TFC members found success and a broadcast deal for The New Black

This week’s member profile looks at the documentary The New Black, an examination of how the African-American community is grappling with gay rights issues and homophobia in the black community’s institutional pillar—the black church.

Producer Yvonne Welbon and director Yoruba Richen shared how The Film Collaborative helped them figure out the right distribution strategy for their film.

New Black

At what stage in the production process was TFC consulted?

“We reached out to TFC after completing the film, about a month before we premiered at the LA Film Festival in June 2013.”

What advice was sought from TFC and what ultimately happened with the release of the film? What results were achieved with TFC’s help?

“We sought a lot of advice from TFC. They were instrumental in helping us figure out our film festival strategy both domestically and internationally. To date, we have screened in over 50 film festivals around the world.

TFC was also helpful in figuring out distribution options. Orly Ravid provided consultation services in terms of figuring out the foreign market for our film. She helped us to be realistic in terms of what to expect because of the subject of our film. She was right. And each distributor who loved our film, but couldn’t distribute it, basically told us the story she prepared us to hear.

We finally received an offer and signed with Java Films. We had a limited theatrical release and the film will be broadcast on PBS’s Independent Lens. California Newsreel is our educational distributor and we release the film on VOD next year through Sundance Artists Services.”

Where can the film be seen now?

“The film is screening all over the country. Please check the website for more information. www.newblackfilm.com. Our broadcast debut on Independent Lens will be on June 15, 2014 at 10:30pm, following Masterpiece Theater. Also, educational institutions can buy the film from California Newsreel.”

Here is a peek at the trailer

A Divine independent film release

The Film Collaborative is a non profit member organization devoted to helping independent filmmakers become better educated about their marketing and distribution alternatives. Filmmakers may choose between various levels of membership that entitle them to incremental levels of service from a free level that allows for access to our monthly newsletter, blog and Digital Distribution Guide, to levels that include hours of customized consultation about their projects from our team of festival, digital distribution, online and social media marketing and graphic design specialists.

But we also take on a select group of films to actively participate in their self financed distribution from festivals to ancillary sales facilitation to handling limited theatrical releases. As always, we never take rights away from the filmmakers and they are active participants in their release.

Over the next few weeks, I will share details and testimonials from some of the films we’ve handled over the last 3 years in effort to clarify how we service independent films when we take them on as clients.

Today will feature director Jeffrey Schwarz’s documentary film I Am Divine which saw its VOD debut on April 1. With TFC’s help, Divine played in a whopping 160 festivals around the world, garnering 6 figures in screening fees. TFC also handled the film’s limited theatrical release, securing over 50 cinemas in the US and Canada, with the film held over for 3 weeks at the Roxy Theater in San Francisco, 6 weeks at Cinema Village in NYC, 4 weeks at the Downtown Independent in LA and 3 weeks at Bloor Hot Doc Cinema in Toronto.

At what stage in the production process was TFC consulted? 

JS: “I had worked with TFC on my previous film VITO so I knew they would be able to help position the film properly. TFC helped secure our festival world premiere at SXSW 2013 and guided us through the process of our international debut at BFI Lesbian and Gay Film Festival in London and the many, many festivals that followed.”

What advice was sought from TFC and what ultimately happened with the release of the film? Basically what results were achieved with TFC’s help?

JS: “Aside from facilitating the festival screenings around the world, TFC also helped us secure international distribution in several territories. For busy filmmakers, knowing that a group of dedicated and knowledgable allies are working in your best interest is a godsend. TFC also booked the film in theaters around the country for our limited theatrical release. I AM DIVINE played in all the major American cities with great success.”

TFC colleague, Bryan Glick, was responsible for booking the theatrical release and had this to say

BG: “We never took out a single print ad in any city for the theatrical and still grossed over $80,000 theatrically. Since the launch of the theatrical release, the film’s Facebook page went from over 26,000 fans to more than 44,000.

We were able to book a lot of cities because of strong festival performance. There were a few smaller markets that were not an option, but in those cities the festival fees were far greater than anything the filmmmaker would have pocketed from a theatrical run.

Yes, you cannot play Landmark Theatres if you screen at too many festivals, but we didn’t even bother worrying about them. Instead we focused on venues with favorable terms who saw clearly the built in audience for the movie. We were able to get to over 50 engagements almost solely through booking independent art houses.

By not having to waste money on print ads, the theatrical was profitable for the filmmaker and it is still one of the highest grossing films from SXSW last year. Currently, Divine is in the top 10 docs on iTunes and the DVD pre order is in the top 20 docs on Amazon. This film could ultimately reach 300 festival and theatrical engagements.”

Where can the film be seen now?

JS: “I AM DIVINE had its VOD premiere on April 1st. The various international territories are gearing up for their releases as well.”

Check out this great documentary on iTunes, Amazon, and via its home video distributor Wolfe Releasing.

Developing Key Art as your film enters the festival circuit

How much to spend on developing key art, and when to spend that money, is one of the many important decisions a filmmaker has to make. Yet like many aspects of the filmmaking process, there is no one-size-fits-all standard. When we were discussing the prospect of my writing this post, one of my colleagues at TFC remarked that for a film that costs, say, $250K to make, a $10-20K or more spend on developing key art (and mind you, this is separate from a marketing budget where you have to pay to get that key art out into the world, and separate still from designing and maintaining a web site) is not unreasonable, assuming one wanted to hire a top agency. Other filmmakers get someone they know to do it for free, if for no other reason than they are out of funds. Most micro-budget indie filmmakers will undoubtedly fall in between these two polar extremes in terms of what they will end up paying, but in the end, what you produce, and when you produce it, is a decision that should not be rushed or taken lightly.

Most filmmakers would agree that good key art is essential…it can be the factor that decides whether somebody will click further to watch your trailer, or move on to another film. If it is carried over to your website effectively, it should inspire confidence in your brand. Good key art can endure and even come to possess an iconic existence of its own that will represent with your film for years or even decades to come.

