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

Tags: , ,

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: , , , , , ,

Written by Orly Ravid and Sheri Candler

Now that the line up for feature films screening in Park City has been announced and the Berlinale is starting to reveal its selections, let’s turn our attention to the potential publicity and sales opportunities that await these films.

For those with  lower budget, no-notable-names-involved films heading to Park City this January, we understand the excitement and hopefulness of the distribution offers you believe your film will attract, but we also want to implore you to be aware that not every film selected for a Park City screening will receive a significant distribution offer. There are a many other opportunities, perhaps BETTER opportunities, for your film to reach a global (not just domestic) audience, but if you aren’t prepared for both scenarios, the future of your film could be bleak.

For any other filmmaker whose film is NOT heading to Park City, this post will be vital.

Sundance Egyptian

Have you been a responsible filmmaker?

What does this mean? Time and again we at The Film Collaborative see filmmakers willingly, enthusiastically going into debt, either raising money from investors or credit cards or second mortgages (eek!) in order to bring their stories to life. But being a responsible filmmaker means before you started production, you clearly and realistically understood the market for your film.  When you expect your film to: get TV sales, international sales, a decent Netflix fee, a theatrical release, a cable VOD/digital release, do you understand the decision making process involved in the buying of films for release? Do you understand how many middlemen may stand in the money chain before you get your share of the money to pay back financing?  Was any research on this conducted BEFORE the production started? With the amount of information on sites like The Film Collaborative, MovieMaker, Filmmaker Magazine, IndieWire and hundreds of blogs online, there is no longer an excuse for not knowing the answers to most of these questions well before a production starts. This research is now your responsibility once you’ve taken investors’ money (even if the investor is yourself) and you want to pursue your distribution options. Always find out about middlemen before closing a deal, even for sales from a sales agent’s or distributor’s website, there may be middlemen involved that take  a hefty chunk that reduces yours.

Where does your film fit in the marketplace?

Top festivals like Sundance, Berlin, Cannes, Toronto give a film the start of a pedigree, but if your film doesn’t have that, significant distribution offers from outside companies will be limited. Don’t compare the prospects for your film to previous films on its content or tone alone. If your film doesn’t have prestige, or names, or similar publicity coverage or a verifiable fanbase, it won’t have the same footprint in the market.

Your distribution strategy may be informed by the size of your email database, the size of the social media following of the film and its cast/crew, web traffic numbers and visitor locations from your website analytics, and the active word of mouth and publicity mentions happening around it. These are the elements that should help gauge your expectations about your film’s impact as well as its profitability. Guess what the impact is if you don’t have these things or they are small? Yeah…

Understand the difference between a Digital Aggregator and a Distributor?

Distributors take exclusive ownership of your film for an agreed upon time. Aggregators  have direct relationships with digital platforms and often do not take an ownership stake. Sometimes distributors also have direct relationships with digital platforms, and so they themselves can also serve as an aggregator of sorts. However, sometimes it is necessary for a distributor to work with outside aggregators to access digital platforms.

Do  understand that the digital platform takes a first dollar percentage from the gross revenue (typically 30%), then aggregators get to recoup their fees and expenses from what is passed through them, but there are some that only take a flat fee upfront and pass the rest of the revenue back. Then distributors will recoup any of their expenses and their fee percentage, then comes sales agents with their expenses and fees. And finally, the filmmaker will get his or her share. Many filmmakers and film investors do not understand this and wonder why money doesn’t flow back into their pockets just a few months after initial release. You guys are in the back of the line so hopefully, if you signed a distribution agreement, you received a nice advance payment. Think how many cuts are coming out of that $5.99 consumer rental price? How many thousands will you have to sell to see some money coming in?

Windowing.

If you do decide to release on your own, knowing how release windows work within the industry is beneficial. Though the time to sequence through each release window is getting shorter, you still need to pay attention to which sales window you open when, especially in the digital space. Anyone who has ever had a Netflix account knows that, as a consumer, you would rather watch a film using the Netflix subscription you have already paid for rather than shell out more cash to buy or rent a stream of the latest movies. But from a filmmaker/distributor’s perspective, this initial Transactional VOD (TVOD) window maximizes profits because, unlike a flat licensing fee deal from Netflix, the film gets a percentage of every transactional VOD purchase. So if you release your film on Netflix or another subscription service (SVOD) right away without being paid a significant fee for exclusivity, you are essentially giving the milk away. And when that happens, you can expect to see transactional purchases (a.k.a. demand for the cow) decrease.

Furthermore, subscription sites like Netflix will likely use numbers from transactional purchases to inform, at least in part, their decision as to whether or not to make an offer on a film in the first place. In other words, showing sales data, showing you have a real audience behind your film, is a key ingredient to getting on any platform where you need to ask permission to be on it.  Netflix is not as interested in licensing independent film content as it once was. It is likely that if your film is not a strong performer theatrically, or via other transactional VOD sites, it may not garner a significant  Netflix  licensing fee or they may refuse to take it onto the platform.

