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

Spring Film Festival collage

TRIBECA IS RULED BY DOCUMENTARIES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CANNES CANT TALK DOC!

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

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

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

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

SXSW 2014

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

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

 

 

June 4th, 2014

Posted In: Distribution, Film Festivals, Uncategorized

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Today we have a guest post from filmmaker/educator Kyle Henry 

Someone told me years ago that sex sells.   Unfortunately, when I started making my anthology of short sex tales feature FOURPLAY four years ago, I thought that if a little sex sells then A LOT of sex would REALLY sell.  Although the director side of my brain was motivated by a lot of high-minded reasons (e.g. showing sex as a positive force; providing understanding for characters participating in “deviant” sex acts; rescuing cinematic sex from titillation for catharsis), the producer side of my brain thought that by providing a product that would fill a need (e.g. an adult explicit film about sex that isn’t porn) somehow axiomatically would pull off a hat trick of making a profit AND getting away with subversive cultural critique.  Well, we’ll see about that later part because just finding distribution has been a long and winding road depending almost exclusively on our persistence and ingenuity.  Both were needed to prove the film’s potential to a very risk averse market for narrative NC-17 equivalent films dealing with sex even in our libertine digital age.

FourPlay poster

We didn’t start out five years ago making FOURPLAY thinking this would be such a struggle.  I’ve always been interested and motivated to tell stories that challenge dominant frameworks of understanding.  It’s the old activist in me still rearing its authority challenging head, but I thought that our four tales, which were mostly comedies, would hit that sweet spot of entertaining subversion.  First word of warning:  be wary of thinking your milieu of friends is representative of the general public as a whole. 

Turns out, I live in a bit of a freak bubble.  Now, there’s nothing wrong in making your work for yourself and your friends, just try to be aware how large that base is and don’t fool yourself that everyone is going to love your gang-bang heretical bathroom farce (e.g. our Tampa segment) or your cross-dressing sex-worker meets quadriplegic man for spiritual union melodrama (e.g. our San Francisco segment).  I was very lucky to find grant money from the Austin Film Society, the wickedly funny producer Jason Wehling who likes doing things on the very cheap, and support from patron angel executive producers Michael Stipe and Jim McKay, who lent monetary and name support to the project via their C-Hundred Film Corp so we didn’t come off as complete yahoo wackos.  Second word of warning:  if you’re going to make a subversive work that will challenge the body politic and marketplace, make it on the cheap!  All of these factors, plus the extreme desire to never again dip into my credit cards to make films, lead us to keep the budget under six figures, which gave us the ability to be not too desperate and come up with alternate strategies when hit with the brick wall of distributors saying “no thank you.”

Well, we were a little desperate in the beginning or perhaps a little too “creative” in our distribution thinking.  There is a distributor out there who will go unnamed whose major selling point to filmmakers is a transparent “back-end” for their on-line sales of both DVDs and streaming content.  That means when someone buys your content, you instantly see the sale by logging into their producer portal.  We had the “clever” idea of releasing three of the four shorts that comprise FOURPLAY at both festivals and online as we finished them, with the idea being we’d make a little scratch along the way of production.

Production of the four shorts was strung out over the course of two years, basically whenever I had breaks from both teaching and editing, which I do also concurrent to directing to make a living because I don’t have a trust fund.  Third word of warning:  if you want to make subversive independent cinema in America have other skills that pay the bills or have a trust fund. No one that I know who is making this kind of work (and I know A LOT of filmmakers) is making a living exclusively from their directing projects.

Getting back to this unnamed distributor. After we finished the first short, our San Francisco sex-worker segment which premiered at Outfest in 2010, we signed up with this distributor and started streaming the segment.  It was gratifying to see the hundreds of sales rack up on their “open architecture” site, but it was frustrating and irritating beyond belief never to get a check from them.   One quarter, then two quarters went by with no payment.  Emails and letters were sent, never to be replied to on their part.  Finally, I had to get a lawyer friend involved, who luckily I met after making Room in 2005 and would only charge me poverty charity rates, but I still sunk around $500 that I didn’t have into legally harassing said distributor to get first payment and then rights back to the project when they never paid up and were flagrantly in breach of contract.  Fourth word to the wise:  have an entertainment lawyer friend!

