As part of TFC’s ongoing mission to help filmmakers find the right audience and the right distribution strategy for their specfic project, this month, we sat down with Scilla Andreen, CEO & Co-Founder of INDIEFLIX to talk about the service, what’s new, and what’s ahead.

1) How does IndieFlix work? Would you consider it a service or a platform?

Variety calls IndieFlix the Netflix of independent film. Based in Seattle and founded by filmmakers, Carlo Scandiuzzi and Scilla Andreen, IndieFlix launched with 36 titles as a DVD on-demand service in October 2005. In 2013 the model evolved into a subscription based streaming service for movie enthusiasts. IndieFlix helps you find great independent films from around the world and makes them available for $5 per month. We like to think that we entertain and enrich people’s lives by connecting them to more than 8,000 films selected from over 2500 film festivals and 85 countries. Our library includes shorts, features, documentaries and web-series. We have worldwide rights to over 85% or our library so members can watch our films from anywhere in the world on a variety of platforms including Amazon’s Fire TV, Kindle Fire, Xbox 360, Sony, Apple’s iPad, iPhone and Roku—basically any internet connected device.

2) Why should filmmakers work with IndieFlix?

If there is anything we have learned it’s that teamwork and transparency are essential to the future of independent film. Distribution costs a lot of money, and studios spare no expense with their blockbusters. But because of this the filmmaker is often the last person to ever get paid and they have no idea who their audience is or where they originate. We have created a model of efficiency, transparency and data that literally turns the old model of distribution on its head with our unique royalty payment system called (RPM) Royalty Pool Minutes model. In this model, filmmakers are paid for every minute their film is watched. We are currently building out the filmmaker dashboard to include analytics, and data on where the audience lives and on what device (such as Roku, Xbox, iOS etc.) they watch the film on. We will also be adding data on the point in the film at which a user exits a film. This is possible of course because technology allows filmmakers to be their own gatekeepers. My job is to grow the subscriber base and curate a library with a user experience that makes finding films to watch not only fun and entertaining but also meaningful. I want our audience to love finding and watching films on IndieFlix because the more they watch the more the filmmaker gets paid.

3) What are some of your favorite creative marketing solutions and/or partnerships that you have high expectations of?

Our most successful campaigns are with our device partners Roku and FireTV. We haven’t yet done a campaign with the others. As far as creative campaigns, we have no shortage, but those are more brand awareness campaigns like the time we had biking billboards ride up and down Main Street in Park city during the Sundance Film Festival. We were giving away cold hard cash to demonstrate to people what IndieFlix does…We pay filmmakers that’s why we created the company.

Another favorite campaign was handing out printed matches that said, “Strike a Revolution: IndieFlix is the perfect match.” I handed those out at the Cannes film Festival and actually met one of my investors there…Talk about a good match.

We also really enjoy marketing campaigns that we do with the filmmakers. When the filmmaker participates and we market together there is always a great return. Like our collaboration with filmmaker Kurt Kuenne. We met Kurt through Oscilloscope. We now offer three of his films on IndieFlix including: Dear Zachary, The Legend of Dear Zachary: A Journey to Change Law and Drive-In Movie Memories. We will also be releasing a rare black and white director’s cut of his film Shuffle in coming months. We will be highlighting his work through an exclusive branded director’s channel and an interview we conducted with him about the process of making Dear Zachary.

Of course Chris Temple and Zach Ingrasci the directors of Living on One Dollar, Lauren Paul and Molly Thompson of Finding Kind and Sarah Moshman and Dana Michele Cook of The Empowerment Project: Ordinary Women Doing Extraordinary Things are all exemplary filmmakers of the new order. They have mastered the art of making great movies and marketing their story globally.

4) Can you share any data? Revenues? Users? Number of films you have?

We are a privately held company and do not typically share numbers. However I am excited to say that we currently have low six figures of total users, and our library has grown to 8000 titles. A large portion of those titles we have worldwide rights.

It is exciting to have a growing user base but it is important to us that these users are watching. We want filmmakers to look at their dashboard and see their films being watched and minutes tallying up.

indieflix-film-library

5) Any success stories? And can you share details?

To be honest our greatest success stories started with the films in the IndieFlix Distribution Lab where we put the entire weight of the company behind these films to market them in schools and communities off-line as well as strategic windows online. Of course IndieFlix is the first window and then we roll out onto iTunes, Comcast and Netflix.

We’ve also found great success with short films. The Indieflix “QuickPick” allows users to sample movies as they would music. You can sort through shorts based on running time, genre and rating. It’s a quick and easy way to sample movies.

Films about zombies, include nudity, tattooing, and music docs also do very well on IndieFlix. Social justice films are equally successful.

I’ll leave you with a quick story about a German filmmaker that had a hard time finding broad distribution due to some of the challenging nature of his film and the title. We picked up the movie changed the title (with his permission) and the film is now thriving.

6) What type of content is and is not a good fit for IndieFlix?

We have learned that our audience is really a lifestyle connoisseur. They enjoy wine, art, books and travel. They like to discover and they care about how they spend their time and money. We have found that content that is entertaining high production value and covers a wide variety of topics here in the US and abroad including fashion, art and music is very popular. In the same breath I will add that zombies, horror, mystery and documentaries are very popular. And just like in Hollywood comedies are always a favorite.

What I have learned is that marketing content gets watched. The best movie can sit in our library but if we don’t bring it to the users attention no one will watch it no matter how good it is. I guess to answer the question the best movies are the ones that start great conversations and people feel compelled to write a review, leave a comment and share it.

7) What are common misconceptions about IndieFlix?

The most common misconception is that Indieflix will take anything. It’s true that when we first started the company back in 2005 our policy was if you had played at a film festival you could submit and be accepted at IndieFlix. We quickly learned that the film festivals are not the most reliable way to curate content. We started our own curation process, which has evolved over time. We now accept 5-10% of all submissions.

8) What are some key selling points?

There are many selling points to being on IndieFlix.com, but here are a few:

  • Zero fees
  • Quick Turn Around
  • Global Reach (with the ability to geo-block)
  • Exceptional Customer Service
  • A hungry audience

9) What’s the future of IndieFlix?

Part of what makes the entertainment industry so exciting right now is that the future is unknown and everything is moving very fast. The digital landscape is ever-evolving and we are always looking for what works best for our filmmakers to generate meaningful revenue. We balance this with providing our subscribers with an exceptional catalog of films they may not have access to elsewhere. IndieFlix has survived 3 technologies and remained a thriving player in the marketplace. We are bold in that we know who we are and who we want to be, and we are confident in evolving our focus and approach with the changing marketplace. At the end of the day, we want to be a household name, we have an excellent product in our catalog and we want to share our passion for it with the world.

10) Feel free to share any other predictions, analysis, data, and/or case studies or anecdotes. If you want to share about capital you have raised etc.

I’m just now starting a capital raise for IndieFlix. We have boot strapped for years. We have an amazing team of 21 people who are incredibly dedicated to the filmmakers, the audience, the film festivals and the entire industry.

I’m clear on what I want to build and I know exactly how I’m going to spend the money. There has never been a more exciting time to be a filmmaker. I am excited. We are looking forward to being a true change agent in our industry.

For more information, check out the website or follow them on Twitter: @indieflix and @indieflixCEO.

April 8th, 2015

Posted In: Distribution

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The deals were flying fast and furious at Sundance with no fewer than 19 films getting bought for seven figures. Though those deals were far from being distributed evenly. 7 came from the US Dramatic section and 9 from the Premiere section.

So why I am not ready to pull out the champagne just yet?

While certainly low budget films like “Dope”, “The Witch”, and “Tangerine” were profitable, even with $1-2M deals, many of these films will be losing out. Worse, because these are often all-rights deals (for the narrative films at least), it is unlikely they will see anything beyond the MG.