Also be aware that some TV licensing will be contingent on holding back subscription releases for a period of time. If you think your film is a contender for a broadcast license, you may want to hold off on a subscription release until you’ve exhausted that avenue. Just don’t wait too long or the awareness you have raised for your film will die out.

Direct distribution from your website

Your website and social channels are global in their reach. Unless you are paid handsomely for all worldwide distribution rights to your film, your North American distributor should not run the channels where you connect with your audience; the audience you have spent months or years on your own to build and hope to continue to build. These channels can be used to sell access to your film far more profitably for you than going through several middlemen.

Many low budget American films are not good candidates for international sales because the audience worldwide isn’t going to be big enough to appeal to various international distributors. Rather than give your rights to a sales agent for years just to see what they can do, think seriously about selling to global audiences from your own website and from sites such as Vimeo, Youtube, and iTunes. In agreements we make with distributors for our members, we negotiate the ability to sell worldwide to audiences directly off of a website without geo-blocking unsold territories. If you are negotiating agreements with other distributors, the right to sell directly can be extremely beneficial to carve out.  If you do happen to sell your film in certain international territories, it is wise to also make sure you do not distribute on your site in a way that will conflict with any worldwide street dates  and any other distribution holdbacks or windowing that may be required per your distribution contract.

You can sell DVDs, merchandise, downloads and streaming off your own site with the added benefit of collecting contact email addresses for use throughout your filmmaking career. Above all,  don’t hold out for distribution opportunities that may not come when publicity and marketing is happening. So many times we are contacted by filmmakers who insist on spending a year or more on the festival circuit with no significant distribution offers in sight and they are wasting their revenue potential by holding back on their own distribution efforts. You can play festivals AND sell your films at the same time. Many regional fests no longer have a policy against films with digital distribution in place. When the publicity and awareness is happening, that’s the time to release.

Festival distribution is a thing

Did you know that festivals will pay screening fees to include your film in their program? It’s true! But there is a caveat. Your film must have some sort of value to festival programmers. How does a film have value? By premiering at a world class festival (Sundance, Berlin, SXSW etc or at a prestige niche festival) or having notable name cast. Those are things that other festivals prize and are willing to pay for.

You should try to carve out your own festival distribution efforts if a sales or distribution agreement is presented. That way you will see these festival screening fees and immediately start receiving revenue. Our colleagues, Jeffrey Winter and Bryan Glick, typically handle festival distribution for members of The Film Collaborative without needing to take ownership rights over the film (unlike a sales agent). TFC shares in a percentage of the screening fee and that is the only way we make money from festival distribution. No upfront costs, no ownership stake.

Deliverables

This is an expense that many new filmmakers are unfamiliar with and without the proper delivery items, sales agents and distributors will not be able/interested in distributing your film. You may also find that even digital platforms will demand some deliverables. At TFC (as well as with any sales agent/distributor), we require E&O insurance with a minimum coverage of $1,000,000 per occurrence, $3,000,000 in the aggregate, in force for a term of three years. The cost to purchase this insurance is approximately $3000-$5000. Also, a Closed Captioning file is required for all U.S. titles on iTunes. The cost can be upwards of $900 to provide this file.  Additionally, many territories (such as UK, Australia, New Zealand and others) are now requiring official ratings from that territory’s film classification board, the cost of which can add up if you plan to make your film available via iTunes globally. For distributors, closed captioning and foreign ratings are recoupable expenses that they pay for upfront, but if you are self distributing through an aggregator service, this expense is on you upfront.

You may also be asked to submit delivery items to a sales agent or a distributor such as a HD Video Master, a NTSC Digi- Beta Cam down conversion and a full length NTSC Digi-Beta Pan & Scan tape all accompanied by a full Quality Control report, stereo audio on tracks 1&2, the M&E mix on tracks 3&4 and these may cost $2000-$5000 depending on the post house you use. If your tapes fail QC and you need to go back and fix anything, the cost could escalate upwards of $15,000. Then there are the creative deliverables such as still photography, key art digital files if they exist, electronic press kit if it exists or the video footage to be assembled into one, the trailer files if they exist. Also, all talent contracts and releases, music licenses and cue sheets, chain of title, MPAA rating if available etc.

Distribution is a complicated and expensive process. Be sure you have not completely raided your production budget or allocated a separate budget (much smarter!) in order to distribute directly to your audience and for the delivery items that will be needed if you do sign an agreement with another distribution entity. Also, seek guidance, preferably from an entity that is not going to take an ownership stake in the film for all future revenue over a long period of time.

For those headed to Park City, good luck with your prospects. TFC will be on the ground so keep up with our Tweets and Facebook posts. If the offers aren’t what you envisioned for your film, be ready to mobilize your own distribution efforts.

