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
Although DVD distribution revenue has by all accounts declined significantly since the start of home video and the development of the format, most film distributors still distribute DVDs. Sales are down, but there are profits to be had for more commercial or popular fare that is strongly supported with marketing spend, whether studio, indie, or niche.
We always advise filmmakers to conduct Direct Distribution of DVDs to their audience even when we or someone else is handling licensing deals for them. Often though, if a distributor takes on Home Video (i.e. DVD), the expenses associated with the release and the diminishing revenues are the explanation for why digital rights must be licensed to the distributor along with the rights to release the film on traditional physical formats. Digital rights, at least many of them, rightly belong in the home video category,but here’s the rub. While the distributor has more money and more connections and ability to get a DVD into retail stores, they likely take a bigger commission on digital platform sales than an aggregator who is paid a flat fee or a smaller percentage. Of course, even direct digital distribution (streaming from your own site) requires some service or other that takes a fee. It’s just usually less costly than a conventional distributor’s fee. Back to the rub.
So a well heeled distributor gets a big retailer to order your DVDs when you could not have achieved that on your own and probably more money is spent marketing it than you ever could afford to spend. But note that’s also more money to be recouped before you see a return. The DVDs that don’t sell come back. And what comes back gets credited. It should be noted, many conventional distributors take their sales fee off of initial sales, regardless of returns.
So the distributor has the muscle to move the units to a retailer, but not enough muscle to get the public to buy them. They did their best, and even risked their expenses and time and staff energy. But the units come back just the same. Their sales fee is calculated off the top and the net left over for the filmmaker can be paltry. You may or may not be worse off than having done all the distribution yourself.
It is something to think about before you push for traditional distribution where there is not a big enough advance, or none, to recoup your initial investment in the project and you might have been better going it alone, still holding the rights over your film. These things are indeed a calculation of your time and money vs the distributor’s. At least check your contract for language that allows the distributor to keep the sales fee even for the sum of sales attributed to units ultimately returned and refunded. Perhaps compare potential results. Insist on a direct distribution clause so at least you have the chance to make the direct sales to the fan base you have worked so hard to build on your own. Or get clear about what your distributor can do for you that you cannot do for yourself, if anything, and what that is worth to you. Then make sure the contract comports accordingly.
Orly Ravid May 2nd, 2013
On Ted Hope’s website, there is a discussion brewing about the relevance and right pricing of panels and seminars and the degree to which filmmakers should be attentive to and responsible for the business side of their film’s release.
Film is a relatively new art form. It is the most expensive art medium in the world. My thinking is, if it’s your money it’s your decision. If it’s grant money, it’s really a non-issue. If investors are counting on their money back, it behooves you to either let them know up front what the realistic possibilities are, or commit yourself to supporting the return on their investment. TFC’s entire purpose and mission is to try to make up for the fact that the US does not have the same funding as Europe does that supports an industry of art film.
At Cannes I was invited to be part of the Cannes Producer’s Network networking breakfasts and through that I spoke to producers about The Film Collaborative. I have been and will continue to be invited to speak at panels and seminars and all of that industry stuff and seen as an “expert”. I think there’s good and bad that comes with all that. The good is that some great information is often shared, and often for free or for a lot less than one would pay for it if one had to reach out to each panelist individually. One makes connections one might not otherwise. The bad is that filmmakers sometimes think they now have the answers and that is not enough. AND, panels at festivals and markets are often put together by people who actually are not in the day-to-day world of distribution and/or sometimes festivals are swayed by other influences and panels are stacked with not-so-appropriate panelists. Sometimes panels are positioned as having all the information about a topic but are actually quite limited either because of time or the panel itself. The saying “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing” can and does often apply. And in today’s new media world, intimate knowledge with the present space and all its ever-and-quickly-changing nuances is critical. It’s also important not to apply information that may not apply to your film.
The “expert” books are useful (Jon Reiss’ is one we’re fond of especially for docs that can be segmented and merchandized, and Scott Kirsner’s is good too for fan building, and of course Roberta Munroe’s for short films) but with regard to actual distribution details, books are quickly out-of-date for anything new media oriented or related to business opportunities. Whether one likes it or not, people handling lots of films tend to be ahead in knowing about distribution and marketing opportunities and the knowledge is more real and detailed and nuanced. I’m not advocating old world anything; I don’t even believe in rights licensing model but I do believe in the best distribution possible per film, and it’s different per film.