Similarly, on the distributor side, there were more films that sold for seven figures this year than generated over $500K in theatrical revenue from last year’s Sundance. Of course, digital has to be factored in, but it does seem to suggest many distributors are likely to regret their spending spree in the coming months.

Currently, I can confirm deals for 58 of the 117 premieres in the festival. Here’s how they break down by section:

US DRAMATIC (10/16)
US DOCUMENTARY (11/16)
WORLD DOCUMENTARY (5/12)
WORLD DRAMATIC (3/12)
NEXT (1/10)
PREMIERE (13/18)
DOC PREMIERE (7/13)
MIDNIGHT (5/8)
NEW FRONTIER (1/6)
KIDS (0/3)
SPECIAL EVENT (3/4)

So who are the winners and losers in this? Let’s start with the sales agents.

WME is by far the biggest victor of the bunch. Their sales deals generated over $30M in MG’s. I am sure there are bonuses to be paid out. Though they still have not sold all of their lineup.

ICM, UTA, and CAA all generated over $10M in deals but still have a large chunk of their slate yet to get bought. It is also worth noting that CAA is behind the two biggest deals at EFM that combined to be worth more than $10M.

In the middle of the pack is Submarine. While they sold their narrative film and generated the three biggest doc deals, the majority of the US docs yet to be bought are also Submarine titles. Personally, I have a hunch this has more to do with them having too many films and too high an asking price than anything else.

Cinetic, meanwhile clearly has some explaining to do. While none of the independent sales agents can claim a seven figure deal on their own, most can at least say about half their product has been bought. Cinetic left with not even 1/3 of their films announcing deals. It is safe to assume that even with a dozen films combined this was far from a profitable festival for them.

The Films

Some none star driven fare generated bigger buys including “Dope”, “The Witch”, “The Hallow”, and “Tangerine”. “The Witch” and “The Hallow” were also seven figure US rights only deals which means there should be quite a bit more to come for these two genre pics. On the documentary side “Best of Enemies” and “The Wolfpack” both sold to Magnolia for high six figures.

While most docs still opted for a piecemeal distribution strategy there were two that went for the ease of an all rights deal. “Racing Extinction” basically sold off worldwide TV to Discover Network and “Hot Girls Wanted” opted for Netflix. Frequently we are seeing more and more docs focus on TV and with small Oscar qualifying runs being provided. While theatrical releasing for docs is getting harder and the audience for TV/Netflix growing this makes sense. Almost half of the doc deals are specifically geared towards TV in a trend I don’t see letting up anytime soon.

Meanwhile on the narrative side films like The D Train ($3M) and “The End of the Tour” ($1-2M) saw major deals, they likely still are not profitable. Talent like Jack Black and Jesse Eisenberg are unlikely to have worked for scale. In most cases I cannot verify budgets but from prior experiences can make informed guesses. For example, there is a film that has yet to be bought from Sundance 2015 that has an eight figure budget. It would have to generate a festival record to be profitable. At this point it’s simply not possible and there is no doubt that investors will lose millions.

Distributors

There is no way of covering these deals without addressing the new (or reenergized) players in the room. Alchemy (formerly Millennium) spent big for “Strangerland” and “Zipper” with each costing them between $1-2 Mil. Reviews were mixed on the titles but with stars like Nicole Kidman and Patrick Wilson they are likely pushing for digital $.

Bleeker Street took “I’ll See You in my Dreams” starring Blythe Danner and managed to keep the acquisitions price under $1M.

And Broad Green Pictures snagged the Robert Redford starrer “A Walk in the Woods” for high seven figures. At this point none of the companies have yet to release a film. History suggests there could be trouble for the filmmakers (just look at the tragic situation that was “Gun Hill Road”).

While these new distributors ultimately left with mid-level product, what they managed to do was drive up the price of the most desired fare. In this arena it was the seasoned players and semi-new all-stars that was against dominated the field. A24 spent about $5M combined for “The End of the Tour”, “The Witch”, “Mississippi Grind”, and “Slow West”.

Far and away the bidding champ though was Fox Searchlight. With over $20M combined for Audience/grand jury winner “Me And Earl And the Dying Girl,” “Brooklyn,” “True Story,” and “Mistress America.” Obviously Fox Searchlight badly needed titles, the real question is how much they overpaid and what will ultimately recoup?

What is interesting is two different films opted to turn down higher up front deals. “The Bronze” rejected a $5M offer from Netflix to go with a $3M deal from Relativity. And “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” saw its bidding war go into 8 figures but went for a participatory arrangement that could see them make millions more if it’s a success. It came with a base MG of $4.7M.

Waiting in the Wings

There will continue you to be a large number of deals announced all the way through SXSW. Distributors that have yet to strike include Strand Releasing, Drafthouse Films, CNN Films, Amazon, Bond/360, Amplify, Radius-TWC etc.

I fully expect ¾ + of the Sundance lineup to have some form of US distribution by mid-March. While there have been some big deals at EFM it is much harder to say if the high prices will continue for SXSW and Tribeca. I maintain (especially in the documentary and horror space) that patience can be a virtue. In fact TFC has frequently seen our biggest bookers came from one of the Sundance backups (“Weekend”, “I Am Divine”, “Regarding Susan Sontag”, etc).

So what about the films that haven’t sold yet? On the narrative side they appear to be in two camps. Star driven but with difficult subject matter (“Stockholm, Pennsylvania”) or no names at all. In fact at this point only one film in the entire Next section has distribution. This despite the solid success of “Obvious Child” and “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night” last year.

Meanwhile, there were big deals aplenty to be had. More intellectual films (“The Stanford Prison Experiment”, “Advantageous”, “Experimenter”) are all still looking for buyers. The films that sold big are either thought to have crossover appeal or high digital $ potential. All of the above mentioned films yet to be bought are certainly set to be money losers. The question is, how much? And if it would be beneficial to pursue some form of DIY distribution.

There is also a widening divide between what wins and what gets bought. ½ of the award winners still lack distribution deals. With 5-7 films in each category getting something there is minimal value to a prize unless it is the Audience or Grand Jury Award. Even then, we’ve seen that for the World Dramatic section they help with festival bookings but rarely in the theatrical space.

This brings me to my final point. All is not lost for the films that have yet to be bought. Some of the bigger deals this year went to LGBT themed films like “Grandma” and “The D Train”. Their distributors will almost certainly pull the films from the fest circuit making titles like “Take Me to The River”, “Tig”, and “The Summer of Sangaille” far more popular on the quite vast LGBT festival circuit.

There is space for all the films in the festival to find an audience. The more big players pursue wider releases, the easier it is for these smaller titles to maximize revenue through ancillaries like festivals and special screenings. Of course for star driven fare that fails to get bought this may seem quite disappointing, but I’d rather make $50K from festivals than not exploit the revenue source at all.

Below are the list of all the films with distributors. Highlighted films were bought before the festival announced their lineup and cannot be considered festival acquisitions.

Sundance Films with Distribution

  • A24: The End of the Tour, The Witch, Mississippi Grind, Slow West
  • Alchemy: Strangerland, Zipper
  • Bleeker Street: I’ll See You In My Dreams
  • Broad Green: A Walk in the Woods
  • Discover Channel: Racing Extinction
  • Film Arcade: Unexpected
  • Focus: Cop Car
  • Fox Searchlight: Mistress America, Me, Earl And The Dying Girl, Brooklyn, True Story
  • Gravitas Ventures: Being Evel
  • HBO: 3 1/2 Minutes, How To Dance in Ohio, Larry Kramer in Love and Anger, Going Clear, The Jinx, Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck
  • IFC Films, IFC Midnight and Sundance Selects: The D Train, Sleeping With Other People, Reversal, The Hallow, City of Gold
  • Kino Lorber: The Forbidden Room
  • Lionsgate: Don Verdean, Knock Knock
  • Magnolia: Results, Tangerine, Best of Enemies, The Wolfpack
  • Netflix: Hot Girls Wanted, What Happened Miss Simone?
  • Open Road: Dope
  • Orchard: The Overnight, Digging for Fire, Finders Keepers, Cartel Land
  • Oscilloscope: The Second Mother
  • Radius-TWC : The Hunting Ground (CNN has TV), It Follows
  • Relativity: The Bronze
  • Relativity Sports: In Football We Trust
  • Samuel Goldwyn Films: Fresh Dressed (with StyleHaul; CNN has TV)
  • Screen Media Films: Ten Thousand Saints
  • Showtime: Dreamcatcher, Listen to Me Marlon, Prophet’s Prey
  • Sony Pictures Classics: The Diary of a Teenage Girl, Grandma, Dark Horse
  • Tribeca Film: Misery Loves Comedy
  • Vimeo: Going Clear (Exclusive digital after HBO window expires).

