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
A guest post from director Leslie Harris. I asked Leslie to participate in this series because to me she represents what the older generation of film directors is facing. The way things are being done now is VERY different to the early and mid ’90s when film financing and large distribution deals were plentiful. A time when her Sundance winning film had a full and celebrated release on the Miramax label. New developments like social media, digital self distribution, and the idea that a creator has to gather an audience and build a personal brand have left some of the older generation shaking their heads. Leslie is diving right in and running a Kickstarter campaign for a new film and I applaud her willingness to experiment and adapt her previous experience to this new world of film finance and distribution.
Even though I have made a feature film before, the Sundance Special Jury Prize winner Just Another Girl on the I.R.T. released by Miramax in 1993, no matter how many films you have made, most filmmakers will tell you making another feature is like starting over from scratch.
When my film was released in the 90’s, it was a boom for independent film financing and distribution and somewhat a Renaissance for the indie African-American filmmakers too. Unfortunately, the boom was mainly for the young, hot, male directors not women. Black women both in front of and behind the camera, well… we were practically non-existent except for a few of us.
Fast forward to today, sure there are more Black actresses working, but not in all genres and the recent controversy about the lack of Black Women on Saturday Night Live exemplifies what we’re facing. The numbers are even more embarrassingly low for Black women behind the camera. There’s a lot of work to do to make a change and that’s why I came to crowdfunding. I think crowdfunding works best for filmmakers who have been ignored by traditional film financing sources and have something passionate to say. Projects that artists can take straight to the audience and encourage their support rather than to studios and investors purely looking at the bottom line. My new film, I Love Cinema, is a satirical comedy about sex, race and politics in a ‘so-called’ post-racial world. The story is about Professor Layla Laneaux, sophisticated, educated and African-American. Layla is obsessed with cinema both in the classroom and the bedroom, but the Professor’s film fantasy world is shattered by racial controversy and a media circus all seemingly out to get her.
The same skills that I learned in the go-go 90’s of indie film are still useful to me today. My experience applying and receiving grants from National Endowment for the Arts, American Film Institute and New York State Council on the Arts is helpful because I had to convince people in a concise way that my story is viable and worth funding. Back then, I put together a reel and wrote the grant application. I also approached people like filmmaker Michael Moore and author Terry McMillan, who both supported Just Another Girl on the I.R.T with a check. Now my reel is a pitch video and my written application is the text on my Kickstarter page. In a way, I have already run a sort of Kickstarter, but now I need to reach many more people about my film idea and need to use all of the new tools available to me.
Social media and the internet are basically the heart of a crowdfunding effort…Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc. I have learned the value of having a great team of people to help with social media, though I found my team mid-way through my campaign…a mistake! You’ll make mistakes, but doing crowdfunding is relatively new so it is a learning process. I was so happy to find committed young people, especially women, who were internet savvy and happy to volunteer. Search around, it may take a bit of time to find the right person, but there is someone out there to help. My interns are learning new skills that will help them in their careers in film because I think crowdfunding sites for moviemakers is the wave of the future for financing. I couldn’t do this campaign alone. I have learned having your film on a crowdfunding site is similar to making a really small indie film…you have to have a team.
And ya gotta be passionate and tenacious because crowdfunding is a lot of work! I’ve gotten very little sleep, about four hours a night. But my sleep deprivation didn’t just occur during the 30-Days while my project has been live. I’ve been preparing for this campaign for months prior to the launch. First, I did my research about crowdfunding wherever I could find information from blogs, advice from other filmmakers who have done crowdfunding and even You Tube videos to see what worked and what didn’t. I didn’t want to copy what someone else was doing because, in my opinion, every project is unique and your video has to reflect your particular film. I looked at production techniques and editing transitions. For example, it’s effective to use dissolves for this format if you have a one camera set up when one person is talking directly to the potential backers. If you’re not experienced in front of the camera, and most filmmakers aren’t…it’s going to be hard not to flub a line and I flubbed a lot of ‘em! Remember, there are limitations. You can’t use copyrighted material or music in your video unless it is cleared and you have to have permission to use it. So be really creative. Keep your video short 2-3 minutes unless the subject and tone calls for something longer. For example a documentary fundraising video might be 5 minutes or longer because you have a lot of material and it may take a bit longer for the story to unfold with a doc.
Let’s be honest reaching your goal is tough. My advice is to be ultra conservative in determining your goal. Mine is set for $35,000. The style and tone of your pitch video also depends on whether you’re asking for funds in pre-production, production or post. Are you trying to get something new off of the ground or something almost finished into the world?
