Upon returning from the constantly evolving confab of everything tech and media that is SXSW, I was asked by a friend to describe in one word what attending the festival was like. Without hesitation I uttered, “spam”. SXSW is a little bit of everything. This is both what continues to make it a viable event and also its Achilles heel.
For those who have never been, here’s are some quick facts on what differentiates the festival from other major fests in the US (Sundance, Tribeca, Telluride, LAFF, etc):
–SXSW is a FOR PROFIT. Filmmakers pay their own way to attend (though badges are comped).
–There are no press and industry screenings and there is no formal sales market. You either have a film badge or you don’t and it’s first come first serve. This means you could go to a screening and 20 people are there or the line could wrap around the block.
–Not only are films screened, but they have a comedy festival, a music festival, a tech conference and it all overlaps with the film festival. They fill the fest with literally hundreds of panels and discussions on just about every topic you could think of.
What makes the festival work is its completely open atmosphere. People who otherwise might be closed off to a filmmaker are not only accessible but they are often willing to talk. At the SXSW closing party you had shorts filmmakers rubbing shoulders with Brie Larson while local college students conversed with distributors over shots. It was truly a sight to see.
I have been going to the festival for a few years now and this year’s crop was a real eclectic and fresh bunch of films. The documentary slate was WAY, WAY stronger than the past few years, but there also wasn’t a clear stand out. To my mind, it was also the gayest year on record with no fewer than a dozen docs that prominently feature LGBTQI+ story lines. Even the non queer films I saw like Unhung Hero were packed with gay men enjoying a virtual tour through a Penis garden in South Korea (literally).
I would also like to personally applaud the filmmakers of those docs for supporting one another. It was great to see how many of the producers/directors showed up to one another’s screenings. This is yet another distinction from the festival standard. Filmmakers at SXSW find the time to go see a few films from other filmmakers (honestly I have no idea how with so much going on, but the point is that they do it).
Which brings me to the one constant theme that I heard from people during the fest. It is just too many things going on at once. Sometimes fewer choices is beneficial. I will attest that creating my schedule for SXSW took me 3x as long than creating my schedule for Sundance. While SXSW had about 25 or so fewer world premieres, they actually screened almost 20 more films in total. They also do not start film screenings till 11:00 AM so you have one less screening slot per day.
But even if there were no films, there is still the tradeshow with hundreds of vendors, mock casting sessions, panels, meet ups, over 3000 bands performing, parties on each corner, sponsored stations, and dozens of brand new startups. In fact, one of the most rewarding things during the festival that I did was go to a meet up of new film oriented companies.
The fest this year extended more premieres into the second half of the festival (when the much larger music festival often results in a mass exodus from the film venues) and it did seem to help. Attendance was clearly up during the second half of the festival. In some cases, films were even able to fill up which I would not have imagined possible judging from previous years
The deals this year have been a bit slower than in year’s past, but expect them to trickle down in the coming months. Interestingly, the two of the three distributors (Drafthouse and Magnolia) that have acquired world premieres from the festival have deep ties to the state of Texas. Drafthouse Films bought the midnight film Cheap Thrills and fellow midnight entry Haunter was acquired by IFC Midnight. Gross out horror comedy Milo was bought Magnet (The genre arm of Magnolia) and indie darling, Joe Swanberg, sold his film Drinking Buddies to Magnolia.
Other films to announce deals at or just before the festival include audience award winning docs The Punk Syndrome (GoDigital) and A Band Called Death (Drafthouse Films). Fellow doc, These Birds Walk, went to Oscilloscope. Sundance breakout Muscle Shoals was acquired by Magnolia who clearly had a busy festival. It is worth noting that the producers have chosen to donate all profits to two different music organizations.
SXSW has solidified its place as the younger, hipper, indie version to Sundance. The films tend to skew more towards genre fare, there are plenty of comedies, the docs go more human interest than overtly political, and often what the films lack in polish they make up for in gusto. This is the festival that has recognized some of the freshest voices in indie film like the Duplass Brothers, Amy Seimetz, and of course Lena Dunham.
