Today’s guest post is from Thomas Beatty, writer and co-director of The Big Ask. Beatty offers his advice about one of the things we are hearing over and over again from sales agents, the power of the “star” cast to encourage significant distribution offers. This is especially true for indie dramas that are incredibly difficult to sell without notable cast to market.
When it comes to distribution, one of the best things you can do to help your movie is to get recognizable actors with whom your audience already has a positive relationship. While I would never recommend choosing fame over talent, why not aim high and try to get that dream person who is an amazing actor and also brings an audience with them? While you may not get a legitimate movie star, that doesn’t mean you can’t get someone who is incredibly talented and make it a hundred times easier on yourself to get distribution and visibility for your movie. Below are some things that we found incredibly helpful in putting together our dream cast.
1. Write for actors.
Whether you yourself are a writer or you’re looking around for material to produce or direct, look for parts and stories that will specifically appeal to actors. Like in all endeavors, you have your best chance of being successful if everyone involved is getting something they want. On your low-budget indie, you can’t make a fair money trade, but you can give actors the opportunity to do special work and to expose their audience and other filmmakers to parts of their range they haven’t gotten to show before. I was an actor for years and am the son of an actor. I feel that one of my strengths as a writer is being able to write parts that help actors do their best work. All the performances in our movie are incredible and I hope that the script and our style of directing helped in that.
If you’re not an actor, consider reading some seminal books on acting and its different techniques. You could also ask a talented actor you know how they break down a script and consider that when choosing your story. Ask yourself if your script does everything it can to help an actor do their best work or whether it’s fighting the actors and asking them to make up for the script’s deficiencies. Is it clear what the characters want scene by scene and over the entire arc? Do they get the opportunity to really change? Actors are often great judges of material. Don’t go to them with something unless you truly believe it’s great.
The script for The Big Ask was the fifteenth or so that I had written and the first I tried to make because it was the first I thought was good enough. Beyond being good enough, I thought it would stand out as unique in the pile of scripts that most recognizable actors have in front of them.
2. Find a good casting director.
Everyone wants to feel safe and supported when embarking on a creative enterprise that will leave them incredibly vulnerable. Knowing that a casting director they respect believes in the project is a huge advantage. Everyone knows they’re going to have to work incredibly hard to get the eyes of known talent on their script, but why not start with known casting talent? We got incredibly lucky when Rich Delia, then of Barden Schnee Casting, took on our script. They cast bigger, award-winning movies like Winter’s Bone and The Help and every actor knows them and respects them.
When they agreed to cast the movie within our budget constraints, it was the first, and perhaps biggest, break in our preproduction process. While it’s incredibly helpful to have a great casting director, don’t spend a quarter of your budget on a casting director that begrudgingly agrees to take you on. Make sure they believe in your movie, or they won’t give it the attention you want them to give it. No matter what, you’ll be fighting for time against other movies that are paying their salaries and their rent. Make sure they want to be working on your movie.
3. Plan your shoot around TV shooting schedules.
When deciding when to shoot your movie, take into consideration when TV shows are shooting. We shot during the second half of pilot season. Our thought was we would get people after they’d shot their pilots but before they started their season. That time is often when network shows are on leave as well. As cable channels and even networks no longer have a set season, it becomes more difficult to schedule around television work, but it’s still worth considering, especially if you have one or two principal actors. Some people also schedule their short indies during the vacation periods like Christmas, but then you run the risk of people wanting to be with their families. We had to schedule around 6 principals in our ensemble. Hopefully you will be primarily worried about one or two actors.
4. Pick specific actors with something to gain.
Part of the reason we put so much stress on TV schedules was the belief that our best chance of getting interest from more established actors would be to focus on really talented actors doing very specific things on television who might be looking to stretch their range. Gillian Jacobs does amazing work on “Community,” but is she using all the tools she learned at Julliard? At the time we were casting, David Krumholtz was just finishing the pilot for “Partners.” We’d loved watching David for years and knew that he could easily transition from a multicam to an indie. When we cast him he laughed and said “I can’t believe you gave this part to a Jew!” He then went on to thank us for believing he could carry a movie in such a dramatic role. He said that he relished the opportunity to do parts like this. Don’t be afraid to try to think from the perspective of actors and trust your intuition about which actors out there have more to offer than they’re getting to show.