Remember you have to offer perks and that means you have to produce them and deliver them in a timely manner (don’t forget postage costs!) and make your backers happy. Offer great rewards that are really interesting and valuable, but don’t cost much to produce. For example, I am offering a Production Journal as one of my rewards that will detail my experiences on set during production. It is something I would probably be writing anyway. How much will it cost you to make a T-Shirt? How many do you plan to sell? How much is shipping to India? I had to use my 9th Grade math skills a lot while deciding what rewards I would offer.
Yes, raising funds this way is a tremendous amount of work. While I’ve launched, there is still a lot more to do during the campaign. Update! Update and Update! I keep my page current with photos, links, video and press…Indiewire’s Shadow and Act did a great piece on our film. This experience for me has been exciting. It’s new. Implementing the social media, creating a video that is spread around the world is very cool! I’m a storyteller. The crowd-funding process is all about telling a story. Ask yourself…why does my film deserve funding? Put yourself in the role of a backer.
Who knows if I’m going to make my goal…so take what I have written with a grain of salt, it’s just one experience. For me, it’s been rewarding already. I’ve reconnected with many friends and colleagues. Actress, Jennifer Williams, and my production team have been wonderful in making the video. I couldn’t have done this without my Editor, Jack Haigis. My producer, Erwin Wilson has been at my side all the way. Great people who supported the project… and that’s gold! I’ve met and worked with great women who are savvy in social media. I know I am doing my best. I can always sleep after December 8th the last day of my campaign. So wish me luck and stop by my Kickstarter page. I could really use your support!
Sheri Candler November 29th, 2013
Tags: African American, crowdfunding, Erwin Wilson, film director, filmmaker, I Love Cinema, independent film, Jack Haigis, Jennifer Williams, Just Another Girl on the I.R.T., Leslie Harris, Miramax, Shadow and Act, Sundance
One of the absolute strongest pieces of marketing you will create for your film is its trailer. The other is the key art. I wish more filmmakers appreciated how important having a kick ass trailer is and stop trying to save money by editing it themselves or having their feature editor do it. A horror film audience is typically younger and very distracted. A trailer that fails to capture attention in less than 5 seconds is easily turned off in the quest to find something more interesting.
I spoke with professional trailer editor Michael Kurthy of Ye Olde Trailer Shoppe, Inc. about what goes into editing film trailers, especially horror trailers.
SC:What is the first thing you do when you sit down to edit? How do you evaluate the film to choose the elements that will go into a compelling trailer?
MK: “If I’m working directly with the producer, we usually collaborate on coming up with a marketing direction for the film. The producer usually has some ideas, but is so close to the film that they don’t see the ‘big’ picture on how to sell the film to a wide audience. Every film is different and requires a different approach. I will do a ‘Break down’ of the film prior to cutting the trailer. This is basically deconstructing the entire film shot by shot/dialog line by dialog line. I try to use the footage and dialog to tell a story, but if that can’t be done, I will write or hire a copy writer to tell the story with narration. The trend these days is NOT to use copy. Sometimes we will be working on a film in the early stages of production and we will indeed use a shot that may not make it into the final cut of the released feature.”
SC: Is there a difference between what goes into cutting a trailer for a horror film and cutting any other kind of narrative film? Are there “rules” or conventions that go into marketing a horror film that you follow? Does it depend on what the trailer is supposed to do (IE, sell the film to industry vs sell the film to the consumer)?
MK:”The only difference is that horror is usually paced slower, more pregnant pauses are used to accentuate a particular moment and we like to use more sound FX. When I cut the trailer for The Wizard of Gore, a remake of a 70’s Vincent Price horror film, I chose to skillfully use music and sound FX that would drive the trailer along in a frenetic manner, with lots of stops. I concluded with a high energy rock cue from the feature soundtrack because it worked so well to pull the whole trailer together at the end.”
SC: How important is music in a horror trailer? Where do you source your music from?
MK: “Music searches are really one of the most important elements in trailer making. The music will set the tone of the piece as well as the mood and what I would like the audience to feel and think. For most of the indy horror film trailers I create, I’m usually handcuffed into using the feature score from the film because of ultra low budgets.This can be a good thing or a bad thing depending on the score.”
SC: Are there certain fonts or motion graphics that can be used to great effect? Should you have text/graphics or should the scenes play out to demonstrate the full effect of the film? What about using festival laurels or critic quotes? What about foreign films, how do subtitles play in trailers?
MK: “The only reason you need text or graphics in a trailer is because you have to convey another story that can’t be accomplished with using dialogue from the film; or the dialogue from the film isn’t enough to tell the story.
When we use the festival laurels or critic quotes in a cut, we are trying to use the accolades of the film to our advantage. Testing shows that people do respond to awards and such. A lot of times we ‘hide’ foreign films by doing a trailer with no dialogue,it’s very difficult to sell a sub-titled foreign language movie here in the States.”
SC: How is trailer editing different from feature editing?
