By Orly Ravid and Sheri Candler
We continue this month’s series covering the practicalities behind successfully marketing and distributing an independent film with limited resources. Please see Part 1 on knowing the market for your film HERE.
Part 2-Temper festival expectations and don’t wait too long to release.
While you may be targeting top-tier festivals like Sundance, Toronto, Berlin, Telluride and SXSW (Austin’s South by Southwest) where acquisition executives attend and search for films to acquire, your film may not be chosen for these festivals. Be prepared for this disappointment and have a backup plan. If your film fails to be selected, your distribution options are likely to change as well. The best acquisition prices are paid by the most reputable companies for films out of these top tier fests. While you may receive offers for distribution even if your film doesn’t have this type of premiere, those offers will be lower in scope and usually from either up and coming companies (ie, start ups with little money) or companies whose reputations are not as prominent.
Should you continue submitting to other festivals and stay on the circuit? TFC colleague Jeffrey Winter has handled festival distribution for countless films, but mainly the films TFC picks up for festival distribution either come from A list festivals or have some kind of specific niche appeal. He advises “For any film that is performing well on the circuit (meaning getting accepted into a significant number of festivals on a more or less regular basis), there is a general rule you can follow. Most films will see their festival bookings continue robustly for 1 year from the date of the world premiere, and then significantly drop off (but still trickle in) in months 12 – 18. After 18 months, festival bookings will nearly cease worldwide. Given that general rule, I am going to go ahead and call that 18 months the ‘Festival Window.’”
“For filmmakers and many small distribution companies, the festival window is invaluable and irreplaceable in terms of the marketing/publicity value it can afford, and the modest revenue that can be generated for certain kinds of films (prestige festival films, films that fit within the programming of specific niche festivals), especially if they can secure European festival placement. When working with a modest budget, any and all revenue the film can bring in is significant. Additionally, the free marketing/publicity that a festival offers is just about the only kind of marketing the film may ever get.”
Assuming you achieve regional festival screenings, will you use it as a form of theatrical tour, gathering press coverage and fans in regional areas in order to fuel your digital sales? If so, how to transition that coverage and word of mouth into the digital rollout, when is that rollout going to happen and who is going to coordinate it? These questions need to be answered.
Leaving too much time between a regional festival premiere and eventual digital and DVD sales is a mistake many independent filmmakers make. When publicity and good word of mouth recommendations are being generated from your festival screenings, set a firm deadline on when digital distribution will have to start should your distribution savior not appear. Don’t hold out indefinitely for distribution opportunities that may not come. Often, we are contacted by filmmakers who insist on spending a year or more on the festival circuit, without making any revenue and without significant distribution offers in sight. They are wasting revenue potential by continuing to hope a distribution savior will appear and refusing to move ahead with plans for the next phase of release (that will probably be handled on their own) because they didn’t budget for this situation or they have no idea of the options available. Note, it can take up to 4 months to go live on iTunes and other well known digital platforms. If you’re thinking of having a digital self release, plan accordingly.
If chosen for a festival, take full advantage of the screening as a marketing opportunity. It is imperative not only to enjoy face to face compliments at your screenings, but encourage people to use their social media accounts to tell others how great your film is. Many times filmmakers tell us about their sold out screenings at regional fests (or even pre release screenings) and how many people came up to them with kind words to say about the film. But in looking for those kind words online, sometimes we find very little or nothing being said. This is a troubling sign. No bump in Facebook Likes, Twitter followers, trailer views or website traffic? No one using a hashtag or @mention on Twitter or Instagram? No comments or shares of the film’s trailer from Youtube? Kind words in person are great for your personal morale, but in order to have beneficial word of mouth, people have to want to share news of your film and the normal outlet for doing that today is online. It is trackable too! Word of mouth won’t help with digital sales if no one is talking so make sure everyone you meet is aware of the film’s home online, its social media accounts, and where a trailer exists to be shared. You can’t MAKE people speak, you can only encourage it.
