

vimeo

Vimeo allows one to distribute films, series, and videos with all the power of Vimeo, its community, and its legendary

HD player. Anyone can use Vimeo On Demand – from established and first-time filmmakers to creators of video tutorials or video performances. “Vimeo On Demand helps creators distribute feature films, documentaries, series, episodes, TV shows, instructional videos, and more. It puts all the control in the hands of creators, who can choose to offer buy and rent options at their own prices, sell on Vimeo and their own website, worldwide or in select countries.”

Accessibility:

Vimeo On Demand is available worldwide and allows viewers to watch films on pretty much any screen, from computers and tablets to connected TVs, all in full HD (even 4K!). Vimeo On Demand is a global, open platform where any filmmaker can sign up and start selling their videos.

Financial model of platform:

Vimeo On Demand offers creators the ability to sell their movies to rent or own. “Viewers pay by credit card or PayPal. Creators earn 90% of the net revenue from every sale—which is the best deal in the film business!”

Direct-to-Filmmaker Distribution:

Vimeo accepts films first-time filmmakers and distributors.

Q: What does your company do to drive audiences / consumers to Vimeo?:

“Vimeo has 170 million monthly visitors and more than 30 million registered users. We regularly promote curated selections of movies from Vimeo On Demand to this massive audience on-site, via email and on social media. We also have ongoing paid marketing campaigns and publisher partners working to bring viewers to Vimeo On Demand.”

Revenue:

“Vimeo On Demand has been proud to power some of the most successful direct distribution releases ever. We are not allowed to share our users’ revenue data.”

What Vimeo does on marketing front for its films:

“Our Audience Development team is actively working to market films via our own platform as well as through digital advertising, social media marketing, and a growing list of publisher partners. Vimeo On Demand is the only direct distribution platform that brings a built-in audience and markets films on the platform.”

[NOTE: My colleague David Averbach has informed me that there is a way, for filmmakers who are allowed to offer VOD off their film’s website, but not other external sites, to hide Vimeo On Demand videos from vimeo.com.]

WOLFE ON DEMAND

WolfeOnDemand.com

wolfe_on_demand

The worldwide LGBT digital movie-watching platform!

Accessibility / Availability:

The platform showcases more than 150 films, more than 100 of which are available worldwide.

Financial model:

TVOD (Transactional Video on Demand via Internet) and Streaming (rental)
$3.99 streaming and $14.99 download for features.
$2.99 streaming and $9.99 download for docs.

Revenue to Filmmakers:

WOD split is 50/50. Wolfe have also entered into a strategic relationship with Vimeo and WOD will soon live on their platform. Wolfe’s site is powered, in part, by Distrify which takes a cut of revenues, as will Vimeo. Wolfe also notes that the partnering with Vimeo will also involve additional marketing opportunities.

Direct with Filmmakers and Distributors:

“We work with all kinds of filmmakers directly as well as distributors.”

Q: What does your company do to drive audiences / consumers to this platform?:

“Wolfe has been in the business of releasing LGBT films since 1985. With 30 years in the business we have the experience, relationships community good will and connections to help connect films with the audiences who want to see them. We utilize our mailing lists, social media, advertising, PR, community outreach and creative marketing as well as a wide array of other marketing tools and strategies. Wolfe’s strength is in consumer marketing. We dedicate considerable resources to unique programs domestically and abroad to drive traffic to WolfeOnDemand.com.”

Revenue Ranges:

[Like the others, Wolfe did not disclose.]

Special initiatives Wolfe has brewing:

Yes, stay tuned for some exciting news to be announced in late January 2015.

DOCURAMA

docurama.com

docurama

We’ll be covering this one in a few weeks as information is being updated…

As the name suggests, this platform focuses on documentaries.

The channel is available on iOS, Roku, XBox, Amazon Fire, Western Digital, Opera, to name a few.

We will send proper information about Docurama in a few weeks. For now, TFC recommends working directly with these platforms when they are a fit for your film. We will update about other platforms as we learn of them, if we think they are worthy of focus.