 

December 19th, 2013

Posted In: Digital Distribution, Distribution

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

A guest post from director Leslie Harris. I asked Leslie to participate in this series because to me she represents what the older generation of film directors is facing. The way things are being done now is VERY different to the early and mid ’90s when film financing and large distribution deals were plentiful. A time when her Sundance winning film had a full and celebrated release on the Miramax label. New developments like social media, digital self distribution, and the idea that a creator has to gather an audience and build a personal brand have left some of the older generation shaking their heads. Leslie is diving right in and running a Kickstarter campaign for a new film and I applaud her willingness to experiment and adapt her previous experience to this new world of film finance and distribution.

Even though I have made a feature film before, the Sundance Special Jury Prize winner Just Another Girl on the I.R.T. released by Miramax in 1993, no matter how many films you have made, most filmmakers will tell you making another feature is like starting over from scratch.

Leslie Harris IRT

When my film was released in the 90’s, it was a boom for independent film financing and distribution and somewhat a Renaissance for the indie African-American filmmakers too. Unfortunately, the boom was mainly for the young, hot, male directors not women. Black women both in front of and behind the camera, well… we were practically non-existent except for a few of us.

Fast forward to today, sure there are more Black actresses working, but not in all genres and the recent controversy about the lack of Black Women on Saturday Night Live exemplifies what we’re facing. The numbers are even more embarrassingly low for Black women behind the camera. There’s a lot of work to do to make a change and that’s why I came to crowdfunding. I think crowdfunding works best for filmmakers who have been ignored by traditional film financing sources and have something passionate to say. Projects that artists can take straight to the audience and encourage their support rather than to studios and investors purely looking at the bottom line. My new film, I Love Cinema, is a satirical comedy about sex, race and politics in a ‘so-called’ post-racial world. The story is about Professor Layla Laneaux, sophisticated, educated and African-American. Layla is obsessed with cinema both in the classroom and the bedroom, but the Professor’s film fantasy world is shattered by racial controversy and a media circus all seemingly out to get her.

The same skills that I learned in the go-go 90’s of indie film are still useful to me today. My experience applying and receiving grants from National Endowment for the Arts, American Film Institute and New York State Council on the Arts is helpful because I had to convince people in a concise way that my story is viable and worth funding. Back then, I put together a reel and wrote the grant application. I also approached people like filmmaker Michael Moore and author Terry McMillan, who both supported Just Another Girl on the I.R.T with a check. Now my reel is a pitch video and my written application is the text on my Kickstarter page. In a way, I have already run a sort of Kickstarter, but now I need to reach many more people about my film idea and need to use all of the new tools available to me.

Social media and the internet are basically the heart of a crowdfunding effort…Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc.  I have learned the value of having a great team of people to help with social media, though I found my team mid-way through my campaign…a mistake! You’ll make mistakes, but doing crowdfunding is relatively new so it is a learning process.  I was so happy to find committed young people, especially women, who were internet savvy and happy to volunteer. Search around, it may take a bit of time to find the right person, but there is someone out there to help. My interns are learning new skills that will help them in their careers in film because I think crowdfunding sites for moviemakers is the wave of the future for financing. I couldn’t do this campaign alone. I have learned having your film on a crowdfunding site is similar to making a really small indie film…you have to have a team.

And ya gotta be passionate and tenacious because crowdfunding is a lot of work! I’ve gotten very little sleep, about four hours a night. But my sleep deprivation didn’t just occur during the 30-Days while my project has been live. I’ve been preparing for this campaign for months prior to the launch. First, I did my research about crowdfunding wherever I could find information from blogs, advice from other filmmakers who have done crowdfunding and even You Tube videos to see what worked and what didn’t. I didn’t want to copy what someone else was doing because, in my opinion, every project is unique and your video has to reflect your particular film. I looked at production techniques and editing transitions. For example, it’s effective to use dissolves for this format if you have a one camera set up when one person is talking directly to the potential backers. If you’re not experienced in front of the camera, and most filmmakers aren’t…it’s going to be hard not to flub a line and I flubbed a lot of ‘em! Remember, there are limitations. You can’t use copyrighted material or music in your video unless it is cleared and you have to have permission to use it. So be really creative. Keep your video short 2-3 minutes unless the subject and tone calls for something longer. For example a documentary fundraising video might be 5 minutes or longer because you have a lot of material and it may take a bit longer for the story to unfold with a doc.

Let’s be honest reaching your goal is tough. My advice is to be ultra conservative in determining your goal. Mine is set for $35,000. The style and tone of your pitch video also depends on whether you’re asking for funds in pre-production, production or post. Are you trying to get something new off of the ground or something almost finished into the world?