If you’re brash during a post screening Q&A, take a selfie à la Ellen DeGeneres at the Oscars and tell everyone you will post it to the film’s Twitter or Instagram account and what that account handle is. They are more likely to retweet or share it if you make it super easy and they are more likely to follow your account, visit the film’s website (so make sure the About section includes that URL link), maybe even sign up for your email alerts. Also, think a little differently about your film’s festival catalog description. If you want people to follow you as an artist and your film’s actors (a social media following is important for their career!), add Twitter handles/Instagram handles/FB page name etc to the paragraph you are asked to submit about your film. Technically, ALL festivals should want this kind of information included just as they now post website URLs. If audience members like the film performances, they also might like to follow the humans who gave them and the humans who made the film possible.
Instead of using a clipboard method to collect email addresses from your festival audience, look into using a text-to-subscribe service associated with your email provider. Mailchimp’s MobileChimp (UK, USA, Australia, Spain, France & Netherlands) and Constant Contact (US only) both have this capability. Put the keyword you choose to associate with your account on any printed material and be sure to say it out loud during your Q&A. An email database is worth its weight in gold throughout your release and further into your future work so don’t neglect to grow one while you are touring your film.
Add festival laurels from the most important/recognizable film festivals to your marketing materials. While we know the temptation is to put every laurel from every festival on your website banner, key art, postcards etc. it starts looking cluttered and inconsequential. The festivals with the most impact on your audience are the ones to include because they will have the most impact on purchases. Don’t forget the pull quotes to favorable critical reviews as well.
In going back to the discussion about digital release, is this release going to be worldwide or only in your home country? If your film has played festivals worldwide, it doesn’t make much sense to only release it within your own country, especially if you have all territories still open for sales. If you have signed agreements in some formats or in some territories, then those warrant compliance. But hoping for a foreign deal when you don’t have one even in your home country is unrealistic. Seriously consider releasing digitally worldwide when your launch comes.
In the next part of the series, we’ll take a look at the different players in film distribution and how to work with them.
Sheri Candler July 9th, 2014
Filmmakers often ask me how long they should keep their films on the festival circuit. For years now, I’ve been saying that for any film that is performing well on the circuit (meaning getting accepted into a significant number of festivals on a more or less regular basis), there is a general rule you can follow.
Most films will see their festival bookings continue robustly for 1 year from the date of the world premiere, and then significantly drop off (but still trickle in) in months 12 – 18. After 18 months, festival bookings will nearly cease worldwide, except for those films that have a perennial hook (i.e. a film about black history during the annual Black History Month, a film about the AIDS crisis on World AIDS day, etc).
Given that general rule, I am going to go ahead and call that 18 months the Festival “window.” Now, of course, most Hollywood companies don’t consider the festival circuit as a window akin to the “traditional” windows of theatrical, broadcast, DVD, VOD etc. For studios and mini-majors, a long festival run isn’t always necessary…they have the money and staff to market the film in other ways, and any potential revenue the film can make on the festival circuit is relatively meaningless given the scale of the budgets they work with. In many cases, larger distributors see festivals as really just giving away free tickets to their movie, and therefore limit any festival participation to only the largest, most prestigious and best publicized festivals in the world, and simply ignore all the rest.
But for individual filmmakers without the benefit of studio/mini-major release, and also for many small distribution companies, the festival window is invaluable and irreplaceable in terms of the marketing/publicity value it can afford, and the modest revenue that can be generated. For many films of course, the festival window IS the theatrical release of the film – meaning it’s the way the largest number of people can actually see the film in a theater. Even those indie films that do get a traditional theatrical release are usually limited to a few big cities, meaning festivals are the only way the films are ever going to be screened beyond New York, L.A., and few other cities. Since most individual filmmakers and small distributors work on a modest budget, any and all revenue the film can bring in is significant. Additionally, the free marketing/publicity that a festival offers is just about the only kind of marketing the film may ever get.
So – and this is back to the original question – when filmmakers ask me how long they should keep their film on the festival circuit if it is doing well, my initial answer is always “at least one year.” Given that you only have 12 – 18 months for your film to be seen this way, why not take advantage of it?
