Bryan Glick is director of theatrical distribution at TFC

pissed_off_laurels

I love film festivals by-in-large and they have done great things for many of our films. In fact, we have multiple films this year that have generated over $50K in revenue on the festival circuit. Many companies cling to the myth that playing festivals hurts distribution deals and revenue, yet most of our top festival performers still received six figure distribution deals while continuing to generate revenue, awards and exposure on the circuit.

While The Film Collaborative is perhaps best known for monetizing the film festival universe, we provide just as much support in creating an overall festival strategy (which frequently includes playing some top festivals that don’t pay).

One of the most frequent questions I get asked is, “When/how do we determine that a festival is not worthwhile?” And, frequently, I see filmmakers making similar mistakes in terms of what festivals they say yes to. So with that in mind, here are real world examples of when and why (and often where) film festivals should be avoided.

The first three things we ask when determining whether or not a film festival should pay are:

  1. Do the domestic and/or international industry attend?
  2. Do the domestic and/or international press attend?
  3. Are other film festivals going to look to this festival’s lineup to fill their slate?

If the answer is yes to all 3 of the above questions, the festival probably doesn’t need to pay you a fee (and won’t offer it either), as they are providing significant additional benefits. These are the festivals we call impact festivals…and, in truth, there are not very many of these.

However, if they are not fitting the above criteria, then we believe they should be paying you a fee, as they are not what we call an impact festival and therefore need to offer compensation for their screenings. An exception of course is when major travel could be involved—though it is important to note that many festivals will pay a screening fee and cover travel. We don’t include festival travel or perks in our revenue totals but we have filmmakers that don’t pay rent the entire year and simply travel from festival to festival.

With this basic information in mind let’s pivot to festival no-go’s.

Over the summer, a film that I’ll be releasing theatrically next year got accepted to the Downtown Los Angeles Film Festival. The festival mandated that the filmmaker (who lives in NYC) attend the screening and refused to pay a screening fee. They also made it clear that they would not pay for print traffic or travel. Meanwhile, they would put the film in an auditorium that seats several hundred people. There was no way we were about to give away $5,000 worth of tickets and have to pay for the privilege to do so for a non-impact festival. If the film was capable of selling out in L.A., we’d rather apply that to the theatrical, or, for less money, do a special preview screening for an invited audience of maybe 100 people. Looking to those 3 questions above, I could honestly say the answer was “no” to all 3. There was a tiny bit of downtown only press but we were not going to get a THR or Variety review by playing this particular venue. And the festival demands were beyond absurd. If they can’t afford to even cover someone’s shipping, they should not be operating.

Perhaps the bigger issue, however, is that the festival is in the second largest city in America. If you plan to have a theatrical release you have to weigh the pros and cons of playing any fests in those 5-10 top target theatrical markets.

Along those lines, I was advising on another film whose central subject lives in Rhode Island. The Rhode Island International Film Festival had invited the film, but this festival also refuses to pay screening fees. It was not going to be the festival that would be causing the film to sell out, but rather the appeal of the subject, and all of us recognized this. Not only would Rhode Island not pay, but they were very unpleasant to deal with, and so the filmmakers wisely took the film to another festival that would give them just as much (if not more) exposure in the market. This other festival also paid a screening fee and they truly worked with the filmmakers so that they would still be able to use their capital accordingly when the time came for theatrical.

While both of these examples were obvious no go’s we frequently run into the more complicated matter of whether or not a film should play a bigger festival in a city that does not pay, hold until theatrical, and/or play a festival that does pay but is less prestigious. Perhaps the most common manifestation of this is broader international film festival (think the enormous Seattle International Film Festival) vs a niche specific fest (Like Seattle Translations). In this case it really depends on time and strategy but again if the filmmaker holds huge sway in that city it’s almost never worth giving it away for free. In these cases filmmakers really need to look at the size of their audience in the market.

With our film Tab Hunter Confidential, I was clear early on that I did not want the film to play any festival in Palm Springs. Tab Hunter is a former matinee idol and gay icon. The combo of which made it clear to me that despite its population of 100,000, Palm Springs would be our top theatrical market. The Palm Springs Film Festival is a truly amazing festival but since our brand awareness within our target demo was high, it allowed us to create an event arguably bigger than what the fest could provide. Cinema Diverse, which is Palm Springs LGBT festival, is run by a true mensch who I knew would still support the film’s theatrical even if we declined his admittedly well-paying festival. Skipping the festival opportunities allowed us to sell out a 500-seat theater and generate over $10,000 in box office in Palm Springs. Tab is a great example of assessing value all the way around, as TFCD made the choice with the producers to walk away from a distribution offer and instead self-release on iTunes where the film peaked at #2. You can read more about that release in my colleague David Averbach’s blog article from last month.

We had a different situation with (T)ERROR, when we opted to play two festivals in Manhattan. Following the film’s Sundance premiere, we took it to Tribeca and Human Rights Watch New York. Tribeca allowed us to continue the awards/prestige trajectory and (T)ERROR was the opening night film at Human Rights Watch, which enabled us to position the film with several politically-oriented festivals. It was smart for this title, but it admittedly made booking a theater in NYC quite complicated. Several venues did not want the film, as they thought it had exhausted its audience. The film played for 3 weeks at IFC Center and went on to win IDA and Cinema Eye Awards. If this film had been a world premiere at Tribeca, I likely would have turned down Human Rights Watch, not because it doesn’t have value, but because of possible future theatrical issues.

In the city of San Francisco these choices are constant as the city has some of the top festivals of almost every niche (Jewish, LGBT, Asian, Environmental, etc.) in addition to the well-respected San Francisco International. In that market, if there is a niche we can position film for, that option is almost always better in the long run than playing a San Francisco Film Festival. Screening at Frameline can be the difference between a 5 figure LGBT festival run and being passed over by the entire LGBT circuit. This is where knowing the audience for the film is so important in evaluating festivals. And I encourage every filmmaker to figure out what niches the film can be positioned for and what the top 2-3 fests are for those niches.

More recently, I’ve dealt with a simple reality of time. Perhaps the most difficult thing to do is figure out when a festival is too demanding compared to what it is they offer. For the Love of Spock is one of our top festival and theatrical bookers of the year and, with the 50th anniversary of Star Trek in September and 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, it’s easy to see why. I admittedly found myself quite frustrated that non-impact festivals in rural towns of less than 50,000 were offering chump change and asking for crazy requests like having the director attend their festival during the first weekend of the film’s theatrical release. With one festival in particular I turned them down three times only to have them try and go around my back. The filmmakers were responsible enough to let me know what was going on and we ultimately passed. If a festival is being unreasonable compared to what they offer, it is perfectly fine to say no. Your time has value after-all.