In talking with filmmakers, it is clear a lot more are willing to take matters into their own hands and pursue DIY. There is very little of the big producer ego permeating through the festival and for filmmakers who attend, they can see what will be the norm in the next two-three years by embracing the new tech companies whose presence, while a distraction, is also part of the charm.
I also would like to applaud the festival for staying true to its Austin roots. There were a large amount of Texas based films that made it into the festival. Austin is an indie film pioneer and playing with the big boys of NY/LA. The commitment to championing their own is admirable, but the truth is these films by and large are as good (if not better) than fellow entries from the larger and more typically thought of film hubs.
While SXSW still has work to do in shaking off the image of being the second choice to Sundance, the fact is they are growing at a rapid pace and the quality of films is constantly improving. Since it takes place after Sundance and Berlin, it will never be able to equal their heights on the sales front, but if distributors were smart, they would intentionally hold out for a SXSW film or two to add to their slate. Especially if they have a good VOD/Digital operation in place.
Finally, I can’t in good conscience finish this post without mentioning that I won $70 in gift cards from Fandango by twice stumping their guru on 80’s film trivia. Thank you Fandango and I look forward to using the gift cards to see more of the films from SXSW as they enter into the theatrical marketplace.
Bryan Glick March 23rd, 2013
Posted In: Film Festivals
Tags: A Band Called Death, Bryan Glick, Cheap Thrills, Drinking Buddies, film festival, filmmaker, filmmaking, for profit festival, Haunter, independent film, Milo, Muscle Shoals, sxsw 2013, The Film Collaborative, The Punk Syndrome, These Birds Walk, Unhung Heroes
TFC is stoked to be at SXSW 2013! In preparation of this year’s festival, we’ve taken a good look at how films performed that premiered at the festival last year. Always good to know a few facts.
This is the only major film festival in the US that is a FOR PROFIT. As of this writing, it is also the only one that does not provide grant and/or distribution support directly to at least some of their films. In addition, the festival coincides with a tech conference where companies like Twitter were launched and it is the largest music festival in the United States. All of the above can make it very easy for films to get lost in the shuffle.
With all that said, slightly over 2/3 of films that world premiered at the festival last year secured some form of domestic distribution. While these numbers might seem bleak, they aren’t as bad as they appear. Noticeably absent from last year’s list are the big indie players like SPC, Focus Features and TWC. These companies often exhaust their funds at Sundance and EFM looking for bigger tent-pole releases. Still the festival is one of the best launching pads for an indie film in North America. IFC, Magnolia, Factory 25, Phase 4, Go Digital, Anchor Bay, Cinedigm, and Snag Films all acquired multiple films. I expect many of these companies to be in play again this year as well as a lot of distributors that were outbid on films during the buying frenzy at Sundance this year.
From last year’s premiere crop that were not studio releases, there have been three films that have grossed over $100,000 in domestic box office (though I expect one more to reach that mark). Roadside Attractions acquired rights to Blue Like Jazz before the festival and the film has far and away the highest grossing theatrical revenue with $595,018 for 8 weeks on a max screen count of 136 . The film notably raised $345,992 on Kickstarter, almost 3x its stated goal. Adapted from Donald Miller’s memoir, the film came with a large fan-base already attached and was widely supported by the Christian community. Take heed of this fact!
PDA self-released the child chess documentary Brooklyn Castle after raising funds via Kickstarter. The film also sold remake rights for a TV series. To date it has grossed slightly over $200,000 after 11 weeks in theaters with a max screen count of 13 which, while out performing all other documentaries from the festival, makes it the lowest grossing PDA release.
Beware of Mr Baker, meanwhile, has become something of a surprise hit and just passed the century mark at the box office. It is now available on iTunes where it is in the top 100. A little under ½ the film’s tally came from one theater in NYC. So far, it has played 12 weeks in a maximum of 15 theaters. This doc is exactly reflective of the film one expects to see at the festival. It is a music focused film with a young director and edgy subject matter. Snag Films holds all digital rights to the film. This is notably much better than fellow Snag Films doc, Decoding Deepak, which reported opening weekend grosses of $9100 on 3 screens and quickly faded out of the theater. Both have most likely done solid numbers on digital platforms as marquee titles for Snag.