Filmmakers have a lot of fears around this; often they feel in a rush to get their movie available for theatrical or home purchase as soon as possible. Often they fear that people are going to “forget” about their film if they don’t release it as soon as possible after the premiere. Often they regard the festival circuit as a lot of work, and they just want their film released so they can move onto their next thing. Even more often, they are in great financial need following all the money invested into the film, so they feel the need to get it out quickly so they can start making money from it. I can say with great confidence that all of these fears are bad reasons to release a film – and many of the worst release failures I have ever seen comes from exactly these fears (both on the studio/mini-major level AND individual filmmaker level).
First of all, unless you’ve been extremely successful in attracting people to your social media, very few people actually know about your film when it first premieres…so rather than fear those people will forget about your film, your job is to get the film out as wide as possible so you can grow your audience awareness – both through repeated festival marketing and social media. Secondly – yes, it is true that the Festival circuit is a lot of work, but independent filmmakers need to understand that distribution is a business, and you need to commit yourself to it the way you would to any other business endeavor you would undertake and expect to be successful. A business takes time to grow.
The most vexing reason for rushing a film into release – needing to make your money back as quickly as possible – is a perfectly understandable human need and a situation many filmmakers find themselves in. I can just all but guarantee you that if you haven’t taken the time to grow your audience in all the ways possible, your release won’t succeed, and you won’t be making back your money anyway.
Despite all this – despite everything I have laid out in this post thus far – in 2014 I find more and more films going into release and off the festival circuit faster and faster than ever before. The reason for this trend is simple, technological, and perhaps inexorable – and of course it is the continuing rise of Video On Demand (VOD).
Think about how it worked in the (not so) old days. Until very recently, if your film was lucky enough to get a theatrical release offer, it would take the distributor many months to get their marketing/publicity ducks in a row, book theaters, and release the film into theaters. All this time, the film could play festivals. Then, upon theatrical release, a few cities would be lost to festivals…just the usual NY, LA, San Francisco, Boston, Seattle etc. of a traditional indie release. But for the many months between the theatrical release and the DVD release, the film could continue to play all festivals outside of the major cities…because DVD release is a physically demanding process of authoring, dubbing, shipping, shelf space, store stocking, etc. As such, it was completely normal for DVD release to be at least a year after the premiere…just because it all took time. Once the DVD was released, the overwhelming majority of festival programmers would no longer consider the film, so the festival window was all but shut at that point.
But in 2014, day-and-date VOD release with the theatrical release is commonplace, and becoming even more so. So, its not that distributors are any faster in getting the film into theaters (they’re not), but once New York and L.A. open (or shortly after), chances are that the film is also available on various VOD platforms, meaning it becomes available all at once in most North American homes (via cable VOD, application like Apple TV, or various internet platforms). And once that happens, the majority of festival programmers no longer will consider the film, believing (perhaps incorrectly) that the VOD release will cannibalize their audiences and they will no longer be able to fill their theaters with patrons willing to go to see a film at a festival when they can just watch it at home.
In addition, there is a rise in the number of cable TV channels seeking exclusive content for their VOD platforms (i.e. CNN, DirectTV, Starz, etc.) who are acquiring films with or without theatrical releases, and are in a haste to get those films out to their audiences. Exclusive content is the currency of premium platforms these days (there is no better evidence of this than the incredible success of HBO exclusive content of course), and so more and more of these companies are making offers to indie films, largely driven by the VOD.
I am not sure there is a lot independent filmmakers can do to change this trend. Filmmakers are going to continue to want distribution deals and this just may be what distribution deals look like moving forward. Of course, filmmakers can ASK that distributors put off the release as long as possible (as discussed, approx. a year after world premiere), but many distributors may not have reason to agree to that. Keep in mind that the distributor may not have complete control over that release date, in many cases the biggest VOD companies (esp. the big cable providers like Comcast, Time Warner etc.) will also tell the distributors when THEY think the film should be released, and resist the pushback…especially as they tend to want the VOD release to be closely timed with the theatrical.