But good key alone is probably not going to work miracles. If your trailer, website, official reviews, or word of mouth is disappointing, or if insufficient marketing prevents people from even knowing that your film is out there, hiring a top creative film and spending that $10-20K at the expense of everything else doesn’t make any sense. So while key art is too important to take short cuts on, its value won’t be fully realized if the rest of your budget cannot support it.

So let’s say, for the sake of argument, that you don’t have that 10-20K or more lying around for key art. Now, I have worked with dozens of filmmakers to either design (or consult with and/or assist them in developing) their key art. When I have an initial discussion with a filmmaker, I can tell right away which clients probably don’t even have $1K to devote to their the key art. How? Because the first question they ask me (after they see samples of my work) is how much I would charge to produce a poster.

This question always surprises me, especially when it comes from filmmakers for whom this is not their first film, because it reminds me that filmmakers often do not ask the right questions when producing key art.

For example, how can I give them a quote without knowing what shape is their art in, how much time it is going to take to get up to speed about the film…watch it, discuss it, understand it, determine what is possible based on the art that they have, come up with several different directions and mock them up, fail a few times until we come up with something we like, and then go through several refinement stages, figure out printing, cost, logistics? And this doesn’t include mocking each possible direction to pixel-perfection, uprezzing, retouching, or producing style sheets or ancillary artwork, like a top agency would do.

Not appropriately accounting for key art development (and overall marketing strategy) as a line item in their film budgets forces filmmakers into a situation whereby they can only order the services that will fit their budget, rather than coming from a place of asking what will be best for their projects.

So we go through this dance of whittling away steps to cut costs, and in the end, I provide only a range based on an hourly rate, with phases built in, so we can periodically access if we are going over our budget range. This way, how many hoops I jump through will ultimately be up to the filmmaker as we move through the collaborative process.

Another important thing to remember is that you can’t always determine the cost of developing a piece of key art just by looking at it. Oftentimes, the prevailing concept itself might not look all that expensive to produce, but you never know how many twists and turns were required for the creative team to reach that final product.

So, how can a filmmaker get back to asking the right questions?

Producing key art is about ideas and talent, good photography, and a solid understanding of one’s film and how it fits into the marketplace.

It’s also about patience.

This is a scenario we have seen more than a few times: let’s say your film gets into Sundance or Slamdance or Berlin or SXSW and you are racing to finish your film. You haven’t budgeted all that much for key art in the first place, but you feel like you need something to show at the festival. You have a website, but it’s the one that’s been up since your crowdfunding campaign, and it’s not all that pretty. What should you do?

Certainly, there is no one right answer. We have seen filmmakers produce amazing things in a very short amount of time. On the other hand, we have seen other filmmakers really fail miserably, and actually do their film a disservice by making too many decisions too quickly.

But let’s say your first instinct it to produce a poster. Your second instinct should be to make sure your first instinct is correct.

DO YOU EVEN NEED A FULL-SIZE POSTER?

Posters are, technically speaking, quite hard to produce if you don’t have the right art. I’m talking about resolution.

Last year, I wrote a series called Rethinking your Key Art Game Plan, where I discussed the technical requirements for producing a standard 27×40 (or 27×39) inch poster. In particular, I noted how pulling stills from a 1920x1080px master isn’t going to produce enough resolution for a poster, unless you are going for a grainy or blown-out look. These days, more and more filmmakers are working with 4K cameras, which helps quite a bit in this area.

Yet while using 1920×1080 stills to promote your film may not be ideal for a poster, they are perfect for other uses. For example, you can produce 4×6 postcards or a great website background. These might actually reach more people throughout the festival as a whole than a poster that merely hangs for a few hours in a marquee lightbox on the day of your screening.

Title Treatments

Create a proper title treatment using a vector-based program such as Adobe Illustrator, turn it into an Outline shape (rather than editable lines of type), and save it as an .eps file so it can be reproduced consistently.

(If you didn’t catch all of that last part, just convey to your designer. If your designer doesn’t get it either, hire a new designer.)

Another dilemma we’ve seen filmmakers run into is that they only have very limited still photography at the time they enter the film festival circuit, and don’t have the time or budget to do a photo shoot. Rather than force these images into a full-size poster that you have mixed feelings about, it might be better to take frame grabs from your film and produce something that’s 1440x2100px (the size needed for iTunes…VOD art generally needs to be 2:3 proprotions) and that you are satisfied with. This size would also be OK for a 4×6 postcard. You can worry about a 27×40 poster later.

Alternatively, many filmmakers simply brand a few press images from the film with their title. Work with a designer to create a great Title Treatment (the design of the title of your film) and brand the film that way, so there will be consistency when you do swing back to the key art.

SHORT-TERM OR LONG-TERM KEY ART

But let’s say you do have the art to do a full-size poster. There’s still a question of whether you design for the short term or the long term. More and more films are being released digitally without much theatrical play. Moreover, what you produce for a theatrical may not even be suitable for VOD. A panel at IFP last fall addressed this exact question, and there was apparently much disagreement:

“This panel drove home several completely contradictory messages, all in the space of one engaging hour. The first was that now you need more art than ever, to keep your audience engaged through daily social media updates both before and after your film is released. The second was that films should adhere to the same few images, so that they become recognizable brand markers. What’s a filmmaker to do?

[…]

Another catch-22 discussed during the panel was VOD vs. theatrical art. As much as it benefits a film to project a singular identity, it’s rare for a single design to suit both purposes well.

The experience of viewing a poster inside a lightbox at the theater is very different from the experience of browsing titles on Netflix, and key art must adjust accordingly. Besides the obvious (smaller space, bigger images) the VOD art typically focuses more on celebrity, genre, and easily conveyed aspects of the storytelling.”

They provided the following graphic as an example of the differences between theatrical art and key art for VOD.

theatrical_vod
Sawyer Studios Theatrical vs. VOD Digital Art Slide

It is quite clear that the some of the theatrical posters do not work very well for VOD. But I am not convinced that at least some of the VOD posters here could not have worked for theatrical (apart from the fact that a few of ones for VOD are just plain bad). These days, even as one is doing a theatrical, the same poster can be seen all over the Internet, and perhaps on postcards too. So whatever you produce, you should think about how the image looks when it is viewed at a variety of sizes, and pay special attention to the iTunes size and the Netflix size.