MK: “I almost exclusively cut just trailers. I think it really is necessary to hire a professional trailer editor who is not biased on the film. One who can step back and really see the big picture. I recently edited a feature documentary for the first time, a film called The Sound of the Surf about the origins of ‘Surf’ music. Unlike trailers, this feature’s files were so big and daunting, so many things to keep track of ie: photos, interviews, music,flyers etc. With a trailer, one simply has the 1 ½ hr film to be concerned with plus miscellaneous music, graphics and select pulls. Quite frankly, after completing this feature edit, I wonder if I could still cut a trailer for this film, after being so immersed into it.”
SC: Given the audience for horror is usually young (teens), does this dictate the length and style of the trailer? How about different lengths depending on where it is shown (online vs in theater)?
MK: “Less is more in this case. Attention spans have shrunk in recent years probably due to the obliteration of broadcast material out there.There is no official maximum length, but if your trailer is over 2m 30secs, it probably won’t get played in a theater.”
SC: How do you feel about the accusation that trailers “give away the movie”? Is that true? Are there instances where they have to in order to get bums in seats/streams sold?
MK: “A good trailer should never give away the story or ending. However, today a lot of trailers do just that. A lot of this has to do with creatives in charge at the studios.There is a lot of pressure on them to ‘Open’ a film [ie, provide a successful opening weekend of the release] because if they don’t, it’s their job on the line. Being a creative advertising exec at a studio is a very short lived career.”
SC: Now for the question all of our readers will want to know for budgeting purposes, could you give me a range for how much a professional trailer would cost? Also, how far in advance should a producer plan for trailer edit?
MK: “If you go to a trailer house (large company with many producers, editors, graphics people), you are going to be charged anywhere from $40,000 on up to $75,000. Smaller shops like mine (1 to 5 employees) can bring the price way down. My rate for an indy trailer is around $4000-$5,000.
It’s always a good idea to plan in advance, but unfortunately people wait until the last minute. I have had to cut trailers in ONE DAY!-not fun. Ideally, it takes 1 to 2 weeks to get a great trailer cut that the client likes.”
Michael Kurthy is an award-winning motion picture marketing veteran who, over a 20 year career, has created successful theatrical campaigns for dozens of block-buster hits including: “Independence Day”, “The Matrix”, and “The Lord of the Rings”.
Currently,he owns Ye Olde Trailer Shoppe Inc., a boutique trailer house, for which he creates quality advertising campaigns for major and independent features. Mike has created campaigns for many horror films including, “The Wizard of Gore”, “Cold Storage”, “Friday the 13th Part Vlll”, “Blackout”, “Close Your Eyes” and “Freddy’s Dead” all of which can be seen at www.michaelkurthy.com
Sheri Candler October 24th, 2013
Tags: Black Out, Cold Storage, film marketing, film trailers, horror film, horror trailers, independent film, Michael Kurthy, Sheri Candler, Sound of the Surf, The Film Collaborative, Wizard of Gore, Ye Olde Trailer Shoppe
Here is the second interview from Park City co sponsored by The Film Collaborative. This is actually Slamdance (not Sundance) director J. R. Hughto discussing his new film Diamond on Vinyl, his entry into filmmaking from being a photographer and graphic novelist starting with making short films, and how he views the sacrifices filmmakers have to make in order to work within a certain budget level.
Sheri Candler February 6th, 2013
Posted In: Uncategorized
We co-sponsored these segments in tandem with Microfilmmaker Magazine during this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Check out this first one with director Andrew Bujalski on the red carpet for his premiere of Computer Chess. More to follow during the month of February.
Sheri Candler February 4th, 2013
Posted In: Uncategorized
Written by Orly Ravid
Now that Sundance has announced its new line up, it seems appropriate to discuss the issue of a film’s distribution after premiering or acquisition at festivals.
It is often the case that films do not get released until 6 months to a year or even more from when the film had its festival premiere…At least this is the case when traditional distribution is pursued as opposed to planning the distribution and marketing to coincide with the premiere and work off that plan accordingly.
Here are 10 reasons for the delay in time between a premiere launch at a festival and traditional distribution into the marketplace:
1. The time it takes to find buyers. These days the market cycle is longer than it’s ever been. Sometimes even a year after a festival or market, sometimes longer to sell titles. It’s a buyer’s market, so few films enjoy the pleasure of contested bidding that forces prices up and faster closings. Sundance, of course, is one of the few festivals that commands such a dynamic and more films than at most other festivals will secure distribution, at least domestically, as a result of premiering there.
2. Once a deal is closed, then there’s the contract and delivery which takes time… months sometimes.
3. Long lead times for press are required, at least four months, and that planning usually does not happen until after deal closure.