The most likely reason that we will say no, though, is premiere status. Holding out for a top European premiere (Berlin, Locarno, etc.) instead of launching at the first fest that says yes in that region. Most festivals are understanding when it comes to navigating premiere status, but beyond the World, International, European, North American premieres of a film, most of the other obligations are really stretching it. And if there’s 4 festivals in New Mexico that will pay for a film ahead of one that’s asking for the Florida premiere we will usually say take the 4 paying festivals. This is the one area, however, where we see filmmakers turning down festivals that they should be saying yes to. Every year I see filmmakers pulling films out of festivals after Sundance in a hope that Cannes will take their film. And most of the time it hurts the film as they sit out dozens of festivals only to get rejected by Cannes and be subsequently forgotten after all the other fests like Berlin, SXSW and Tribeca have passed. Once the filmmakers get the rejection letter from Cannes they try to reroute course, but some of the festivals that fought for the film months earlier will hold a grudge and instead turn the film down.

Luckily, most festivals are welcoming places and 9/10 a festival that says yes can and will be a positive notch in the film’s exposure belt. But when fests are not willing to pay or are a huge drain of time and resources, that’s when you have to be prepared to say no. Of course keep your theatrical release in mind but you only need to focus on the top few target markets. As you look at the fests in those markets, figure out what your brand awareness is and how the festivals can or cannot help you connect with an audience. The truth is most festivals happily will promote their alumni titles when they open.

October 27th, 2016

Posted In: Film Festivals, Theatrical

’Tis the season of giving.

That is the season, when documentary filmmakers give and give while getting nothing in return.

All in the dream of making the prized Oscar shortlist that was announced Dec 1st. Since Michael Moore and AMPAS tweaked the system in 2012, the exploitation of filmmakers has only gotten worse.

I am not here to tarnish people’s dreams, but merely to decry the sad reality that publicists, publications, screening series, cinemas, and private venues are more than happy to let filmmakers waste money even when they have, statistically, speaking VIRTUALLY NO CHANCE of making the Oscar shortlist.

In the last 4 years (since the major rule changes):
60% of Oscar Shortlisted Docs screened at Sundance
28% of Oscar Shortlisted Docs screened at Toronto
10% of Oscar Shortlisted Docs screened at Tribeca

Only 4 films that did not screen at any of the 3 festivals above made the Oscar Shortlist. Three of those grossed over $200K and the fourth was distributed by HBO. Two of the three were also NYFF premieres (First Cousin Once Removed and Citizenfour) and one was in Cannes.

71% of Oscar Shortlisted Docs were Cinema Eye and/or IDA nominees.

0% of Non-HBO/Netflix docs that were shortlisted played fewer than 10 theaters theatrically. Yet there are companies that advertise Oscar Qualifying runs in New York and Los Angeles. Filmmakers can spend over $20K for this. These companies charge thousands of dollars more while often providing less of a service than what would have been delivered for a standard release. Keep in mind that any industry vet with half a noggin knows that films using this service have essentially no shot.

(T)ERROR

In fact, so far, ZERO films that have used this approach (and not had HBO or Netflix backing) have made the shortlist. It is misleading at best to claim these companies are providing a useful service. To be fair, an Oscar nomination is a lifelong dream of many filmmakers, but that doesn’t make leading them down a false path any less horrid. If companies wanted to help filmmakers enter into the race they would arrange for 10 cities not 2. It is almost predatory to give filmmakers this false sense of hope.

Looking at the 124 documentaries that qualified this year it was reasonable to assume that less than half ever had any slightly realistic shot of making the shortlist. Yet no fewer than 45 films with essentially ZERO shot have spent over $25K to qualify. And no fewer than 20 have spent over $20K on awards campaigning. Many have spent over $100K! A full-page ad in a trade can cost $30K, a promo email from a doc group can cost thousands, and those free screening series for the public and special member orgs can cost anywhere from $1K-10K apiece.

We here at TFC have had filmmakers claim they can barely scrape by to cover their theatrical release costs and then spend twice as much money on Oscar campaigning. All of these films did not screen at the 5 key fests (Tribeca, Sundance, Toronto, Cannes, New York) and have destroyed opportunities for a chance to reach a larger audience. Just think of what $50K for marketing and promotion could do for a small doc.

Laura Poitras (Citizenfour) and Johanna Hamilton (1971)

To be clear, the whole awards system if screwed up. We ask filmmakers to pay to attend award shows where they are nominees. In fact many of the precursors not only cost $$ to submit but can cost 10x as much if you’re nominated. If you’re being honored, the bare minimum we can do is not charge you. Now a larger company or bigger docs can whether these costs but for any film that’s not Amy this kind of out of control spending creates a vicious cycle in which all but the small core group of awards voters lose.

Case and point, at least 10 docs that had major awards screenings (cost of $5K or more) did not have a real shot at making the shortlist. Worse yet, only one of them got a nod from IDA or Cinema Eye awards.

This has got to stop! If filmmakers can raise that kind of capital why on earth would they not put it into grassroots engagement or adding markets? For a cost of a single screening to reach voters each of the films could have four walled in 1-4 markets across the country.

For the 50ish docs with even the slightest shot I am willing to give the benefit of the doubt but looking at other indicators from past years only about 30 ever had reason to seriously campaign. In fact, using IDA, Cinema Eye, prior nominee status, and winning at Sundance, Tribeca, or TIFF as an indicator I was able to reduce this year’s crop of 124 docs to a possible list of 33. All 15 shortlisted films were on this list.

Song from the Forest

So how do we help rectify this situation where documentary filmmakers shell out tens of thousands of dollars for nothing in return? In the doc shorts category they have to win the jury prize at a qualifying festival. If we simplified and said only Jury, Special Jury and audience winners from Sundance, SXSW, Tribeca and TIFF as well as nominees from Cinema Eye and IDA are eligible we would cut the list to fewer than 70 films. This does not eliminate campaigning but it significantly cuts back on wasteful spending from films without a shot. Also 14 of the 15 shortlisted films would have been eligible under this system. Granted, this gives even more power to the most influential festivals in North America and that is its own concern.

Yet, this also allows the bulk of the docs to focus on what matters, which is reaching an audience. I love winning awards as much as the next person, but if filmmakers will not listen to reason and if our industry continues to exploit them, why not eliminate a lot of the ability for them to fall into the trap in the first place? The doc branch is quite small and favors their own, with a clear pattern.