Orly chimes in with her 2¢:

I ask myself what does this mean? Is it irrational exuberance? Or rather, will this trigger such a continued reaction? It’s not as if digital distribution creates audiences that did not exist before. As always, there are new players in the market, which always drives a market because everyone needs “product” or else they have to close their doors. That’s the neat and scary thing about film—it’s sexy and people with money are always attracted to it, even if more often than not, on a per film basis more is spent than earned (A-list talent vehicles, tentpoles, and certain genre blockbusters excluded). It’s always great for the directors whose careers may be made. Hopefully enough money trickles back to producers and investors—and that’s what we will aim to track going forward, doing our best to estimate spending and suss out from filmmakers if they made their money back from MGs and royalties, etc. We encourage you to share so that when filmmakers approach us asking what budget ranges they should be constrained by if they want to recoup, we can better assist then to determine that. Knowledge is power people, so please don’t hold back, even if anonymously. And for all those filmmakers who did not close distribution deals, don’t worry, there’s nothing they distributors can do that you cannot do, if you have the money and the time.

February 13th, 2015

Posted In: Distribution

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New services and new thinking finally are starting to take hold at major festivals and in the independent film world in general. Productions that can bring donation money, matching funds and/or strong promotional partners to the negotiating table have an advantage when it comes to landing significant distribution.

-At Sundance, the BFI offered up to $51k in matching funds to help market the US distribution of their 3 funded films in the festival.

-At Toronto (TIFF), Vimeo offered a $10k advance for world premiere films that gave them a 30 day exclusive streaming VOD window. 13 films accepted the offer and have started to  premiere on the service.

Linsanity, Big Joy: The Adventures of James Broughton, Love and Air Sex (AKA The Bounceback), Before You Know It, Citizen Koch have all raised distribution funds on Kickstarter and are using those funds for risk free theatrical releases.

While sales deals lagged at Sundance this year, all 3 BFI funded films secured distribution. Those films are the only World Dramatic and World Doc titles that have sold since the festival. The clear advantage of offering marketing dollars coupled with the ease of selling English dialogue to an American cinema audience attracted 3 smaller distributors to make early buys they may not have otherwise and guaranteed US distribution for films that may not have found it. It’s hard to argue with free marketing money and support from the country of origin. Though $51k is unlikely to make much of a difference to sway a major studio interested in wide release films,  DISTRIBUTION INCENTIVES certainly won’t hurt the chances of a deal because everybody wins in that scenario.

Also coming out of Sundance, Strand Releasing snagged Lilting, the newly formed Amplify made their first acquisition ever with God Help the Girl and Drafthouse Films caved in to 20,000 Days on Earth.  Let’s take a closer look at these three distributors.

Strand Releasing put 11 films into theaters last year and only 1 grossed over $50k.

Amplify is new to the game, but not really. Variance has been putting DIY/service releases into theaters for a while. Half their films last year grossed under $60k.

Drafthouse Films released 6 movies last year. Of those, 2/3 did not gross over $50k

photo credit Flickr Stock Monkeys

photo credit Flickr Stock Monkeys

Obviously, some of the films make much more in the digital marketplace after their theatrical release (or in some of these cases, during the release as many are day and date), but the point can’t be lost. Incentives really do attract distribution attention. They are like coupons for distributors and help to reduce risk.

I can bet you right now that there are dozens of filmmakers who are kicking themselves for turning down Vimeo’s offer at TIFF. Especially since the offer didn’t interfere with distribution offers for a film like Cinemanovels, that made an agreement for a traditional US distribution deal on top of their $10k advance from Vimeo.

Looking at the filmmakers who have used Kickstarter to secure funds for distribution, there is a wide range in how the films performed and a few have yet to be released, but they effectively created a risk free theatrical model. Their distribution funding was donated, there is no investor to repay so they can keep the revenue. I feel comfortable saying that in almost every case, each film will make more money than they would have in a traditional theatrical distribution arrangement. Very smart!

As I get ready for the “spam on steroids” that is SXSW, I encourage filmmakers to think of what they can offer that will make their films an attractive buy. There are so many events and screenings at any given time, it’s impossible for an organization like ours to cover them all, but if I know a film has incentives in place, it makes a huge difference when I prioritize my schedule. The film market is no different than any other business. Your film is a commodity and making a good product isn’t enough. You have to come to the table with something else to offer. Don’t wait until it’s too late. Don’t risk having a premiere with no incentives in place.  Strategize now! Get partners on board, build relationships with an audience, raise extra funding through crowdfunding (this brings money AND an audience to the table) and show you know the market for and business of your art.

February 26th, 2014

Posted In: crowdfunding, Distribution, Film Festivals, Theatrical, Vimeo

Tags: , , , , , ,

TIFF IS HERE! Let the craziness (And the Jewish new year) begin! I figured I would split this into the good and bad from how films performed at last year’s fests.  If you’re playing in the Contemporary World Cinema or Discovery section you might want to run to Vimeo ASAP, but more on that later. Let’s get the ball rolling, shall we?

Bell Lightbox

Five positives to highlight from last year

  1. Midnight Madness Acquisitions
    • Every film in the Midnight Madness section was acquired for domestic distribution and many (Lords of Salem, Aftershock) were for seven figure deals. The simple fact is that the horror audience is incredibly loyal. It is arguably the most loyal and consistent substantial audience that exists. It’s also often critic-proof, which is not the case for a downbeat drama.
  2. Black and White Film
    • Frances Ha and Much Ado About Nothing were both arguably risky ventures despite the notoriety of people behind and in front of the lens. Both films were shot in black and white and rely on indie celebrity status for marketing. That said, each has grossed over $4,000,000 at the domestic box office. Frances Ha is IFC’s highest grossing film this year and Much Ado About Nothing is Roadside’s best box office performer from their long list of acquisitions at last year’s festival.
  3. Best Performers
    • A number of smaller specialty distributors had their highest grossing US films to date come from 2012 festival acquisitions. Many of these films would not scream top box office though. One is arguably a massive disappointment.
      • Cinema Guild took Museum Hours which has since grossed over $300,000. The film has been nothing if not a marvel, having passed the $200,000 mark before even opening in LA. For a company known for challenging foreign fare and documentaries, this film is no exception, but has clearly connected with audiences.
      • Well Go USA took some action from abroad to the tune of just under $700k in the US via The Thieves. For a company based in Plano, TX that has to be a record.
      • Drafthouse Films did so well with the documentary Act of Killing that TIFF is giving them a panel to explain their distribution strategy. HINT…GO…Tim League is one of the most entertaining people you will hear speak in any capacity. He is also usually quite candid and unpredictable. This film looks to top out at just under $500,000…over 300% above their next highest box office performer.
      • Entertainment One’s expansion into the US box office has been a poor to mixed bag (not to worry though, they kind of dominate everywhere else). A Late Quartet stars Christopher Walken, Catherine Keener, and Philip Seymour Hoffman, but tepid reviews and no awards traction capped the film at around $1.5 Mil. Still, it’s their best performer in the States.
      • Cohen Media Group specializes in handling foreign films. They specifically seem to like ones from France. Yet their highest grosser is from Lebanon (with French backing of course). The Attack is still going strong at the box office with $1.6 Mil in revenue and likely to add another $250,000 or so before it wraps. It’s only a matter of time before they pass the $2,000,000 mark with a film.
  4. Israel
    • The Attack, The Gatekeepers, and Fill the Void all have something in common. They were at least partially shot in Israel and have all grossed over $1,000,000 in the US. In addition, Hannah Arendt has grossed over $600,000 which is particularly impressive when compared with other Zeitgeist releases of the past few years. While Eagles failed to attract buyer interest, Israel continues to be arguably the most reliable foreign language performer in the US. I would say it’s France, but their film industry is much more robust. Many of their top films will never come here and I can’t say that with Israel.  To put it another way, the US box office total combined for these four films would be equal to $1 donation from every Israeli citizen.
  5. HBO Docs
    • Sheila, Sheila, Sheila. If you don’t know her name, you clearly don’t know squat about the Docs. Mea Maxima Culpa premiered at the fest and was one of only two TV Docs to get on the Oscar shortlist (the other one, Ethel, was also an HBO Doc). HBO paid big and got the two most star studded docs of the festival, Love, Marilyn and Casting By.  For documentaries, TV continues to be the major power player and nobody ponied up more money for a Doc at the fest than HBO did when they partnered with Cinedigm for Love, Marilyn. Sale price was between $1.25 million and $1.75 million.