4. The distributor needs time to find open slots/appropriate slots in the calendar for theatrical – and it’s competitive out there so getting a booking takes time, and getting the right one for the film takes even more time, again, months. Sometimes even 6 months is needed to book the right theatre for the right time.. Some of the best screens are locked in well in advance.
5. Cash flow is needed to launch marketing campaigns. This can be an issue for some distributors. Recouping some revenue from previous releases will be needed in order to fund future ones.
6. Major digital outlets take several months to upload and make a film available. Cable VOD has solicitation windows. DVD and digital also require set up times and announcing the title and marketing it ahead of time so again months of planning and slotting. One wants to be strategic about release time.
7. The time of release is sometimes specific to the film. It may be theme driven and demand specific timing or it may want to avoid direct competition. Also inventory shifts in retail stores dictate the optimal time for DVD release (ie. certain times of year, like Christmas or Halloween, call for more of a certain kind of film).
8. Internal scheduling of the distributor. As you know, distributors will have other releases that they need to navigate given what their key outlets have planned.
9. Grass roots and other marketing also demand lead time.
10. Overall, the difference between DIY and traditional distribution is that in DIY, you can plan months in advance to set up the outlets and use the press attention at a festival premiere to catapult the film into the market, even if you aren’t 100% sure which festival will be your premiere. Having everything in place to pull the trigger when you get that acceptance puts you in a good position to release. In traditional distribution, the distributor cannot do advance planning and so the planning starts after the initial buzz has been created at the festival.
I know some of you have been confused or frustrated by the lag time between a festival premiere of a film and the release. Hopefully this helps to explain the matter.
Orly Ravid November 30th, 2012
Tags: cable VOD, DVD release, film distribution, film promotion, film sales, independent film premiere, independent film release, Sundance Film Festival, theatrical release, traditional film distribution
It was truly delightful being at IDFA. Great films, panels, parties, and I even worked in a quick museum visit. The city of Amsterdam is fantastic.
Here is a recap of some of the tips I presented to filmmakers at IDFA, and some examples. For you veteran producers/directors this may be gratuitous but others find these useful so here we go, and similar to the Four Agreements, reminding and repeating can only serve to reinforce:
1. BUDGET FOR MARKETING & DISTRIBUTION: Budget for Marketing & Distribution even if you think you want a sales agent and distributor(s). This money will still be useful and will also afford you the ability to execute DIY even if it’s a backup plan. I recommend at least 10%-20% of your budget, depending on how big it is. By having some money set aside you will be able to properly market your film at festivals and markets and also well-positioned to do DIY distribution should you want to, and also for things such as E&O insurance (required by Hulu and Netflix for example) and deliverables for digital etc. Any investor or supporter should be happy to see this budget line item as part of your plan.
2. BUILD COMMUNITY | DEVELOP A LONG TERM CONNECTION WITH COMMUNITY AROUND YOUR FILM: Designate someone who is intimately connected with your film to be engaged in the work of building community around your film well in advance of the film being finished. Six months is not too long, in fact more is better. And doing the grassroots outreach and social network marketing around your film cannot just be you trying to sell your film. Rather, it must be authentic communications and participation in dialog and discussions that are relevant to the film. Sheri Candler and Jon Reiss also discuss this at length in our co-authored book which has good examples (Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul). Only a small percentage of your communications should be about your film in a sales oriented way, otherwise you will turn people off. If you continue to collect emails and continue to grow your community then you will have a bigger support system for your film at each stage of its release and of course for your next works. Several filmmakers in our book have done this very well.
3. KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE: Know who your audience is. Sheri Candler suggests being super detailed about that, really specific. And as Jon Reiss also notes, be clear about how your audience consumes films. I always recommend one think about preceding films that have tapped into similar audiences and that you can relate your film to. This will help resolve what can work well or not and you can even hopefully access some of the contacts from another filmmaker. Some films for example are much more ripe for educational distribution, monetizing festival distribution, and also television sales. Other films may not be suitable for all three of these but just one but may also do better via transactional VOD and/or SVOD. Some films lend themselves to corporate sponsorship or under-writting (e.g. Revenge of the Electric Car which got Nissan to sponsor, after the film was made) whereas a small film about a specific local issue in a third world country may not be viable for such financial and marketing support. The key is to note that most films do not appeal to most people and that if you are trying to appeal to general audiences you better have tens of millions of dollars to do it, and if not, be specific, be niche, targeted, grassroots oriented about it and authentically clear about who you are speaking to so that you know how to speak to them and when and where. Some films demand to be owned while others do very little sell through business but rent very well and work on television well.