Happy direct digital distribution,

The Film Collaborative

TFC’s Film Distribution Takeaways of 2014

As 2014 draws to a close TFC reflects on five (5) film distribution lessons from 2014 in anticipation of our 5th Anniversary at Sundance 2015.

1) DIGITAL TECHNOLOGY POSITIVELY IMPACTING FESTIVAL & OTHER PUBLIC EXHIBITION DISTRIBUTION BY REDUCING COST AND HEADACHE:

As we have seen every year for several years now, we are experiencing additional technological revolution that will change our business forever. In 2014, we said adieu to the preview DVD (for festivals, distributors, exhibitors, press etc.) in favor of the online screener link. We said goodbye to the HDCAM and the final nail in the coffin of the Digibeta. We struggled with the problems of the DCP and all its imperfections and inevitability (at least for a few more years). And we are RIGHT ON THE VERGE of the greatest evolution we will experience in recent years, which will be full delivery of films for exhibition via the Internet…whether it turns out to be Vimeo or Drop Box or iCloud or other. If we can remove the SHIPPING part of the independent film business, filmmaker (and distributor) profits may greatly increase without that part of the equation. We are almost there now…

2) THE HARD-TO-ACCEPT REALITY OF MARKETING SMALL FILMS:

As much as all of us at TFC have talked about the need to identify and target niche audiences, the ones who would be the most interested and excited to see a project because it speaks to a belief or lifestyle or cause, most indie filmmakers still aren’t heeding this advice. Of the consultations I had this year, most were with filmmakers who made micro-budget dramas with no notable names and were without prestigious festival accolades. They still believed a distributor would be willing to take on their project and give it a full release. Even those who realized this wasn’t going to happen found the financial burden associated with the kind of release they envisioned too difficult to bear, especially because they were likely to never see that money again (hence why distributors weren’t willing to take on the burden).

If you’re going to work small, you need to think small, but deep. You NEED a small, but highly passionate audience that you can reach given the resources and assets you have. Their enthusiasm will help you if you can harness their attention early on. I won’t say this is easy, but before you embark on a project that could take thousands of dollars and years of your life, first think about how you will approach the audience for your work and how you will maintain it on a consistent basis. If you think someone else is going to take care of that for you, you haven’t been paying attention to the shifts in the indie film marketplace.

If you think someone else is going to [attract and maintain a niche audience] for you, you haven’t been paying attention to the shifts in the indie film marketplace.

3) WHEN BROADCASTERS WANT STREAMING RIGHTS – WHAT TO DO?:

Increasingly, broadcasters are seeking streaming rights along with traditional TV broadcast rights and they have holdbacks on streaming and SVOD at a minimum, and often on transactional digital (DTO/DTR) too. For sure they limit / prohibit cable VOD. As a filmmaker, you only have leverage to demand a higher licensing fee if your film is a hot commodity. Otherwise, while online (or in-app) streaming will possibly gut your transactional VOD sales, you can’t beat the reach a broadcaster can give to your film. Think very hard about turning down a broadcast deal that includes online streaming. Will your iTunes/Amazon/Google Play sales really be so much if very few people have heard of your film? iTunes and Amazon are not going to promote your film like a broadcaster would.

Then again, which broadcaster is it? How big is its reach? How much publicity and marketing will you get? How much digital distribution are you barred from and for how long? Not all types of films make the same money on all types of platforms so does your film demand-to-be-owned? or is a renter, at best. Not all platforms will even accept all films (e.g. all Cable VOD, Sony Playstation, Netflix). Is yours one that will digitally succeed broadly or narrowly, or at all? Will Netflix pay 6-figures like in the good ole days or a lot less, or anything? Do you have a direct-to-fan distribution strategy that you can employ in tandem so as to not need to rely on other digital platforms in the first place?