Turns out, this distributor had not paid a lot of people. One filmmaker friend of mine literally had to march into their NYC offices and camp out in their lobby, refusing to leave until he got a check from them, or so the story goes.   Fifth word to the wise word:  always ask your filmmaker/producer friends for the straight dirt on a potential distributor before signing a deal.  I wish we had done more research before falling for their “because you see it on our site you’ll definitely get paid” baloney.  Digital transparency doesn’t equal material cash.

The second segment, our gang-bang farce in Tampa, hit the festival jackpot of premiering both at Cannes’ Directors’ Fortnight 2011 and Sundance 2012.  This raised the project’s artistic street cred, but … as our most explicit, outrageous and heretical segment, I think it scared off any distributor that might have been attracted by those festival laurels.  It has a lot of cock on display, fake prosthetic cock, but still enough showing to scare both the horses and the largest and most profitable online distributor of streaming content, who will also go unnamed.  Luckily we have a friend inside said organization who took a gander at the film and told us straight out “too much cock” so we didn’t waste time or money trying to alter the work or submit via an aggregator.

The final anthology feature with all four segments premiered at Frameline last summer, and again I threw a final curve ball to another potential type of distributor, those who specialize in LGBT content, by including a “straight sex” and a lesbian bestiality segment.  Granted, in the “straight” segment a couple conceives in a gay video porno arcade, and our bestial segment is more about sublimation than doing the nasty with doggie, but it didn’t help anyone narrow down who would be interested in our film.  It’s seems we had something to both interest … but also offend everyone.   So, another string of no thank you’s from everyone, and I mean everyone, as we played the festival circuit throughout the summer and fall in 2012.

FOURPLAY still

By early fall, I knew if anyone was going to want to see the film, we had to find a cheap way of getting some reviews and attention to back up our assertion that the work would gain enough publicity and digital markers to direct traffic to at least our own DIY efforts (e.g. making a self-produced DVD available off our site, streaming via Distrify, et al) … but just maybe one of those no’s would become a yes.  Going back to my activist days, I hired two former student interns to put together a database of every independent cinema in North America that had screened NC-17 content in the last few years.  We then sent out e-mails to around 300 theaters, followed up with phone calls, mailed press-kits/dvds to 100 theaters who expressed interest, and persistently bugged for over five months a narrow set who didn’t say no out-right to end up with the twelve who screened the film either as full week (e.g. Austin’s Alamo Drafthouse, Denver’s Sie Film Center), multi-night (e.g. Portland’s Clinton, Seattle’s NW Film Forum, Chicago’s Siskel) or one-off runs (e.g. LA’s Egyptian, NYC’s LGBT Center, Longbeach’s Art Cinema).  Since all prints were digital, I either delivered on Blu-Ray, DCP or QT file, all generously discounted by a very cheap institutional FedEx rate, one of the perks of academia.  Finally, my partner Carlos Treviño is not only the brilliant writer of three of the four shorts, but is also a talented graphic designer who designed not only our DVD case but also our web-site, based on a great (and highly discounted) poster designed by filmmaker/designer Yen Tan.  I’m also an editor by trade, so I designed the DVD.  Sixth word:  directors, have some skills and partner up with people with skills beyond directing! Doing everything in-house is A LOT cheaper than hiring a bunch of free-lancers.  In all, we spent around $15K to do our limited theatrical and first batch of 1,000 DVDs, which also includes the cost of me traveling for Q&A’s to all twelve venues.

One of the biggest line-items was hiring a real publicist for theatrical, Matt Johnstone, who also publicized the festival launch of both the San Francisco segment at Outfest, the Tampa segment at Sundance and the final feature at both Frameline and Outfest in 2012.  Matt was with the project for almost three years from that first festival launch and became quite invested in selling the project.  We wisely chose Austin, my former hometown, as the site to launch our theatrical tourSeventh word:  build from your base, which doesn’t have to be NYC or LA.  I got the idea from the way Rick Linklater built distribution for both Slacker and many years later Bernie.  By opening in Austin, we got both huge feature articles in both the daily and weekly, but also great reviews (not a guarantee, but I was thankful) and additional TV and radio interviews.  It was about as saturated of media coverage as we were ever going to get and it paid off not only with a modest box-office to help immediately repay some of the debt I had incurred, but also we instantly showed up on Rotten Tomatoes with two boffo reviews!