4. KNOW YOUR GOALS. People on a filmmaking team may have different goals but it is important to note yours and the hierarchy of them so you can plan accordingly. If changing the world is your top goal that will yield a specific strategy that may not completely coincide with making money, or it can, depending on your film. Hence all the above-points and this one go together. If changing the world and making money are equally important and your film is not one that will likely do a lot of sell-through business you may find all the more reason to monetize offering the film for free, whether via YouTube, SNAG, or underwriting free airings on PBS (in US) or Hulu (for example) but this way you will reach broader audiences, build awareness for your film and monetize it in other ways (via ad-support, sponsorship, increased transactional business because of the awareness, and maybe even a reverse window theatrical if your film proves its audience traction). But it’s very hard to resolve the best plan without being clear internally about the priority of your goals. (Please note one can also sell the film to PBS in the US).
5.DON’T SHY FROM A BUSINESS PLAN. IT DOES NOT MAKE YOU DIRTY. Having a business plan will help you know what you don’t know and help you plan ahead and be able to effectively market and distribute your film and achieve your goals. Plan ahead. It’s a must and does not make you dirty or any less creative, just more sustainable. You will fall behind and lose opportunities or make mistakes otherwise. Digital distribution strategies vary per film and are quite individual so planning ahead will help make sure you execute the best plan for your film and know best how to respond to opportunities at markets and festivals that present themselves. Also, if you are comparing your film to others in order to resolve goals and a plan, make sure the other films are relevant either in terms of timing or scope. For example what happened in the 1990’s is really not a viable comparison today. Also remember if you are looking at THEATRICAL GROSSES, the distributor gets usually at most 50% of that revenue or even as little as 25 – 40% and there are expenses to get there, sometimes rather big ones depending on the release so your plan needs to be based on the real and complete set of information.
6. THE THREE Ms | CARVE UP RIGHTS | TIMING OF DIGITAL: The THREE (3) M’s are: MIDDLE MEN, MONEY, and MARKETING. Before giving rights to anyone you need to be clear if you are dealing with a Distributor, Aggregator or Platform. It is important to know that these are not the same, and yet, they are CONFLATE! SNAG is now for example both a PLATFORM and an AGGREGATOR. Some SALES AGENTS are now acting as AGGREGATORS or trying to. However the key is before giving rights to anyone, especially a sales agent or distributor, one wants to know how DIRECT the entity is with the places you want your film to be and at what terms. In the digital distribution realm, which is eclipsing DVD quickly, if you think of platforms as stores, you would want to be in all the good ones at the very least, and you will be better served being only once removed at most. Most good platforms are not direct with filmmakers so one middle man is usually unavoidable, but two really starts to be terrible for you financially. Also in terms of fees that an aggregator or distributor can take, 15% is a fee we approve of, and sometimes as much as 25% is acceptable but not more than that generally speaking. Platforms themselves usually take 30%-50% (but not all platforms have the same deal with all aggregators or distributors so you will also want to evaluate that). The other thing to analyze is what sort of marketing the entity taking your rights will do to earn their fee. The higher the fee the more they should be doing for you in terms of handling delivery and marketing. An example, the Oscar shortlisted film We Were Here has seven (7) different companies involved in the North American distribution alone, and can sell off the websites(s) too. Always carve out the ability to sell off your site(s). If you are ever confused about this please feel free to contact us for advice.
7. AFFILIATE RELATIONSHIPS WITH ORGANIZATIONS, FESTIVALS & CORPORATE / MEDIA SPONSORSHIP: The sooner you identify the organizations, media or corporate sponsors that may want to be connected to your film and help you either via outreach or financial support or both, the better. And corporate sponsors especially need at least 6 months of lead time or even a year or more so better to approach early and guess what? YOU WILL NEED TO SHOW THEM YOUR DISTRIBUTION PLAN. With NGOs you can do a lot to both change the world and generate more revenue and we recommend giving them the incentive of an affiliate relationship (whether for theatrical, DVD, VOD or all of the above). Also festivals you’ve shown it can and should let their members / audiences know about your film when it comes out. An example from our book is Ride the Divide (a Jon Reiss case study). The filmmakers premiered the film on a small US television channel called Documentary Channel (which they sold to) and this was coordinated with the transactional digital on iTunes and they also debuted with a free screening period on YouTube which launched their partnership with non-profit organization Livestrong with which they have an affiliate relationship.
8. KEY ART: BIG & SMALL: First of all I want to remind people that sometimes it does serve a film to have two campaigns and that is not necessarily bad or confusing marketing. For example a film that is both speaking to a niche community but also wants to change the world and speak to a more general and mainstream community may have two different art works. But one has to try to integrate the two because of course brand recognition is key and the whole point of festival and theatrical distribution is to have a film be known in the public consciousness so keep that in mind when choosing publicity and marketing images. Also remember, your key art will have to work small so even if you are doing theatrical posters and want good art for that, you need to make sure your image(s) works as a thumbnail image on the web.