Tab Hunter Confidential

2/3 of the shortlisted films each year have been political docs and 1/3 have been character profiles. With few exceptions (Listen to Me Marlon being one) they don’t like films about narrative filmmakers or actors (shocker…not!) and tend to reward the same people. 7 of the 15 shortlisted films this year were directed by prior nominees. You can go a step further and see that political docs are the only ones that can gross under $100K and make the shortlist (again not counting for HBO/Netflix titles). And the biggest shocker is that waiting until fall to release does not increase your chances. In fact, the summer was the most common time for Oscar shortlisted docs to come out.

So filmmakers, I ask you in 2016 not to waste your time or the industry’s time on a pipe dream that only causes you heartache. Take your Oscar campaign money and put it into audience engagement and outreach, use it to make the case for your next feature. Do not spend it on an insular circle unless you statistically match the profile I have laid out. And PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE do not bother telling me why your film is different, because it’s not. I just gave you the statistics that make it pretty clear, at least for the last few years (and I will keep tracking). Don’t put AMPAS above a proper release and find other ways to win attention. If you are that rare doc that fits it into that awards bait by all means strike a balance and don’t overspend.

The Hunting Ground

TFC has had many films on the shortlist in the past including We Were Here, The Invisible War, and The Hunting Ground. All of them were cost effective in promotion and put their original release first before spending big. In fact, our theatrical release, (T)error has spent less than $1K on any awards campaigning and yet it is an IDA Winner, Cinema Eye Nominee, and Spirit Award Nominee. It’s about where you premiere, your subject matter, and who you know. Sort of like the larger industry. Now onward to Sundance 2016.

December 3rd, 2015

Posted In: Distribution, DIY, Marketing, Theatrical

Tags: , , , , , ,

This article was originally posted on indiewire on June 26, 2015.

Be smart in organizing your priorities, do your homework and prepare for the emotional roller coaster of festivals. To help you, we’ve asked an experienced distributor to run down the numbers, so you can determine your odds.

Bryan Glick is the director of theatrical distribution for The Film Collaborative. Some of his notable releases include "I Am Divine," "Manos Sucias" and "1971". He has also worked for LAFF, AFI Fest and Sundance. Below is his take on the top festivals.

We at The Film Collaborative frequently hear from filmmakers after the fact that they regretted premiering at festival "A" and wish they had opted for festival "B." Similarly, when we ask a filmmaker why they want to premiere at a particular film festival, we rarely get an answer grounded in research.

The truth is that all the top festivals have certain types of films they gravitate towards, and all attract certain kinds of buyers looking for a particular type of product. With Sundance, Berlin, SXSW, Tribeca and Cannes behind us (and many filmmakers going into production to meet their Sundance deadline or wrapping up to apply for TIFF), we thought that now would be the perfect time to step back and look at the bigger picture of the 2015 festival landscape (including TIFF 2014).

We chose to define this list based on the number of films that screened at each festival and had not publicly stated they were being distributed before the festival lineup was announced.

The number of films listed as being acquired is to the best of our knowledge. This includes many films that have yet to go public with their distribution deals but that we can confirm from filmmakers, distributors and/or sales agents.

While we focused on a small list of top festivals, please note that major deals can come from any of a variety of festival. All that said, the following is the look at the major premiere festivals most filmmakers we meet with are pursuing.

2015 Sundance Film Festival

By the numbers:

  • 74 Sundance acquisitions (including 19 for over $1 million)
  • 74 of 104 films acquired
  • 18 of 25 award winners acquired

Buyers: A24, Alchemy, Broad Green Pictures, Film Arcade, Fox Searchlight, Gravitas, HBO, IFC, Kino Lorber, Lionsgate, Magnolia, Netflix, Showtime, Sony Pictures Classics and The Orchard.

The lowdown: Sundance is perhaps the Holy Grail as far as buyers are concerned. Sundance is a popular stomping ground for Netflix and the all rights deals that
are much harder to come by at Cannes or TIFF. The fest is especially effective for highlighting documentaries and top notch narrative films.

The only catch is that Sundance simply isn’t an international festival. If you don’t take the all rights deal it can be much more work selling the film abroad. Since Sundance is the first big festival stop of the year, many distributors jockey for position. But if your film is not American, this might not be the festival for you. Half of the world doc/world dramatic films have yet to secure North American distribution; all but four films in the U.S . Dramatic and Documentary section have secured distribution and almost all were in six or seven figures.

As far as getting into the festival, the festival is notoriously insular. A strong majority of U.S. Competition films are backed by the Sundance Institute and/or come from Sundance alumni. Also, Sundance tends to stick to theatrical length films. You will rarely see 50-70 minute films accepted. They show a particular interest in politically-oriented documentaries. 

SXSW 2015

By the numbers:

  • 37 SXSW Acquisitions
  • including 3 for over $1 million 
  • 37 of 100 films acquired
  • 11 of 17 award winners acquired

Buyers: Netflix, Drafthouse Films, Roadside Attractions, Gravitas, FilmBuff, Alchemy, Vertical Films, Ignite Channel and IFC

The lowdown: SXSW is always a tricky proposition. With 145 films (20+% more than Sundance or Tribeca) presented over nine days instead of 11-12, there’s simply a lot going on. This means it is much easier to fall through the cracks. Since the festival doesn’t sell tickets ahead of time, it’s very possible nobody will show up to your screening.

However, the fact that the slate skews younger and is more adventurous often means that films have large built-in fan bases, and that there are bold discoveries that distributors can sometimes get at bargain prices. There is a reason FilmBuff and Gravitas nabbed at least eight films combined. Throw in Netflix and you have 11 titles that we can confirm going a targeted digital route.

This is the one top festival where your film is guaranteed to get screened by a festival programmer when you submit. They go out of their way to find filmmakers who are not as connected to the industry. If you don’t have industry contacts, this might be your best bet. The festival primarily programs American films and is a popular follow up to TIFF and Sundance. They also shine a light on local Texas talent.

2015 Tribeca Film Festival

By the numbers:

  • 22 Tribeca acquisitions including 3 for over $1 Million
  • 22 of 79 acquired
  • 3 of 15 award winners sold

Buyers: A24, IFC, Saban Films, Paramount and Strand Releasing all took multiple titles

The lowdown: Tribeca screens fewer films than the other top North American fests and has a reduced schedule during the regular workweek. As the only top festival in a major U.S. industry hub, things tend to follow a more traditional trajectory.

However, we find films at Tribeca often don’t think about the long game. With summer being a slow period, many films will simply stop pursuing festivals while waiting for a deal—a strategy that tends to backfire, as more often than not they wind up forgotten.