In our case, working with an ensemble of other great actors was part of the appeal. But often, part of what an actor wants to show is that they can carry a movie. David certainly was the center of our movie and I know that playing the lead appealed to him. Often approaching an actor with the opportunity to be at the center of a movie and be responsible for carrying it can make your movie stand out if mostly they spend their time playing supporting roles.
There are so many things that you have to think about when putting together a small movie. It’s nearly impossible to make something even half-way good, and equally as difficult to get people to pay attention to it. Reaching high with your casting is just one thing you can do to help yourself along. While every rule in indie filmmaking is there to be broken, trying hard to cast recognizable, talented actors can only help you.
THE BIG ASK is Thomas Beatty’s first feature film as director. He has previously shot a number of short films, and along with his writing partner, Matthew Gasteier, he is repped by UTA and has projects in development with Broken Road and Scott Stuber Productions, among others. During his five years at Lakeshore Entertainment, Beatty helped guide thirteen films from script to screen including UNDERWORLD 3 and CRANK.
THE BIG ASK is now available on various digital platforms including iTunes.
Sheri Candler May 28th, 2014
Today’s guest post is from Matthew Helderman, founder and CEO of Buffalo 8 Productions and BondIt, a new service that cash-flows union bond deposits for independent feature films. Having just returned from this year’s Cannes Film Festival, here are his impressions and advice for filmmakers thinking of attending the festival one day.
Cannes 2014 – Introduction
Each year tens of thousands descend upon Cannes in the south of France for the biggest and most exceptional film event of the year. From screenings of competition films, market shopping for completed films looking for additional sales opportunities and more events than one can count — the Cannes Festival is all at once incredibly exhilarating, essential for business and filmmaking endeavors and downright exhausting!
Cannes is the essential market for both new & old content — whether developing new material, finishing up post-production on others or selling international rights for ancillary one off revenues or library generating cash-flow.
Over the past few years as our feature film library has grown in size from a handful of titles to nearly 35+ titles by Cannes 2014 — our approach and experience at the festival has changed. At Buffalo 8 Productions — we represent a library of feature films ranging from micro-budgeted $100k features up to films at the $3M mark — spanning genre’s, cast strength and value.
Cannes 2014 – The Set-Up
Cannes is unique in that it offers four elements:
The most prestigious film festival in the world with in competition films typically ending up in Oscar and international award season contention. Additionally, there are a slew of films that screen out of competition that the festival honors for their efforts and merits — think “All is Lost” in 2013 or “Lost River” in 2014 — strong titles that have commercial value and artistic integrity — the essence of the Cannes appeal.
The biggest film market in the world with over 1,500 new film titles for sale and on display for the international buying community. The “Marche” is often times a difficult pill to swallow — with hundreds upon hundreds of films from across the world — the first visit to the market is hard to comprehend. Selling and buying are both relationship based communities in the film business – requiring pre-established relationships with sales agents (those who represent content internationally) and buyers (distributors in individual territories around the world).
The strongest worldwide representation at the international pavilions with each major country in the world representing their national film programs — from tax incentives, to promotions to rebates and panels — each country seeking to draw in productions offers an all inclusive look and conversation into the dealings of their specific region. Often used as meeting places (since Cannes has very limited seating areas in the Marche and festival), the pavilions serve as a landing base for much of the conversations during the 10+ days of Cannes — which offer the countries with the strongest presence an ability to market their offerings while playing host to the film community.
The most important and constant social & networking events that anyone has ever seen. From panel discussions with big name producers, directors and the like to parties at villas, clubs, beach front and yachts to the invite only exclusive dinners and hotel gatherings — Cannes offers the best opportunity year round for the filmmaking and distribution community to mingle for fun and business.