9. MANY WAYS TO DO THEATRICAL: In the US this topic has been covered quite a bit. In Europe doing theatrical in a non-traditional manner is still under construction. However we are inspired by what Dogwoof does in terms of Pop Up Cinemas and a Dutch documentary mini showcase of sorts that Sean Farnel explained to me and which I have to research better (in fact I am probably even explaining it incorrectly here). But the key is for European festivals and organizations to help filmmakers with a solution that eliminates the need to accept theatrical defeat if one’s film is not bought by a traditional distributor or would be bought only via deleterious terms. This may also take the burden off of MEDIA needing to fund quite as much because after all, most films do not need to be on screen five (5) times a day seven (7) days a week to mostly very few people most times. But what they do need to is to engage with public audiences, get some key publicity and buzz. One new interesting company in the US that may inspire is a digital / virtual theatrical service company called CONSTELLATION www.constellation.tv Another one is Emerging Pictures which is a service that networks theaters for event theatrical / hybrid theatrical. this is a cost-effective way to achieve the goals of theatrical without the burdensome expense. Of course if one is qualifying for an Oscar there are specific theatrical guidelines that are unavoidable but even that is more doable via the IDA, for example.
10. STAY CURRENT: Digital distribution changes weekly, at least monthly. Different ways of working windows changes so stay current, ask around, and always ask more than one person.
One last EXTRA TIP for the road: Don’t ever write your blog post in Word Press directly without constantly saving draft as I just did because then if it freeze, which mine did, you will have to start all over again!
Distribute in Peace,
Orly Ravid November 25th, 2011
As DVD sales continue to crumble (allowing us to use less petroleum), VOD is growing (now in 65.7 million US homes — about 55.7% of TV homes, according to MagnaGlobal). Digital distribution revenues are starting to percolate and be more reliable. Worldwide revenue from video-on-demand movies and TV programs will reach $5.7 billion in 2016, up 58% from revenue of $3.6 billion in 2010, according to a new research report. The tally does not include pay-per-view sports events, adult entertainment or subscription-based VOD services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime and Google, among others, according to London-based Direct TV Research Ltd. It should be noted this is not all related to new film but rather making catalog or library content available digitally. According to the study, “Internet-based TV (IPTV) is projected to overtake digital terrestrial TV (DTT) in revenue next year to become the third largest platform globally. Indeed, VOD revenue from DTT is expected to be largely confined to Western Europe” (http://www.homemediamagazine.com/vod/global-vod-revenue-climb-58-24580).
In South Korea of course we know almost all have Broadband and watch films digitally but the US digital distribution market has been slower to mature, though it is finally, and so how is new world distribution faring in the old world? I wanted to explore the digital distribution trends in Europe.
“The EU records the second highest TV viewing figures globally, produces more films than any other region in the world, and is home to more than five hundred online video-on-demand services” (European Commission “Green Paper” on the online distribution of audiovisual works in the European Union, 7/13/11). It should be noted that this 500 number is more theoretical and that probably only 100 are worth talking about and half of those being the main revenue generators. The EU funds new platforms but not all of them emerge successfully, much like our US government’s funding of alternative energy.
“A range of platforms offering transactional on-demand services span multiple territories e.g. Acetrax, Chello, Headweb, iTunes, Playstation Network Live, Voddler, Xbox Live. These tend to continue the practice of addressing customers “in their own language”, and tailoring content to local preferences such as language, film classification, dubbing or subtitling requirements, advertising, holiday periods, and general consumer tastes. This is consistent with the experience of producers and distributors whether large or small scale, who have indicated that although they license content on a multi-territorial basis where there is a business case to do so, targeted and local investments in distribution and marketing are nevertheless required in order to promote and sell films in each country” (IBID). To read the paper in its entirety go to:
On a side note: many European countries are used to having films dubbed not subtitled and there is apparently a new software that facilitates dubbing in the same voice as the actor / speaker. I’m looking into it further. In any case, subtitling for digital is getting less and less expensive and can be done via software or labs. If one has played a film at a film festival in another country and then plan to distribute the film there I recommend you ask the fest for access to the subtitles (if cleared for other distribution). Traditionally, Nordic, Benelux, and some others are fine with and prefer subtitles, while others (such as Germany, Spain, and Italy) require dubbing. In the higher educated arthouse/filmfest world, one can often get away with just subtitled versions even in the dubbing countries.
At The Film Collaborative we have noticed that iTunes has just recently expanded its footprint into Europe and is now available in the following EU countries:
Austria, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Greece, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Republic of Ireland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom.
Non-English stores include:
Spain, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, Belgium, Switzerland, Portugal.