This is where persistence comes into play.  Everyone told us that doing theatrical was stupid for a no-budget sex-film, but in this day and age you still need reviews and digital ink from reputable sources to get anyone to want to see your film on whatever platform you end up on.  I couldn’t blow a lot of money on it though.  Filmmakers routinely spend $30- $50K hiring a booker, paying to four-wall and hiring a publicist for LA and NYC markets only for the privilege of reviews.   I did this in minor-markets for a third to a fifth of that cost to accumulate markers from decent sources, although not the NY Times, but there’s no guarantee the Times would’ve liked the film anyway.   These great reviews attracted the attention of a person in the DVD division of TLA Releasing, one of those distributors who said no last year, but because the film was proving itself in the market-place of ideas, now was interested in re-selling our DVD.  Because it cost them nothing to manufacture, and no advertising on their part, we were able to negotiate a decent straight up purchase of a sum of DVDs that instantly repaid me what I spent to manufacture the first 1000.  Up on their site, pre-sales were available before the end of our theatrical, so press attention continued to drive up sales, allowing us to sell them another batch of DVDs that now has put us into profit on the DVD before its official release date.  That certainly wasn’t the case for my first feature ROOM’s DVD deal.  Finally, I think it just made sense for TLA, one of the major distributors of LGBT content, that the film was getting spotlighted for it’s LGBT boundary pushing creds and whatever negatives there were with varied content wouldn’t undermine the major critical take-aways they could sell.

Finally, our publicist came up with the great idea of selling TLA on VOD rights also, since we were doing a press-release for the DVD launch and all traffic could be directed to one site.  Again, this was a win-win situation for the distributor, as it required almost no work on their part, guaranteed sales, and provided us with the legitimacy of having a one-stop-shop on a press-release so sales could be maximized through focusing on one link in reviews instead of confusing consumers by sending them to multiple platforms. The legitimization we earned through good press during our limited theatrical lead to confidence being built that there actually was an audience for our weirdo film and gave everyone publicity ammunition to prove this assertion.  No one was going to make this happen for us, we had to do this ourselves, and that’s my Final Word of Advice:  DIY is here to stay for independent filmmakers.

When I first got into Sundance and Cannes in 2005 with my feature Room, I thought I had “arrived” and that upon being purchased by an international sales agency the film would sell itself.  Although Celluloid Dreams poured a decent amount of money into sales, publicity and advertising to sell the film to various markets, the experience taught me that your job as a filmmaker is to CONSTANTLY sell your film once its made, no matter who picks it up or in what form for distribution.  Distribution and sales companies are like roulette tables.  They put down many chips on the table and if the ball lands on a number, all the other numbers lose, and the company will naturally follow a winner to the exclusion of all the “losers.”  You want your film to win by being seen and, ideally, also make back a bit of you and your investor’s money.  By keeping my production costs low, but producing my work with a combination of grants, crowd-source funding, and small investments from what I’d deem as “patron” investors who are far more interested in whatever “cause” my film is promoting than in returning a profit, I had the flexibility to be persistent.

That persistence was also fueled on the cheap, with: dogged interns who gained valuable insight into the distribution process while not breaking my bank; through a long six-month booking process that allowed said interns to work for cheap because it was only part time while they worked their real jobs to survive; through my academia network, which built relationships with presenting non-profits in every market to build audience and outreach for discussion on issues surrounding sexuality just like a doc filmmaker would organize; and through building long terms relationships with professionals who are also friends, like our publicist, our producers and my lawyer, who stick with me and the film on bargain rates because in some way they support me and the work as a team.

This has been the real hat trick, not only finding distribution and some sort of on-line home for an NC-17 equivalent film, but continuing to build long term relationships with other creatives who might be down for yet another subversive adventure when the next film inspiration strikes.

 

FOURPLAY is now available on DVD/VOD streaming from TLA here http://www.tlavideo.com/gay-fourplay/p-350944-2

FOURPLAY official web-site http://www.fourplayfilm.com/

Kyle Henry is a filmmaker, editor and educator.  His narrative feature Room debuted at Sundance and Cannes’ Directors’ Fortnight in 2005.  He is also the editor of the Emmy Award winning 2011 documentary Where Soldiers Come From, as well as this year’s SXSW premier doc Before You Know It.  He currently teaches film production at Northwestern University.