Remember you have to offer perks and that means you have to produce them and deliver them in a timely manner (don’t forget postage costs!) and make your backers happy. Offer great rewards that are really interesting and valuable, but don’t cost much to produce. For example, I am offering a Production Journal as one of my rewards that will detail my experiences on set during production. It is something I would probably be writing anyway. How much will it cost you to make a T-Shirt? How many do you plan to sell? How much is shipping to India?  I had to use my 9th Grade math skills a lot while deciding what rewards I would offer.

Yes, raising funds this way is a tremendous amount of work.  While I’ve launched, there is still a lot more to do during the campaign. Update! Update and Update!  I keep my page current with photos, links, video and press…Indiewire’s Shadow and Act did a great piece on our film. This experience for me has been exciting. It’s new. Implementing the social media, creating a video that is spread around the world is very cool!  I’m a storyteller. The crowd-funding process is all about telling a story.  Ask yourself…why does my film deserve funding? Put yourself in the role of a backer.

Who knows if I’m going to make my goal…so take what I have written with a grain of salt, it’s just one experience. For me, it’s been rewarding already. I’ve reconnected with many friends and colleagues. Actress, Jennifer Williams, and my production team have been wonderful in making the video.  I couldn’t have done this without my Editor, Jack Haigis. My producer, Erwin Wilson has been at my side all the way. Great people who supported the project… and that’s gold! I’ve met and worked with great women who are savvy in social media. I know I am doing my best. I can always sleep after December 8th the last day of my campaign. So wish me luck and stop by my Kickstarter page. I could really use your support!

November 29th, 2013

Posted In: crowdfunding, Uncategorized

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We’ve all heard the stories of the little independent horror films that could; seemingly plucked from nowhere and went on to be mega hits. 

Paranormal Activity, a $15,000 film launched at Slamdance 2008, was bought for about $350,000 and became the highest grossing film in the history of the festival. Though it was originally acquired with remake rights in mind, it ended up spawning four subsequent installments.

Sundance 2004 served as the launchpad for Saw (production budget around $1mil) which, like Paranormal Activity, was never supposed to go to movie theaters; it was originally going to go direct to DVD. It spawned 6 sequels. Another Sundance premiere, The Blair Witch Project, was shot for $60,000 and made over $140 Million in theaters.

Insidious was made for $1.5 mil, premiered at the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival and grossed over $90 Mil worldwide. Other films to launch at TIFF include Hostel and Cabin Fever.

horror blog

Yes, these films are the exceptions to the rule. The rule that says box office success is a result of higher production spends and star names. Such is the potential of the horror genre. It has one of the most loyal audiences who, to a certain degree, ignore critics and don’t care too much about star cast. The catch is the traditional indie release model does not work to get these films out to market.

It is almost impossible for a horror indie to do the slow expansion route. This is why most films either release day/date, go direct to DVD or open wide and place all their marbles on opening weekend. Almost all horror films drop off over 50% after their first weekend. Often dropping even 60 or 70%. Even a film with critical appeal like You’re Next only received middling reactions from the larger fan boy audience and will end its theatrical with less than $20 Million. Notably, it still out-performed all but one TIFF acquisition from last year’s festival.

What makes the films I listed above unique is that they either opened in limited release and immediately garnered major interest (Paranormal Activity) or showed immense staying power per the genre (Insidious).

The commercial potential of horror compared to other arthouse films cannot be ignored. Almost no one I know would consider any of those films ‘arthouse,’ but that’s exactly what they are. They are some of the most commercially successful independent films ever released. This year, all but one of the midnight madness films from TIFF has a US distributor attached and last year’s batch all found distribution deals, making it the only section from the festival to secure domestic distribution for all of its slate.

Even the films that don’t necessarily draw massive box office are usually incredibly successful. Sundance films like The Pact and V/H/S were never about theatrical receipts. Both were profitable via the advance received for their domestic distribution deal alone and both were profitable for the distributor (mainly via home video and foreign sales) hence why they each got sequels. Horror is arguably the only genre I know where a film could be bought for just shy of seven figures (The Pact), gross less than $10k theatrically in the US and still be considered a massive success. Distributors like Anchor Bay (who sometimes finances too), IFC Midnight, and Magnet specialize in this kind of release model and continue to thrive. It’s incredibly rare for any of them to push the theatrical and almost all of their releases are available on demand upwards of 2 months before they even pop up on a screen.

There is also a clear set of time windows when these films do well. You will not see horror films popping up in theaters in the US during November or December and with good reason. Who can compete with the Christmas releases? Many distributors treat horror as filler title for January/February and it has worked well for films like Hostel. Insidious and The Pact were both summer counter programming. When The Sixth Sense set a then record for releasing at the end of summer, it seems to have set a precedent to debut horror in late summer.

I want to be clear though all is not a pot of gold when it comes to the genre. Please contrast this post with the prior blog entry from my colleague Sheri Candler. EVERYTHING there is absolutely true. I received more solicitations for generic horror films from the Cannes, TIFF, and AFM markets than for anything other genre or story. Many of these films will never see the light of day and even at micro budgets will fail to recoup.

