DEALS & DIY: A Film Distribution Duet

*This is Part II of the “If I Were a Filmmaker Going Sundance…”

*Part III to will be written in the aftermath of the glow of the fest.

Sundance 2011, insofar as distribution was concerned, saw a spike on both the traditional sales and the DIY front.   42 deals were done so far and more to come. One difference between this year’s Festival and those of recent years is that several acquisitions were done prior to the Festival and more deals occurred right at the beginning of the Festival rather than taken several days or weeks to materialize. In addition, some of the acquisition dollar figures were bigger than in recent times. There was a definite sense of ‘business is back’  (though mostly still for bigger films with either name directors or cast or both – and this we address below).  And DIY is seeing a new dawn with directors like Kevin Smith announcing a self-distribution plan and Sundance’s solidified commitment to helping artists crowdfund (via Kickstarter) and market their films (via Facebook for example) access certain digital distribution platforms (in the works and TBA).

Starting with the deals. So far I counted 42 (one at least was a pre-buy / investment in production) and two so far are remake rights deals.

I only list the deal points that were publicized… meaning if no $$$ is listed then it was not announced.

Deals done Pre-Sundance:

1.  Project Nim (James Marsh who did Man on Wire)  – sold to HBO for a hefty yet unreported sum.

2.  Becoming Chaz – produced by renowned World Of Wonder and sold to OWN (actually we gleaned OWN invested in the film and at the fest Oprah announced her commitment to doing for docs what she did for books via a Doc Club).

3.  Uncle Kent went to IFC

4.  The Greatest Movie Ever Sold (Morgan Spurlock) – went to Sony Classics.

5.  Septien:  (Michael Tully) – was nabbed by Sundance Selects

6.  Mad Bastards also went to Sundance Selects

Deals done at Sundance according to sections:

US Dramatic Competition:

7.  The Ledge: sold to IFC – Low seven figures

8.  Like Crazy: (Director of Douchebag)  – Paramount for a worldwide deal – $4,000,000.

9.  Martha Marcy May Marlene: sold to Fox Searchlight, congrats to TFC Board of Advisor EXP, Ted Hope – 2 mil

10.  Circumstance: Participant is funding the release and will (along with the filmmakers) choose a distribution partner, we hope Roadside Attractions.

11.  Homework: Fox Searchlight – $3,000,000

12.  Another Earth: (Mark Cahill) – Fox Searchlight – a $3 mil deal, with an aggressive P&A as reported and for US and all English speaking territories.

13.  Gun Hill Road: Motion Film Group

14.  Pariah: Focus Features – $1 mil deal

15.  The Flaw: New Video

16.  Take Shelter: Sony Pictures Classics

Premieres (‘names’ in films):

17.  My Idiot Brother: TWC – $7,000,000 for US and key territories with $15,000,000 P&A

18.  The Details: TWC – $7,500,000 MG and $10,000,000 P&A

19.  I Melt With You: Magnolia (reported mid-high 6-figure deal reportedly w/ healthy backend)

20.  Life in a Day: NatGeo Films

21.  Margin Call: Joint deal with Lions Gate and Roadside Attractions – $2,000,000 deal

22.  Perfect Sense: IFC

23. The Future:  (Miranda July) – Roadside Attractions

24.  Salvation Boulevard: IFC

25.  The Son of No One:  (Dieto Monteil) – Anchor Bay

26.  The Devil’s Double: (Lee Tamahori) – Lionsgate – a reportedly seven figure deal

U.S. Documentary Competition:

27.  Buck: Sundance Selects

28.  The Last Mountain: Dada Films (MJ Peckos and Steven Raphael)

29. Page One: A Year Inside the New York Times: Magnolia and Participant

30. Hot Coffee: HBO

31. Crime After Crime: OWN (this will have an Oscar qualifying run before airing on OWN)

32. Miss Representation: OWN

33. The Black Power Mix Tape 1967- 1975:  Sundance Selects

34. Sing Your Song: HBO Documentary Films

Doc Premieres:

35.  These Amazing Shadows:  Sundance Selects

Park City at Midnight:

36.  Silent House: Liddell Entertainment

37.  Hobo with a Shotgun:  Magnolia/Magnet

38. Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel:  A&E IndieFilms

World Cinema Dramatic Competition:

39.  The Guard:  Sony Pictures Classics – $1,000,000 deal

Next:

40.  Bellflower:  Oscilloscope

Not distribution deals per se but Fox Searchlight bought worldwide remake rights to

41. The Bengali Detective

42. TWC bought remake rights to Knuckle.

Please let me know if I missed any deals and feel free to comment in this blog. Of course more may be announced even as this posts and I am on a plane.

So we see mostly name filmmakers or cast but also definitely a few non-names generating deals the details of which are not publicized thus far.

AND NOW ON the DIY side:

RE: SLITTING RIGHTS & DIY: Andrew Hurwitz and Alan Sacks wrote an article in the Hollywood Reporter addressing all the same stuff TFC has talked about before, splitting rights, working and sometimes conflating windows and not settling for bad deal terms when one could do better on one’s own working with consultants etc. It’s nice to see trades addressing this in a context that speaks to more traditional industry players.