Or if you want to try it all, still, your strategy would privilege the direct sales anyway. Which is better for your goals, a film that gets national broadcast airings or a film that turns down that opportunity only to be buried in the iTunes store? Or would it not be buried? Only you can answer this as not everyone’s goals are the same and not everyone’s opportunities / potentials are the same. As we have always said, knowing your film’s ACTUAL potential and combining that with your HIERARCHY OF GOALS will help you answer these questions and decide your distribution strategy.

And while it may feel like you are giving up revenue by allowing your film to be streamed (hopefully for a limited time!) through a broadcaster’s portal, you may find this is a good career move for your next feature because people will be familiar with your work having had the opportunity to see it.

4) THE HEAVY BURDEN OF THE NARRATIVE WITH NO NAMES:

Several of us opined about the challenges facing narratives with no names.

The emerging mega strength of incredible television series available everywhere threatens narrative film even more than before, and of course, especially the smaller indie fare.

We have seen time and again how narrative dramas or comedies almost always fall flat in sales unless they have very strong names and not just C-list or B-list names. Of course there are exceptions to this rule and Sundance can be part of that, or a hot director, or simply just an exceptional break out film. But too many filmmakers look to those as the model when they are the anomaly. The pattern we, at TFC, see repeated too often is the making of a decent or good but not exceptional narrative with names that are okay but not great and then wasting time trying to make a big or even medium sale. It just does not happen. Money and time are lost and careers often not made. Again, there are exceptions, and of course certain niches such as LGBT may be one of them, but we advise discerning between passionate optimism and sheer folly.

5) TRANSPARENCY—The Kale of Film Distribution:

The big takeaway from 2014 about TRANSPARENCY is that, on the one hand, it has become a sort of new, hip standard—something cool and good, like eating kale—that more honest distributors practice and/or shadier ones pretend to because it’s more expected. On the other hand, however, we were surprised at how many filmmakers still resist it—resist sharing their data, even anonymously. And to that, all we can ask is, what are you afraid of? It’s meant to be good for the filmmaking community as a whole but maybe individually folks are scared about what the truth will bring. And some folks just want to eat bacon. We get it. Still, we encourage sharing the real data for the greater good and we will keep on working to inspire and facilitate more TRANSPARENCY.

We at TFC wish you and yours a delightful new year and we are looking forward to being even more of service to filmmakers in 2015!

Self financed Film Distribution in the Context of European Territories

Selling Your Film Outside the U.S.Last May, TFC released the second book in our series called Selling Your Film Outside the US. As with everything in the digital space, we are trying to keep track of a moving target. Netflix has now launched in France, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Belgium and Luxembourg. iTunes continues its transactional VOD domination by partnering with Middle East film distributor Front Row Filmed Entertainment to give Arabic and Bollywood films a chance to have simultaneous releases in eight countries: UAE, Egypt, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, Lebanon, Jordan and Kuwait. Amazon has just launched several new original series in the US and UK, including critical darling Transparent, to a line up that includes returning series Alpha House and Betas.

But what does DIY Distribution mean in the context of European territories? The following is an excerpt included in the book:

Here are a few tips for any filmmaker who is thinking about doing digital distribution in general, but especially in multiple territories:

-If your film is showing at an international film festival, ask if they are producing subtitles, and, if so, negotiate that the produced file be part of your festival fee. It may need to be proofed again or adjusted at a subtitling and transcription lab later on, but as a first pass it could prove very valuable down the road. See more about the kind of file you need in this post;

-When you are producing your master, create a textless version of your feature. Apple and probably other platforms will not allow external subtitles on any films that already have burn-ins. If your film, for example, has a few non-English lines of dialogue, instead of burning-in English subtitles into your film, a better method would be to create an external English-language subtitle file (separate from closed captioning) in a proper format and submit it with your master. Different aggregators may require different formats, and if you are going to a Captioning/Transcription/Translation Lab to do your closed captioning and subtitling work, be smart about which questions you ask and negotiate a price for everything, including transcoding from one format to another because you may not know exactly what you will need for all your deals right away.