Every year, we anoint maybe one or two new voices in the genre and otherwise it’s mostly a rehashing of the same people. Just look at the midnight films from TIFF this year, The Green Inferno and All Cheerleaders Must Die from Lucky McKee. There are fewer spots for new auteurs to breakthrough. The people who are in the horror game are frequently collaborating and backing one another creating a genre power situation where they can squeeze out the very little guys/gals that would have just as easily been considered a few years ago. It’s a giant game of six degrees of separation now that gets one to the inner circle of horror stardom.

As the horror sequels pile on, it is so easy to forget the simplicity of what came first. If horror is your game, I encourage you to go back and watch the original Saw. It’s really a mystery story focusing on two people trapped in a room. The few other traps we see are only in flashback. The bulk of the film is two people talking in a room. As studios continue to struggle to push the boundaries (okay let’s be honest, they struggle to come up with anything even slightly unique or entertaining), they look to the festival circuit for the next film with breakout potential. Every horror franchise to launch in the last few years has come from the festival circuit.

There is still a lot of life left in the genre, but if you’re on a micro-budget, you have to offer something fresh or with minimal star power or have powerful connection in the indie world to get noticed. Horror is one genre where titling and cover art can make or break success with an audience. The attention span of the typical horror fan is very short unless they recognize something they like immediately. It’s no accident that people were talking about Sharknado; an absurd, but definitely different take on horror and sci fi. It lit up Twitter like nobody’s business. The Asylum does very well making those types of films. But the success narrative is skewed; it only attracted a viewing audience slightly better than a typical SyFy Channel movie of the week and its hurried theatrical screenings pulled in less than $200K from 200 cinemas. Still, it has spawned a sequel!

So to recap, the genre is waiting for someone to break out in the midnight section at Sundance, SXSW, Tribeca, and/or TIFF, these films are often the most successful to come out of the festival circuit and almost always receive a deal. However, to get into the festivals at all is incredibly difficult and if you’re not already connected to the “in crowd,” you are probably shit out of luck. While you could do a D grade microbudget film with distribution pre attached through Full Moon, what would that do for you? The best case scenario is you make a whopping $5,000 for all your hard work, they get control of the edit and the film doesn’t see a significant release.

But whatever you do, choose a smart title, a good poster and cut an exciting trailer. They are imperative in horror.

October 11th, 2013

Posted In: Distribution, Theatrical

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

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

FourPlay poster

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FOURPLAY still

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

May 15th, 2013

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

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By Bryan Glick

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

July 18th, 2012

Posted In: Distribution, Film Festivals, Theatrical

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

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

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The IndieWIRE panel I am commenting on was at the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center on July 16, 2011. indieWIRE Editor in Chief Dana Harris moderated a discussion about the past 15 years of film distribution with (left to right): Richard Abramowitz, Amy Heller, Bingham Ray, Bob Berney, Ira Deutchman, Mark Urman, Arianna Bocco and Jeanne Berney. It can be found here:

 

The Sundance distribution announcement was just made today.