Five negatives to highlight from last year

  1. Midnight Madness Box Office
    • Dredd was a giant studio disappointment and major money loser after opening in the US on 2500 screens with a PSA of $3426. Reported production budget was $50mil, but pulled in a worldwide BO gross of a little over $35mil. Eli Roth’s Aftershock never took off on digital or theatrically where it opened to a PSA under $500 and failed to gross over $100k. Come Out and Play meanwhile couldn’t even pass $5k. Rob Zombie’s The Lords of Salem managed over $1,000,000 after buyer Anchor Bay capitalized on publicity surrounding Zombie’s new book and album, but still didn’t justify the acquisitions price (reportedly $2mil) and bidding war for the title.
  2. Films with Title Changes
    • Girl Most Likely and Stuck in Love are both star driven comedies that originated with horridly bland titling (Imogene and Writers respectively). Despite the attempts of Roadside Attractions and Millenium Entertainment to rebrand the films, both are each company’s lowest performing TIFF acquisition. Girl Most Likely saw grosses drop 72% in its second weekend and Stuck in Love will not even pass $100k. Both films saw much better results on VOD, but at the end of the day, compared to top performing acquisitions titles from these players, both can be considered disappointments.  Meanwhile TWC’s Unfinished Songs (Formerly Songs for Marion) has barely outgrossed their Norwegian epic Kon-Tiki. EEK!
  3. African and Eastern European Cinema
    • A look at the films that failed to secure distribution last year and it becomes clear that buyers were not enjoying anything from the entire continent of Africa. I mean literally, THE ENTIRE CONTINENT! There was not a Tsotsi  in the bunch.
  4. Award winning films without distribution going into the festival
    • Artifact won the audience award for best doc, the Fipresci prize went to Detroit Unleaded and both have yet to find a home in the States. Artifact will all but certainly go DIY and who knows what the future holds for Detroit Unleaded which does not have the benefit of name recognition or Jared Leto’s face.
  5. The lack of prominent DIY and Alt distribution models
    • Spring Breakers was a pact between the producers and A24. There were otherwise no prominent examples of DIY releasing, hybrid theatrical or new ideas that sprung out of the festival. Yes, Snoop Lion self-released his doc Reincarnated, but that was to disastrous results and the doc was nothing more than a vanity project.
    • Clearly, the fest knew things had to change based on Tuesday’s announcement. In case you’ve been living under a rock or stuck in Venice, Vimeo has offered a game changer to films that will world premiere at TIFF. A $10,000 MG to the films that give Vimeo a 30 day premiere VOD window. If the film makes back the $10k before the 30 days, it switches to their standard and by all accounts fantastic 90/10 split. Yes, YOU get to keep 90%! Any film that’s not a star vehicle would be a fool not to take them up on the offer, especially since they can still seek acquisition. In fact, a smart distributor will see all the free press they will get from the publicity and look for the films that say yes. Naturally, I expect most to do the opposite and argue that the lost revenue will require them to lower their offers. That should be a red flag to any filmmaker if it happens. Similarly, if a sales agent is telling you to pass, so that your film from Croatia can wait for the American dollars to pour in, you should terminate your relationship on the spot!  No word yet though on what happens for the films that did the 1-2 punch  and premiered at Locarno or Venice.

BONUS

Congratulations to TFC alums with films in the festival.

  • Amy Seimetz (Pit Stop) stars in Ti West’s latest flick The Sacrament.
  • Jody Shapiro (How to Start Your Own Country) directed Burt’s Buzz
  • James Franco (Kink and Interior. Leather Bar) wrote, directed and stars in Child of God, wrote the source material for and stars in Palo Alto, and stars in Third Person. More impressive is the fact that he has had films at Sundance, Berlin, SXSW, Tribeca, Cannes, Venice, and Toronto this year.

I’ll be on the ground in Toronto again this year and hope to report back about my findings and the deals made.

Below is a list of films from TIFF and how they’ve performed at the box office. I chose not to include any film that was from a studio or mini major and opened wide. I also chose not to include films that premiered at Berlin, Sundance, or SXSW and had already secured distribution.