Perhaps the designers of the theatrical posters in this graphic did not consider this when they were designing. (Or perhaps a marketing team came along and wanted something else for VOD.) The point is, think as far ahead as possible and aim towards producing key art that will work for both theatrical and for VOD. Because if it does need to be redesigned, there’s a good chance that you will be the one paying for it, one way or another.

THE HIDDEN COST OF USING POSTERS ON THE FILM FESTIVAL CIRCUIT

Many of you know that TFC also offers Festival Distribution as one of our services. We get asked all the time for posters. Sometimes three, or five, are requested. But we generally do not send them for every festival. Here’s why:

Digital Printing
Printing fewer than 15 posters

We have used Uprinting in the past and recommend them for one-off digital printing.

So let’s say your film gets into Sundance or Slamdance and you need to print a few posters. You can get 3 posters printed and sent directly to the festival for $80. That’s not going to break the bank. But if you commit to doing that for every festival thereafter, you must be prepared to lose at least $40 (the cost of 1 to print and ship) of your festival fee each time you book somewhere.

If you are thinking that you can simply print a bunch of posters and send to festivals yourself, there also a few things to remember. First, poster tubes cost money (although Fedex will supply their own packaging, but their shipping rates are expensive), and when all is said and done, mailing them yourself doesn’t cost all that much less than having a printer ship directly. Believe me, I’ve tried.

Offset Printing
Printing more than 100 posters

America’s Printer has always done a great job for us with 4 color printing, and can even ship them individually for you.

In terms of printing, you also may not want to order too many at once (for example, you can have them printed in 4-color offset printing in quantities from 100-1000, which will cost $600-$800 ) because you will undoubtedly want to add additional laurels (for art house films) or awards or even quotes to the one sheet as you get further into the festival circuit. Printing too many will lock you into something you may not wish to use forever. But printing as few as 30 digitally will cost as much as printing 500 using an offset printer, so there’s a bit of a “doughnut hole” here.

And many filmmakers just don’t have that much loose cash to spend.

Our recommendation is to only get a large quantity of posters made if you have a theatrical. In the meantime, you may want to limit the festivals to which you have posters sent to Industry festivals where buyers are present. For the other festivals, supply them with a link to the hi-res version of your one-sheet: many festivals will print on their own. This is especially helpful for international festivals. They may not print larger as large as 27×40, but at least the cost comes out of their budget, not yours.

TIPS ON LANDING ON THE RIGHT CONCEPT

I was asked to write this article to address the question of how one decides on the best visual representation for one’s film. In other words, what should you put in your poster?

The short answer is, there is not just one answer. You can ask 5 different people and they might each tell you something slightly different. But let me try to break it down with a few tips.

  1. Whatever you do, it should be polished and look like some thought was put into it. You would think that I’d be setting the bar a little higher as the first tip. But no. If someone whose film were premiering at a A- or B- list festival showed me the their poster, and it looked like the VOD poster for Arthur Newman or The English Teacher in the graphic above, I would tell them to either scrap it and start over, or to leave it at home.
  2. Know your marketing strategy before you start designing. I could write a blog just on this topic. More than one, actually. The number one problem that filmmakers have in this regard is that they are too close to their own film. So first, it’s important to talk to your team, and to others outside your team (shameless plug alert: also a perfectly good thing to talk about when you are consulting with TFC via one of our membership packages) about where your film fits into the market and who is going to be buying it…literally…which distributors, which niche market. If you feel that your film has crossover potential to a second niche audience, find a way to cater to both, but don’t dilute the message to serve two masters. Make sure you have the art to support whatever strategy you come up with. A designer can help you evaluate this, but this whole process might have to be repeated if the art comes up short. The task is for buyers to see the market potential. If you feel like a concept “cheapens” your film, don’t dismiss it completely until you’ve talked to somebody who can give you some perspective. Take your time and don’t rush. Build your brand thoughtfully. You are making key art to sell your film, not so you can hang a cool poster in your office.
  3. Hire a real designer. Don’t just get someone who knows Photoshop to do it for you for free. Make sure there is budget for this before you make your film. Ditto a web designer. Get someone who knows the industry. Someone who will watch your film and discuss ideas at length and who can at least talk through several directions with you before committing. Loop this person into the market strategy discussions.
  4. Your art should stand out but not be too obscure. What do I mean by this? Two tests: (1) Get a reality check—before you brainstorm, take a look at the artwork in the Criterion Collection. This is an example of what NOT to do. These films are mostly classics that are being rebranded in a pretty pretentious way. It’s fine for them. But not for you. You do not want to make a poster like this. Maybe some day. Not now. (2) Take the key art that your designer mocks up and paste it in a screen shot of the iTunes Store in the “Independent” genre (or a more specific genre in the store). Make it look like it were in the store already. How does it stand up? Would you notice it? Is the title completely readable? Would anyone recognize that *one* slightly recognizable star you have in your film at this size?
  5. Look at existing key art in the genres your film is attempting to target. Grab these poster images off the web, and give those to your designer as a reference. For certain type of films, it’s OK to be reductive. Others, you’ll want to be more original. For example, for docs and horror, go for originality and/or quirkiness. For foreign language narrative films set in exotic locales, go for scenic beauty plus audience identification with the protagonists. For LGBT films, go for sex or edge. For non-LGBT narrative films, put the most famous actor you have on the poster. For comedies: it better be amusing. For romance: it better be romantic. For thriller: it better thrill. Some of this seems obvious, but it also can be a lot easier said than done. There is no one right way, but there are many wrong ways. It’s important that you know what those are.
  6. Make a great trailer to go with your art. Hooking them with a poster does no good if the trailer they watch right afterward underwhelms. Think about your niche when producing this trailer. Think about how your poster gives folks a preview of what they will see in the trailer, and then exceed their expectations. Produce a trailer that’s PG. You can also produce another one that’s not, but you will need one that has no nudity, curses, drugs or sex toys for digial platforms. So now you’ve been warned. Encorporate your Title Treatment into the trailer to tie in your branding.