  1. So glad to know, as Mark Urman noted, that even big A-list cast films have a hard time getting listed properly on Cable VOD in terms of cast.  We know that Sundance indie Adventures of Power also was not always listed properly in terms of noting its full cast (namely Jane Lynch & Adrien Grenier who both have massive fan bases were sometimes left off the film’s VOD description).  What will it take the MSOs to get it together? Please let’s not all name or rename our films with numbers or start with the letters A,B,C,D, or E.  If Comcast can insert ads into programming surely they and all the other dozens of MSOs (Multi System Operators) can find a way to help attract an audience for films on their system by categorizing them and filling in complete descriptions even on mammoth platforms.
  2. The glut of content was discussed and the marketing challenges all distributors of cinema face.  We all know it’s cheaper to make films now, there are more of them, they don’t die or go away, they just multiply annually and even some of the panelists spoke to younger generations not even committed to being filmmakers, but just making films because they can and it’s made to seem so cool. Indeed. And what I want someone to say, well ok I will just say it, is when the real numbers behind film distribution are revealed across the board perhaps we’ll see a trim in supply. The best, most creative and most committed will survive  and thrive.  Investors will be choosier because they’ll have all of the REAL information they need to make educated decisions. As for how to clear through the clutter, well, that goes back to the basics of know-your-audience, down to the “T” and don’t pretend it’s everyone. I look forward to even more lifestyle and interest oriented programming and content servicing and all the more reason for filmmakers to cultivate audiences directly, where there is no room for glut or confusion.
  3. They joked about no one knowing VOD numbers, except for Arianna of IFC of course and Mark sometimes when his VOD client (Tribeca Films I presume) fills him in.  Well, we have some from our forthcoming case study book Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul and I want to challenge ALL FILMMAKERS to share your numbers and stop the madness of mystery! And I agree, it’s time that these numbers start getting tracked and reported in a more automated fashion as theatrical box office and DVD sales are now. Still those number only show gross, and not the spend needed to achieve those numbers.
  4. Amy of Milestone noted younger people have different habits in terms of what they want to view and how they view.  So maybe we need younger folks running distribution companies now. TFC is hiring.
  5. Arianna of IFC notes that piracy is a huge issue and that young people do not want to pay for content.  So we can either be disturbed by that, or we can work with that knowledge and release in a way that will maximize revenues, instead of forcing audiences into outdated window methods. One film we recently observed tried to monetize its distribution via sponsorship, but waited way too long to get started, tried to do so without a distribution plan in place, is having its theatrical launch 6 months after its festival premiere and cannot seem to make a decision on the rest of its distribution whilst it awaits fat-enough-offers that are not coming.  That sort of paradigm is a set up for failure and leaves the film open to piracy when a clear plan from the start and an immediate release after festival premiere could have led to quicker monetization (sponsored, DIY and/or via a donation campaign on VODO).  We caution against proceeding with filmmaking or distribution when there is no viable plan in place.
  6. A question via TWITTER that came in was: Where do you want to be 15 years from now? Richard Abramowitz is amazed he’s still in the biz now… and that’s honest in that it speaks to deep concerns about the changes in the business and the truth is, the more transparent service providers are about their numbers, the more likely they will survive. Those less transparent are not likely to sustain themselves.  What I object to is the mythology in this industry and the mask of success that hides the real story of spending more than you made back because there are too many expensive services or middlemen.  Who can tell me about their PROFIT? Not just for themselves, but for the filmmakers and investors they represent? Who will publicly admit the numbers on how much was spent for each service even on services they did not really need if they were better educated, and each middleman and what that yielded?  When people do not, it’s largely because they want to get the next project funded and, to me, this is no better than a pyramid scheme.  You know what eventually happens with those, right? See 2008 for an indication. Anyone who wants to challenge TFC on its transparency please do, I am ready.
  7. ‘Theatre going experience is in our DNA (like gazing at a fire)’, says Bingham Ray. The communal experience is what it’s all about. Amen. I say let’s bring back the drive-in. I especially want it for Sundance film Co-dependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same.
  8. Ira speaks to the Opera audience. He noted, as audiences get older they crave that experience (communal screening) more. I love that Ira Deutchman grew a business out of this niche. Niche is golden.  A lesson for us all.
  9. Ira spoke to “eventizing” theatrical– several noted about adding Q&As, live music, director attendance, panel discussions– to enhance theatrical and all of those screenings do well. Indeed. We have observed the same and that speaks even more to filmmakers knowing their audience and being more engaged in their own releases. There is nothing of this that one cannot do.
  10. Ira ends quoting Richard Lorber “everything is possible and nothing works” harking back to 25 years ago when distribs celebrated small victories and spent little – before the rise and fall of indie bubble and the studios dressing big releases in indie clothes. My comment is regarding the “professional” the middle man, the lack of transparency even still is a burden, the fees paid excessive if one analyzes from the point of view of sustainability and healthy business.  Service deals are announced like acquisitions.  That’s why they say “film business” is an oxymoron but it need not be.  And that’s why TFC’s resolve now is to not work with unsustainable filmmakers. We do not want to feed the habit, enable unrealistic expectations. If you spent too much on making your film, if your expectations are unreasonable, if you are not committed to being educated about both film and engaging audiences, and most of all, if you are just a money bag and not a creator but rather buying into the dream that your film (which you did not even create) is going to make you rich or richer, please go home.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      And now, on a less cranky and more joyous note: What I love about the Sundance distribution initiative:

11. It’s offering filmmakers a truly filmmaker friendly set up by having a good partner and fair contract terms.

12. The terms offered by a truly excellent partner like New Video were already good in general, but are now even slightly advantaged.

13.  That the deal is non-exclusive and allows filmmakers proper agency and control.

14.  That I partly inspired it starting in 2009 and that the folks at Sundance listened, discussed, and worked it out slowly but surely and that there is more to come.

15.  The Sundance brand connected with its alumni of filmmaker’s brands and on key platforms that function as the key portals to film lovers (and yet not at the exclusion of other viable modes of DIY and traditional distribution) is the model I have always championed even before TFC launched, because it makes sense. It’s good for filmmakers; it’s good for audiences and back to # 1 and #2, initiatives like this are the way to help clear a path through the content of clutter to the curious eyes of cinema loving consumers.