Film Distributor Box Office Gross
Come Out and Play Cinedigm $2,638
What Richard Did Tribeca Film $2,749
Inescapable IFC $4,327
The Time Being Tribeca Film $5,274
The Brass Teapot Magnolia $6,997
Inch’Allah EOne $9,155
I Declare War Drafthouse Films $10,793
Greetings from Tim Buckley Tribeca Film $11,157
Viola Cinema Guild $15,471
The ABC’s of Death Magnet $21,832
Pieta Drafthouse Films $22,080
The Patience Stone SPC $23,296
Far Out Isn’t Far Enough: The Tomi Ungerer Story First Run $27,156
The Bay Roadside Attractions $30,668
Berberian Sound Studio IFC $31,641
How To Make Money Selling Drugs Tribeca Film $39,192
Passion Entertainment One $40,100
The Fitzgerald Family Christmas Tribeca Film $50,292
Venus & Serena Magnolia $51,271
Aftershock Radius-TWC $58,510
More than Honey Kino Lorber $66,728
Leviathan Cinema Guild $72,816
Something in the Air $73,306
No One Lives Anchor Bay $74,918
Stuck In Love (Formerly Writers) Millenium Entertainment $81,071
Byzantium IFC $85,252
Storm Surfers 3D Xlrator $117,090
Free Angela and All Political Prisoners Code Black $129,102
Midnight’s Children Paladin/108 Media $190,022
No Place on Earth Magnolia $200,238
Arthur Newman Cinedigm $207,853
Tai Chi 0 Variance/Well Go USA $212,094
Blancanieves Cohen Media Group $240,310
Museum Hours Cinema Guild $304,145
A Werewolf Boy CJ $342,922
Act of Killing Drafthouse Films $379,598
At Any Price SPC $380,594
In the House Cohen Media Group $389,757
A Hijacking Magnolia $401,366
The Reluctant Fundamentalist IFC $528,731
Still Mine (formerly Still) Samuel Goldwyn $586,767
To The Wonder Magnolia $587,615
Hannah Arendt Zeitgeist $636,505
The Thieves Well Go USA $685,839
Lore Music Box Films $970,325
From Up on Poppy Hill GK $1,002,895
Ginger & Rosa A24 $1,012,973
What Maise Knew Millenium Entertainment $1,065,000
The Lords of Salem Anchor Bay $1,165,882
Girl Most Likely (Formerly Imogene) Roadside Attractions $1,377,015
Disconnect LD $1,436,900
Kon-Tiki TWC $1,517,410
A Late Quartet Entertainment One $1,562,546
The Attack Cohen Media Group $1,580,787
Stories We Tell Roadside Attractions $1,584,890
Love is All You Need SPC $1,608,982
Unifnished Song (Formerly Song for Marion) TWC $1,634,532
Fill the Void SPC $1,757,195
English Vinglish Eros $1,862,086
The Iceman Millenium Entertainment $1,943,239
The Gatekeepers SPC $2,415,727
Emperor Roadside Attractions $3,346,265
Frances Ha IFC $4,043,502
Much Ado about Nothing Roadside Attractions $4,262,205
The Company You Keep SPC $5,133,027
Hyde Park on Hudson Focus $6,376,145
Anna Karenina Focus $12,816,367
Spring Breakers A24 $14,124,284
The Master TWC $16,377,274
The Perks of Being a Wallflower Summit $17,742,948
Quartet TWC $18,390,117
The Impossible Summit $18,889,600
The Place Beyond the Pines Focus $21,403,519
Silver Linings Playbook TWC $129,729,000
Clip Artsploitation BO Not Reported
Pusher Radius-TWC BO Not Reported
Iceberg Slim: Portrait of a Pimp Phase 4 BO Not Reported
Janeane from Des Moines Red Flag Releasing BO Not Reported
Reincarnated DIY BO Not Reported
State 194 Participant Media BO Not Reported
The Secret Disco Revolution Screen Media BO Not Reported
Wasteland Oscilloscope BO Not Reported
The Lesser Blessed Monterey Media BO Not Reported
Motorway Media Asia Films Digital Only
Everybody Has a Plan 20th Century Fox Digital Only
London-The Modern Babylon Brittish Film Institute Digital Only
Lunarcy! Epix Digital Only
Camp 14 – Total Control Zone Netflix Digital Streaming
Picture Day Arc Entertainment Digital/DVD only
My Awkward Sexual Adventure Tribeca Film Digital/DVD only
The Deep Focus World Digital/DVD only
Bad 25 ABC TV
9.79 ESPN TV
Casting By HBO TV
First Comes Love HBO TV
Love, Marilyn HBO TV
A Liar’s Autobiography Epix TV
Mea Maxima Culpa HBO TV
Roman Polanski: Odd Man Out Showtime/Gravitas TV/Digital
Jayne Mansfield’s Car Anchor Bay Not Yet Released
The Last Time I Saw Macao Cinema Guild Not Yet Released
Men At Lunch First Run Not Yet Released
Out in the Dark Breaking Glass Not Yet Released
Thanks For Sharing Roadside Attractions Not Yet Released
Zaytoun Strand Releasing Not Yet Released
Shepard & Dark Music Box Films Not Yet Released
Capital Cohen Media Group Not Yet Released
Mekong Hotel Strand Releasing Not Yet Released
Three Worlds Film Movement Not Yet Released
Ghost Graduation Fox Not Yet Released
The End of Time Sony Pictures Worldwide Not Yet Released
Great Expectations Outsource Media Group Not Yet Released
Twice Born Entertainment One Not Yet Released
The Deflowering of Eva Van End Film Movement Not Yet Released

September 5th, 2013

Posted In: Distribution, Film Festivals

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The simple answer is “yes..wellsometimes.” Like most questions in this business, there is a simple answer for casual conversation, and a truer answer for a more in-depth analysis.

laurel winner

It would be nice to say that all film festival awards are valuable for independent film distribution, but the truth is that it mostly comes down to what Festival it is (what actual award it is is less important for the most part). The simplest rule is, if a particular Festival matters, then an Award from that Festival matters even more. If a particular festival doesn’t show up on anyone’s radar, then the Award won’t either. The easiest comparison to draw is the use of press/publicity quotes in marketing…i.e. nobody cares about a glowing review from a press outlet they’ve never heard of. But if a respected journalist at a respected publication gives you a great review…well that matters a great deal.

We’ve worked on a lot of seemingly “small” films, like CONTRACORRIENTE by Javier Fuentes, VALLEY OF SAINTS by Musa Sayeed, A RIVER CHANGES COURSE by Kalyanee Man, and THE INVISIBLE WAR by Kirby Dick that jumped up hugely in prestige and profile when they won big awards at the Sundance Film Festival. Suddenly “everyone that’s anyone” had heard of these films even though they paid no attention to them just two days before. By getting the ultimate stamp of approval, they suddenly became “serious” films in the minds of those who pay attention to such things.

But let’s not exaggerate…  as much as they changed the general perception of the films, I don’t think they really changed the acquisitions picture for any of these particular titles. Maybe the PRICES went up for those that did get bought, but I don’t think it radically changed the number of buyers interested in the titles. And not all of those ever got serious acquisition offers anyway.

I think there are three major ways that festival awards matter. First of all, it distinguishes you from the glut of available titles at any given festival as one of the films that one should pay attention to first. Meaning, if you are the kind of person (Industry, press, or consumer) who is paying attention to a particular festival, then of course one easy way to determine what one should see first is by starting with the ones that have won the awards. I think this is PARTICULARLY true for OTHER film festival programmers, who face the daunting task of pouring through thousands of available titles and submission to their festival. Why NOT start with the ones that are winning awards? Its just good triage technique.

Secondly, if someone is a discerning film consumer looking to discover new films to watch, why wouldn’t you pay attention to the films that are winning the awards? To that end, I think the right Festival Awards have tremendous marketing value…but really only for the discerning consumer. So, that’s not the majority of consumers, but there ARE a lot of cinephiles out there. And they are the first audience any independent filmmaker wants to reach.

Let me give you a simple marketing example….I am on the e-newsletter of LOTS of films that send me updates on their progress all the time…and for the most part I pay no attention to them. But if I start to notice that the film is winning a lot of great awards…which can be easily put in the subject line and the header of the email….of course I take note of that and of course I become more interested in the film. Suddenly it changes in my mind from one of a million films vying for my attention to one that must deserve my attention…because it is being validated by “tastemakers” I have heard of and have some respect for.

On the subject of the marketing value of Festival Awards, there are a couple of truisms I’d like to address:

1) The general perception is that Audience Awards matter more than Jury Awards, because they reflect the will of the people (which more closely resembles your eventual target audience), while Jury Awards reflect the view of the elite (those select insiders chosen by festivals to judge according to their own snobby tastes). In truth, I don’t think this theory stands up to rigorous analysis of the data. Sometimes it is the opinions of the jury that most closely mirror the press and taste-makers that propel a film onto greater success after its Festival run.

2) Part of the problem with Audience Awards is that in many ways they are popularity contests, not dissimilar to high school president elections. Because of the way Audience Awards are voted on by everyone in a given screening, sometimes its just the film that packs the house with the most crew and friends and close-knit community that wins the Award. Sometimes even a great Q&A can swing the results. And enterprising filmmakers should take note of this….as it is not unusual for a small film in a small theater to win an Audience Award because the filmmaker simply had more friends in attendance than anyone else did.

Unfortunately, the dominance of digital distribution in today’s independent market has made the marketing value of film festival awards a lot LESS relevant than they used to be….and that’s because iTunes, cable VOD et al don’t really offer much marketing space where you can actually SEE any of the Festival awards. When you used to browse through a video store and pick up the box cover, you could actually SEE all the laurels and rent it for that reason. Now you’re going to have to see the laurels in an email or banner ad or hear about it in a review or something…and then go LOOK for the film. That’s a lot less immediate than it used to be, and it makes the job of marketing a lot harder.

Finally, lets not downplay the fact that a lot of Festival Awards come with MONEY! There are some staggeringly large Festival awards out there…Dubai, Heartland etc…but I don’t advocate submitting to festivals just to go after the award money. That’s just gambling and your odds are probably better on a slot machine. But when a film starts to rack up a few awards, it can certainly get into the five figures of revenue…..and in this market that’s certainly nothing to sneeze at!