While the narrative quality is growing, the star-driven fare tends to dominate. Some based on their star brand can get big deals, but at its heart, the fest is really about documentaries. They have a lot of character profile and political documentaries that fall under the awards bait category and frequently appeal to a more traditional indie film crowd.

As Sundance continues to narrowly define their documentary programming, Tribeca is proving to be an industry asset. This is also a great fest to go to as a North
American premiere. Frequently films that fall through the cracks at Berlin, IDFA and Rotterdam get more attention here, and also tend to be the winners on awards night. Accordingly, if you’re an American filmmaker and awards are important to you, recent history suggests that you might want to bypass this fest. Additionally (unlike SXSW), they embrace their local filmmakers far less, preferring to focus on the international power.

2015 Cannes Film Festival

By the numbers:

  • 21 of 81 acquired
  • 9 of 25 award winners acquired

Buyers: Alchemy, Cohen Media Group, IFC, Kino Lorber, Radius-TWC, Strand Releasing, Film Movement, IFC and Sony Pictures Classics

The lowdown: Cannes is the international behemoth and certainly being in competition is the best place to launch a film as a foreign language contender. The festival skews much more international in its programming and deal opportunities. While the U.S. distribution picture is bleaker, the rest of the world rapidly snatches up everything they can from the festival.

This is perhaps the most insider-y of the festivals. Only one film in competition was from a first-time director. Cannes frequently pulls from their own rank and file. They also show the fewest number of documentaries of any festival on the list and those are almost solely films about film/filmmakers/actors.

There are similarly few slots for genre fare. Films in the other sidebars like Directors Fortnight and Un Certain Regard are far less likely to get North American distribution when the dust settles, but can usually count on a long festival life.

Cannes, of course, is committed to films from France. However, the festival has continued to struggle in highlighting female directors.

This festival is easily the worst of the bunch for thinking outside-the-box when it comes to distribution. DIY is basically a dirty word and very few crowdfunded films get in. Distributors are also less likely to tout how much they paid for a film in press releases, which is why we do not list the amount of seven-figure deals.

2015 Toronto Film Festival

By the numbers:

  • 99 TIFF films acquired (including 16 for over $1 million)
  • 99 of 214 acquired

Buyers: A24, Alchemy, Bleecker, Broad Green, Image Entertainment, Lionsgate, Magnolia, Roadside Attractions, Paramount, Radius-TWC, Relativity, Saban Films, Sony Pictures Classics, Breaking Glass Pictures, China Lion, Focus World, Cinema Guild, Cohen Media Group, Film Movement, IFC, Lionsgate, Magnolia, Monterey Media, Drafthouse Films, Oscilloscope, Strand Releasing, Music Box Films, Screen Media, Saban Films, Kino Lorber and The Orchard

Now, keep in mind that TIFF was a full nine months ago. So why the relatively low numbers when compared to Sundance or even SXSW?

The truth is that TIFF has too much product and is largely geared toward star-driven fare. It can be a place to snatch up leftovers from Cannes and Locarno, but non-star driven English language fare (including several Canadian films), documentaries and any of the films in the Discovery, Contemporary World Cinema and Wavelength sections are  unlikely to generate much attention.

The nice thing about TIFF is they take films from more countries than anywhere else. The fest also has never been too concerned with length, with many films over two and a half hours and others not even reaching 70 minutes.

With such a wide variety of films TIFF is the most eclectic and hardest to define programming-wise. They take a lot more genre fare than the other fests and their docs tend to reflect an international worldview. The seven figure deals almost exclusively come from star-driven fare. If a film is in English and Oscar bait, but lacks distribution this is the place to be. Keep in mind that documentaries account for less than 15% of the festival’s lineup.

Of course, keep in mind that many more films from these festivals will ultimately secure some form of domestic distribution. It took TFC’s "Gore
Vidal: The United States of Amnesia" nine months after its Tribeca premiere to secure its IFC deal and it ultimately went on to become the second highest grossing film from Tribeca 2013.

So be smart in organizing your priorities, do your homework and prepare for the emotional roller coaster of festivals.

June 26th, 2015

Posted In: Distribution, Film Festivals, Theatrical

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.

February 13th, 2015

Posted In: Distribution

Tags: , ,

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.

 

October 9th, 2014

Posted In: Distribution, DIY, Film Festivals, Publicity

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The Film Collaborative is working with a number of filmmakers who have decided to handle their own theatrical tours. Our colleague in charge of managing these theatrical tours is Bryan Glick and he shares the reasoning behind the cities and theaters chosen for the upcoming release of Born to Fly: Elizabeth Streb vs Gravity opening September 10 in New York City.

Anything that is too safe is not action!

-Elizabeth Streb

Born To Fly: Elizabeth Streb vs. Gravity is the latest DIY Hybrid-theatrical that The Film Collaborative is managing. I was lucky enough to see a rough cut just before SXSW and was truly blown away by how visual the film is. It demands to be seen on the big screen in order to fully appreciate the daring exploits of these athletic dancers.

Film Forum clearly agreed and by the time SXSW arrived, venerable New York cinema had already secured a week long engagement for “BTF” in September. With that glowing endorsement in place, we moved forward to draft a self financed Theatrical plan for the film which was made up of festival screenings and cinemas, both of which will provide revenue opportunities.

On the festival front, the film has since played at Full Frame, Sheffield, and  Frameline LGBT along with 20+ others. The festival circuit serves a dual purpose for the film 1) to boost interest in the theatrical and secure further bookings in that space and 2) the festival screening fees may be much more than what the film would take in from a theatrical run in some cities.

theatrical release of Born to Fly

“Gauntlet” Photo by Tom Caravaglia

Elizabeth Streb and her dance company are based in Brooklyn, New York so it was clear NYC is where the film should start its release. We fully anticipate NYC to be the biggest theatrical total of any of the markets. While that’s not unique, our grosses are likely to be abnormally tilted towards the NYC numbers. We saw a similar phenomenon with Ira Sachs’ “Keep the Lights On,” (the film is set in Manhattan) which played for almost two months in NYC.

Having a several month head start, the filmmakers, TFC, and Streb reached out to a number of potential groups to take advantage of the $7.50 group discount at Film Forum. We now have over $5,000 in pre-sales for our engagement and multiple sold out screenings. In addition, we are “eventizing” these screenings by scheduling several Q&A’s with the filmmaker and central subject of the film. This strategy is being duplicated in LA and San Francisco where we open two weeks later. We are having a special free preview at The Hammer Museum in LA to boost word of mouth in Los Angeles ahead of a run at Laemmle’s NoHo where Elizabeth and the film’s director, Catherine Gund, will both be present for opening weekend. We also will have them Skype in for the San Francisco screenings during opening weekend at Vogue Theatre. In knowing our target audience, we chose this theater in Presidio Heights because it serves an older, well educated clientele with interest in the arts. The Vogue regularly shows special dance screenings from Ballet/Modern companies and comes at a much lower cost point than Landmark Theatres with none of the hassle.