Subtitles need to be timed to masters, so make sure your time code is consistent. When choosing a lab, ascertain whether they are capable of fulfilling all your current and future closed captioning and subtitling needs by verifying that they can output in the major formats, including (but not limited to) SubRip (.srt), SubViewer 1 & 2 (.sub), SubStation Alpha (.ssa/.ass), Spruce (.stl), Scenarist (.scc) and iTunes Timed Text (.itt);

-You may want to band together with films that are similar in theme or audience and shop your products around as bundled packages. Many digital services, including cable VOD, have thematic channels and your bundle of films may be more attractive as a package rather than just one film;

-Put the time in toward building your brand and your fanbase. Marketing still is the missing piece of the puzzle here. As it gets easier and easier to get onto platforms, so too does it get more difficult for audiences to find the films that are perfectly suited to their interests. This is especially true when talking about marketing one’s film outside one’s home territory. If you are accessing platforms for your film on your own, YOU are the distributor and the responsibility of marketing the film falls entirely to you.

To download a FREE copy of the entire book, complete with case studies of films distributed in Europe, visit sellingyourfilm.com.

Battle for festival supremacy-TIFF vs Sundance

A knockout victory

The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) is just behind us and films submitted for Sundance are a month away from their acceptance call. While the difference between Toronto/Sundance and SXSW/Tribeca is pretty clear, what separates Toronto from Sundance might surprise you.

I looked at the data from the last two year’s of each festival and came up with one big conclusion. Sundance is the bigger festival for North American distribution on just about every measurable level I could come up with.

How could this be? Toronto is the more mainstream fest, right? Not so much.

Let’s start with some comparative info that would clearly skew things in Toronto’s favor:

-62.5% of films from TIFF 2013 have US distribution

-81.3% of films from SUNDANCE 2014 have US distribution (and remember this was accomplished in 9 months compared to TIFF’s 13 months)

But what about the box office performance?

Sundance has a higher percentage of films that grossed over $1 Million, $500,000, and $100,000 than TIFF. This is including non world premiere films which would give TIFF an advantage.

But what about the size of the deals? Isn’t TIFF where the big money is? Hardly

11 films from TIFF 2014 generated 7 figure deals, 11 films from TIFF 2013 did the same. The difference is TIFF screens 2.5x as many films. Even eliminating the # of films with US distribution before TIFF started and cutting out foreign language films, producers were still twice as likely to get a seven figure deal at Sundance.

tiff vs sundance

The Documentary King

TIFF is a much more diverse slate, but sorely lacking in docs. Roughly 1/3 of Sundance films are documentaries, while only about 1/10 of TIFF films are. Even then, docs were more likely to get distribution out of Sundance than TIFF and by a very wide margin. 90% vs 52%. The majority of docs that made the Oscar shortlist came from Sundance, as have a majority of nominees in the last five years.

Foreign Language Problem

In contrast to their #1 status as a place to launch documentaries, Sundance’s World Cinema lineup is far from a sure bet.

While only 41% of Sundance 2014 World Dramatic films have US distribution, that percentage is still higher than foreign language films that screened at TIFF. The % is higher even if we include all foreign language films and not just world or international premieres at TIFF. So even in Sundance’s weakest area your odds are still better than at TIFF.

That all noted, TIFF receives some high profile foreign language films that will ultimately generate bigger deals and make a dent in the US box office, but those are few and far between in an already very unprofitable arena.

So What Does a TIFF Screening Mean? 

TIFF does two things that Sundance does not. It functions as a worldwide market and it is a frequent must for awards buzz films.

Sundance films do better on a domestic level. TIFF films are more likely to generate some form of worldwide interest and the majority of major worldwide players are in attendance.

Sundance has an international presence, but nothing on the same level of going into the Hyatt and taking the United Nations tour of film booths.

Sundance also doesn’t take studio films, which TIFF does. I would argue this is part of the problem TIFF films face. The competition for attention is so much higher with studio films in the mix that many simply get lost in the shuffle.

