Evaluating the New Independent Film Distributors in 2012

Every year there are new companies formed that want to make a big impression in the distribution world. The 2012 crop of new indie distributors is unique in that a lot of them aren’t really new. They include sales companies expanding their reach, Digital companies going theatrical and international companies making a domestic presence with varying levels of success. This post will take a look at how independent film distributors fared over the last year.

indomina logo

Indomina Releasing came out big at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival acquiring four films. They are the only company to have two documentaries from this past year’s fest gross over $250k (The Imposter and Something From Nothing: The Art of Rap). Something from Nothing was a combined deal with BET handling the TV premiere. The total acquisition cost was over $1,000,000, and though it is unknown how the cost was split, it is reasonable to assume that the TV deal was at least half of the paid price. They launched Something from Nothing on 157 screens in the opening weekend and the film grossed $288k. While it is far from their most successful film, by opening as wide as they did and having a partnership with BET, they reduced their liability and at worst it was a modest loss and most likely profitable after digital platforms.

The Imposter only opened on one screen which is where it stayed for its first two weeks racking up almost $50k! It then expanded ever so slowly to 2 then 8 then 13 screens at which point it was in its fifth week of release and had grossed over $150k. From week 5-6 its PSA (per screen average) went up by over 25% and it broke the 250k threshold while playing on 19 screens. At its peak, it played on only 31 screens and was still averaging over $3k PSA. The film, which opened in July, played until early December! When it comes to documentaries with harder to define subjects, it is almost always better to let word of mouth build. With few exceptions, only high profile names should be opened on a larger screen count. With a total North American take of $898,317, this film should be quite profitable for Indomina. The acquisition price is not known, but based on reporting practices, we can assume it was no more than low six figures. It has grossed another almost $2,000,000 worldwide. Finally they released Holy Motors which has soared to the $588k mark in 29 theaters in the US despite being nearly impossible to describe. Not shying away from edgy genre fare or challenging documentaries, the sky is really the limit for this relatively recent entry into the theatrical game.

Also performing quite well is Submarine Deluxe which is a branch of the Braun’s Submarine Entertainment. Following the success of PDA, Submarine has stepped in when top documentaries either didn’t attract the offers they thought they deserved or when things went south with the distributor They recently released Chasing Ice which has grossed over $940k with the $1,000,000 prize in sight. It made the Oscar shortlist for best documentary and though it didn’t make the final cut, it did get an Oscar nomination for best song. It has also targeted some rather untraditional theater choices and markets ranging from Cinemark theaters to one screen arthouses in small towns. They did this with the help of Emerging Pictures. Emerging Pictures has helped with the releases of the four highest grossing docs from Sundance 2012 (Doc distributors take note!) The PSA each week has held relative steady since their major expansion though it did finally see its PSA drop below $1k. It ultimately played on 53 screens. As with some films mentioned above, it has a television deal with National Geographic so this is all just icing on the cake. What remains to be seen though is if Submarine Deluxe will step in for a film that is not also a sales client?

The film arcade logo

Though not quite equaling the success of the above two companies, there are a lot of positives to be said for The Film Arcade. They released two films in 2012 each grossing around $150k. The Other Dream Team and Simon and the Oaks used very similar release strategies. They opened on just 1 or 2 screens then expanded to 7 and then to about a dozen with PSA’s holding relatively steady for a few weeks after the initial second week drop. The problem is, neither film had long theatrical runs where they were able to maximize locations. They have established a solid partnership with Lionsgate that will help the films on other mediums and both films were truly difficult to sell foreign films. The question is, can they produce a true breakout?

Adopt Films finally at year’s end has shown some potential. They have a good eye for quality foreign films, but have failed in converting that into box office success. They literally bought every award winning film out of Berlin 2012 and despite fantastic reviews for Sister and Tabu, they were unable to convert it into audiences. Sister has grossed less than $25k, Tabu opened on one screen with a PSA of about $5k and a new film, Barbara, was released timed for the Oscar shortlist, but it failed to make the cut. Its opening weekend grosses were passable, but based on the awards campaigning costs and the amount of screens they opened on, it is an immense underperformer compared to other awards fare. That said, in one week Barbara has out-grossed all of Adopt’s films combined. Through its 2nd week it had passed the $200k mark. Adopt has chosen not to report grosses online.

Entertainment One is not a new company at all, but is new to the American marketplace as a distributor. They have long been dominant in Canada and after acquiring Alliance, they are clearly the highest profile Canadian indie distributor. In the US, they have released a number of films that have featured big name stars, but mediocre reviews. While they took in $763,556 from Cosmopolis that is far from a great gross for a film from an established director. They opened on three screens and averaged $23,466 which is solid, but when they expanded the following week to 64 screens, their PSA dropped by almost 90% to $2,453. It only averaged a PSA over $1k for four weekends and then quickly faded out. That is much better than Dustin Lance Black’s directorial debut Virginia which ended its run at $12,728. The also star studded Jesus Henry Christ did slightly better on a lower max screen count of 3, but still only pulled in $20,183 by the end of its run.  The 2012 Sundance acquisition Wish You Were Here has yet to be released and it too received less than stellar reviews. That said, even when they have a well-reviewed film, they haven’t always converted it to a success. Carol Channing: Larger than Life was anything but with $22,740. All the more disappointing by the fact that human interest docs are doing quite well as a whole.

They also have A Late Quartet which has quietly grossed over $1.4 mil to date. It has had a PSA over $1k for 9 weeks and will most likely double the gross of Cosmopolis. For a film that stars Christopher Walken, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener, and Imogen Poots this still feels kind of like a flop.

Performing below expectations is TWC-Radius. While this ultra-VOD off-shoot of The Weinstein Company paid $2,000,000 each for Lay the Favorite and Bachelorette, the films combined for a theatrical take of less than $550,000. Bachelorette did debut at #1 on iTunes, but with having to pay the premium price for 60 theaters to book the film and the outsized advertising expense to launch the film and by default the TWC-Radius label, it is at best barely profitable. Despite opening in 61 theaters, Lay the Favorite has grossed less than $25k. Or in simpler terms, the film was seen by more people at Sundance than it was in its entire 61 screen theatrical run. The rest of the titles on the Radius label are basically the leftovers of TWC mistakes including The Details and Butter. None of these have averaged over $1k PSA in their opening weekends.

Looking ahead to 2013, Picturehouse is back and we will see if they strike for anything at this year’s Sundance festival. I also expect Indomina Releasing and Entertainment One to flex some muscle.

Next week, I will look at how the Sundance 2012 documentaries fared in release. Stay tuned!