In an effort to keep costs down and maximize revenue, we are relying on the strength of Inclusive PR to secure prominent press coverage and reviews; an in-house email database with 1000’s of contacts collected over the years; grassroots outreach to dance companies, arts organizations, senior organizations and the LGBT community; and social media. We are also avoiding chains like Landmark that require specially created DCP’s and bigger traditional print ad buys which, for a niche film of this nature, would not be targeted enough and enable the film to recoup the costs let alone see profit.

The theatrical rollout is intentionally slow, only adding 1-3 cities each week so as not to get overwhelmed by all of the support each city would need. We have a lean team and a lean budget so we are allocating a few hundred dollars in social media and digital ads and large markets may get highly targeted print ads. So far, we’ve saved thousands of dollars by not four walling at a single venue! As such, the release will cost comfortably less than $50k.

Elizabeth Streb is well known in the dance world, but it still takes time to build up word of mouth for this film. We are relying on a mix of lesbian, dance, and senior organizations for support. As with every specialty release, it is important to know your niche(s). While TFC usually avoids print ads when possible, in this case a limited amount make sense. Our audience skews older, educated and is more likely to read the newspaper. Our social media is geared specifically towards Facebook which, while falling out of fashion with millennials, is still prime territory for the 45+ group. We are sending regular email updates and blasts while consciously monitoring our paid media budget.

Added to these screenings, we will also incorporate theatrical on demand and have the film available on TUGG. That tool may be used by fans to bring the film to some smaller towns where Elizabeth Streb and her dancers have toured to in the past.

We anticipate somewhere around 20 markets for the theatrical in addition to festival screenings and a separate Canadian theatrical. The goal is to build a presence for the film that will feed the VOD/Digital/TV releases while minimizing the potential for loss that is often the hallmark of an indie film theatrical release. No easy task in the theatrical industry, but a challenge we happily embrace.

 

September 2nd, 2014

Posted In: Distribution, DIY, Film Festivals, Theatrical

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self funded film release

 

Handling self funded theatrical distribution for TFC clients, I find myself wondering why more filmmakers don’t consider the self releasing option from a long-term career standpoint and the potential upside that comes from receiving the bulk of the revenue from the release. I am continually intrigued, pleased and surprised by the success of many who do.

Here are pristine recent examples of self funded releasing. These films each found specific ways to tap into their audience and often opted to do something outside the norm. For the sake of transparency I only am listing films that are admittedly self released in their approach. I would argue Middle of Nowhere is in fact a self funded release as it is a solid example of building and controlling a filmmaker’s brand, but I didn’t include it in this list.

While Gathr have a number of films that have done very well using their demand a screening platform (such as Anonymous People which TFC advised on), no TOD (theatrical on demand) release was as monumentally successful as Girl Rising. The film was aided by many factors such as funding from the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, partnerships with Intel, the United Nations and World Vision as well as a small army of political and grassroots influencers, technologists and publicists. The documentary featured Hollywood A-list narrators like Meryl Streep, Anne Hathaway, Alicia Keys and Selena Gomez.and reached a fever pitch of screenings via the Gathr platform in the Spring of 2013. The film was also picked up by CNN Films for broadcast.

Much of the self funded distribution space is about the value of name recognition. Louis CK has such a loyal audience that he can get away with only selling his Live stand up docs on his website that are DRM free and asking fans not to upload it for free online. The films do so well that he is making seven figures in profit and will keep distributing them this way. His level of sales success, of course, is not realistic for most indie filmmakers, but it shows the value of brand developed over time. If you build up a loyal base and treat them with respect, they will follow you and as a result you can cut out the middle man.

Detropia world premiered at Sundance, won the editing award and came from two Oscar nominated directors. But they found distributors were wary to take on the film and/or didn’t get what the directors were trying to do. After a successful Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to self distribute, the film went on to gross over $300k+ theatrically. The filmmakers made the wise choice to open the film in a suburb of Detroit instead of NYC and the film grossed over $20k from that single screen at Landmark Royal Oak, far more than they would have launched with in NYC. They embraced their target audience and much like Escanaba in Da Moonlight pushed very heavily to a hometown crowd.

Sound City world premiered at Sundance 2013 and decided to do a day and date release less than a month after premiere. No distributor would have agreed to that. Dave Grohl himself promoted the film heavily (again the value of a fan base will pay off) and the film launched as the #1 doc on iTunes and grossed over $400k theatrically. It’s the highest grossing release from service theatrical company Variance to date. While fellow music recording doc Muscle Shoals may have grossed more money at the box office, they have to split the revenue with the distributor, Magnolia. Sound City likely made quite a bit more money back into their pockets.

Particle Fever has grossed over $850k to become the highest grossing Abramorama service release. They creatively tapped into the science community and quickly and quietly bypassed other more high profile docs like “Life Itself”. Using support from a community with solid internet leverage meant a lower P&A and this film, just shy of a $1 Mil grosser, can easily be called a success on all cylinders. It also doesn’t hurt that it scored a 95% from critics on Rotten Tomatoes. The film is now available for paid streaming on their website powered by VHX.

I Am Divine had a self funded theatrical release handled by The Film Collaborative. The film grossed $82k on a $8,000 release budget. This was run just as the film was finishing its 200+ festival screenings tour around the world for which the filmmaker has made 10’s of thousands from screening fees. We let social media and the Divine brand do much of the work as the colorful character inspired many around the world and they were excited to see his life story on the big screen. The film spent multiple weeks as the #1 Doc on ITunes when Wolfe Releasing put it out this year. A rare film to be profitable in every viewing arena.

God’s Not Dead again shows the value of a niche demographic that can be reached with the help of deep online data analysis. Working with Freestyle Releasing to open on 780 screens nationwide, the religious right pandering film has theatrically outgrossed Wes Anderson’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” which at its widest played over 1400 screens. This technically makes it the highest domestic grossing indie release this year. It’s passed $62 million on only a $2 Million budget  production budget. The production worked with Ash Greyson’s Ribbow Media to handle a sizable social media advertising campaign directed toward Duck Dynasty, Kevin Sorbo, Dean Cain and Shane Harper fans and limited TV advertising on the 700 Club, Up TV and Pandora radio. It was a highly coordinated gamble that paid off handsomely. Lionsgate picked up the rights to distribute the movie through  VOD (video on demand), SVOD (subscription video on demand) Pay-Per-View and television across the U.S. this month.