May 15th, 2013

Posted In: Digital Distribution, Distribution, DIY, Film Festivals, Marketing, Publicity, Theatrical

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By Bryan Glick

Just because you didn’t premiere at Sundance or Cannes doesn’t mean you’re out of luck. Though not living up to the sales quota of last year, there are two dozen premiere films from SXSW that have sold in the U.S. Here’s a wrap up of the film sales from SXSW.

Anchor Bay stuck with their niche and took North American rights to two midnight entries Girls Against Boys and The Aggression Scale, while Cinedigm (who recently acquired New Video) went for U.S. Rights to In Our Nature and the midnight audience award winner Citadel. Pre-fest buys include Crazy Eyes which went to Strand Releasing for the U.S.  and Blue Like Jazz courtesy of Roadside Attractions. Blue Like Jazz was promptly released and has since grossed close to $600,000 theatrically in North America.  Lionsgate is handling DVD, VOD, and TV through their output deal. Meanwhile Crazy Eyes just started its theatrical run on two screens pulling in a little under $5,000 in its first week.

Millennium Entertainment took the gross out comedy The Babymakers and yet another midnight film, The Tall Man was bought for the U.S. by Imagine.  If you’re a midnight film at SXSW, odds are things are looking up for you. The same could be said for The Narrative Spotlight section where two thirds of the films have since been acquired including The Do-Deca Pentathlon  taken by Red Flag Releasing and Fox Searchlight. Red Flag is handling the theatrical (The film grossed $10,000 in its opening weekend off of 8 screens) while Fox Searchlight will cover the other ancillary markets. The Narrative Spotlight Audience Award Winner, Fat Kid Rules the World was bought by Arc Entertainment for North America and Frankie Go Boom was the first film to reap the benefits of a partnership with Variance and Gravitas.  It will be released in the U.S. on VOD Platforms in September via Gravitas followed by a theatrical in October courtesy of Variance.

And though they did not premiere at SXSW, both Dreams of a Life and Electrick Children had their U.S. premieres at the festival and have since been bought.  U.S. rights to the documentary Dreams of a Life were acquired by Strand Releasing. Meanwhile, Electrick Children was snatched up for North America by Phase 4. Phase 4 also nabbed North American rights to See Girl Run.

Sony Pictures and Scott Rudin took remake rights to the crowd pleasing Brooklyn Castle while HBO acquired domestic TV rights to the doc The Central Park Effect.  Meanwhile, after showing their festival prowess with their success of last year’s breakout Weekend (which was sold by The Film Collaborative’s Co President, Orly Ravid), Sundance Selects proved they were not to be outdone and got the jury prize award winner Gimme The Loot for North and Latin America.  Fellow Narrative competition entry Gayby sold its U.S. rights to Wolfe Releasing, a low 6-figure deal. That deal was also negotiated by TFC’s Orly Ravid. And not to be outdone, competition entry, Starlet rounds out the Narrative Competition films to sell.  It was acquired for North America by Music Box Films.

S2BN Films’ Big Easy Express became the first feature film to launch globally on iTunes. It will be released in a DVD/Blu-Ray Combo pack on July 24th by Alliance Entertainment followed by a more traditional VOD/Theatrical rollout later this year.

Other key deals include Oscilloscope Laboratories acquiring North American Rights to Tchoupitoulas, Snag Films going for the US Rights of Decoding Deepak, Image Entertainment’s One Vision Entertainment Label aiming for a touchdown with  the North American rights to The Last Fall and Factory 25 partnering with Oscilloscope Labs for worldwide rights to Pavilion.

Final Thoughts:  Thus far less than one third of the films to premiere at SXSW have been acquired for some form of domestic distribution. While that may seem bleak, it is a far better track record than from most festivals.  In The U.S., SXSW is really second to only Sundance in getting your film out to the general public. The festival also takes a lot of music themed films and more experimental projects with each theme getting its own designated programming section at the festival. Those films were naturally far less likely to sell. The power players this year were certainly Anchor Bay and Cinedigm each taking multiple films that garnered press and/or have significant star power. Other companies with a strong presence and also securing multiple deals were Strand Releasing and Oscilloscope.  Notably absent though is Mark Cuban’s own Magnolia Pictures and IFC (Though their sister division Sundance Selects made a prime acquisition). Magnolia did screen Marley at the festival, but the title was acquired out of Berlin, and IFC bought Sleepwalk With Me at its Sundance premiere.