The DIY Mindset

In the age of DIY options at very low cost, one has to wonder why so many films at TIFF didn’t take advantage of Vimeo’s $10k offer in 2013. In fact, 55 world premieres still lack US distribution, which means with 100% certainty they turned down $10k to chase a pipe dream of success.The worldwide sales agent aspect at TIFF makes it a lot harder to discuss DIY options, but things are slowly starting to change.

This year was the first time multiple filmmakers were willing to openly discuss DIY options for release with me during the fest.

Sundance has their Artist Services program and some very notable DIY success stories (Detropia, Indie Game: The Movie, Upstream Color etc). But the biggest difference is Sundance is early in the year. There are tons of festivals left with which to build exposure going into release.

While it is almost always advisable to hit the festival circuit running, if one didn’t do that at Sundance, it’s easier to rev up the process than at TIFF when the year is nearly finished. If you don’t pursue additional festival screenings right away, your film would play TIFF and not screen anywhere until the following year. Remember there aren’t a lot of festivals in November/December. By that point people have moved onto Sundance and don’t even remember what they saw at TIFF.

The Take Away

Don’t buy into the hype about a festival without carefully looking at the info. While many Oscar winners have come from TIFF, the stats don’t lie. For domestic success, your odds are better with Sundance. This doesn’t make TIFF a bad festival, it’s easily the 2nd best launch pad in North America, but it’s important to know that your film is more likely to get a distribution deal out of Tribeca than TIFF if you have a documentary.

The consensus from this year’s TIFF was that there weren’t too many hidden gems, but with 288 features would any of us even know? At a certain point size is a liability and I think that TIFF needs to shrink its slate or get more creative when it comes to highlighting world premieres without big names.

Reminder: EVOLUTION OF A CRIMINAL & THE CIRCLE

The Spike Lee executive produced Evolution of a Criminal opens in NYC Friday October 10th at IFC Center. They are also crowdfunding to support their nationwide theatrical release. https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/948417025/evolution-of-a-criminal-theatrical-release

In partnership with Wolfe Releasing, TFC Direct will be theatrically releasing Switzerland’s Oscar entry, The Circle. It opens November 21st in NYC and will be expanding through beginning of 2015.

 

DCP failure rate is extraordinarily high. Should you make one?

In two prior posts, I chronicled how rapid technological change was impacting the exhibition side of independent film, and how this was affecting filmmakers and their post-production and delivery choices. In January 2013, in a post called “The Independent’s Guide to Film Exhibition and Delivery” I discussed the rise of the DCP in independent exhibition, and the potential dangers it posed to filmmakers on a budget. And later that year, I posted “Digital Tape is Dead” in which I gave further evidence that it was possible to resist the rise of DCP…at least for the time being… and the reasons for doing so.

photo credit: Bradley Fortner via photopin cc

photo credit: Bradley Fortner via photopin cc

It’s a little over a year later, so I am returning to the topic to take stock of what a difference another year makes. And as always, the main goal of this exercise is to help you, as filmmakers, to make the best post and delivery choices in finishing and exhibiting your films.

Of the many things that The Film Collaborative does, one of our core services is booking our clients’ and members’ films in public venues all over the world – including everything from film festivals, traditional theatrical venues, universities, art galleries, etc.  Every year, this work hits a peak frenzy in October, which is unquestionably THE month of the year with the largest number of film festivals. By simply comparing our booking format totals from October 2013 to October 2014, I can see that once again the landscape of booking has evolved substantially in the last 12 months.