Another reason to take your time with your key art: use it as a way to get your audience involved. Maybe they haven’t heard from you since your Kickstarter campaign. Maybe you’ll pick up some Facebook fans at your first couple of festival screenings. Why not find a creative way to create a dialogue with the people who are supporting you?

As I stated at the beginning of this post, you will encounter a lot of opinions out there along the way. And “success” when it comes to key art is nearly impossible to measure objectively…is your campaign successful if people like it (even if they don’t really love your film)? If a buyer ends up using it? If your film does well in the marketplace? While there are many films that industry peeps can point to and credit key art for that film’s success, the vast majority of films will not fall into this category. Nor will they be offered a 7-figure deal from a major studio at Sundance. In the end, though, one of the toughest transitions a filmmaker has to make is the switch from proud parent to business person. Put yourself in the mindset of someone who knows nothing about your film: does the key art you produced really make people want to see your film? And will they even remember your brand when the time comes when they actually can see it? Everything else, as they say, is crap.

TIFF RIFF Part One-The Numbers, Advice, and Excitement

Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) starts this week and I will be there for almost the entire festival where I anticipate seeing 45-50 films before I depart. TIFF is not a film festival; it is a giant marathon that is almost beyond comprehension. If you believe that more is better, then this is the place to be. Think of TIFF as an 11 course film meal anchored by spam on steroids!

photo by chensiyuan

photo credit chensiyuan

Last year’s festival had 289 features (More than Sundance and SXSW combined!). Of these films, just over ½ (146) were world premieres. Less than 60% of total films at the festival, as well as fewer than 60% of world premieres, have managed to secure US distribution as of this writing. It’s important to note that the films at the fest came from 72 different countries and certain locales (USA, Israel) fared much better than others (All of Africa). Given that this is a major international festival, several films were able to secure international territories even if US distribution proved elusive.

Part of what makes the festival so large is the presence of studio films that take up a lot of the press, along with several North American Premieres from Cannes (36), Venice (16), and Locarno (9). Combined these films make up over 20% of the festival. 41 films or a little over 14% from the 2012 festival grossed over $1,000,000 theatrically in the States. While the number of films in total is quite impressive, the percentage puts it right in line with last year’s Sundance crop.  Of these films, ½ a dozen were studio releases and really don’t belong in the total. Another ½ dozen premiered at Cannes, Berlin, or Sundance.

The world premieres fared slightly better with 16% surpassing the same benchmark.  But if the studio films were removed from the equation, they drop to 13%, and of those, slightly more than half came to the fest with distribution attached.

So, why all the boring and headache inducing number? I think that with its start of the Oscar campaign season and studio gems, the festival often gets a distorted reputation. While it’s a great place to be if you’re a star driven vehicle, the reality is that there is an entire Sundance film festival worth of films that have yet to get distribution in the States!

The festival has a much larger international presence and many of these films have since been released in upwards of two dozen countries, even with the largest film market never coming into play. While the vast majority of these films are foreign and many are from countries that don’t have sizable diaspora populations in the States, several English language films still are struggling to find a way to release. “Detroit Unleaded” is the perfect example. It’s one of the few American films to be left behind, even though it won an award at the festival. Of course with over 4,000 submissions, the odds are still stacked against you getting into the people’s festival.

I want to talk about the two real problems of TIFF.  One is easily fixable and the other is not.

First, nobody at TIFF is thinking outside the box when it comes to distribution. Almost all of the films were traditional acquisitions (“Much Ado About Nothing”) or self-funded DIY vanity projects (Snoop Dogg’s “Reincarnated”). Percentage wise, more films from Tribeca and SXSW will see the light of the day because they had a plan B or C. They were open to DIY or non-theatrical distribution. For everyone who is going to TIFF, PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE don’t wait for that giant offer to come, because unless your film stars Ryan Gosling or has been deemed Oscar bait, the major payoff isn’t going to happen. Similarly, the festival is in September and there are no major US festivals till January. So you should already have your US premiere strategy thought out to help compensate for the months and months where you will not be able to generate press.

The other problem is simply the gluttony of films competing for attention. TIFF is simply not going to show fewer films. I wish they would consider it, so that movies playing can get more attention, or just cut all but one or two studio films from their roster. Since the gluttony of choices gives them major revenue and prestige, that is unlikely to happen. If you’re going to TIFF, this means you MUST have a stellar publicist and be ready to talk to anybody and everybody that you can. Promote the hell out of your film. Without fail, almost all the American non-star driven indies that go are too slow to set up their social media operation. Toronto is only a small body of water away from the States and I encourage you to let the world know early and often about your film.

I personally LOVE TIFF. Last year I saw so many incredible films there, and I’m not just talking about Oscar darling “Argo”.  There were so many mind-blowingly wonderful films I stumbled upon, some of which have distribution and one film that hasn’t even screened in the States yet.

I look forward to discovering more of the hidden gems this year at the festival and am happy to meet with any filmmakers to discuss how to connect their wondrous visions with audiences around the world.

STAY TUNED FOR PART 2 will look at how specific films performed

Do festival awards matter?

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!

 

Dorothy, we ARE in Kansas. Forget about Oz

I feel like a broken record. There is nothing I am writing here that I have not said and written many times before. Still. After all that has gone on in distribution. The willful blindness of filmmakers believing in the Oz fairytale of going to a festival, A-list or otherwise, without putting in the work of building an audience around their film, with the hope of a big sale. It is an unsupported hope of a deal that does not merit the delay of doing the work to connect with fans. They may go with a very skilled sales agent, and yet the sale that is made, if any, is one that the filmmaker could have done directly without giving up rights to their film and possibly even have done without signing such agreements because the offer was too low.

yellow brick road 2

There is no Yellow Brick Road for independent films

To be honest, we’re big fans of doing distribution deals in tandem with direct distribution by the filmmaker, so it’s not doing the deal that bothers me, especially not if it’s a good offer and additional work is going to be performed by the distribution company in service of the film.  What is a big deal is the lost marketing opportunity that comes from waiting for this mythical deal for too long. The failure to capitalize on all the buzz and press that happens at a festival which gives a small film the launch it needs to resonate with fans and convert them to purchasers. Too many times, the filmmaker is told (by the industry) to hold out for an offer that never comes. The real indie film landscape looks much more like Kansas after the tornado, rather than the Emerald City. There is no yellow brick road that leads everyone to “the wizard” with the money. We are all building our own road.