Like Blue Like Jazz, Fat Kid Rules The World was massively successful on Kickstarter raising $158,000 for its theatrical release. Matthew Lillard made his directorial debut with this film based on an award winning book that has many shades of his punk music upbringing. The film’s production budget was reportedly $750K. However, the film only grossed $41,457 in a one week run according to reported theatrical box office numbers. The theatrical consisted of a dozen cities with additional screenings supported by TUGG. It was released in partnership with Arc Entertainment.
Music Box Films has steered Starlet to over $88,000 with the film still playing in theaters, but near the end of the run. So far it played 12 weeks at a max screen count of 10. While not great numbers, the film about a unique friendship between an elderly recluse and a young porn star features real sex, which made it inaccessible to a number of theaters. Also still in theaters is the doc Gregory Crewdson: Brief Encounters about the notorious photographer. Zeitgeist keeps slowly adding dates and the film has steadily passed the $50k mark after 17 weeks with a max screen count of 3.
Performing on a smaller level were some well received documentaries. Oscilloscope’s Tchoupitoulas with $19,375 after 5 weeks on a max of 6 screens and Samuel Goldwyn’s Waiting for Lightning which got only $21,577 for one week on 11 screens.
On the narrative side, Cinedigm took horror film and midnight audience award winner Citadel to $13,377 in theaters for 9 weeks on a max of 7 screens and Red Flag Releasing handled the theatrical for the long delayed Duplass brothers film The Do-Decca Pentathlon. That film grossed $10,000 in its opening weekend on 8 screens and Fox Searchlight handled all other aspects of distribution.
TFC client Gayby was acquired for six figures out of the festival by Wolfe Releasing. The film grossed $14,062 from four screens and was the highest grossing gay comedy of the year. It played two weeks in Manhattan where it out-grossed all other films screening at The Cinema Village combined and later had a bonus run in Brooklyn. It also included a number of unique approaches. Most notably instead of a week-long theatrical in San Francisco, we held two special screenings at the Castro Theater. The gross for those screenings was higher than that of the entire run in the LA market. Though only out on DVD/Digital a few months, the film has already been profitable for Wolfe Releasing.
A lot of SXSW films embraced the youthful component of the festival and eschewed theatrical distribution entirely.
Documentaries: The Announcement, The Central Park Effect (Music Box has DVD rights), Uprising: Hip Hop & The LA Riots, and Seeking Asian Female premiered on ESPN, HBO, VH1, and PBS respectively.
Booster is available for download on iTunes/Amazon. Daylight Savings did a DIY digital, Extracted was released on digital platforms courtesy of Go Digital and Anchor Bay acquired The Aggression Scale, but opted to go straight to DVD.
Factory 25 just put Pavilion into release. They released The Sheik and I at the end of 2012, but did not report grosses. It played in four theaters with only Seattle lasting more than a week.
3,2,1…Frankie Go Boom (Phase 4),The Tall Man (Image), $ellebrity (DIY), King Kelly (Go Digital) and The Jeffrey Dahmer Files (IFC Midnight) also opted not to release grosses and all were out of theaters in a week (except for King Kelly which lasted 2) with a tally of under $10,000 likely for each. A few of these are in Amazon Instant Video’s top 25 list though.
Funeral Kings (Freestyle) and Beauty Is Embarrassing (DIY) did not release grosses, but played in far more theaters. The latter likely finished comfortably over $25,000. Kings is in the top 100 list on iTunes.
Meanwhile, several films failed to break $10k. Notably, they are all non-competition narrative films. All except for The Last Fall had rotten ratings on rottentomatoes.com, many below 10%. Perhaps they fared much better on digital and VOD for which numbers are not available.
These films included Crazy Eyes, bought pre fest by Strand Releasing and grossed $6,106 on 5 screens in 3 weeks. Cinedigm’s In Our Nature, a family drama starring Zach Gilford, Jena Malone, John Slattery, and Gabrielle Union grossed $6,543 in 2 weeks on 1 screen. The critically panned Magnolia comedy Nature Calls grossed a paltry $646 on 2 screens in its entire run. The Last Fall, a life-after-football drama, only reported its opening weekend gross of $6,100 on 1 screen. Of these films, it came the closest to covering basic costs of a theatrical run.