That doesn’t mean I think filmmakers should cave easily….by all means try to make the distributor understand why you want to control your own festival “window.” Personally, I am consistently impressed with how much the various arms of Public Television (ITVS, Independent Lens, etc.) seem to get this, and basically allow filmmakers to set their own broadcast window relatively far into the future.
So despite my musings to this point, some of you may still be asking, “Why does all this matter? Isn’t being released into the majority of North American homes a good thing?” The biggest problem is that we simply don’t know….because VOD numbers are very rarely publicly reported, in fact almost never.
My strong suspicion is films that are rushed into VOD release perform far less on VOD than they would if they were given the time to find their audience via organic word-of-mouth methods (including festivals). I have certainly seen that with other windows, especially theatrical. As we all know now, a digital release is not enough…a film that is released into the digital marketplace without adequate marketing is just a tree falling in the forest. But ultimately I cannot support that argument with figures because so few companies (nearly none), will tell us what kind of numbers they do on VOD with their films.
Until we get real numbers that allow us to see what VOD numbers really look like for festival-driven independent films….and we can truly assess the marketing impact on those VOD numbers…we will all remain in the dark on this topic to the detriment of independent filmmakers trying to make distribution decisions. I can say for sure that films performing well on the festival circuit are forfeiting their festival revenue by going onto VOD….but until I can compare it with the VOD numbers I cannot determine whether losing that festival revenue is worth it or not.
So, is VOD collapsing the Festival window? Yes, that part is for sure, and we at The Film Collaborative have handled festival distribution on films in the last two years that bear this fact out. Is that a net negative for independent filmmakers? That part I cannot answer yet….although I suspect I already know the answer.
Let this be one more call to our Industry to release the VOD numbers. I would absolutely love to be proven wrong on this.
Jeffrey Winter June 26th, 2014
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Bryan Glick June 19th, 2014
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.
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.
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.
Bryan Glick June 4th, 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
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
This week’s member profile looks at the documentary The New Black, an examination of how the African-American community is grappling with gay rights issues and homophobia in the black community’s institutional pillar—the black church.
Producer Yvonne Welbon and director Yoruba Richen shared how The Film Collaborative helped them figure out the right distribution strategy for their film.
At what stage in the production process was TFC consulted?
“We reached out to TFC after completing the film, about a month before we premiered at the LA Film Festival in June 2013.”
What advice was sought from TFC and what ultimately happened with the release of the film? What results were achieved with TFC’s help?
“We sought a lot of advice from TFC. They were instrumental in helping us figure out our film festival strategy both domestically and internationally. To date, we have screened in over 50 film festivals around the world.
TFC was also helpful in figuring out distribution options. Orly Ravid provided consultation services in terms of figuring out the foreign market for our film. She helped us to be realistic in terms of what to expect because of the subject of our film. She was right. And each distributor who loved our film, but couldn’t distribute it, basically told us the story she prepared us to hear.
We finally received an offer and signed with Java Films. We had a limited theatrical release and the film will be broadcast on PBS’s Independent Lens. California Newsreel is our educational distributor and we release the film on VOD next year through Sundance Artists Services.”
Where can the film be seen now?
“The film is screening all over the country. Please check the website for more information. www.newblackfilm.com. Our broadcast debut on Independent Lens will be on June 15, 2014 at 10:30pm, following Masterpiece Theater. Also, educational institutions can buy the film from California Newsreel.”
Here is a peek at the trailer
Sheri Candler April 16th, 2014
This week’s member story focuses on how TFC helps filmmakers who request our consultation on their release. Director John Chi will also write a further guest post that goes into more detail about how his first feature film Tentacle 8 was released, but today he talks about how he discovered our organization and, through consultation with us, changed what he thought about distribution success.
At what stage in the production process was TFC consulted?
JC: “Three months after we wrapped production, we had a very solid cut of the film and we were ready to start showing it to people. Casey Poh, one of our producers, immediately suggested we reach out to TFC and get their thoughts. Casey had previously met Orly Ravid when he was working at Outfest, and later approached her to serve as a consultant for his Stark Producing Graduate Thesis Project at USC.