Upstream Color was the long awaited follow up from indie auteur Shane Carruth. He vetted offers while planning months in advance for a self funded release that launched out of the film’s Sundance premiere. Carefully planned and executed to reduce costs, Carruth’s intention was to give the film just enough of a theatrical release to legitimize and raise awareness for the film before sending it out to the online platforms where it would find actual significant revenue. For a while the film continued to play theaters simultaneously with the digital sales option, a feat almost unheard of in the Spring of 2013, but becoming a much more accepted and savvy practice now. Though lacking star wattage and a less than commercial story approach, Upstream Color amassed $444k and while Carruth kept full control of the release. The film is now widely available digitally.

Some honorary mentions for great self financed releases go to The Anonymous People (second highest grossing Gathr release despite no fest exposure), Spark: A Burning Man Story (Over $77k on another TOD service called TUGG with surcharged Burning Man tickets, over six figures theatrical and digital), Kids for Cash (Launched at 4 theaters in PA and grossed six figures), and Under the Electric Sky (a TUGG release with six figures, but curiously controlled by a traditional distributor, Focus Features).

Of this list, a vast number of the TOD releases are for documentary, some with star names attached and all with some kind of cause or niche audience interest to tap into and they all clearly did tap into that. Also, funds were raised to accomplish a theatrical release, hence the name self financed release. This should indicate to you that making a film meant for self funded release you NEED to have an identifiable brand, a social cause or a niche audience interest base to tap into. Think very carefully about how that film will be released successfully because these are the same considerations a distributor will look for when evaluating the release of a film.

 

August 7th, 2014

Posted In: case studies, Distribution, DIY, Theatrical

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Ed note: TFC colleague Bryan Glick is taking a look at how officially selected films have performed in release since their premieres at the major Spring film festivals SXSW, Tribeca and Cannes 2013. In this second post, he covers the narrative films. His look at documentaries can be found HERE.

CANNES

There is no better worldwide platform launch than Cannes. For foreign language films, it is arguably the best place to solicit North American interest. 20 World Premieres (or 25% of selected films) from Cannes 2013 grossed over $100k and 10 of those grossed over $1 Million theatrically in North America. These films also frequently perform much better internationally. Four foreign language films managed over $1 Mil and 11 over $100k. No fest has such a strong record for non-English Language content. Additionally Nebraska, Inside Llewyn Davis, The Missing Picture, The Great Beauty, All is Lost, and Omar all found their way to Oscar Nominations. And another 9 films from the fest were official Oscar submissions from their country. Cannes has the perception of the ultimate endorsement. It is one of not even a handful of laurels that automatically adds value to a film.

However, less than 2/3 of world premieres got any sort of North American distribution. This is below the % from Sundance, SXSW, Tribeca and only slightly above the behemoth of TIFF. Naturally, the films performing at the top of the box office are primarily from those selected for main competition and are most likely to facilitate distribution deals.

Turning to this year’s festival, a little over 30 films currently have North American distribution. 1/3 of those are from Sony Picture Classics! They have a whopping 10 films. They went into the fest with competition award winners Mr. Turner (Best Actor) and Foxcatcher (Best Director) pre-attached. Prior to the fest they also snagged Coming Home and Red Army. On top of that, they added Wild Tales, Saint Laurent, Jimmy’s Hall, and Best Screenplay winner Leviathan from the main competition. In addition, they took the doc The Salt of the Earth.

Not far behind was IFC with 6 films. They arrived with competition titles Clouds of Sils Maria, and Two Days, One Night. They added to their impressive tally Bird People and The Blue Room from Un Certain Regard and wrapped it up with The Salvation from the midnight lineup.

Those two companies combined for ½ of all Cannes 2014 films with distribution in the US! They also indirectly highlight what was clearly missing from this year’s Cannes crop. No studio presence in any competitive sections. Warner Bros technically has Ryan Gosling’s directorial debut, but multiple reports suggest the distributor is trying to pawn it off to a smaller company and cut their losses.

A number of distributors though still had reason to be happy.  Radius-TWC, TWC, Cohen Media Group, Magnolia. And A24 each have a pair of titles.

A24 took the critically panned, but star heavy The Captive and just opened The Rover last Friday to a US opening weekend gross of over $69K in 5 theaters. The film is performing much better in France, Australia and Belgium though.

TWC had opening night Grace of Monaco and The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby which screened as two different films at TIFF and will be released as three different films in the Fall. The genre heavy and younger skewing Radius-TWC took two films from Critic’s Week, the American horror film It Follows and When Animals Dream.

Magnolia took the top two prize winners from Un Certain Regard Force Majeure and White God. Cohen Media Group continues their trend into foreign cinema with Timbuktu and In the Name of My Daughter (screened out of competition).

Other companies to acquire include Strand Releasing (Girlhood), Saban Films (The Homesman), Music Box Films (Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsallem), WellGo USA (These Final Hours), and EOne (Map to the Stars)

Many of these films have very good prospects in North America and around the world.

TRIBECA

Admittedly, Tribeca is frequently a dump off site for Sundance narrative rejects. Multiple people have opined that the fest would do better to just focus on docs. The performance of last year’s narrative lineup shows that there is some life left for their non doc films, but not much.

The English Teacher which was pre-bought by Cinedigm was the only scripted fare at last year’s fest to pass $100k (which it barely accomplished). French specialty arm Distrib Films pushed Just a Sigh to just over $71k with only a few small venues left to play.

Lagging behind are Focus World/Screen Media’s day and date release of A Birder’s Guide to Everything ($48k), Strand Releasing’s Bicycling with Moliere ($49k) and Israeli genre fare Big Bad Wolves which managed $33k as a day and date with Magnolia.

What the fest proved to do last year though was highlight a number of films in their North American premiere. Berlin titles Broken Circle Breakdown, The Rocket and Reaching for the Moon all were met with some success. ‘Broken’ secured an Oscar Nomination and grossed $154k through Tribeca Films. Kino Lorber got the Australian made, but Laos set Rocket  to manage $54k and Wolfe Releasing saw $45k for Reaching on top of massive festival exposure. The Film Collaborative handled grassroots marketing and fests on the latter.