BOOKINGS IN OCTOBER 2013 (total 195 booking engagements):

BLURAY: 144

DVD: 25

DCP: 12

HDCAM: 10

Digibeta: 2

Quicktime File:  2

BOOKINGS IN OCTOBER 2014 (total 268 booking engagements)

BLURAY: 162

DCP: 84

DVD: 12

HDCAM: 6

Quicktime File: 4

Other than the fact that we are obviously a busy company (!), the main takeaway here is that the DCP’s slow and seemingly inevitable rise to the top is continuing, although the actual majority of venues (especially in the U.S.) are still trying to cut costs by the use of BluRay. In Europe, the DCP has already overtaken all other formats, and is nearly impossible to resist if you want to play in any reputable festivals or venues. And after DCP and BluRay, all other formats are now nearly dead worldwide, at least for now.

There are many reasons why this isn’t good news for independent filmmakers (which we’ll go into)…but the first and most obvious problem is that all of the filmmakers we work with are still making multiple HDCAMs! From the data above it is clear, STOP MAKING HDCAMS PEOPLE! I know many companies that have stopped producing them entirely, and are providing only on DCP, BluRay, and DVD.

Usually, an independent filmmaker’s first worry about DCPs is the initial price – indeed it is the most expensive exhibition format to make since the 35mm print. However, the good news is that it has already dropped in price quite a bit from 2013…now if you look around you are sure to be able to get an initial one made for $1,000 – $1,500 (compared to around $2,500 a year ago).

Now there is the really weird situation with the subsequent DCPs…and what you should pay to make additional copies. If you’ve seen DCPs, you’ll know that they often come in these elaborate and heavy “Pelican Cases” with a “Sled” hard drive with USB adaptors and power supplies. That’s the kind the studios use, and they will usually run you around $400 per additional DCP…which is expensive.

The strange thing is that every tech-savvy person I know tells me that this is all window-dressing, and that a regular “Office Depot style drive” USB 3 Drive for $100 serves exactly the same purpose and is actually a bit more reliable since it has less moving parts. Add to this the simple charge for copying the DCP (for which our lab charges only $50), and you’ve got subsequent DCPs at only $150 each…which of course is even cheaper than old tape-based formats like HDCAM and Digibeta.

If someone out there knows why one SHOULDN’T go with the more inexpensive option, I’m all ears. Call me, tweet us @filmcollab, leave a comment on our Facebook page! ‘Cause I haven’t heard it yet.

Of course, its still not a super-cheap $10 BluRay, but the truly annoying thing about the DCP and all its solid state technology and its fancy cases is that it is HEAVY, surpassing everything except old 35mm prints in weight. As a result, the cost of SHIPPING becomes a major issue for independents, and more than $100 every time you send since you obviously aren’t going to put your pristine file in regular mail.  If you’ve been booking and playing films for a long time, you’ll know that $100 in shipping is often the difference between a profitable screening a not-so-profitable one…and so the cost adds up quickly.

It’s truly the cost of shipping that makes me sad that the BluRay is doomed as a major exhibition format. At one point, when filmmakers and distributors made “P&A” assessments for their films, the biggest cost in the “P” analysis was the cost of shipping heavy prints. For a brief and shining moment….from like mid 2013 to mid 2014… the lightweight BluRays took that part of the “P” out of the equation entirely…and that sure was nice.

But the (dirty and secret) truth is that COST isn’t the main problem with DCP. It is the RELIABILITY of the format. The horrible fact is that DCP is the most unreliable format in terms of playability that we have ever had….bar none that I can think of. BluRays used to have the reputation for failing often, but they were easy to include a back-up copy with, and they have drastically improved in the last two years such that they almost never fail. DCPs, however, now fail ALL THE TIME, at an alarming rate, and for an alarming number of reasons.

Rather than go into the deep tech-geek reason for DCP failures in venues all over the world…I am going to copy a few recent emails from labs, festivals, and venues I have been communicating with in the last couple of weeks. I promise you…all of this is just in the last two weeks! And all of these are all different films and different DCPs!

[EXAMPLE] On September 16th, XXXX wrote:

So, bad news guys, we couldn’t access the hard drive on this DCP, so it’s our thoughts that it is dead.