But there is a catch…
Cannes Opportunity Cost
The most difficult part about attending Cannes is deciding how best to spend your valuable time. The cost of attending is steep both financially, time wise (the travel from Los Angeles is 15+ hours door-to-door) and opportunity wise. If you spend all of your time seeing the great films you’ll miss the networking and sales opportunities. However, if you spend all your time networking and selling, you’ll miss the festival — which is a difficult pill to swallow given the strength of the titles screening at Cannes each year.
Assessing your main objectives months before you attend is crucial — are you looking for financing? If so, pre-sales discussions with sales agents in the Marche is crucial.
Are you seeking tax incentives and interested in discussing with international territories about your options? Then spending your time at the pavilions is the best option.
Regardless — you’re going to need to plan your goals well in advance, schedule your meetings 50+ days out (everyone’s schedules get ridiculously crowded) and be prepared to miss out on events you want to attend (it’s simply not possible to attend everything).
With a library of content for sale, multiple projects gearing up for production and a continued need to expand our social and business networks — we spent our time divided up among our company divisions.
Our film team at Buffalo 8 spent their days selling in the Marche and meeting new buyers to form relationships with companies we’ll be in business with for the rest of the year. An interesting piece of advice here being that if you live in Los Angeles – take meetings with people & companies that live elsewhere (similarly for NYC, Chicago, etc…) — this is your rare chance each year to be face-to-face with buyers from every corner of the world. And even in the current times of easily transferred digital files for streaming and viewing purposes – meeting with financiers, buyers and the like go a long way.
Our production team spent time meeting with financiers who cash-flow tax incentives, pre-sales and those looking for equity investment opportunities. These meetings are more difficult to come by and require advance planning to keep the momentum sustained during the craziness of Cannes.
Our BondIt team (BondIt cash-flows union deposits for independent feature films freeing up cashflow liquidity) split their time between finding companies who actively produce content between $100k – $10M budgets (the sweet spot for the BondIt application) and those looking for equity investments into media technology companies. Note here that all of these meetings — at least a large portion — were pre-planned and scheduled. Again, most of the big hitters in Cannes whether individuals or companies have packed schedules so getting in front of them is only possible if you’ve pre-scheduled.
Once you’ve attended your first major market (Berlin, Toronto, Cannes), it’s difficult not to go back for another year. The value of attending is so high from a networking, business and relationship stand point. Before attending the major markets, Buffalo 8 was a smaller boutique production entity with limited international presence — but now having attended markets for several years, our database of useful contacts and our business have grown simultaneously.
Weigh out the pro’s & con’s of attending — be self aware in what you’re seeking and who will be attending that could facilitate what you need and may be willing to grant a meeting with you. Recognize that the investments available at Cannes are insanely competitive (Martin Scorsese attended the 2013 Cannes market seeking financing for multiple productions) as the world of financing and distribution continues to get stranger and stranger (a nice way of saying it’s getting overly complicated and competitive).
Pre-plan your meetings and have a goal in mind for each contact you sit down with and leave room for those coincidental meetings that will often happen (but don’t bank on them) that could open new doors.
Cannes is the most important event of year — make the most of it and you’ll never remember why you weren’t there years before.
BondIt was founded by independent film producers Matthew Helderman & Luke Taylor of Beverly Hills based Buffalo 8 Productions. Having produced 30+ feature films, the team recognized a dilemma in the production process — union deposits — and launched BondIt to resolve the situation to assist producers & union representatives alike.
Sheri Candler May 22nd, 2014
Tags: BondIt, Buffalo 8 Productions, Cannes Film Festival, film financing, impressions of Cannes Film Festival, international sales, Marche du Film, Matthew Helderman, sales agents, union bond deposits
In this final excerpt from our upcoming edition of Selling Your Film Outside the U.S., Wendy Bernfeld of Amsterdam-based consultancy Rights Stuff talks about the current situation in Europe for independent film in the digital on demand landscape.