Nothing else grossed over $25k in theatrical relase, though many films performed well digitally in the hands of IFC, Anchor Bay, Oscilloscope, Vertical Entertainment, Tribeca Films, XLRator Media, Samuel Goldwyn, and Dark Sky Films.  Notably, The Machine is currently in the top 10 on ITunes. In all, over 70% of the narrative films that premiered at Tribeca have some form of domestic distribution confirmed.  Only Sundance had a higher rate of distribution. But, American films from Tribeca rarely played well internationally.

Turning to Tribeca 2014 the big deals were once again for docs, but there some notable narrative acquisitions. About 20% of films available when the fest was announced have since been acquired

IFC took Extraterrestrial, 5 to 7, and Match. Likely all three will be VOD focused. Magnolia took Life Partners, Film Movement opted for Human Capital, and Zeitgeist has Zero Motivation.

Additionally About Alex went to Screen Media, Summer of Blood sold to MPI, and The Canal  will be working with The Orchard.

SXSW

Where SXSW has an advantage over Tribeca is that there is a clear sense of programming and demographics. Tribeca is often the back up to Sundance, while SXSW is the place for younger, edgier, hipper fare. Naturally, many of the narrative deals from SXSW this year were for genre films.

Magnet took Honeymoon which is the rare film to premiere at SXSW and screen at Tribeca. Lionsgate bought Exists, Cinedigm peeked into Open Windows, and Radius-TWC invested in Creep. IFC Midnight went for Home and the time traveling teen sexy comedy Premature and mainstay label IFC bought Kelly and Cal. XLRator bought Housebound and The Mule and Oscilloscope took Buzzard.

Radius-TWC has already released this year’s  13 Sins and Magnet released Stage Fright.Both were ultra VOD releases with so-so digital performance and middling box office.

Additionally, the fest was the world premiere choice for Chef which has become the 3rd highest grossing indie this year so far and Veronica Mars is the highest grossing day and date release so far this year.

Narrative film roundup

Last year’s fest saw the massive breakout Short Term 12 gross over $1 Mil in the hands of Cinedigm and dominate critic’s lists. Magnolia did over $343k with Joe Swanberg’s Drinking Buddies. The latter was day and date. Both films outgrossed all of the Tribeca Premieres from 2013.

Also performing somewhat well was Drafthouse Films Cheap Thrills which did $59K at the box office and Variance’s service release of The Retrieval which will pass $50k this week. Variance also did $62k with John Sayle’s Go For Sister which had its North American premiere at the fest.

A large number of films from the fests last year went digital only, had small theatricals, and/or set up self financed releases. Tribeca has started to take notice and this year a number of films premiering there opted for this route.

Cannes continues to be the one major festival holdout where films premiere and wait it out for distribution offers.

 

 

June 19th, 2014

Posted In: Digital Distribution, Distribution, Film Festivals, Theatrical

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Ed note: TFC colleague Bryan Glick will spend these 2 weeks taking a look at how officially selected films have performed in release since their premieres at the major Spring film festivals SXSW, Tribeca and Cannes 2013. In this first post, he cover the documentaries.

Spring Film Festival collage

TRIBECA IS RULED BY DOCUMENTARIES

The three highest grossing films and 7 of the top 10 grossing films from last year’s Tribeca were documentaries. As you follow the list of films, it should become clear how important Tribeca is to the doc world and how little of a presence Cannes has in documentaries.

IFC/Sundance Selects released the bio-doc Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me which has grossed over $305k in North America. That tops all SXSW docs from last year. IFC Also shined on a light on the cute kids of Dancing in Jaffa, which, despite being a day and date film, has grossed $136k domestically and $297k worldwide at the box office.  Additionally, IFC is releasing TFC film Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia in theaters right now. In only 10 days in NYC, it has grossed $33k and is likely to be one of the top five films from last year’s batch when it’s all said and done.  TFC handled fests for the film placing it in 50+, a healthy reminder that festivals only help your release (and an added reason to use a company like TFC to maximize fest exposure and revenue).

Closing night film Mistaken for Strangers is the only other doc from Tribeca to pass the $100k mark. It had a mix of week long and special engagements via Abramorama in addition to instantly going to the top of ITunes. Never underestimate the power of a music documentary to find a strong audience.

Zeitgeist saw $64k with the all archival footage doc Let the Fire Burn and right behind it Kino Lorber’s release of The Trials of Muhammad Ali  topped out at $59k in a maximum of only 10 theaters, but a long run of 19 weeks. Big Men has grossed $42k in its service theatrical release with Abramorama which, given their advertising buys, has got to be below expectations. Oscilloscope has done well digitally with Teenage and slowly built up to $40k with another couple of venues left in the release.

Aatsinki:The Story of Arctic Cowboys, Flex is Kings, and Lenny Cooke all had small DIY releases. The Motivation opted for a release through GoDigital and multi award winner Oxyana did an exclusive with Vimeo.

Bridegroom is the rare doc to get into Redbox, but the film’s largest audience was on OWN. Showtime took Richard Pryor: Omit the Logic. HBO trumped all networks with Gasland Part II, Inside Out:The People’s Art Project and the acquisitions of Herblock: The Black and the White and I Got Something’ To Tell You.

Circling back to this year, ½ of the acquisitions from April’s Tribeca Film Festival were documentaries including Keep on Keepin’ On which Radius-TWC bought for over $1,000,0000! Radius-TWC also snagged the lego doc Beyond the Brick while Magnolia was entranced by Ballet 422. Another highbrow doc, Dior and I, sold to EOne and opening night hip hop Nas doc Time Is Illmatic went to Tribeca Films. Morgan Spurlock Presents (A new partnership with Spurlock, Virgil Films and Abramorama) will release A Brony Tale this summer and just after the fest, Kevin Spacey released the doc Now in the Wings On a World Stage off of his personal site powered by VHX and in a few theaters. It’s now passed $50k at the box office.

CANNES CANT TALK DOC!

While Cannes may be unrivaled as a launchpad for narrative films, it continues to largely ignore documentaries. Of the four (that’s right…only 4) documentaries that world premiered at Cannes, none could be considered breakout hits.

Jodorowsky’s Dune, an admittedly somewhat fringe film to begin with, got the maximum play humanly possible in the hands of Sony Picture Classics. It’s still in theaters and has racked up just under $600,000 domestically. That is more than any documentary out of last year’s SXSW, LAFF or Tribeca.

While scoring a best foreign language film Oscar nomination, French/Cambodian doc The Missing Picture only limped over $50k at the hands of Strand Releasing in its domestic release. It’s international box office revenue doesn’t bring the film’s total to even $100k. Its performance is well below the performance of the other four foreign nominees (or the 5 Best Doc nominees for that matter) despite an average Rotten Tomatoes score of 99%.