This myth of waiting for the big offer is perpetuated in the press and by the industry. A few films get lucky and go to Sundance, SXSW, Cannes etc., and, for one reason or another, a distributor pays a lot of money to buy them. Why does that happen? Sometimes “festival fever” is high among the buyers to compete with each other and  pressure to make higher bids than they should. Sometimes it’s a new distribution company trying to prove itself by outbidding more established players.  Sometimes it’s personal like wanting to produce the director’s next film. Sometimes a film warrants paying good money for it, so sure is the buyer that they have an audience winner, or film that will be critically acclaimed or a major award winner. In any case, that happens very few times a year to be sure.  MOST deals these days (relative to the number of films made and even shown at festivals) are not like that.

Generally, the money offered upfront does not even make the investors whole. The money ultimately remitted to the investors does not yield a profit most of the time for films without big name cast or at the top of their genre category. It seems to me filmmakers focus on the exceptions, the success stories, and ignore the rest of the data.

I was asked via our Facebook page to estimate what the budget for LGBT films should be because it is the kind of films we have A LOT of experience handling. Based on all our work in that space, I can say if you make your film for more than $150,000, you are taking a big risk of remaining in the red. It may still be a risk that at that price, but if it has decent production value, a very good story and pops at the right festivals, you can do deals and DIY and monetize all revenue fronts to make that budget back… maybe even as much as $250,000. But again, that is the exception, not the rule because there are a lot of Ifs in that last sentence. Often the revenue outcome is less in fact. Time to get to know the real story, not the ones being perpetuated to show financial success as the norm.

What I am urging now is to be MINDFUL OF TIME and LOST OPPORTUNITY and not just search for the yellow brick road expecting the wizard to make magic happen for your film. There’s just not that much magic left. While there still is some talent “getting discovered” (and to be honest this is often happening first in lab programs, not at prestigious festivals), big deals being done, careers being made (this happens annually at Sundance and even SXSW), you need to be honest with yourself about where your work lies in that realm of possibility based on the elements you have in place right now. At least have a back up plan put into action that sets up the film for capitalizing on the audience you have been building and continue to build at first shot out in public. So many films lose that chance and it will never come again for them. The task is too arduous to start all over again after the glare of the initial media and attention dies down.

This would not be a Film Collaborative post if I did not share some data with you about what is happening with films that are building their own roads to “Oz.” More specifics will be provided in the next post because we are waiting for it to come in, but for now let’s take a look at one avenue that filmmakers are still questioning, selling streams from their own website.

At Sheffield DocFest, Sheri Candler talked to DIY platform DISTRIFY with whom TFC works as does Wolfe Video, for example.  Filmmakers should think about using services such as Distrify for both the purpose of selling off one’s site(s) and/or if one’s conventional distributor partners with the service (in which case hopefully the filmmaker has an affiliate relationship and receives a healthy percentage from any sales they make from their own website). Distrify cautions that for the most part filmmakers think they can put a film on a platform and wait for the cash to roll in. “We have probably 3,000 films on the service now and I’d reckon that nearly half have never sold at all- because they’ve never told anyone that they are there!,” said Peter Gerard, co founder of Distrify. For stronger films that appeal to an identifiable niche, if filmmakers make the effort to audience-build and market to that audience, Gerard says those films sell a few thousand units…  For the UK, for example, these numbers are compatible with conventional DVD sales and the market as a whole.  A market that is a fraction of the one in the US.

Gerard also says “Mailing lists are still the most effective way to sell – our data shows that a well-written and well-targeted mail-shot converts at a much higher ratio than Facebook or Twitter posts. Gathering Facebook likes or followers is maybe somewhat helpful, but is primarily a vanity exercise. The top-performing films focus on direct links with people via emails, blogs, and real-life events.” All this stuff TFC’s been shouting about for years (build an email list, build relationships with fans etc) can be verified in the data!  We want to add that building your Facebook and Twitter accounts can demonstrate appeal to distributors seeking to assess a title to buy so we still recommend it if you are looking to make a sale.  And, in the US, it may help drive awareness for the sake of building demand on commercial platforms such as Netflix.

Gerard goes on to note: “I don’t think it helps most people to say this movie made $40k or this one made $20k. I think that can be misleading because I firmly believe there is no such thing as an “average low budget film” nor a “usual amount of marketing”. We work with a wide gamut of films, and success is measured very differently depending on a range of factors. We’ve had some filmmakers earning a few hundred bucks a week and re-investing that immediately into low-budget production of serial dramas or new films. We’ve paid Nigerian filmmakers 4-figure sums recently. A first-time filmmaker earned $10k in a few weeks on a super-niche short documentary and re-invested the profits into both charity donations and DVD production for selling on the ground via real-life social networks. All of these are considered big successes for the people involved.” One of TFC’s filmmakers will be a case study down the line as the film has been a standout performer on Distrify, but that is because of the filmmakers’ efforts, her long-standing brand, and also efforts of her distribution partner.

In another future post, we will be highlighting a filmmaker who has taken a completely different path to releasing his work. Rather than living in NYC or LA, he lives in Memphis, TN, a way cheaper place to live and to film in. He has built a respectable following of his own because he’s tapped into a specific niche (not LGBT) audience that is large enough to support the films he is making.

He seems happy and his sustainable filmmaking career is a refreshing reminder that it is possible to turn away from conventional wisdom on how things in the film business work. He’s is building his own road and it might never lead to Oz, but he is the wizard pulling the levers for his work in  the “post tornado Kansas” that is today’s indie film landscape.

 

SXSW 2012 outcomes-Kickstarter, DIY and digital rule!

TFC is stoked to be at SXSW 2013! In preparation of this year’s festival, we’ve taken a good look at how films performed that premiered at the festival last year. Always good to know a few facts.

sxsw-2013

 

This is the only major film festival in the US that is a FOR PROFIT.  As of this writing, it is also the only one that does not provide grant and/or distribution support directly to at least some of their films. In addition, the festival coincides with a tech conference where companies like Twitter were launched and it is the largest music festival in the United States.  All of the above can make it very easy for films to get lost in the shuffle.