There have been many European platforms operating in the digital VOD space for the last 8 years or so, but recent changes to their consumer pricing structures and offerings that now include smaller foreign films, genre films and special interest fare as well as episodic content have contributed to robust growth. European consumers are now embracing transactional and subscription services , and in some cases ad-supported services, in addition to free TV, DVD and theatrical films. Many new services are being added to traditional broadcasters’ offerings and completely new companies have sprung up to take advantage of burgeoning consumer appetite for entertainment viewable anywhere, anytime and through any device they choose.
From Wendy Bernfeld’s chapter in the forthcoming Selling Your Film Outside the U.S.:
For the first decade or so of the dozen years that I’ve been working an agent, buyer, and seller in the international digital pay and VOD sector, few of the players, whether rights holders or platforms, actually made any serious money from VOD, and over the years, many platforms came and went.
However, the tables have turned significantly, and particularly for certain types of films such as mainstream theatrical features, TV shows and kids programming, VOD has been strengthening, first in English-language mainstream markets such as the United States, then in the United Kingdom, and now more recently across Europe and other foreign language international territories. While traditional revenues (eg DVD,) have dropped generally as much as 20% – 30%, VOD revenues—from cable, telecom, IPTV, etc.—have been growing, and, depending on the film and the circumstances, have sometimes not only filled that revenue gap, but exceeded it.
For smaller art house, festival, niche, or indie films, particularly overseas, though, VOD has not yet become as remunerative. This is gradually improving now in 2014 in Europe, but for these special gems, more effort for relatively less money is still required, particularly when the films do not have a recognizable/strong cast, major festival acclaim, or other wide exposure or marketing.
What type of film works and why?
Generally speaking, the telecoms and larger mainstream platforms prioritize mainstream films in English or in their local language. In Nordic and Benelux countries, and sometimes in France, platforms will accept subtitled versions, while others (like Germany, Spain, Italy, and Brazil) require local language dubs. However, some platforms, like Viewster, will accept films in English without dubbed or subtitled localized versions, and that becomes part of the deal-making process as well. This is the case, particularly for art house and festival films, where audiences are not surprised to see films in English without the availability of a localized version.
Of course, when approaching platforms in specific regions that buy indie, art house, and festival films, it is important to remember that they do tend to prioritize films in their own local language and by local filmmakers first. However, where there is no theatrical, TV exposure, or stars, but significant international festival acclaim, such as SXSW, IDFA, Berlinale, Sundance, or Tribeca, there is more appetite. We’ve also found that selling a thematic package or branded bundle under the brand of a festival, like IDFA, with whom we have worked (such as “Best of IDFA”) makes it more recognizable to consumers than the individual one-off films.
What does well: Younger (i.e., hip), drama, satire, action, futuristic, family and sci-fi themes tend to travel well, along with strong, universal, human-interest-themed docs that are faster-paced in style (like Occupy Wall Street, economic crisis, and environmental themes), rather than traditionally educational docs or those with a very local slant.
What does less well: World cinema or art house that is a bit too slow-moving or obscure, which usually finds more of a home in festival cinema environments or public TV than on commercial paid VOD services, as well as language/culture-specific humor, will not travel as well to VOD platforms.
Keep in mind that docs are widely represented in European free television, so it’s trickier to monetize one-offs in that sector, particularly on a pay-per-view basis. While SVOD or AVOD offerings (such as the European equivalents of Snagfilm.com in the US) do have some appetite, monetization is trickier, especially in the smaller, non-English regions. Very niche films such as horror, LGBTQ, etc. have their fan-based niche sites, and will be prominently positioned instead of buried there, but monetization is also more challenging for these niche films than for films whose topics are more generic, such as conspiracy, rom-com, thrillers, kids and sci-fi, which travel more easily, even in the art house sector.