NETFLIX, Amazon (via Lovefilm), and Hulu are expanding their EU footprint too. In the US Hulu is ramping up its competitive edge with Netflix on the SVOD HuluPlus and these days it’s looking for more films that it can do stunts around.
So what are the other key EU platforms? Trends? And which kinds of films are viable?
I asked TFC Board of Advisor / EU digital distribution guru and TFC partner Wendy Bernfeld of Rights Stuff (www.Rights-Stuff.com) to weigh in. Wendy noted that various international platforms are increasingly interested by now in licensing art house and festival films, not just mainstream, and that they also have room for niches. (For an example, TFC received an offer for 300 EU from one small platform but sometimes the money is quite better, and/or is coupled with rev shares and small upfronts. The point is that the deals are non-exclusive and can ripple through various windows and regions. Keep in mind some platforms are transactional (pay per view) and revenue sharing, others ad supported (free to consumer) and others subscription (e.g. pay per month) and hence the license fee, just like TV, but smaller often though sometimes greater. Wendy notes that whilst some earlier pioneer platforms have gone out of business, others are launching or strengthening, and diversifying into thematic genres instead of only mainstream. Wendy cites that some of those non-USA platforms include Orange, Viasat, XIMON (for art house/festival/docs) in the Netherlands, Voddler (Nordic), Blinkbox (UK), mubi.com (EU), not to mention many telecom and cable VOD platforms that have online offerings of their own Wendy adds that “LOVEFILM in the UK (now owned by Amazon) usually only takes larger packages, not one-offs, if dealing direct with producers/ distributors, otherwise one can go through aggregators/digital distributors and sometimes one is pressed to have had a DVD or local theatrical release already, while in other case they are willing to premiere online or Day & Date. Lesser-known or library (catalog) films can usually find a home on a non- exclusive and on ad-supported (AVOD) basis, but more current films usually start with transactional (TVOD) basis and/or subscription platforms (SVOD)… Many of these platforms are willing to take delivery of art house films via DVD” or a hard drive or digital master (instead of requiring the expensive encoding/digitizing the way Apple does).
Wendy believes that 2012 will see more of the same consolidation that 2011 witnessed. Also some key platforms (such as Hulu, Netflix, Yahoo, Endemol/AOL, Nokia, Canal+, Orange) are selectively commissioning Transmedia and/or branded film opportunities. Ad- supported (AVOD) platforms such as YOUTUBE and subscription platforms such as Lovefilm in the UK (owned by Amazon) are adding premium transactional VOD (TVOD) in order to handle current films and not just library or PAY TV window titles, and some are competing against the premium PAY TV window and occasionally buying an SVOD window exclusively instead of nonexclusively, to beat out a PAY TV licensee (e.g. as with Netflix, Lovefilm recently, in some key indie deals). More platforms are open to REVERSE WINDOWING (a trend growing and succeeding in the US, e.g. Melancholia), which is launching online first and then opening theatrical.
Interestingly, EPIX began licensing international festival documentaries in 2010 but have now focused their attention on co-productions instead of acquisitions. As in the US, many traditional PAY TV platforms are going cross-platform and on multiple devices (a la “TV EVERYWHERE”, and similarly the nonlinear online channels are often seeking multiple device rights and/or at least have an App). In terms of trends, it still seems like the bigger funds and bigger platforms are still more focused on more mainstream content. Yet having said that, here’s a summary from Wendy on key platforms for Art House films:
For films not released theatrically Wendy cites among others, XIMON & MUBI (TFC is direct with them and they also often deal directly with filmmakers) and also notes there are the local equivalents of Fandor and IndieFlix in various regions. Some PAY TV film channels have online offerings that explore more niche or arthouse material, even where the film is not on the main channel. MUBI (www.Mubi.com) is co-owned by the rights holder to one of the most expansive libraries of art house cinema, Celluloid Dreams. MUBI is technically available everywhere, and is sometimes syndicated as a channel carried on a telecom platform (as in the case of its SVOD service on Belgacom in Belgium). It is also on Sony Playstation, has (last time I checked) 60% of its audience in the US and most of the rest in Europe. Wendy explains that for bigger indie titles and mainstream ones there are about 5-7 or so VOD outlets per country, usually in the form of television related, IPTV, Telecom/Cable companies, (as well as the online and/or mobile sites, and offerings that are being put together by OTT box and consumer electronics/connected TV manufacturers.)