 

August 1st, 2013

Posted In: Film Festivals

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

by Sheri Candler

Lately, we have been getting inquiries on distribution strategies for transmedia projects in the indie film space. While it is my distinct impression that most of these “transmedia” projects are really marketing campaigns built around films and this extra material probably would not have financial value to a traditional film distributor, I want to investigate a bit more on projects that have launched as cross platform stories.

My knowledge about the transmedia space is limited only to what I have read about or heard about through those who have created such projects. Most of these people were hired by studios, game designers, or big corporate brands to create an immersive and interactive story experience often using digital tools and sometimes real world events to sell a product (a film, a game, a TV show, a car, a book, a mobile service etc). Within the realm of those who create these story experiences, there is disagreement about what constitutes a “true” transmedia project. Is it actually transmedia if it serves “the mothership” product as a sales funnel? Is it actually transmedia if it raises awareness and encourages activism for a social cause? Is it actually transmedia if it breaks a story into a million (or less maybe) pieces and spreads it out in satisfying chunks across many different, but interconnected spaces, online and otherwise? Is it actually transmedia if it provides the audience with a way to participate or interact with the story, perhaps offering the ability to influence the story being told?

The wikipedia definition:

“Transmedia storytelling (also known as transmedia narrative or multiplatform storytelling or cross-media storytelling) is the technique of telling a single story or story experience across multiple platforms and formats using current digital technologies, and is not to be confused with traditional cross-platform media franchisessequels or adaptations. From a production standpoint, it involves creating content that engages an audience using various techniques to permeate their daily lives. In order to achieve this engagement, a transmedia production will develop stories across multiple forms of media in order to deliver unique pieces of content in each channel. Importantly, these pieces of content are not only linked together (overtly or subtly), but are in narrative synchronization with each other.”

No mention of selling other products in this definition, but does it mean it can’t be used in that capacity? “Permeate their daily lives” is an interesting phrase though because it seems to suggest either bringing the story to life around the viewer or allowing the viewer to virtually, if not physically, step into a story being told or to have some life altering experience that would not have happened had they not encountered/participated in the story.

The man who coined the term Transmedia Storytelling, Professor Henry Jenkins, has offered his updated interpretation here.

Over the next few weeks, I will report back with case studies on what I have found through interviews with those who have been through the experience, launched projects into the world and lived to tell the tale. Also, I will review the newest book on the subject by Andrea Phillips called A Creator’s Guide to Transmedia Storytelling. Hopefully, I will find people who are willing to be open about the process and how they succeeded or what they learned for next time. This is a very experimental space where either a lot of money is spent by way of corporate marketing budgets that will only see a return through sales of a product (and usually do not ONLY use a transmedia experience to advertise that product); or through new media funds where there is no expectation of return or favorable outcome; or through very tiny, self funded budgets where producers are gaining experience and expressing their creative ideas while directly interacting with an audience.

Stay tuned…

 

October 4th, 2012

Posted In: transmedia

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This piece was researched, compiled and written by TFC associate Bryan Glick.

Back in March we looked at the films that were bought out of Sundance and since then the deals have kept coming, including some from major players like Sony Pictures Classics (SPC)  and IFC.

Among the companies making fresh acquisitions, Tribeca Films nabbed North American rights to two US Dramatic competition entries, “The Comedy” and “For Ellen”. In fact every film in the US Dramatic Competition now has a US Distributor. SPC secured worldwide rights to “Smashed” for $1,000,000 and Sony Worldwide opened their eyes to  US Rights and Canada Ancillary for “The First Time”. Music Box bought “Keep The Lights On” for North America, in what is certainly a change of pace from their typical fare.  Meanwhile “Filly Brown” became the fourth film to get bought by Indomina who is making it clear that they are presence in the indie world. They have worldwide rights for the film. The Late Adam Yauch’s Oscilloscope got the North American rights to the opening night film “Hello I Must Be Going” and IFC showed they could acquire the entire festival if they wanted to by adding North American rights for “Save the Date” to their packed slate, and finally Wrekin Hill took a chance on “The End of Love” for which they now hold North American rights.

On the World Dramatic side “Teddy Bear” which won the directing prize became only the second film to get US Distribution from this competition section.  While in the World Documentary section “China Heavyweight” was acquired for the US by premiere documentary distributor Zeitgeist.

Oscilloscope embraced their music roots and will do a special release for “Shut Up and Play The Hits” in North America, while IFC Midnight  had to snatch up “Grabbers” for North America, leaving “John Dies at the End” as the only Midnight film to not sell this year. In the Next section, IFC got North American rights to yet another film with the audience award winner “Sleepwalk With Me” and Phase 4 got into the game with US and Canadian rights to “That’s What She Said”. This brings the total sale of Next films to five, with another four still looking for a buyer. While that might seem bleak, this is better than its first two years and slowly this section is showing that it can play with the big dogs in the US Dramatic Competition Section.

In the premiere section Strand is in for the long haul with US Rights for “California Solo” and “Red Hook Summer” is being distributed by Spike Lee’s own company in partnership with Variance and Image Entertainment. Only “Price Check” has yet to find a distributor.

In the US Documentary section, Film Arcarde & Lionsgate got a slam dunk with North American rights to “The Other Dream Team”, which reportedly sold for mid six figures Oscilloscope secured US, non-TV rights to “Chasing Ice” and Bravo got in on the action with “The Queen of Versailles”. Finally, “Detropia” just started a kickstarter campaign to raise funds for a DIY release.  Meanwhile , the Doc Premiere film “Under African Skies” saw a small theatrical run courtesy of A&E (who will also be premiering it on TV) and was bought by Snag Films for all digital platforms.

FINAL THOUGHTS. This year was yet again dominated by the power of the IFC brand. IFC/IFC Midnight acquired a whopping 8 films and their sister division Sundance Selects got 2! Magnolia/Magnet was a not even close second with 6 films. Oscilloscope, Indomina, and SPC all showed prominence with four films a piece. Other companies acquiring multiple films include Music Box, Zeitgeist, Tribeca Films, The Weinstein Company, Kino Lorber, and Fox Searchlight.  A full list of sales is viewable below.

Box office grosses are current as of June 10th.