Millenium Entertainment dumped comedy The Babymakers into the marketplace on 11 screens where even with the help of TUGG it only amassed $7,889. Anchor Bay’s generic horror film, Girls Against Boys, grossed $7,529 and went right to digital and VOD after 1 week in theaters. However, it is one of the top 100 horror films in DVD and Amazon instant video. They acquired the film for seven figures! Rec 3: Genesis, the third film in this successful horror series, was pre bought by Magnolia and lasted 4 weeks in theaters, but never had a PSA over $1k and bowed out at $9,600.
In the yet to be released category– IFC’s jury winning narrative film Gimme the Loot will be released March 22. Phase 4 is sitting pretty on the audience award winning Eden and See Girl Run. Tribeca has Somebody Up There Likes Me queued for VOD release on March 12. Magnolia just bought Big Star which screened as a work in progress at the fest. Small Apartments bought by Sony Pictures Worldwide is also waiting in the wings for release sometime in 2013. Factory 25 has Sun Don’t Shine geared up for April 29 release.
BONUS TIDBIT: KICKSTARTER
At least 20 films at SXSW this year raised funds on Kickstarter. That is slightly more than 15% of the films playing at the festival. 22 features from last year’s festival used Kickstarter with a number of those campaigns held post fest. I anticipate this year’s fest to ultimately have over 30 feature films using the crowdfunding platform. Obviously crowd-funding is a huge boost for indie filmmakers as it provides the luxury of not having to worry about paying back investors. And this list does not include films that have used other sites like Indiegogo…In no particular order…
Mr. Angel 12 O Clock Boys, Improvement Club, Continental, Linsanity, Swim Little Fish Swim, Big Joy (x2), Our Nixon, Good Ol’ Freda, I Am Divine, Good Night, Fall and Winter, Medora, Maidentrip, White Reindeer, Bayou Maharajah (x3), All the Labor, This Ain’t No Mouse Music!, The Punk Singer, Finding the Funk
From last year’s festival, the list of Kickstarter funded films include ½ of the competition titles: Gayby, Gimme The Loot, Booster, The Taiwan Oyster (x2), Bay of All Saints, Seeking Asian Female, Welcome to the Machine, and The Jeffrey Dahmer Files, and also Girl Walk/All Day, Brooklyn Castle (x2), Pavilion, The Last Fall, Blue Like Jazz, Fat Kid Rules The World, Beauty is Embarrassing, Code of the West, Tchoupitoulas, Leave Me Like You Found Me, La Camioneta, Electrick Children, Wonder Women! The Untold Story of American Superheroes (x2), Trash Dance (x2)
Bryan Glick March 8th, 2013
written with input from Recreation Media’s Ariel Veneziano and TFC’s Bryan Glick
I remember reading an article in the trades a couple of years ago that described the way that the film executives at the Berlin International Film Festival typically trudge through the German winter in endless circles from the EFM market building to their screenings and back again actually “reminds them metaphorically of their miserable existence travelling in circles around the globe from one market to the next, doing the same trips and seeing the same people, year after year.”
Of course, its arguable that being in a business that takes one from fabulous locations such as Sundance, Rotterdam, Berlin, Cannes, Los Angeles, New York, Hong Kong, Guadalajara etc. should be called miserable. But I knew exactly what the journalist meant. After all, it is really cold Berlin in February, and in truth so many of the movies are truly bad. And even the best movies are usually artsy stuff that is challenging commercially – so it’s enough to drive a business executive truly mad.
So I tried to avoid that this year. I tried to use the vast tapestry of the sprawling, thriving, constantly evolving German capitol as a canvas for private meetings in cafes, restaurants, and bars at least a little off the beaten track (once you know the subway system, it only takes 10 minutes to get anywhere anyway). I tried to go to movies ONLY after they had been recommended to me – so as to cut down on the number of movies I would stay only a few minutes in before I walked out. And amongst all the trudging, there are certainly sufficient networking parties and events – not as many as say Sundance or Cannes by any means – but still plenty to enjoy and use as opportunities to get caught up with important contacts and valuable intel on the state of the Business.