However, platforms evolve, as do genres and trends in buying. Things go in waves. For example, some online platforms that were heavily active in buying indie and art house film have, at least for now, stocked up on feature films and docs. They are turning their sights to TV series in order to attract return audiences (hooked on sequential storytelling), justify continued monthly SVOD fees, and /or increase AVOD returns.
One plus these days is that conventional film platform buyers can no longer sit back with the same historic attitudes to buying or pricing as before, as they’re no longer the “only game in town” and have to be more open in their programming and buying practices. But not only the platforms have to shift their attitude.
To really see the growth in audiences and revenues in the coming year or two, filmmakers (if dealing direct) and/or their representatives (sales agents, distributors, agents) must act quickly, and start to work together where possible, to seize timing opportunities, particularly around certain countries where VOD activities are heating up. Moreover, since non-exclusive VOD revenues are cumulative and incremental, they should also take the time to balance their strategies with traditional media buys, to build relationships, construct a longer-term pipeline, and maintain realistic revenue expectations.
This may require new approaches and initiatives, drawing on DIY and shared hybrid distribution, for example, when the traditional sales agent or distributor is not as well-versed in all the digital sector, but very strong in the other media—and vice versa. Joining forces, sharing rights, or at least activities and commissions is a great route to maximize potential for all concerned. One of our mantras here at Rights Stuff is “100% of nothing is nothing.” Rights holders sitting on the rights and not exploiting them fully do not put money in your pockets or theirs, or new audiences in front of your films.
Thus, new filmmaker roles are increasingly important. Instead of sitting back or abdicating to third parties, we find the more successful filmmakers and sales reps in VOD have to be quite active in social media marketing, audience engagement, and helping fans find their films once deals are done.
To learn more about the all the new service offerings available in Europe to the savvy producer or sales agent, read Wendy’s entire chapter in the new edition of Selling Your Film Outside the US when it is released later this month. If you haven’t read our previous edition of Selling Your Film, you can find it HERE.
Sheri Candler May 15th, 2014
For the next volume of Selling Your Film, which comes out later this month, I recently had a virtual sit-down with Tilman Eberle, Head of Marketing and Communications at , a global provider of on-demand Internet streaming media headquartered in Zurich, Switzerland.
Approximately how many art house / independent films does Viewster handle annually?
Tilman Eberle: Currently none, except for the festival. The platform specializes on serialized content (TV series, miniseries, prime web series). In the past, we had around 75% independent films in our portfolio, a vast majority of it arthouse.
Where do you acquire the rights from? Only sales agents? Only distributors? filmmakers? All three?
Eberle: Producers directly, sales agents, aggregators, TV networks–whoever holds the AVOD rights.
What types of films work well via Viewster?
Eberle: We prefer newer production with a high production value, a known/recognizable cast or director and content that has social media relevance, which means that it’s talked about in blogs and social media outlets and has followers/fans.
Genres: Comedy, Drama (including Korean Drama), Crime, Documentaries (series and films) and Japanese Anime. We can promote these titles best–they have a large and active niche audience that we can target very specifically. Besides that, there can be very diverse titles that get surfaced by the community. We are surprised day by day…
Please explain your business model and how widely films you handle are distributed (discuss platforms etc).
Eberle: Viewster offers ad-based free VOD, granting the content owner a fair revenue share. Distribution can be from worldwide to country-specific. However, Viewster’s focus is to get distribution rights for its European core markets.
Please describe any initiatives you have with regard to independent / art house cinema?
Eberle: Viewster just launched the first edition of its online film festival to which both aggregators and individual creators are invited. The high total prize money of US$100,000 is meant to give the creative community something back from the revenues that are earned with online distribution of professional content.
Other than that, Viewster is the ideal platform to distribute independent films because of its low entry barrier and fair sharing model. A separate track for commercial content licensing is in preparation and will be launched soon.
Can you please give some ranges of revenues and explain which types of films perform well vs. not as well?