While it is great that these films will be released, it also worth mentioning what is clearly missing from this post. There is almost no mention of how much these films were acquired for. The fact is films at SXSW don’t sell for what films at Sundance do and it is safe to assume that the majority of these deals were less than six figures with almost nothing or nothing at all getting a seven figure deal.

As for the sales agents, Ben Weiss of Paradigm and Josh Braun of Submarine were working overtime, with each negotiating multiple deals.

SUNDANCE UPDATE: Since the last Sundance post, there have been two more films acquired for distribution. Both films premiered in the World Documentary Competition. The Ambassador negotiated successfully with Drafthouse Films who acquired U.S. rights for the film which will premiere on VOD August 4th followed by a small theatrical starting August 29th.  Also finding a home was A Law in These Parts which won the jury prize at this year’s festival.  Cinema Guild will be releasing the film in theaters in the U.S. starting on November 14th. 75% of the films in the World Documentary Competition now have some form of distribution in the US.

A full list of SXSW Sales deals from SXSW is listed below. Box office grosses and release dates are current as of July 12th.

Film COMPANY TERRITORIES SALES COMPANY Box Office/
Release
See Girl Run Phase 4 North America Katharyn Howe and Visit Films
Starlet Music Box Films North America Submarine
The Babymakers Millenium US John Sloss and Kavanaugh-Jones Theatrical Aug 3rd
DVD Sept 10th
Citadel Cinedigm US XYZ Films and
UTA Independent Film Group.
The Aggression Scale Anchor Bay North America Blu-ray/dvd Epic Pictures Group
Girls Against Boys Anchor Bay North America Paradigm
Tchoupitoulas Oscilloscope North America George Rush
Gimme The Loot Sundance Selects North and Latin America Submarine Entertainment
The Tall Man Image Entertainment US CAA and  Loeb & Loeb August 31st
Elektrick Children Phase 4 North America Katharyn Howe and Paradigm
Blue Like Jazz Roadside US The Panda Fund $595,018
Crazy Eyes Strand US Irwin Rappaport $4,305
In Our Nature Cinedigm US Rights Preferred Content
Brooklyn Castle Sony Pictures Remake Rights Cinetic Media
Scott Rudin
The Central Park Effect HBO US TV Submarine Entertainment
Gayby Wolfe US The Film Collaborative
The Do Decca Pentathlon Fox Searchlight North America Submarine Entertainment $10,000
Red Flag Releasing
Fat Kids Rules The World Arc Entertainment North America Paradigm
Decoding Deepak Snag Films US N/A October
Big Easy Express Alliance Entertainmnet Worldwide DVD/VOD Paradigm and S2BN July 24th DVD/Blu-Ray
Big Easy Express S2bn Worldwide Itunes Paradigm and S2BN Available Now
The Last Fall Image Entertainment North America N/A
Pavillion Factory 25 Worldwide N/A Jan
Oscilloscope Labs
Frankie Go Boom Gravitas US Rights Reder & Feig and Elsa Ramo VOD Sept
 Variance Theatrical Oct
Dreams of a Life Strand releasing US Rights eone films international Aug 3rd

 

July 18th, 2012

Posted In: Distribution, Film Festivals, Theatrical

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We all struggle with this, filmmakers, distributors alike.  I remember giving a presentation to distributors about digital distribution and theatrical came up. I talked about the weirdness of showing a film 5 or 6 times a day to an almost always-empty house save a couple showings. This makes no sense for most films.   When I released Baise Moi in 2000, we broke the boxoffice records at the time, and the “raincoat crowd” did show up at the oddest morning hours, but that is the exception, not the rule.  Not every film has an 8-minute rape scene that just must be seen by post-punk-feminists and pornography-lovers alike. It’s an odd set-up for smaller films and it’s not the only means to the end we are looking for.