Film Company Deal Amount Terrtitories Sales Company Box Office/
Release Date
2 Days in New York Magnolia N/A North America CAA August 10th
28 Hotel Rooms Oscilloscope N/A US Preferred Content
5 Broken Cameras Kino Lorber N/A US CAT&Docs $22,787
About Face HBO Doc N/A TV Pre-Fest July 30th
Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry Sundance Selects N/A North America Cinetic Media, Victoria Cook July 27th
Arbitrage Roadside Over $3,000,000 North America WME
Bachelorette TWC Over $2,000,000 North America CAA
Beasts of the Southern Wild Fox Searchlight Almost $1,000,000 US WME June 27th
Black Rock LD Over $1,000,000 North America Submarine
California Solo Strand N/A US Visit Films
Celeste and Jesse Forever SPC Almost $2,000,000 North And Latin America, Eastern Europe UTA August 3rd
Chasing Ice Oscilloscope N/A US  (Non TV) Submarine
Chasing Ice National Geographic N/A TV Submarine
China Heavyweight Zeitgeist N/A US EyeSteelFilms July 6th
Compliance Magnolia N/A North America Cinetic June 20th
Detropia DIY
Escape Fire Roadside N/A US CAA October 5th
Ethel HBO Doc N/A TV Pre-Fest
Excision Anchor Bay N/A North America Preferred Content
Filly Brown Indomina N/A Worldwide WME
For a Good Time Call Focus $3,000,000 Worldwide Cinetic August 31st
For Ellen Tribeca N/A North America CAA Sept 5th
GOATS Image Almsot $1,000,000 US WME and Cinetic Media
Grabbers IFC Midnight N/A North & Latin America Gersh
Hello, I Must Be Going Oscilloscope N/A North America WME
How To Survive a Plague Sundance Selects High Six Figures North America Submarine September 21st
Indie Game: The Movie HBO And Scott Rudin N/A TV Film Sales Company B.O. Gross not
 (Remake Rights) Reported
Keep the Lights On Music Box N/A North America Preferred Content
Lay the Favorite TWC Over $2,000,000 US CAA
Liberal Arts IFC Over $1,000,000 North America Gersh
Luv Indomina/BET Over $1,000,000 North America/TV ICM/Cinetic
Marina Abramovic HBO Doc TV Pre-Fest July 2nd
Marina Abramovic Music Box N/A US Submarine June 13th
Me @ The Zoo HBO Doc Mid Six Figures TV Submarine June 25th
Middle of Nowhere Participant and AAFFRM Mid Six Figures US Paradigm
Mosquita Y Mari Wolfe Low Six Figures North America The Film Collaborative August 3rd
Nobody Walks Magnolia Mid-high Six Figures North America Submarine
Payback Zeitgeist N/A US N/A $12,962
Predisposed IFC N/A North America ICM and UTA August 17th
Putin’s Kiss Kino Lorber N/A North America N/A $3,872
Red Hook Summer DIY/Variance/Image N/A North America N/A
Red Lights Millennium Entertainment Under $4,000,000 US UTA July 13th
Robot & Frank Sony & Samuel Goldwyn Over $2,000,000 North America and ICM, CAA
select territories
Room 237 IFC Midnight N/A North America Betsy Rodgers
Safety Not Guaranteed Film District Over $1,000,000 US ICM $97,762
Save the Date IFC N/A North America CAA
Searching for Sugar Man SPC Mid Six Figures North America Submarine July 27th
Shadow Dancer ATO $1,000,000 North America CAA
Shut Up and Play the Hits Oscilloscope N/A North America WME
Simon Killer IFC Films N/A North America UTA, Caa
Sleepwalk With Me IFC N/A North America UTA August 24th
Smashed SPC $1,000,000 Worldwide UTA and CAA
Something From Nothing: The Art of Rap Indomina Over $1,000,000 Worldwide UTA
Teddy Bear Film Movement N/A North America Visit Films August 22nd
That’s what she said Phase 4 N/A US and Canada Submarine
The Comedy Tribeca N/A North America Submarine
The D Word HBO Doc N/A TV Pre-Fest
The End Of Love Wreckin Hill N/A North America Preferred Content
The First Time Sony Worldwide N/A US/Canada Ancillary N/A
The Imposter Indomina N/A North America A&E Films July 13th
The Invisble War Cinedigm and New Video N/A North America The Film Collaborative June 22nd
The Other Dream Team Film Arcade & Lionsgate Mid Six Figures North America WME
The Pact IFC Midnight High Six Figures North America Preferred Content
The Queen of Versailles Bravo N/A TV Submarine 2013
The Queen of Versailles Magnolia Mid Six Figures North America Submarine July 20th
The Surrogate Fox Searchlight $6,000,000 + Worldwide CAA
$4,000,00 P&A
The Words CBS $2,000,000 US CAA September 7th
Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie Magnet N/A World Pre Fest $201,406
Under African Skies A&E Films N/A TV/Theatrical A&E Films
Under African Skies Snag Films N/A Exclusive Digital A&E Films
V/H/S Magnolia (magnet) Over $1,000,000 North America WME
West of Memphis SPC N/A Worldwide Peter Jackson and Ken Kamins
Wish You Were Here Entertainment One N/A North America LevelK

June 13th, 2012

Posted In: Distribution, Film Festivals, International Sales

Tags: , , , , , , ,

* This is part 1 of 3 parts to this Sundance focused blog.

* Part 2 will be written during the festival.

* Part 3 will be written in the aftermath of the glow of the fest.

If I were a filmmaker going to Sundance, and let’s say that I had a film with no recognizable press-generating cast that would be attractive to a distribution company for a large MG… What would I do? Seriously, I asked myself that question. And I realized how tempted I would be, even I, to find some sexy publicists and rockstar agents or sales company so that I could get the hot sexy sale at Sundance and make all my dreams come true.

What can a distributor do for you that you cannot do yourself with just a little bit of money, not even a lot, and some low fee consultation? And above all, what are you giving up by not building community for your film before and during the fest, instead letting other people run your show, potentially losing out on the momentum of the festival?

The beauty of Sundance, aside from the pretty mountains and clean air and great films and the best cheese danish I have ever had (@ the Java Cow and I know I’ll regret writing this), is the focused attention of both the PRESS and the PUBLIC. Most films showing at the festival, excluding cast-driven films, would not get half (½) the attention would they were not showing at Sundance.

Let’s look at some films from Sundance last year that were in this position and the routes they took and what they may have netted. These are films that cut distribution deals of some kind and got less than wide releases from their distributors:

A Small Act (Doc): Distributed by HBO, I don’t know exact sale price but suspect it was less than $150,000 and they did not need a sales agent to do that.  They are also a TFC client for festival distribution. TFC handled film festivals for the filmmaker though by the time we got involved HBO had aired the film and that hurt our festival bookings and hence diminished potential revenues to the filmmaker. The director, Jennifer Arnold, is presently closing a DVD deal as well that she got herself.

*Gasland (Doc): Distributed by HBO, TFC consulted at Sundance along with their lawyer Michael Donaldson, and they did not need anyone to help them get a good HBO deal though they did have help handling offers and pursuing interest. The deal came to them directly and would have come to them regardless.  They did some self-distribution for theatrical (Box office $30,846) and festivals. The film is now available for DVD.  Zipline did PR and the film got its good rightful share of it.  The filmmakers received a deal that has worked out very well, with some great PR and it played lots of fests. It’s shortlisted for the Oscars too.

*Extenuating circumstances: Debra Winger executive produced this film and she definitely helped a lot. Josh Fox is a very committed activist and spokesperson of the film’s critical message so he is very embedded in the community that would be most interested in this film. It’s a great example of a film that got a lot out of being at Sundance and the filmmakers got a deal they are happy with and they probably recouped as a result given the low budget of the film.

A Film Unfinished:  Distributed by Oscilloscope. I will say that $320,000 theatrical box office is very very good (I have no idea what they spent though to release the film but it’s likely some money was made on the theatrical). The film had a sales agent (CINEPHIL from Israel) and I am almost positive the MG was less than 6-figures. My judgment is that the filmmakers could have done just as well releasing on their own with just some money set aside for a booking agent and a publicist, especially for this niche.  It is a doc that hits a niche audience that works consistently and is lucrative and I can’t say that the filmmakers needed a sales agent and a distributor to be in between the film and its audience. I doubt the filmmakers will make as much money as they would have handling the film on their own with just some low fee consultation.

The Dry Land – reported budget from imdb $1mil, box office  $11,777 Most likely a service deal since it was theatrically released by Freestyle Releasing. Freestyle service deals are not cheap; most of their releases involve budgets of $200,000 + (though sometimes less) and most for-profit service deals involve fees of tens of thousands of dollars). Clearly not a good result here, but we assume hoping to recoup in home video.

Douchebag -Paladin is distributor and (so I assumed it was a service deal paid for by the filmmakers but the producer wrote to Ted Hope that they sold the film for more than its budget. We would love to know the details since usually Paladin does service deals and since to us that seems like quite a deal). Box office return $20,615 on a maximum of 6 screens. Also, not a good return.

Bhutto – Distributed by First Run Features. Just released December 3, to day box office $16,216, only playing 2 theaters. A large advance was not paid and most of what was accomplished could have been done by the filmmakers themselves without large percentages paid.

Taqwacores: Distributed by Strand , most likely a very small advance was given. The box office was $9,347 on 2 screens. Another example of a film that could have done this much better and faired better overall without a distributor involved. With just some low fee consultation, time and money set aside, the filmmaker would still be in control of their film and able to work up the audience.