We contacted TFC and Co-Executive Director, Jeffrey Winter, was kind enough to watch our film, and give us his thoughts. He flatly stated that we weren’t a festival film, that our subject matter wasn’t mainstream enough to be programmed, and beyond that, it was going to be a very challenging film to market. This wasn’t the reaction we expected. We heard and respected Jeffrey’s comments, but we also wanted to proceed as planned. So we signed with Glen Reynolds at Circus Road Films to act as our sales representative, and began submitting to all the major film festivals.”
Did the premiere lead to any sales interest? Did you have a plan for distributing the film?
JC: “TENTACLE 8 submitted to all the major acquisition festivals (Cannes, Sundance, Toronto, SXSW, and Tribeca) and many of the other premier festivals (Slamdance, LAFF, and Seattle International), but we didn’t get into any of them. After nearly a year of futility, we accepted that Jeffrey Winter was right, and that we weren’t a good fit for festivals. We decided to go directly to distributors via our sales agent, and two months later, we received a few offers for domestic DVD and VOD/Digital Distribution.”
What advice was sought from TFC and what ultimately happened with the release of the film?
JC: “When we realized we weren’t going to get into a major festival, we contacted TFC again to explore our distribution options. The first thing we did was scour the TFC archives to read everything we could on traditional distribution, DIY distribution, and compared the pros and cons of the two approaches, incorporating any processes that were relevant to us.
I then had a thirty minute conversation with TFC founder Orly Ravid about our prospects. She very succinctly explained that our film wasn’t mainstream enough for any distributor to really go out on a limb for us. We could bypass traditional distribution and go with a DIY approach, but we’d need to put in a lot of additional time, energy, and money with no guarantees of success; OR we could sign on with one of the traditional distributors and manage/lower our expectations. She cautioned, however, that no distributor was going to spend a lot of money or energy marketing the movie. At the time, I didn’t fully understand the importance of that warning; I just wanted to move forward.
The final decision to sign with Grand Entertainment Group, was based mainly on their long history and experience in the home entertainment business. We determined that there was just no way to get a cable tv deal or get our DVDs onto store shelves at Walmart and Best Buy without their help and prior relationships.”
Where can the film be seen now?
JC: “Our DVD was released on March 18, 2014 and sold out our initial shipments at Walmart, Best Buy, and Amazon within the first 8 days of release. 8 is our lucky number!
IMDB also put us on a list of Most Popular Independent Feature Films released in 2014, based on their movie meter rankings. Pretty incredible considering we had very little press and publicity prior to our DVD release. It was based almost entirely on our small, but very loyal and dedicated base that we grew completely organically. While we are very grateful to be on any list of success stories, there are probably thousands of independents released each year that never see the light of day, which is incredibly unjust and unfair because we might have been one of those films had the ball bounced a little differently.
Our VOD/Digital release will be sometime in April or May, and we’re partnering with Tugg, Inc. to have some promotional theatrical events in Los Angeles, Washington D.C., and possibly San Francisco. I ultimately realized that no one was more responsible and obligated to market and promote the film than me, the producer/director/writer of the movie. I don’t think I would have truly understood that, if someone else had been doing it for us. We never could have harnessed and cultivated the same level of ownership our audience has with the film, if we didn’t do it the old fashioned way, by personally reaching out one person at a time. It’s really hard work, but I know we’re much stronger because of it.”
To find out more about Tentacle 8, visit these websites:
Sheri Candler April 9th, 2014
Sheri Candler April 3rd, 2014
Tags: BFI Lesbian and Gay Film Festival, Bloor Cinema, Bryan Glick, Cinema Village, client, documentary, Downtown Independent, Film Festivals, I am Divine, Jeffrey Schwarz, Jeffrey Winter, membership, Roxy Theater, screening fees, Sheri Candler, SXSW, testimonial, TFC, The Film Collaborative, Wolfe Releasing
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 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.
Bryan Glick March 10th, 2014