With an overwhelming 220 minute run time, The Last of the Unjust maxed out at just over $40k theatrically which is on the low end for the holocaust subject matter, but given the massive length should be considered somewhat impressive. Internationally though it did even worse than The Missing Picture. The one other doc, James Tobak’s Seduced and Abandoned premiered on HBO.

SXSW 2014

Which lands us back at this year’s SXSW 2014. The festival saw a little movement in the doc acquisitions department with Gaiam TV buying TFC repped doc The Immortalists and Netflix nabbing exclusive rights to Print the Legend. Oscilloscope took advantage of BFI marketing matching funds and acquired Pulp: A Film About Life, Death and Supermarkets which will also screen at the upcoming Sheffield DocFest.

TFC was quite active at the festival this year. We arrived with two docs for festival rights (The Dog and The Immortalists) and have since added Song From the Forest and Born To Fly for festival distribution. Born to Fly has already been placed on the programs at Full Frame, SIFF, Sheffield, and Frameline and we will release it theatrically in a hybrid-DIY release. It launches September 10th in NYC at Film Forum and then comes to Los Angeles September 26 before expanding throughout the fall. Programmers may contact us directly about theatrical bookings of this film or message Jeffrey Winter about festival engagements for any of our 4 SXSW Docs.

 

 

June 4th, 2014

Posted In: Distribution, Film Festivals, Uncategorized

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HELLO SXSW! It’s hard to believe that it’s been a whole year since SXSW 2013. The film festival (and all the other things that happen) has consistently been on the cutting edge of distribution options. It is truly a one of a kind festival for a number of reasons and while they won’t pay for filmmaker travel, they do provide huge opportunity for the savvy filmmaker.

With 125+ films and the literally hundreds of panels, it can be daunting trying to get the attention of eyeballs. That said, over 2/3 of the films that world premiered here last year have secured some form of domestic distribution (on par with Tribeca and second only to Sundance).

The Film Collaborative world premiered I Am Divine at the festival last year and our release strategy is a prime example of how the fest can be a launching pad. The film went on to play over 200 festivals in less than a year (more than any other film in the world) racking up screening fee revenue. TFC also managed its theatrical release starting last October. The entire operating budget for the theatrical release was less than $10k and the film has grossed over $80,000 theatrically to date. As impressive as that is, the festival revenue surpassed the theatrical total. Meanwhile, despite never paying for a single print ad, we just passed our 50th theatrical engagement. The film has almost 40,000 Facebook Fans and will be released on DVD/Digital in April through Wolfe Releasing, and a TV premiere is scheduled for October.

SXSW 2013 films

SXSW produced two clear narrative breakouts last year, neither from a first time filmmaker. Joe Swanberg’s Drinking Buddies was a day and date release and managed to gross $300k+, his highest grossing film to date. It has chartered quite well on iTunes and other digital platforms and is likely quite profitable for Magnolia (hence why they acquired Swanberg’s follow up out of Sundance this year).

The other narrative breakout was the critically acclaimed Short Term 12. Sundance’s loss was SXSW’s gain and the film grossed over $1 million at the US Box Office, won multiple audience and jury awards and is the highest grossing film ever for Cinedigm. The film has been in theaters non stop for over ½ a year!

12 O’Clock Boys was released day and date and is Oscilloscope’s highest grossing release in over a year. It also topped iTunes and, to date, the film has managed over $80k in revenue. In fact, the day and date strategy has not appeared to hurt other top performing SXSW Docs.

Magnolia grossed $138k with Good ‘Ol Freda  Also passing the $100k mark was Spark: A Burning Man Story. The film managed over $120k with a self financed theatrical handled by Paladin. What stood out wasn’t the total, but the fact that 70%+ came from Tugg Screenings!  FilmBuff handled the digital rights where the doc performed equally as well.  Meanwhile IFC’s The Punk Singer was a more standard release, but still a solid success passing the $120k gross mark.

Fall and Winter, Euphonia  and Some Girls all opted for digital releases via the newly established Vimeo on Demand service. This year, Vimeo is investing $10,000,000 into its service and offering $10,000 minimum guarantees in exchange for an exclusive digital distribution window to any film that has premiered at one of the 20 leading global film festivals throughout 2014. Filmmakers also may apply for marketing support. The huge thing though is that the filmmaker gets to keep 90% of the revenue, which is far better than any other notable digital platform.

Also popular amongst the filmmakers was FilmBuff. No fewer than eight world premieres were distributed digitally by them. A few of those films also had small DIY theatrical releases.

It should be noted that DIY releases cost money which might be a problem for those who did not budget ahead of time for such a release. However, cash strapped filmmakers  have raised DIY funds via Kickstarter to aid in such releases. TFC helped Big Joy: The Adventures of James Broughton raise over $50k. Loves Her Gun, This is Where We Live, and Love and Air Sex (AKA The Bounceback ) all raised distribution funds via crowdfunding.

Netflix took The Short Game as their first documentary acquisition and the film had a modest theatrical run via The Samuel Goldwyn Company. Pantelion passed $50k with Hours which has been a top digital performer following the death of its star, Paul Walker. First Run Features is approaching $40k with Maidentrip and companies like IFC, Magnolia, Oscilloscope, Breaking Glass, FilmBuff, and Variance all took multiple films.

On the TV side, SXSW films have premiered on Al Jazeera, CNN, Showtime, PBS, and VH1. Many of those films had some form of theatrical too. Documentaries continue to be the bulk of the festival highlights though the top two grossing films were narratives. The festival is second only to Sundance for world premiering a doc.

As we look to what the 2014 crop will offer, there are already some game changing situations. BFI is repeating their marketing match offer of up to $41k  for any distributor who acquires one of their five UK based SXSW premiere films for distribution. As pointed out earlier, Vimeo’s offer extends beyond SXSW to 19 other upcoming festivals. I encourage you to keep an open mind and craft your film strategies now! The $10K MG that Vimeo offers for such a short exclusive digital window (plus you get to keep 90% of any revenue after the MG is recouped!) is better than many advance offers made by lower profile distributors. You can always pull your title off after the MG is recouped and seek more traditional distribution routes as Cinemanovels did out of Toronto last year

SXSW is a great place to showcase your film, but without a formal market and with all the craziness that surrounds the festival from the interactive and music sides, it is unlikely that seven figure deals will pop up like they do at Sundance. Despite this, deals are still made, some choose to go into the DIY space and a few (like our release of I Am Divine) succeed in both arenas. The possibilities are endless.

 

March 10th, 2014

Posted In: Distribution, Film Festivals, iTunes, Netflix, Theatrical, Uncategorized, Vimeo

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