I am not knocking these deals, simply noting that if one is to do them, one should at least cut out excess middle men and do them smartly, reserve some rights, negotiate carefully on the back end, monitor expenses, maybe even have been better off not doing these deals.  It would have helped all of these films to build community around the film leading up to the festival and exit the festival with a bang, ready to reach audiences immediately. I think a lot can get lost during the time it takes for distributors to bring films to market, especially for the smaller films.

I think the decision to cut a deal with a distributor, no matter what, is emotional because even when I put myself in the filmmakers’ shoes I realized the emotional power of having an offer made to just take care of this for me. It signals that what has been made must have value and was done well. It also allows for one to not have to get hands dirty with the money stuff and the business stuff. But, if you are a filmmaker, you did choose the most expensive art medium in the world and unless you are rich or your investors don’t care about getting their money back, I want you to at least consider this: You don’t NEED traditional distribution. For MOST of you, without special connections or name cast, MOST traditional distribution will not serve you. Most distributors don’t pay enough or do enough or are fair enough, and many of them have to raise P&A anyway, or hire the same service providers you can, so do the math, think twice, and be careful.  And remember, buyers are happy to buy direct, especially many TV buyers and VOD platforms, and you can get inexpensive help negotiating.

The more you can set up to do on your own the better for you and your investors in the long run. You run a risk doing nothing in terms of building community around your film or not setting up a distribution plan, having several layers of middle-men and waiting for Godot.  When you do the math, the Sundance dream often connects up to cast-driven films and just a few rare gems each year, and there are those to be sure, each year, but just a very few.  Most other deals you could get anyway if you wanted them, with someone on the side advising in you in fair way.

PS: Here is additional info on films from Sundance 2010:

* 3 BACKYARDS: Screen Media all rights, no verifiable release.

*12th AND DELAWARE: HBO Films, premiered on 8/02/10,currently HBO OnDemand.

* ANIMAL KINGDOM: Sony Pictures Classics, Box office $1,008,742 and this is a great example of a film that might otherwise have done little if any business were it not for Sundance.

* CATFISH: Rogue Pictures / Universal with a box office of $1,315,573 and it is definitely a great release for a doc and if the deal is good for the filmmakers then it’s a dream come true. Of course that’s an ‘If”.

* CASINO JACK AND THE UNITED STATES OF MONEY: Magnolia Pictures, $175,865 – and this is directed by Alex Gibney one of the most famous doc directors but sadly probably lost market share to the feature starring Kevin Spacey.

*EXIT THROUGH A GIFT SHOP: Producer’s Distribution Agency (a distribution company set up by John Sloss specifically to handle this film), Box office $3,291,250. I am in love with that film, and it’s to Banksy’s credit the film did what it did and some in the industry actually think it was a financially weak release given how much was spent, estimates are put at over a million. In any case, most filmmakers cannot imitate a set up that had John Sloss turn down a 7-figure advance because he wanted to handle the release himself and he did with the help of Richard Abramovitz and had the reputation and cult following of Banksy, Shepard Fairey , and Thierry Guetta.

*FAMILY AFFAIR: OWN the Oprah Winfrey Network, air-date:  possibly spring.

* THE FREEBIE: PHASE4, the box office was just  $16,613 the deal was allegedly worth low – mid six figures for US & Canada, all rights.  The film was sold by Visit films.) Now I have inspired Phase4 to buy two films I did not take a commission on.  I am not saying Visit films is not great and I am not saying it’s not great to have guidance at a festival or market especially when there is a bidding war, which there was apparently, I am just saying buyers buy films they want, not because of who is selling them.  We hope the filmmakers of all these films weigh in on their overages and overall bottom line.

* FREEDOM RIDERS: PBS with an outreach campaign by American Experience, film to be shown in May on 50th anniversary of the original rides.

*GROWN UP MOVIE STAR, NO US or INTL distribution, E1 entertainment is the sales agent, Mongrel Media (distributor in Canada)

* HESHER: NewMarket, reported budget $7mil, no release info

* HAPPYTHANKYOUMOREPLEASE (DISTRIB: Anchor Bay, release was supposed to be in March but as far as we know it has not happened yet).

* THE IMPERIALISTS ARE STILL ALIVE: no info

*JEAN-MICHEL BASQUIAT: The Radiant Child (Arthouse Films (which also produced the film), Box office was $250,129. A big hit in France, what a great niche and great doc. The producers did handle their film themselves in the US.

*LAST TRAIN HOME, Zeitgeist Films, released: 9/03/10-TOTAL GROSS: $282,092

(Here is a good example of a good doc sales company from what we hear and a good US distributor and a doc that probably sold well relatively speaking).

* LOVERS OF HATE: IFC –which is primarily a VOD play and some very traditional deal terms.

* MY PERESTROIKA: no info

* THE OATH: Zeitgeist, box office $42,273

* OBSELIDIA-reported budget $500K, still with a sales agent it appears

*THE RED CHAPEL, Lorber Films, opens 12/19/10 at IFC Center, Lorber Films plans a theatrical release of the film in the U.S. and Canada, followed by television broadcast and a DVD release.

* RESTREPO (US distribution: National Geographic Entertainment, Box office $1,330,058 –another Sundance success story to be sure, assuming terms are good for the filmmakers, which we have no information about

* SYMPATHY FOR DELICIOUS: Maya Entertainment (US, media)

* SKATELAND: Freestyle Releasing in March 2011 – and this means most likely it’s a service deal and paid for by the filmmaker. I should note that sometimes Freestyle helps raise the P&A. (though I don’t know what their cut is; one day I will ask).

* TWELVE: DISTRIBUTOR is Hannover House and the box office gross was $183,920 (somewhat shocking given the cast and the director.

*UNDERTOW: (Sundance World Cinema Audience Award Winner) TFC is doing theatrical and worldwide festivals and consulted on the distribution deals. We will be covering this in a case study to be written after the release is completed.

*WASTE LAND, Arthouse Films, released 10/29/10-TOTAL GROSS: $96, 597

Arthouse Films handled the theatrical release later followed by a DVD and digital release on the Arthouse Films label in early 2011…E1 Entertainment holds the international rights and is managing worldwide sales which to date include Australia (Hopscotch), Hagi Film (Poland) and Midas Filmes (Portugal). E1 Entertainment will also distribute the movie in Canada and the UK. Downtown Filmes is the Brazilian distributor.

* WINTER’S BONE: Roadside Attractions, Box office $6,210,516, and this is a great example of a film that would have likely lingered in oblivion were it not for Sundance and the right distributor;

* Other films not listed in detail are Cyrus, The Kids Are Alright, Waiting For Superman, Splice, and The Runaways because they all have big names involved, in a few cases the deals were done before Sundance and not all of them even had great releases in the net analysis.

December 21st, 2010

Posted In: Distribution, Film Festivals, Theatrical, Uncategorized

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As previously stated, many distributors will have marketing procedures in place to help sell your film when it is ready for distribution. The true use of a social networking strategy comes long before your film is ready for distribution.

A social networking strategy will take many months to a year to implement and it will be an ongoing effort. This effort starts with you and your team first. You will determine whom you are trying to attract into your community and what you have to offer them of interest. It is NOT all about your film, in fact very little direct mention of your film is best. Follow the 80/20 rule, 80% of your assets are about the interests of your audience, 20% of your assets are telling them about the film. You will build your engagement pages and populate them with interesting and valuable content. You will not be asking your supporters for ANYTHING, merely building a solid base of supportive fans who will be there when you are ready for distribution.

You should never do anything that will make them feel that you have formed the community in order to use it for your own purposes. Companies and filmmakers who do this stand to ruin the very thing they have spent so much time developing; a genuine and authentic community that is very loyal and connected to you and your film. That kind of loyalty is extremely difficult to accomplish with advertising and it is really the ultimate goal of all brands.

August 13th, 2010

Posted In: Marketing, Social Network Marketing

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