With all that said, slightly over 2/3 of films that world premiered at the festival last year secured some form of domestic distribution. While these numbers might seem bleak, they aren’t as bad as they appear.   Noticeably absent from last year’s list are the big indie players like SPC, Focus Features and TWC. These companies often exhaust their funds at Sundance and EFM looking for bigger tent-pole releases. Still the festival is one of the best launching pads for an indie film in North America. IFC, Magnolia, Factory 25, Phase 4, Go Digital, Anchor Bay, Cinedigm, and Snag Films all acquired multiple films. I expect many of these companies to be in play again this year as well as a lot of distributors that were outbid on films during the buying frenzy at Sundance this year.

From last year’s premiere crop that were not studio releases, there have been three films that have grossed over $100,000 in domestic box office (though I expect one more to reach that mark).  Roadside Attractions acquired rights to Blue Like Jazz before the festival and the film has far and away the highest grossing theatrical revenue with $595,018 for 8 weeks on a max screen count of 136 . The film notably raised $345,992 on Kickstarter, almost 3x its stated goal. Adapted from Donald Miller’s memoir, the film came with a large fan-base already attached and was widely supported by the Christian community. Take heed of this fact!

PDA self-released the child chess documentary Brooklyn Castle after raising funds via Kickstarter. The film also sold remake rights for a TV series. To date it has grossed slightly over $200,000 after 11 weeks in theaters with a max screen count of 13 which, while out performing all other documentaries from the festival, makes it the lowest grossing PDA release.

Beware of Mr Baker, meanwhile, has become something of a surprise hit and just passed the century mark at the box office. It is now available on iTunes where it is in the top 100. A little under ½ the film’s tally came from one theater in NYC. So far, it has played 12 weeks in a maximum of 15 theaters. This doc is exactly reflective of the film one expects to see at the festival. It is a music focused film with a young director and edgy subject matter. Snag Films holds all digital rights to the film. This is notably much better than fellow Snag Films doc, Decoding Deepak, which reported opening weekend grosses of $9100 on 3 screens and quickly faded out of the theater. Both have most likely done solid numbers on digital platforms as marquee titles for Snag.

Like Blue Like Jazz, Fat Kid Rules The World was massively successful on Kickstarter raising $158,000 for its theatrical release. Matthew Lillard made his directorial debut with this film based on an award winning book that has many shades of his punk music upbringing. The film’s production budget was reportedly $750K. However, the film only grossed $41,457 in a one week run according to reported theatrical box office numbers. The theatrical consisted of a dozen cities with additional screenings supported by TUGG. It was released in partnership with Arc Entertainment.

Music Box Films has steered Starlet to over $88,000 with the film still playing in theaters, but near the end of the run. So far it played 12 weeks at a max screen count of 10. While not great numbers, the film about a unique friendship between an elderly recluse and a young porn star features real sex, which made it inaccessible to a number of theaters. Also still in theaters is the doc Gregory Crewdson: Brief Encounters about the notorious photographer. Zeitgeist keeps slowly adding dates and the film has steadily passed the $50k mark after 17 weeks with a max screen count of 3.

Performing on a smaller level were some well received documentaries. Oscilloscope’s Tchoupitoulas with $19,375 after 5 weeks on a max of 6 screens and Samuel Goldwyn’s Waiting for Lightning which got only $21,577 for one week on 11 screens.

On the narrative side, Cinedigm took horror film and midnight audience award winner Citadel to $13,377 in theaters for 9 weeks on a max of 7 screens and Red Flag Releasing handled the theatrical for the long delayed Duplass brothers film The Do-Decca Pentathlon. That film grossed $10,000 in its opening weekend on 8 screens and Fox Searchlight handled all other aspects of distribution.

TFC client Gayby was acquired for six figures out of the festival by Wolfe Releasing. The film grossed $14,062 from four screens and was the highest grossing gay comedy of the year. It played two weeks in Manhattan where it out-grossed all other films screening at The Cinema Village combined and later had a bonus run in Brooklyn. It also included a number of unique approaches. Most notably instead of a week-long theatrical in San Francisco, we held two special screenings at the Castro Theater. The gross for those screenings was higher than that of the entire run in the LA market. Though only out on DVD/Digital a few months, the film has already been profitable for Wolfe Releasing.

A lot of SXSW films embraced the youthful component of the festival and eschewed theatrical distribution entirely.

Documentaries: The Announcement, The Central Park Effect (Music Box has DVD rights), Uprising: Hip Hop & The LA Riots, and Seeking Asian Female premiered on ESPN, HBO, VH1, and PBS respectively.

Booster is available for download on iTunes/Amazon. Daylight Savings did a DIY digital, Extracted was released on digital platforms courtesy of Go Digital and Anchor Bay acquired The Aggression Scale, but opted to go straight to DVD.

Factory 25 just put Pavilion into release. They released The Sheik and I at the end of 2012, but did not report grosses. It played in four theaters with only Seattle lasting more than a week.

3,2,1…Frankie Go Boom (Phase 4),The Tall Man (Image), $ellebrity (DIY), King Kelly (Go Digital) and The Jeffrey Dahmer Files (IFC Midnight) also opted not to release grosses and all were out of theaters in a week (except for King Kelly which lasted 2) with a tally of under $10,000 likely for each. A few of these are in Amazon Instant Video’s top 25 list though.

Funeral Kings (Freestyle) and Beauty Is Embarrassing (DIY) did not release grosses, but played in far more theaters. The latter likely finished comfortably over $25,000. Kings is in the top 100 list on iTunes.

Meanwhile, several films failed to break $10k. Notably, they are all non-competition narrative films. All except for The Last Fall had rotten ratings on rottentomatoes.com, many below 10%. Perhaps they fared much better on digital and VOD for which numbers are not available.