 

 

 

July 27th, 2011

Posted In: Digital Distribution, Distribution, Distribution Platforms, DIY, Long Tail & Glut of Content

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*This is Part II of the “If I Were a Filmmaker Going Sundance…”

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

Sundance 2011, insofar as distribution was concerned, saw a spike on both the traditional sales and the DIY front.   42 deals were done so far and more to come. One difference between this year’s Festival and those of recent years is that several acquisitions were done prior to the Festival and more deals occurred right at the beginning of the Festival rather than taken several days or weeks to materialize. In addition, some of the acquisition dollar figures were bigger than in recent times. There was a definite sense of ‘business is back’  (though mostly still for bigger films with either name directors or cast or both – and this we address below).  And DIY is seeing a new dawn with directors like Kevin Smith announcing a self-distribution plan and Sundance’s solidified commitment to helping artists crowdfund (via Kickstarter) and market their films (via Facebook for example) access certain digital distribution platforms (in the works and TBA).

Starting with the deals. So far I counted 42 (one at least was a pre-buy / investment in production) and two so far are remake rights deals.

I only list the deal points that were publicized… meaning if no $$$ is listed then it was not announced.

Deals done Pre-Sundance:

1.  Project Nim (James Marsh who did Man on Wire)  – sold to HBO for a hefty yet unreported sum.

2.  Becoming Chaz – produced by renowned World Of Wonder and sold to OWN (actually we gleaned OWN invested in the film and at the fest Oprah announced her commitment to doing for docs what she did for books via a Doc Club).

3.  Uncle Kent went to IFC

4.  The Greatest Movie Ever Sold (Morgan Spurlock) – went to Sony Classics.

5.  Septien:  (Michael Tully) – was nabbed by Sundance Selects

6.  Mad Bastards also went to Sundance Selects

Deals done at Sundance according to sections:

US Dramatic Competition:

7.  The Ledge: sold to IFC – Low seven figures

8.  Like Crazy: (Director of Douchebag)  – Paramount for a worldwide deal – $4,000,000.

9.  Martha Marcy May Marlene: sold to Fox Searchlight, congrats to TFC Board of Advisor EXP, Ted Hope – 2 mil

10.  Circumstance: Participant is funding the release and will (along with the filmmakers) choose a distribution partner, we hope Roadside Attractions.

11.  Homework: Fox Searchlight – $3,000,000

12.  Another Earth: (Mark Cahill) – Fox Searchlight – a $3 mil deal, with an aggressive P&A as reported and for US and all English speaking territories.

13.  Gun Hill Road: Motion Film Group

14.  Pariah: Focus Features – $1 mil deal

15.  The Flaw: New Video

16.  Take Shelter: Sony Pictures Classics

Premieres (‘names’ in films):

17.  My Idiot Brother: TWC – $7,000,000 for US and key territories with $15,000,000 P&A

18.  The Details: TWC – $7,500,000 MG and $10,000,000 P&A

19.  I Melt With You: Magnolia (reported mid-high 6-figure deal reportedly w/ healthy backend)

20.  Life in a Day: NatGeo Films

21.  Margin Call: Joint deal with Lions Gate and Roadside Attractions – $2,000,000 deal

22.  Perfect Sense: IFC

23. The Future:  (Miranda July) – Roadside Attractions

24.  Salvation Boulevard: IFC

25.  The Son of No One:  (Dieto Monteil) – Anchor Bay

26.  The Devil’s Double: (Lee Tamahori) – Lionsgate – a reportedly seven figure deal

U.S. Documentary Competition:

27.  Buck: Sundance Selects

28.  The Last Mountain: Dada Films (MJ Peckos and Steven Raphael)

29. Page One: A Year Inside the New York Times: Magnolia and Participant

30. Hot Coffee: HBO

31. Crime After Crime: OWN (this will have an Oscar qualifying run before airing on OWN)

32. Miss Representation: OWN

33. The Black Power Mix Tape 1967- 1975:  Sundance Selects

34. Sing Your Song: HBO Documentary Films

Doc Premieres:

35.  These Amazing Shadows:  Sundance Selects

Park City at Midnight:

36.  Silent House: Liddell Entertainment

37.  Hobo with a Shotgun:  Magnolia/Magnet

38. Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel:  A&E IndieFilms

World Cinema Dramatic Competition:

39.  The Guard:  Sony Pictures Classics – $1,000,000 deal

Next:

40.  Bellflower:  Oscilloscope

Not distribution deals per se but Fox Searchlight bought worldwide remake rights to

41. The Bengali Detective

42. TWC bought remake rights to Knuckle.

Please let me know if I missed any deals and feel free to comment in this blog. Of course more may be announced even as this posts and I am on a plane.

So we see mostly name filmmakers or cast but also definitely a few non-names generating deals the details of which are not publicized thus far.

AND NOW ON the DIY side:

RE: SLITTING RIGHTS & DIY: Andrew Hurwitz and Alan Sacks wrote an article in the Hollywood Reporter addressing all the same stuff TFC has talked about before, splitting rights, working and sometimes conflating windows and not settling for bad deal terms when one could do better on one’s own working with consultants etc. It’s nice to see trades addressing this in a context that speaks to more traditional industry players.