[EXAMPLE} On September 18th, XXXX wrote:

Nothing over here is recognizing this DCP. The drive appears to be EXT3 formatted and I think this may be why it’s not recognizing as a usable hard drive. Generally, we use NTFS and EXT2 formatted drives. This one does have a bluray backup, but if you can try to get us another DCP, that’d be cool.

[EXAMPLE} On September 17th, XXX wrote

We just got the DCP and the sled was loose and the final screw holding it came off. It’s the plastic thing that pops out. Just now I noticed that most of the screws on it are loose. It won’t play because I think we need to replace the screws?

[EXAMPLE} On September 22,, XXXX wrote

We are facing difficulties with the DCP as our Server does not seem to recognize the drive. We have spoken to your lab and we think it’s because our server cannot recognize Linux Files. We have about 100 DCPs in our festival, and this is happening to about 10 of our films. Can you offer any advice?

It is this last example that really cracks me up….if you happen to know anything about DCP you know that Linux was chosen as the best format for DCI-complaint files. So the fact that a festival could not read Linux, but could still read 90 out of 100 of their DCPs is absolutely mid-boggling, as I thought Linux was in fact the common denominator.

But I digress.

As filmmakers, is any of this what you want to be doing with your time? Do you really want to know about EXT3 and EXT2, and do you seriously want to worry about replacing loose screws on a drive? Do you want to reduce your whole filmmaking experience as to whether a venue can read Linux or not? Do you have time for this?

Just this weekend, we had a screening in North Hollywood where the sound on the DCP went out for the last 5 minutes of the film, all the way through the credits. Is  this acceptable? I thought not.

It was better before. We don’t like to think that evolution is like this….getting worse rather than better….but in truth it often is. And this is one of those times.

The truth is, I will never trust this format.  The DCP was created by a 7-member consortium of the major multinational studios called the Digital Cinema Initiative (DCI). It represented only the major studios…and created a format best suited to their needs. They have since adapted all the major venues to their needs. Is it any wonder that these needs do not represent the needs of independent filmmakers? Do we have any doubt that that any “consortium” would actively seek to suppress the needs of its competition? It created encryption codes only they can functionally work with. It put all the rest of us in danger, in my opinion. Let’s just talk about their unworkable encryption technology if we want to start somewhere. KDMs on independent films are a joke….leaving us more vulnerable to piracy than ever.

So, here is why the “P” matters more than ever. And why there is still GREAT reasons to hope. Just when you thought I was writing a depressing post, I am going to flip this b*itch. And I mean “b*itch” in the best manner possible.

The truth is…the age of cloud based computing, the no shipping, the no P in “P&A” reality is finally nearly upon us.

The truth is…it will not be long before we can use cloud-based services to deliver our films to venues all over the world. Of course, it is happening now….but it is not a mature system yet. But my guess is that it WILL be very soon. Definitely less than 5 years.

With all the new services like Google Drive, WeTransfer, DropBox, Vimeo, etc all rapidly evolving…..we are only months (if not years) from really delivering our films without help from middle men like Technicolor and FED EX. And that will be a good thing. A great thing really. I believe it will increase our indie profits many fold.

Already, every single day, I have numerous festivals asking me to DropBox them the films we are working with. In truth, I haven’t figured out really how to do that yet in quality levels I am comfortable with that also make financial sense. I am in constant dialogue with our lab and our tech people as to how to make this work in terms of uploading time, server space, and quality of presentation.

But it is clear to me that it IS happening over time….if anyone knows the secrets…again, I am ALL ears!  Please call me! Because I truly believe that when we can remove the P from the P&A equation….and I mean truly remove it such that any number of prints and all shipping can be eliminated as easily as sending someone a link to an FTP or whatever…..we will re-enter an age where independent film distribution will make real financial sense. Imagine that, for a moment.

And the weirdest thing is I think it is truly happening… any day now.

NOTE: Step 4 in this blog series will be an analysis of how to deliver your film digitally and via The Cloud. We aren’t there yet….BUT that is what I will cover in the next post of this series. Hopefully new updates will happen by the end of the year!

 

 


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