These films included Crazy Eyes, bought pre fest by Strand Releasing and grossed $6,106 on 5 screens in 3 weeks. Cinedigm’s In Our Nature, a family drama starring Zach Gilford, Jena Malone, John Slattery, and Gabrielle Union grossed $6,543 in 2 weeks on 1 screen. The critically panned Magnolia comedy Nature Calls grossed a paltry $646 on 2 screens in its entire run. The Last Fall, a life-after-football drama, only reported its opening weekend gross of $6,100 on 1 screen.  Of these films, it came the closest to covering basic costs of a theatrical run.

Millenium Entertainment dumped comedy The Babymakers into the marketplace on 11 screens where even with the help of TUGG it only amassed $7,889. Anchor Bay’s generic horror film, Girls Against Boys, grossed $7,529 and went right to digital and VOD after 1 week in theaters. However, it is one of the top 100 horror films in DVD and Amazon instant video. They acquired the film for seven figures! Rec 3: Genesis, the third film in this successful horror series, was pre bought by Magnolia and lasted 4 weeks in theaters, but never had a PSA over $1k and bowed out at $9,600.

In the yet to be released category– IFC’s jury winning narrative film Gimme the Loot will be released March 22.  Phase 4 is sitting pretty on the audience award winning Eden and See Girl Run. Tribeca has Somebody Up There Likes Me queued for VOD release on March 12. Magnolia just bought Big Star which screened as a work in progress at the fest. Small Apartments bought by Sony Pictures Worldwide is also waiting in the wings for release sometime in 2013. Factory 25 has Sun Don’t Shine geared up for April 29 release.

BONUS TIDBIT: KICKSTARTER

At least 20 films at SXSW this year raised funds on Kickstarter. That is slightly more than 15% of the films playing at the festival. 22 features from last year’s festival used Kickstarter with a number of those campaigns held post fest. I anticipate this year’s fest to ultimately have over 30 feature films using the crowdfunding platform. Obviously crowd-funding is a huge boost for indie filmmakers as it provides the luxury of not having to worry about paying back investors. And this list does not include films that have used other sites like Indiegogo…In no particular order…

Mr. Angel 12 O Clock Boys, Improvement Club, Continental, Linsanity, Swim Little Fish Swim, Big Joy (x2), Our Nixon, Good Ol’ Freda, I Am Divine, Good Night, Fall and Winter, Medora, Maidentrip, White Reindeer, Bayou Maharajah (x3), All the Labor, This Ain’t No Mouse Music!, The Punk Singer, Finding the Funk

From last year’s festival, the list of Kickstarter funded films include ½ of the competition titles: Gayby, Gimme The Loot, Booster, The Taiwan Oyster (x2), Bay of All Saints, Seeking Asian Female, Welcome to the Machine, and The Jeffrey Dahmer Files,  and also Girl Walk/All Day, Brooklyn Castle (x2), Pavilion, The Last Fall, Blue Like Jazz, Fat Kid Rules The World, Beauty is Embarrassing, Code of the West, Tchoupitoulas, Leave Me Like You Found Me, La Camioneta, Electrick Children, Wonder Women! The Untold Story of American Superheroes (x2), Trash Dance (x2)

Final wrap up of Sundance deals

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

Excerpt from “Insiders Guide To Independent Film Distribution Second Edition”

By Stacey Parks

This is an excerpt of the interview Stacey Parks did with our own Orly Ravid regarding digital distribution. Stacey’s book is now available in paperback and kindle versions at www.FilmSpecific.com/Book.

 

What To Expect From A Distribution Deal: Interview With Orly Ravid from The Film Collaborative 

 Q: What’s it like for filmmakers these days in terms of getting traditional theatrical, broadcast, and DVD distribution deals for their films?

A: I think that film like any business, is affected by market forces.  There’s more supply than there has ever been.  The means of production have become less expensive and more accessible and film has gotten even more and more popular as evidenced by the proliferation of film festivals and film schools and corporate brands who have initiatives relating to film (contests and such).  There are thousands of films for sale in markets such as Cannes & AFM each year and that’s not counting the projects in development, also for sale.

So the bottom line is that there’s simply an excess of supply over demand. And the other factor that has changed is the attrition, if not the collapse, of the middle B2B infrastructure that did emerge and sustain with VHS & DVD, but that does not maintain with digital distribution.  The reason being is that when there were many DVD stores (and VHS before that) the businesses were in competition and they all needed product and weren’t always sure of what would sell or rent well so they actually stocked up, which gave the distributors a huge upside and that potential upside lead to healthy competition, which lead to a healthier business. These days, many video stores are out of business and the ones that still exist (such as Walmart) buy cheap and then return what does not sell (not that that did not happen before, but to a lesser extent), and so the traditional distributors proceed with greater caution when it comes to acquiring new films for the pipeline.

Then there’s the other issue of piracy which leads to less consumption overall and now over 20,000,000 subscribers wait for a film to be available on Netflix which can be healthy business for smaller films that otherwise could not sell well, BUT it’s not great for films that could or would sell otherwise.

The theatrical business is also hurt by both over-supply and by the ‘Netflixing’ of the U.S market.  Digital distribution is there, but again the oversupply makes things competitive and the price points are different so volume is critical, hence the middle man aggregator can do well if it has a breadth of content, but individual producers need to have a film that competes very well in order to be made whole.

And then lastly there’s the Broadcast market. Well, as TV and the Internet become one, TV buying is less of a reliable source of revenue, prices have come down considerably and more rights / revenue streams are impacted when prices are higher such that the net is affected.  Of course, bigger films can be exceptions and studios have their deals. But for the independents and smaller films, Broadcast deals are harder to get and worth less when one gets them.  And nothing but a change in supply can change any of this because technology is certainly not going backwards.

Q: I know you’ve been a champion of ‘newer’ distribution platforms like Video On Demand (VOD), but what’s in it for the filmmakers?