Recently, The Film Collaborative released Eyes Wide Open in NYC, LA, Palm Beach and Palm Springs. We have a little over $10,000 (all in it will be about $12,000 tops).  We have made our money back and the great reviews and extra marketing / visibility will drive ancillary sales but we also did not invest or risk too much as you can see. That is a great formula (one that small, disciplined and seasoned distributors such as First Run Features, Strand, Zeitgeist, employ) but it is not viable for all films. First of all we have an “A” list festival film (Cannes & TIFF & LAFF) and second it caters to two or three niches (gay and Jewish/Israeli) though one can argue that the niches also slightly cancel each other out to some extent, the film did well so obviously the campaign worked.

But there are many films for which that strategy would not work. Either theaters could not be booked, or reviews would not always be great, and / or the film would simply not galvanize a theatrical audience. Plus, once you start adding up 4-Wall fees, the bottom line leans more likely to be shades of red. The Quad Cinema sent an E-blast promoting its 4-Wall program. It was a good sales pitch and I am not going into it all here, but the take home is that you’re more likely to get a broader theatrical, and/or a distribution deal, and/or picked up by Netflix and other digital platforms if you open theatrically in New York.  I would argue that is true to some extent but also VERY MUCH dependent on the FILM itself and there should still be a cost-analysis and overall strategy consideration before one pays the Quad for their services and hopes for the best.  Here is a link to the info and we are happy to email the blast to any who request it www.quadcinema4wall.com . It should also be noted that generally speaking, The New York Times does not consider your film among “All the News That is Fit to Print” unless it’s opening wider than just New York.

So how to decide?  Companies such as Oscilloscope are all about theatrical, but they pick their films carefully and my guess is Adam Yauch can afford to lose money too if it comes to that. Home Video companies such as New Video, and Phase4 are doing some theatrical, but on an as-needed basis and yes, to service the ancillary rights, but that’s a very experienced analysis on their part.  When we posted on Twitter about the Cable Operators warning they will start requiring a ten (10) city theatrical, all at once, believe me, if everyone blindly follows suit, the bar will get raised even higher right until we all go broke. The point is to mitigate the glut and distinguish films in the marketplace not get us all to be lemmings and empty our bank accounts.  There is math to be done and I know it’s hard without all the back-end numbers at your disposal, but they are coming. We will publish case studies of all our films and we encourage you to get down to the detailed back-end numbers analysis before spending more on the front end and often gratuitously.

We have experienced and heard about the impact a filmmaker can have in his or her city when working the film and then really impacting the gross and that is inspiring, but usually not long-lasting because it takes a lot to get people to pay to see your film in a theater when there are so many other films and so many more marketing dollars behind them.  And what’s in it for you? The only reviews that matter are the big ones and we all know what they are… and remember what we said above about The New York Times.

The general perception of indie film releases is interesting. Most don’t take into account the money that is spent to get the “gross”.  More of the time the distributor (or whomever booked the film) gets less than half of the box office revenues. Sometimes as little as 25% – 30% though of course sometimes more.  And there are the expenses.  The Kids Are Alright may not even be in the black right now, but you’d never know that reading certain coverage. I love Exit Through A Gift Shop and actually flagged that release as a stellar release and then I learned that the marketing spend was actually a lot more than I realized such that the spend may be up to a million dollars. I don’t actually know, and not sure anyone will tell me. I do know that the bottom line for many of The Weinstein releases was reported to be in the red because of spending. If you have a film that can sell a lot of units and especially in an evergreen manner, and if you can trigger a great TV sale and if you have foreign sales legs, then there’s a real upside. If you don’t, then be clear what you’re goals are. Sometimes it’s just a career move and that makes sense. Canadian filmmakers need a theatrical release to get their next projects funded (say that like this: ‘pro-jects’). Sometimes people just want the awards qualification and that’s another ballgame.

We have written some of our TFC Distribution Tid Bits about Hybrid Theatrical and Marketing options, but here is a bit more on the topic:

If creating buzz is what you want, you don’t need a traditional theatrical and you definitely don’t need to overpay for the privilege.

Some OPTIONS – try HYBRID THEATRICAL – do FILM FESTIVAL, CREATE EVENTS, HOLD  A SCREENING WITH ORGANIZATIONS, show in MUSEUMS (in some cases), other ALTERNATIVE VENUES depending on the film, and also there are all sorts of ways to book a few days here and a few days there at theaters (we cover that below).   Theaters are and will continue to do this more and more. AMCi announced their intentions and they are still in the marinating phase, but we know you’ll all be ready when they are.