Lawyers love to charge by the hour or take a big commission for their “expertise” and I suggest that a lawyer who has no or little distribution background relating to your deal but doing a distribution contract will get you a great air tight contract perhaps, but a crap distribution deal and a big fat waste of time and money and rights into the film. It’s not black and white of course, I’m just making a point. Every “expert” has a limited perspective to his/her experience and an agenda, and of course that includes me too. So think for yourself, cross-reference, and keep up-to-date, or designate someone on your side to. The digital space is truly changing weekly. The MSOs behind the Cable VOD space are not letting go of their turf any time soon, whilst Google makes its play, and all the Telcos make theirs… CinemaNow is going to be working its Digital Locker at Best Buy (digital) and Blockbuster (digital) and we shall see what happens with iTunes, Hulu and Netflix etc etc. On the DIY digital distribution front — I always await the numbers intel regarding platforms such as FansofFilm, and to see if Amazon VOD can ever generate business for the DIY releases — and for some, 4 and 5 figures of revenue is as much as they could have hoped for or expected, but some it’s not. The dilemma is really evaluating the numbers when a licensing option is an option because there is a certain leverage in the marketplace that bigger distributors still have over the DIY model and unless you’re a brand like Banksy whereby you already have a built in following, your film may have just enough commercial potential to need the distribution and marketing muscle of a company that may be able to do more than you can do via DIY. And yet, for many films, there is no such company that will step forward and a lot one can do on one’s own.
But back to panels – I will say this, I don’t think Ostrow & Company is an appropriate company to be introduced to filmmakers in a panel or industry networking setting (and they have been) because they ask for more than $10,000 up front (I think it’s up to $11,000 or $14,000 on average) and I don’t know of too much good they have done for anyone. Neither do any of my ‘industry’ peers.
My last thought before I sign off… This past week it was announced that TFC brokered a deal with IFC for Made in China. We did and we’re very proud of our service and always impressed by the impeccable taste and service to films at IFC (even though I cannot say I am in love with their $$ waterfall). We charge a fraction of what sales agents charge and we don’t recoup for fancy dinners in Cannes. I want a world in which sales agents are used for what they do best, getting filmmakers deals they cannot get themselves, there are buyers around the world and I do believe there is a place for a company to get films to market and do business that otherwise would not be done, especially for theatrical films or where good TV deals are still viable. I do however wish for filmmakers to save themselves and their investors the waste of big fees and expenses being recouped out of a deal one could have done directly.
Film is the most expensive art medium in the world, it’s also presently the most powerful. If you’ve already made a film, you might as well stay committed to its exhibition and your end of the bargain with investors and above all, your ability to keep making your work, for your audience.
At your service,
– O/R for TFC
Orly Ravid May 31st, 2010
Topics on my mind: The dilemma of the long tail and social networking glut and the trends of the giants. 2010 will oversee the SVOD wars as everyone competes with Netflix for a viable subscription VOD model… Hulu, Cinema Now, Blockbuster, Amazon et al, and including Apple will compete with Cable VOD too. And of course there’s Google which I’ll cover in the next edition. According to Jon Reiss (filmmaker, blogger, and author of Think Outside the Boxoffice), ‘Studios are experimenting with releasing catalog titles via Amazon’s CreateSpace’ (which one can read about in The Digital Distribution Guide on our website: http://www.thefilmcollaborative.org/digitaldistribution.html ) — and he postures that may create an appetite in consumers and a comfort level in getting non-blockbuster content via the web. Studios are experimenting with release windows to work up consumer appetites.
Avatar is a game changer as far as the experience audiences will learn to expect. 3D film is a growing business. There’s an impact on indie cinema? Mergers continue as Comcast bought NBC Universal and rumors resurfaced of Amazon’s potential acquisition of Netflix (both covered below). Gigantic was a smaller start-up platform that did not make sense to me because it was too small and too unspecific and offered nothing special and indeed Mark Lipsky has ankled it this week. And now, in answer to Comcast, The Walt Disney Co. and CBS have expressed interest in cutting deals with Apple to offer programming as part of a monthly Internet TV subscription service. The media companies are in early discussions with Apple on the service, which is being positioned as a competitor to cable and satellite TV. (This is not new, Netflix has already had streaming video content deals with TV networks, such as Starz and MTV for example). Comcast (the leading cable company) and the bigger Cable VOD platforms are decreasing their appetite for Indie cinema, at least in the short-term, and going for the more sure things, such as studio library content, marquee driven content and TV. The rise in supply of indie cinema has made it harder for individual films to compete in a crowded market place of blockbusters and media conglomerates who cover them. I cover this more below.