Eberle: An individual title can generate significant monthly revenue. Our community-driven exploration platform ensures that titles that are deeper in the library also get surfaced. That’s why, besides catchy artwork and title, the relevance of the film for a certain niche makes the success via social activation.
Please explain any marketing you do and also what you recommend filmmakers do.
Eberle: Viewster’s marketing focuses on brand-building, advertising and social media promotion, mainly on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. PR is also used for brand-building. For individual filmmakers, community-building and social media marketing are very efficient ways to promote their film because you can reach out to a certain niche in a very targeted way.
What are some best practices that you think filmmakers should follow?
Eberle: Be your own marketing manager and do not rely on anyone else to do this for you. Create a catchy story around your oeuvre and pitch this to the right people at events, festivals and online on social media platforms. Be sure that you have good imagery when doing so. This sounds trivial but it’s shocking how bad these basics can be sometimes. If you want to reach out to younger audiences that turn themselves away from TV and cinema, and you still want to earn money, consider online distribution: there is more than YouTube and Netflix!
How is your service similar to other services, and how is it different?
Eberle: Viewster specializes in AVOD and focuses on the European market. This makes it distinct from Netflix and Hulu, respectively. In contrast to YouTube, Viewster has no piracy and only professional, curated content.
Let’s move on to your quarterly film festival. It’s called the , and you finished the first edition earlier this spring. Submissions with the theme of “When Life Gives You Lemons…” were juried by Ted Hope and two other jury members and narrowed down to 83 films. Those 83 were then put up online for people to vote for them, and they competed for a total of $100K in prize money with a first, second and third prize. Very exciting.
The first thing that stuck me is the mix of shorts and features…this is not unusual for a film festival in general, but since we are talking about a prize and ranking, I found it interesting that you didn’t list the running times on the main page…is this because you didn’t want to give away which ones would take longer to watch, as that might create an unfair advantage to the shorter films?
Eberle: The winners of our first edition were a series, a feature and a short, despite the fact that 2/3 of the entries were short format. The variety of formats played absolutely fine and we’ll keep this concept also for the second edition.
And you have your second set for this June. Are you going to have a prize for each quarterly installment, or is this just for the first one?
Eberle: Yes, there will be the same prize for each quarterly edition.
Do you have a permanent jury or do you plan to rotate inguest curators?
How else will each edition differ?
Eberle: The editions will differ both in terms of format and theme. The formats for subsequent editions will be: shorts and series pilots. And the theme for this next edition is “Relationship Status: It’s Complicated.”
Will this festival always be free or are you considering implementing a payment model in the future? Or an ad-based one?
Eberle: It will always be free for the candidates and the audience.
How do you come up with your themes, and what are some themes you are considering for future installments? What themes would not be appropriate here?
Eberle: The themes need to fit with our overall program and are selected based on the activation potential of creators and community.
How do you think these quarterly film festivals will play out as a potential distribution strategy in the EU? For example, what happens to the films after the festival is over—will they go up somewhere where people can still rent/purchase? What kind of films will persevere? And do you think it could be monetarily advantageous for the filmmakers?
Eberle: With the first edition, we have already established many great connections with creators and will offer the participants the option to distribute their content commercially on Viewster. This looks very promising, as AVOD is becoming a truly lucrative distribution form.
What could the windows look like for other online platforms if a film makes its launch on Viewster? Would you so something like Vimeo On Demand, where there is an exclusivity window?
Eberle: Our festival is not exclusive and AVOD.
Lastly, please provide information filmmakers should have in order to get their films on to Viewster.
Eberle: If your film matches the theme of “Relationship Status: It’s Complicated!” then submit it to the second edition of the Viewster Online Film Fest (#VOFF) by May 22, 2014. You get your film exposed to an audience of one million people and to independent producer Ted Hope in the Jury. And you have the chance to win a lot of money. Also be sure to check in for future editions of the .
Those filmmaker who wish to enter the Viewster library and commercial distribution for individual titles should stay tuned—we’ll have a separate track open for submissions in the near future.
Orly Ravid May 12th, 2014