Given the difficult the independent film business has been in the last few years – especially given the precipitous decline in the DVD business – what emerged from Berlin…in a positive sense…was at least the feeling of a business that has found its bottom and is holding steady. Not necessarily progressing…but not regressing either.
In certain ways, Berlin appears to be getting more important as a European market than ever. Because of the tough business climate, less and less European companies make the annual trip to relatively far-flung markets like AFM in Los Angeles. As such, Berlin has become an even more important trip for European companies looking to license product…and this extends beyond the usual “high-art” companies that typically frequent the Berlinale and further into the TV and ancillary market that has traditionally done its business at more expensive markets like Cannes and AFM. There is still a paucity of companies from both Latin America and Asia at the Berlinale, but in fact the representation of companies from Europe is actually better than ever, largely due to the economics.
Also tied into the need to save money, is the continuing trend that the market gets shorter and shorter every year…such that the market that begins on a Thursday afternoon is largely over by Tuesday afternoon. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing…actually it is probably the opposite. Because of today’s cloud-base communication technology, long gone are the days when a buyer goes into a sellers booth to “discover” what they are offering and sits down to long meetings of watching trailers and learning about the films for the first time. Today, we all arrive at our meetings having watched trailers and screeners online, knowing what we are interested in, and having highly focused, more productive meetings than ever before.
If any themes emerge from these meetings, it is mostly the same stuff we’ve been hearing for several years now….namely the questionable future of VOD/digital platforms in Europe. While VOD markets are relatively mature in the United States now, they are still nascent and unproven in Europe…but represent the direction our business MUST go if a truly healthy business will re-emerge for independent film. Unlike a few years ago, European companies no longer look down their noses at the digital distribution models…they all recognize their necessity moving forward. But still there is no PROOF that an emerging digital distribution network will be able to replace traditional distribution networks, and so what we find is more HOPE than EVIDENCE or hard numbers to back up the supposition that VOD is really the way of the future. This fact seems to weigh heavily over most discussions of independent film distribution in Europe, as we look to new sources of revenue.
From a traditional Acquisitions perspective — focusing on U.S acquisitions – sales of world premieres at the Berlinale were slow. Roadside Attractions nabbed Gloria and The Weinstein Company took US and English speaking Canadian rights to opening night film The Grandmaster. Cohen Media group acquired Elle S’En Va (On My Way).
One should expect to see sales for other Berlinale films announced at SXSW, Tribeca, and Toronto as distributors get a chance to discover the films and when the asking prices are more reasonable for small indie outlets. Expect to see the award winners eventually receive distribution and any of the first time filmmakers who wind up getting into 2nd tier festivals here in the US can reasonably expect distribution.
However, following the sales rush of Sundance and the sheer volume of films at EFM, many films from Berlin are slower to sell and even more will not get picked up for distribution in North America. From last year’s competition slate only about 60% have North American distributors, including Oscar nominees War Witch and A Royal Affair.
While the odds of Berlinale films breaking out into North America are slim, the numbers (especially for foreign films) can be quite rewarding when they do happen. Marley, A Royal Affair, and Farewell My Queen grossed over $1,00,000 in the US out of the Berlinale. But those films are of course exceptions to the rule.
I will end with a final thought for now. For those of us immersed in the film festival business, the Berlinale is still an unmatched hub for Festival programmers and festival enthusiasts. Unlike Sundance and Cannes, it is anything but crazy…and there is an unmatched confluence of colleagues able to sit down together in a productive environment to strategize our ways of moving forward together. In that way…it continues to be a truly vital environment for creating community and change in a business context. Even if it is REALLY cold!
Jeffrey Winter March 5th, 2013
Director Shaka King’s film, Newlyweeds, was included in the Sundance NEXT category for ultra low budget films and secured distribution through Phase 4 Films. Here he discusses the value of participating in filmmaking labs like those from the IFP, making short films, and using Kickstarter to successfully fund the film’s trip to Sundance.
Sheri Candler March 1st, 2013