For example in even the small country Holland (where Wendy, former Canadian, resides) there are: KPN, Tele2, SBS/Veamer, Ziggo, Upc/Chello/Film1, . Others in EU include e.g. Orange, Canal Plus, (France etc), Telenet, in Nordic, etc.), Telefonica, Viasat… Most buy TVOD and sometimes SVOD and/or AVOD. Some web-based sites for VOD, according to Wendy, include: Veamer (NL); Popcorn (just launching in UK), Blinkbox and Lovefilm(UK); Voddler & Film2Home & Headweb and Viasat nonlinear offerings (Nordic),. In Benelux, Cinemalink, Veamer , Pathe (soon launching) , idfa.tv and Ximon (Netherlands); Maxdome (Germany); Sony-related Qriocity, Daily Motion & Orange (many countries in EU) , Movieeurope, Zatoo, and sales agent Wild Bunch has launched a platform service called FilmoTV. And there are plenty more!
Wendy’s final and most important kernel of wisdom is this: “It is really important to WINDOW (i.e. Transactional, Subscription, Advod, Sell Through) carefully and balance traditional with new media. But also, windows can be in reverse for certain films, especially indies, i.e. producers can build (and engage with) the audience before the film is even out and perhaps premiere ONLINE first, (or day and date with another cross-promoted window), and then one can still end up in theatres. The key is to know the audience and try to tailor the marketing and distribution patterns accordingly…producers can be more active these days to heighten the chances of film success.
There are a lot of small markets and platforms and all this takes a lot of work but if one has built community around a film and awareness then the effort may pay off and add up to a nice revenue stream. Once the first deals are in place with platforms (deal structures, relationships, contacts, contracts) it’s easier to build on that and add new films to the deals with just short amendments or riders, so the effort at the front end makes years of future dealings run smoother.
My first interaction with Viewster was during its previous incarnation as DIVA.pro which seemed to function more like an aggregator. Now Viewster serves that purpose in some ways but is also a platform. In that way it’s similar to SNAG FILMS, (www.SnagFilms.com) which is now both a platform and an aggregator. Kai Henniges of Viewster (www.Viewster.com) describes the company as follows: “today we are largely a consumer-facing cross platform VOD services, a content retailer. Our focus is on a number of CEE markets where we see the opportunity to emerge as the leading one-stop-shop. In parallel we supply movies to leading platforms in the UK, US, Germany (Netflix, Hulu, Virgin, Lovefilm). In these heavily competitive markets we rather work with the leading retailers as an aggregator than position ourselves against them”. Viewster has 18 manufacturer deals and estimate being on 50,000,000 devices now. They are especially excited about their cross platform deal with Samsung. Viewster works with local mini majors such as Kinowelt in Germany, Aurum in Spain and also sometimes individual filmmakers. They have 160 content suppliers so far. When I asked what sort of films Viewster seems as working best Kai noted “a mix of classics such as Death Proof, Crank, or local films such as Empty Nest work well and course Day & Date releases”. Kai added the need for a good trailer and key art, ideally an inspired title (e.g. “Dirty Deeds did fantastic”), preferably a known actor. “Without any of these attributes, films are likely to languish in VOD, the selection is even more harsh than in the old home entertainment business”.
TFC recommends picking a specialist in new media / digital distribution to handle these rights as opposed to letting a more traditional company handle them unless they prove to know what they are doing and offer you fair terms (we like the 15% commission and under model or flat fee).
Filmmakers, whatever you choose to do with respect to your digital distribution, do not forget, one can reach the whole wide world via one’s own website(s) and social networking pages by utilizing DIY digital distro services (for more on this topic please refer to numerous past blogs about digital distribution and DIY platforms and services. For past blogs about these topics go to www.TheFilmCollaborative.org/blog
REMEMBER: Films do not market themselves. There is a proliferation of films (thousands per year, and hence an emerging glut and your film will die on the digital vine if you do not connect-the-dots and create your community around your film (a la Sheri Candler). We had a lovely discussion about this at the Lone Star Film Festival. Ted Hope was especially charming and humorous as he rolled off the staggering stats. Anyway, even when there are better curation mechanisms on platforms or via services, marketing is king.
For those not into monetizing piracy (though we recommend trying it!) well, you can try to stay ahead of the pirate ad-supported sites (because that’s the latest trend in piracy and it’s huge, to the tune of tens of millions). Key would be to 1. Watermark screeners or use private streaming service; 2. Do some serious SEO work (Search Engine Optimization) and hopefully with some other technological assistance redirect traffic your way (as did Wendy’s former ADVOD client in the UK www.IndieMoviesOnline.com 3. Release your film at the same time worldwide and in as many places as possible and for a reasonable fee that is competitive to free. When we (The Film Collaborative) help filmmakers sell internationally we try for a UNIVERSAL STREET DATE. And per Wendy (and also in Sheri Candler’s case studies in our book www.SellingYourFilm.com), some filmmakers partner with Bit Torrent, Pirate Bay etc to launch their films online, tapping into the audiences already there (e.g. Nasty Old People, The Tunnel). And, a little something extra never hurts.
Orly Ravid November 16th, 2011
Posted In: Uncategorized