THE FLAT FEE MODEL EXPANDS: Distribber (now owned by IndieGOGO) announced a partnership that has been brewing with one of our Cable VOD partners, and TFC Board of Advisor Meyer Schwarztein of Brainstorm Media. Basically it expands Distribber’s flat fee digital distribution offerings to include Cable VOD (and also Hulu).  If a film gets onto all key MSOs the fee is set for now to be $9999 and there are prices per platform if a film cannot make it on to any given platform so that one is not paying for a platform or service they are not getting onto. As per the press release: “The films will be presented to audiences on the new “Filmmaker Direct” label; consumers who purchase films on “Filmmaker Direct” will know that 100% of profits go directly to the filmmaker, instead of to a parade of “Hollywood Middlemen.” For more info check out: http://www.distribber.com.  My only cautionary note: this is not a great idea for smaller films for which the gross revenues that would not justify the flat fee. One must remember and always know to ask about the splits that the Cable VOD aggregator is getting from the MSOs. They range, to the best of my knowledge to-date, between 30% and 60% depending on company and films. Studios get the higher splits for the obvious reasons. And so one has to do the math. And of course also evaluate MARKETING (which will be the focus on the 3rd and final part of this Sundance Blog series).  In any case, we work with both Adam Chapnick at Distribber and Meyer Schwarzstein at Brainstorm and are fond of and trust them both.

BRAND NAME FILMMAKER DIY: Kevin Smith fueled the torch of DIY in his own flame-filled way.  He auctioned off the distribution of Sundance Premiere Selection RED STATE to himself and has pre-booked theatres and plans to be his own decider in distribution, sans print ads (Amen). We wish him well but caution his very “old world” production and release budget (4mil Prod & and 2.5mil to release (for prints etc)… immediate launch broad release plan… a slow build never hurt anyone.  David Dinnerstein formerly of Paramount Classics and Lakeshore consulted on the release.  For more on this topic just search the WWW.

ABOUT THE SHORTS:

DIY Hats off to the Sundance SHORTS filmmaker such as Trevor Anderson and I believe 11 others who are on Sundance’s YouTube Screening Room Initiative with tens of thousands of views. Anderson exceeded 94,000 views as of the other day and has put all his shorts including this year’s HIGH LEVEL BRIDGE on www.EggUp.com which allows him to monetize them via transactional digital sales.  TFC refularly refers filmmakers to EggUp and now also TopSpin though our guru Sheri Candler advises TopSpin works better for filmmakers with an already robust following.  Whilst Anderson may not be getting rich just yet, it’s a perfect model for a prolific and vibrant filmmaker who is building a brand and getting his/her work out there.

Last but not least, Sundance announces its DIY oriented initiative.

Sundance Institute announced (I’m now quoting from its press release) its Three-Year Plan with Kickstarter as Creative Funding Collaborator / Facebook® to Provide Guidance to Institute AlumniA new program to connect its artists with audiences by offering access to top-tier creative funding and marketing backed by the Institute’s promotional support…The creative funding component was announced today with Kickstarter, the largest platform in the world for funding creative projects.  A new way to fund and follow creative projects, tens of thousands of people pledge millions of dollars to projects on Kickstarter every month. In exchange for support, backers receive tangible rewards crafted and fulfilled by the project’s creator. Support is neither investment, charity, nor lending, but rather a mix of commerce and patronage that allows artists to retain 100% ownership and creative control of their work while building a supportive community as they develop their projects… In the coming months, Sundance Institute will build an online hub of resources related to independent distribution options, funding strategies and other key issues.  The goal is to provide for filmmakers a central location to explore case studies and best practices, in addition to live workshops and training opportunities with Institute staff, alumni, industry experts and key partners.  As the first of these partners bringing their expertise to the community, Facebook will offer Institute alumni advice, educational materials, and best-practices tips on how to build and engage audiences via the service…Further development will include access to a broad and open array of third-party digital distribution platforms backed by Sundance Institute promotional support.  In the future, additional opportunities for theatrical exhibition will be explored in collaboration with organizations such as Sundance Cinemas, members of the national Art House Project, and others.”

I have been championing festivals getting involved with exhibition since and distribution beyond the festival itself since 2005 and discussed some options and ideas with Sundance staffers last year and am thrilled about this powerful and liberating announcement that so connects up with TFC’s mission whilst having some serious muscle and we look forward to being involved in some way hopefully.

MARKETING IS KING:  One thing no one talks about in much detail is MARKETING. Of course the big guns have the cash to buy marketing but the small distribs and aggregators are starting to be difficult to distinguish at times, and yet sometimes distributors do earn their fees by investing real talent and expertise and even money in marketing. So comparing what one can do oneself (if one does not get the big fat offer) with what traditional but small distribution deals bring will be the focus of the 3rd and last post in this series to come after Rotterdam but hopefully before Berlinale.

Over and out for now. Questions and Comments always welcome!