THE FLAT FEE MODEL EXPANDS: Distribber (now owned by IndieGOGO) announced a partnership that has been brewing with one of our Cable VOD partners, and TFC Board of Advisor Meyer Schwarztein of Brainstorm Media. Basically it expands Distribber’s flat fee digital distribution offerings to include Cable VOD (and also Hulu).  If a film gets onto all key MSOs the fee is set for now to be $9999 and there are prices per platform if a film cannot make it on to any given platform so that one is not paying for a platform or service they are not getting onto. As per the press release: “The films will be presented to audiences on the new “Filmmaker Direct” label; consumers who purchase films on “Filmmaker Direct” will know that 100% of profits go directly to the filmmaker, instead of to a parade of “Hollywood Middlemen.” For more info check out: http://www.distribber.com.  My only cautionary note: this is not a great idea for smaller films for which the gross revenues that would not justify the flat fee. One must remember and always know to ask about the splits that the Cable VOD aggregator is getting from the MSOs. They range, to the best of my knowledge to-date, between 30% and 60% depending on company and films. Studios get the higher splits for the obvious reasons. And so one has to do the math. And of course also evaluate MARKETING (which will be the focus on the 3rd and final part of this Sundance Blog series).  In any case, we work with both Adam Chapnick at Distribber and Meyer Schwarzstein at Brainstorm and are fond of and trust them both.

BRAND NAME FILMMAKER DIY: Kevin Smith fueled the torch of DIY in his own flame-filled way.  He auctioned off the distribution of Sundance Premiere Selection RED STATE to himself and has pre-booked theatres and plans to be his own decider in distribution, sans print ads (Amen). We wish him well but caution his very “old world” production and release budget (4mil Prod & and 2.5mil to release (for prints etc)… immediate launch broad release plan… a slow build never hurt anyone.  David Dinnerstein formerly of Paramount Classics and Lakeshore consulted on the release.  For more on this topic just search the WWW.

ABOUT THE SHORTS:

DIY Hats off to the Sundance SHORTS filmmaker such as Trevor Anderson and I believe 11 others who are on Sundance’s YouTube Screening Room Initiative with tens of thousands of views. Anderson exceeded 94,000 views as of the other day and has put all his shorts including this year’s HIGH LEVEL BRIDGE on www.EggUp.com which allows him to monetize them via transactional digital sales.  TFC refularly refers filmmakers to EggUp and now also TopSpin though our guru Sheri Candler advises TopSpin works better for filmmakers with an already robust following.  Whilst Anderson may not be getting rich just yet, it’s a perfect model for a prolific and vibrant filmmaker who is building a brand and getting his/her work out there.

Last but not least, Sundance announces its DIY oriented initiative.

Sundance Institute announced (I’m now quoting from its press release) its Three-Year Plan with Kickstarter as Creative Funding Collaborator / Facebook® to Provide Guidance to Institute AlumniA new program to connect its artists with audiences by offering access to top-tier creative funding and marketing backed by the Institute’s promotional support…The creative funding component was announced today with Kickstarter, the largest platform in the world for funding creative projects.  A new way to fund and follow creative projects, tens of thousands of people pledge millions of dollars to projects on Kickstarter every month. In exchange for support, backers receive tangible rewards crafted and fulfilled by the project’s creator. Support is neither investment, charity, nor lending, but rather a mix of commerce and patronage that allows artists to retain 100% ownership and creative control of their work while building a supportive community as they develop their projects… In the coming months, Sundance Institute will build an online hub of resources related to independent distribution options, funding strategies and other key issues.  The goal is to provide for filmmakers a central location to explore case studies and best practices, in addition to live workshops and training opportunities with Institute staff, alumni, industry experts and key partners.  As the first of these partners bringing their expertise to the community, Facebook will offer Institute alumni advice, educational materials, and best-practices tips on how to build and engage audiences via the service…Further development will include access to a broad and open array of third-party digital distribution platforms backed by Sundance Institute promotional support.  In the future, additional opportunities for theatrical exhibition will be explored in collaboration with organizations such as Sundance Cinemas, members of the national Art House Project, and others.”

I have been championing festivals getting involved with exhibition since and distribution beyond the festival itself since 2005 and discussed some options and ideas with Sundance staffers last year and am thrilled about this powerful and liberating announcement that so connects up with TFC’s mission whilst having some serious muscle and we look forward to being involved in some way hopefully.

MARKETING IS KING:  One thing no one talks about in much detail is MARKETING. Of course the big guns have the cash to buy marketing but the small distribs and aggregators are starting to be difficult to distinguish at times, and yet sometimes distributors do earn their fees by investing real talent and expertise and even money in marketing. So comparing what one can do oneself (if one does not get the big fat offer) with what traditional but small distribution deals bring will be the focus of the 3rd and last post in this series to come after Rotterdam but hopefully before Berlinale.

Over and out for now. Questions and Comments always welcome!

January 27th, 2011

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

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