We’re interested in these companies and services:

  1. Cinedigm:  They have a program in the works that is meant to be similar to ScreenVision and Fathom (which is no longer handling indie films generally speaking, as far as we know) but aimed at independent cinema, and working with all the big theatre chains (Regal, AMC, Cinemark).  I asked them to write a few words for me about themselves and their plans: Cinedigm Entertainment, a theatrical distributor, has built several “channels” of content for movie theatres.  This is niche content that plays at what is traditionally slower times for the theatres.  Examples are; Kidtoons a monthly matinee program; Live 3D sports, like the World Cup and NCAA Final Four basketball; and 3D and 2D concert films with artists from Dave Mathews to Beyonce.  For each “channel,” the most appropriate theatres are chosen and theatres sign on to play the content as a series, thereby creating the expectation in the marketplace for the next installment.  In the company’s newest “channel,” it looks to apply the concept to indie-films which will provide filmmakers with the theatrical element for distribution.
  2. Emerging Pictures:  Owned by Ira Deutchman (now also a Film Prof. at Columbia University). I spoke with Joshua Green, whom I have known for a while and booked with, though no real revenues were made in the past, their latest network of theatres sounds potent.  They connect up to 75 theatres and they do very well with Opera, Ballet and Shakespeare, but also indie films.  They work with all the usual indie film distributors either taking on 2nd run of films in major markets or handing the first run in secondary markets.  On screen now for example is Mother & Child, My Name is Love, and Girl with a Dragon Tattoo.  30% of the Gross is paid to the distributor or filmmaker.  They charge usually a 1-time encoding fee to get the files needed for the theatres. The fee is $1,000. If that’s an issue that can sometimes in advance to make sure the bookings will happen to make the fee worthwhile.  They create a Hi Rez file 720p VC1 file which is a professional HD version of MS Windows. They work with the Laemmle theatres in LA and Sympany Space in NY and lots of others across the country. What does well on the Art House circuit will do well with them I was told. Makes sense.
  3. Variance Films: Dylan Marchetti (former exec at Imaginasian and Think Film) is a firm believer in Theatrical and it’s his business.  He may promote its necessities a bit more than I will and its not his money to spend and he was honest about the range of success (meaning not all films work theatrically and sometimes money is lost, and we know of at least one example, but it happens).  We spoke for the first time and I was comforted by his grassroots approach (they do that work themselves) and his commitment to alternative low cost venues: event screenings, niche-specific / lifestyle specific venues, as well as traditional theatres (all the usual chains and small theatres etc).  He noted that generally speaking, they do not charge more than $50,000 and that they get paid via back-end fees only. He said a release in NY and LA for $20,000 can be done. Variance is not a believer in print advertising; they have to believe in the film to take it on; and Dylan said that there is no correlation between P&A spending and a film’s success. Amen. They don’t do PR but rather refer out to outside agencies, as does The Film Collaborative. NB: Dylan Marchetti of Variance makes a correction to this. “Fees vary wildly depending on the film and release”. So sometimes they can do backend tied fees only, but not always.

The Film Collaborative is theatrically releasing UNDERTOW (which won the World Cinema Audience Award at Sundance). Stay tuned.

July 28th, 2010

Posted In: Film Festivals, Marketing, Theatrical, Uncategorized

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The quick answer is YES….well, maybe. It depends how sought after your film is, and who is representing your film. If you have a world premiere at one of the top film festivals like Sundance or Cannes or a handful of others, then Festival programmers will request to see your film.

The general rule is if a programmer REQUESTS to see your film and then accepts the film, you can ask for a rental fee (usually between $500 and $1,000 is a good place to start). If you SUBMIT to a Festival, then generally they will not pay you. However, if you are represented by a distributor or a producer’s rep, they may have more negotiating power and be better able to get you a screening fee. ALSO….niche festivals such as Latino Fests, Jewish Fests, LGBT Fests, Asian fests etc. are much MORE likely to pay you fees to screen your film, because there is less product for them to choose from, so they are more likely to NEED your film in their Festival.

July 19th, 2010

Posted In: Film Festivals

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