A: I don’t champion them as much as I address that Cable VOD is responsible for 80% of the revenue in the digital space, which is not the same as all VOD. Films that do well in VOD can make 5 and 6 figures in revenue.  By contrast, films that don’t do well make much less and sometimes almost nothing. The truth is VOD is not some magic pill; it’s simply a new delivery mechanism, with some advantages over physical media in terms of accessibility and with some disadvantages in terms of even greater glut and not always great recommendation engines or as easy of time to market (images are smaller, you don’t have as much real estate to market the film).  The proliferation of the iPad is expected to increase the transactional rental business (ex: Netflix) and that interface is also seemingly more filmmaker / film consumption friendly.  In any case, no one in distribution thinks DVD and physical media is going up; it’s only going down so for home entertainment or entertainment on the go (e.g. mobile), digital is here, we have to make the most of it.

Q: In your opinion, do film festivals still play a key role in helping filmmakers find distribution for their films? Or have you seen cases where skipping the festival route and going straight to distribution is OK too? 

A: If your film is festival-worthy or festival-appropriate going that route can never hurt and in fact, often helps. The better the festivals are, the better the film can succeed in terms of sales and also often in terms of audience awareness and interest.  Skipping festivals makes sense for non-festival-type films.  For example, genre films normally don’t need festivals although sometimes they can be helped by a good festival strategy. I think now more than ever festivals play a key role in helping audiences find films and filmmakers find audiences. AND, since at least 5 years ago I have been championing festivals getting involved more in distribution.  I expressed that enthusiastically to the folks at Sundance starting in 2009 and also to other niche festivals too. I truly believe that a more distribution-centric strategy makes sense for both filmmakers and festivals, though only for festivals with a strong brand or niche appeal.

Q: What about foreign distribution? In your experience is this still a major revenue stream for the filmmakers you’re working with?

A: Only for some of our filmmakers – for example, genre filmmakers, niche filmmakers, and some of the more commercial documentaries. For the others, it’s not really a viable option. The money for foreign distribution deals is so small for most films so we end up licensing the films when possible for a good enough deal and otherwise invoke a direct digital distribution and DIY strategy.

Q: What are some things filmmakers need to look out for when making any distribution deal? In other words, what are some of the biggest mistakes you see filmmakers making in regards to negotiating distribution deals?

A: I covered this a bit in my recent blog post and I do encourage filmmakers to read the blog when the topic relates to them because it covers a lot.  Some of the key mistakes in short are:

1. Not getting references and checking on those in order to evaluate the verity of the distributor’s claims.

2. Not knowing enough and analyzing enough the degree of middlemen between the distributor and each key revenue stream.

3. Not having enough protection for material breach.

4. Not defining and also capping recoupable costs properly.

5. Giving up too many rights for too little reason.

6. Having blind faith and being too passive in one’s own responsibility to know the film’s audience and how to reach it.

7. Not having good photography or images to help market the film.

8. On the pro distributor side, sometimes filmmakers think they know better and can do a better trailer for example. They may be right but they can be wrong too and be too close to the film to know how to “sell it”.

 

Stacey Parks is a Producer and film distribution expert with over 15 years experience working with independent filmmakers. As a Foreign Sales Agent for several years, she secured distribution for hundreds of independent worldwide. Stacey currently specializes in coaching independent filmmakers on financing and distribution strategies for their projects, and works with them both one-on-one and through her online training site www.FilmSpecific.com The 2nd edition of her best selling film book “Insiders Guide To Independent Film Distribution” (Focal) is now available at www.FilmSpecific.com/Book.

 

Festivals Getting into Distribution

Don’t worry folks, I have not forgotten the 3rd and final part of the blog series “IF I WERE A FILMMAKER GOING TO SUNDANCE”… it’s posting this week. But in the meantime, this just in, well actually not, it’s been brewing for a while…

Festivals getting involved in distribution is all the rage. For festivals with very strong brand recognition, it makes sense to move into this arena. We’ve been recommending it to fests for years (since 2005) and we are happy to see some, such as Sundance, are getting into the fray. It makes sense for the biggest brand festivals to be using their name recognition to bring attention to the films they screen. We at TFC have a Foreign Language Oscar Initiative with Palm Springs International, a festival known for its curation of world cinema. It makes sense that together we will bring the recognition of PSIFF chosen films to a wider audience.

The Sundance brand, being strongly recognized with consumers even outside of the independent film industry, is ideal for filmmakers to use to their distribution advantage as close to the festival as possible. With the festival getting involved in distribution, the time between festival premiere and release will only help. For festivals that do not yet have a very strong consumer brand or niche it may make less sense.

An article today in the New York Times talks about some of the fests’ distribution plans.

We’ll be drilling more into this in the coming months. For now, we wanted to address TriBeCa Films distribution.

TriBeCa Films is a for-profit company and in that way they are acting like a traditional distribution company taking rights, offering Minimum Guarantees (MGs) but charging interest, all the usual stuff.  That’s the difference between TriBeCa and what Sundance has indicated its distribution will look like. The difference between it and let’s say a digital aggregator such as IndieFlix is that it has strong direct Cable VOD relationships (e.g. Comcast) and TriBeCa has a strong marketing partnership in AMEX (as noted in the article) which brings significant financial sponsorship support to marketing and we expect other partnerships are in the works.  It’s been said that overages from TriBeCa Films have been quite healthy and that the Cable VOD distribution paid off.

They started with 11 films last year and they plan to increase to 26 this year.  They partner with New Video for their DVD and for access on other digital platforms (iTunes, Amazon etc), an excellent partner but yet another middle man. The theatrical aspect of their distribution seems modest at this moment but that is no different than many other distributors and it may change in time.

Sundance is just starting to formulate its plans, but it is a non-profit and is not seeking to behave like a traditional distributor. Rather, their initiative will facilitate certain components of distribution access to key platforms under the strength of its brand and that would be a key difference.

The NYT piece cites Janet Pierson’s unwillingness for SXSW to join in the digital distribution business. As she rightly surmised, distribution is complicated, it is not always revenue generating, it can be cost-intensive, it can invite great scrutiny from filmmakers and industry and certainly does complicate a film festival’s activities and politics. So maybe for SXSW, it is enough to be at the top of the technology front and be a successful event for the convergence of art, technology and media happenings and leave well enough alone.

These are changing times indeed, with no shortage of options on accessing platforms where audiences could find your work. Branding and marketing are crucially important, and so on that note, until the next blog post.