Old rumors never die. In our Digital Distribution Guide we have previously covered the rumor that “Amazon may be buying Netflix”. BusinessInsider.com and Reuters reporter Anupreeta Das have all pointed to heavy trading activity on Netflix (Nasdaq: NFLX) call options as the speculative root of the born again rumor. Amazon.com (Nasdaq: AMZN) is the logical suitor, as always. Given Amazon’s ownership of IMDB and WithoutABox and its search technology maybe having the two merged will help the long tail films better find their audiences. Amazon, Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL), and Blockbuster (NYSE: BBI) have been struggling in selling digital celluloid. Cable giant Comcast (Nasdaq: CMCSA) is losing video subscribers. In that time, Netflix is a great trusted brand that knows its customer and its customers know how to find films. Amazon needs a digital distribution solution better than its current offerings.
Speaking of Netflix which recently initiated a partnership with retail giant Best Buy, CinemaNow is now directly competing. CinemaNow’s founder went to work for Lions Gate (the studio behind the release of Precious) but CinemaNow is still in the game. The partnership between Best Buy and CinemaNow includes both physical and digital media. More particularly, the deal will allow consumers to buy DVDs from Best Buy, then watch the same movie through CinemaNow on their computers, smartphones or Blu-Ray players. It’s almost like buying a DVD and getting a digital copy on the second disc, but now you require just an Internet connection rather than the digital file. The exact details of the partnership have yet to be revealed, but it’s expected the service will launch in early 2010, just as soon as some studios jump on board. (Of course we presume some day soon Studios will be direct with customers off their own sites).
Best Buy’s plan will require a DVD to be bought, but there’s no guarantee that the DVD will stay with the buyer, or that the stream will. If it does work, however, it will add yet another streaming service to our media boxes. As it stands with Netflix, Amazon Video, Blockbuster OnDemand, Hulu among others, we already have quite a few. I expect some attrition and survival of the fittest.
Back to the topic of Long Tail and the increased competition in the indie film space. I wanted to link to an interesting article in The Economist: http://www.economist.com/displaystory.cfm?story_id=14959982
I select and quote a few key paragraphs from the article below. In summation, it’s about how the growth of “Long Tail” (as Chris Anderson of Wired coined it) has lead to a glut, a competitive crowded space where only the strongest survive, and hence its own demise. Some niche content maintains its appeal but much of the middle never makes the radar and the biggest blockbuster films continue to rise because they are the most known and talked about.
From The Economist:
“Ever-increasing choice was supposed to mean the end of the blockbuster. It has had the opposite effect “NOVEMBER 20th saw the return of an old phenomenon: the sold-out cinema. “New Moon”, a tale of vampires, werewolves and the women who love them, earned more in a single day at the American box office than any film in history. The record may not stand for long: next month “Avatar”, a three-dimensional action movie thick with special effects, will be released… There has never been so much choice in entertainment. Last year 610 films were released in America, up from 471 in 1999. Cable and satellite television are growing quickly, supplying more channels to more people across the world. More than half of all pay-television subscribers now live in the Asia-Pacific region. Online video is exploding: every minute about 20 hours’ worth of content is added to YouTube. The Internet has greatly expanded choice in music and books. Yet the ever-increasing supply of content tailored to every taste seems not to have dented the appeal of the blockbuster. Quite the opposite. This is not what was predicted by one of the most influential business books of the past few years. In “The Long Tail”, Chris Anderson, editor-in-chief of Wired, a technology magazine (and before that a journalist at The Economist), argued that demand for media was moving inexorably from the head of the distribution curve to the tail. That is, the few products that sell a lot were losing market share to the great many that sell modestly. By cutting storage and distribution costs, the Internet was overturning the tyranny of the shop shelf, which had limited consumers’ choices. And, by developing software that analysed and predicted consumers’ tastes, companies like Amazon were encouraging people to wallow in esoterica. Such companies did not just supply niche markets—they helped create them….” (Note: The article sites research and statistics from the music industry, television, film and books and concludes)… “In short, just because people have more choice does not mean they will opt for more obscure entertainments. That is especially clear in the book trade. But nobody knows quite what to do. The old-media world of limited choice, in which any product that was not too objectionable was guaranteed a decent audience, was a comfortable place. Pleasing a customer who can choose from several hundred films and television programmes even without getting up from the sofa, by contrast, is an unnerving prospect.”
I referenced at the beginning of this post that I wanted to cover the clutter in social network marketing as well. Huffington Post is going to offer sponsored Tweets. Every other blog or article in this business waxes prolific about Facebook and Twitter… how will unique voices continue to be heard and find more listeners when corporate brands use this space as much as they do Second Life to hock their wares. We’ll have more about this and more about digital distribution platforms (especially mobile) and opportunities for Indie Filmmakers in the next edition. One thing we can be sure of, there will always be independent filmmakers and their audiences. We’re committed to connecting them as directly, dynamically, efficiently and inexpensively as possible, always.
The Collaborative will keep the information and service support coming in 2010.
Have a happy and safe new year!
Orly Ravid December 26th, 2009