A knockout victory

The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) is just behind us and films submitted for Sundance are a month away from their acceptance call. While the difference between Toronto/Sundance and SXSW/Tribeca is pretty clear, what separates Toronto from Sundance might surprise you.

I looked at the data from the last two year’s of each festival and came up with one big conclusion. Sundance is the bigger festival for North American distribution on just about every measurable level I could come up with.

How could this be? Toronto is the more mainstream fest, right? Not so much.

Let’s start with some comparative info that would clearly skew things in Toronto’s favor:

-62.5% of films from TIFF 2013 have US distribution

-81.3% of films from SUNDANCE 2014 have US distribution (and remember this was accomplished in 9 months compared to TIFF’s 13 months)

But what about the box office performance?

Sundance has a higher percentage of films that grossed over $1 Million, $500,000, and $100,000 than TIFF. This is including non world premiere films which would give TIFF an advantage.

But what about the size of the deals? Isn’t TIFF where the big money is? Hardly

11 films from TIFF 2014 generated 7 figure deals, 11 films from TIFF 2013 did the same. The difference is TIFF screens 2.5x as many films. Even eliminating the # of films with US distribution before TIFF started and cutting out foreign language films, producers were still twice as likely to get a seven figure deal at Sundance.

tiff vs sundance

The Documentary King

TIFF is a much more diverse slate, but sorely lacking in docs. Roughly 1/3 of Sundance films are documentaries, while only about 1/10 of TIFF films are. Even then, docs were more likely to get distribution out of Sundance than TIFF and by a very wide margin. 90% vs 52%. The majority of docs that made the Oscar shortlist came from Sundance, as have a majority of nominees in the last five years.

Foreign Language Problem

In contrast to their #1 status as a place to launch documentaries, Sundance’s World Cinema lineup is far from a sure bet.

While only 41% of Sundance 2014 World Dramatic films have US distribution, that percentage is still higher than foreign language films that screened at TIFF. The % is higher even if we include all foreign language films and not just world or international premieres at TIFF. So even in Sundance’s weakest area your odds are still better than at TIFF.

That all noted, TIFF receives some high profile foreign language films that will ultimately generate bigger deals and make a dent in the US box office, but those are few and far between in an already very unprofitable arena.

So What Does a TIFF Screening Mean? 

TIFF does two things that Sundance does not. It functions as a worldwide market and it is a frequent must for awards buzz films.

Sundance films do better on a domestic level. TIFF films are more likely to generate some form of worldwide interest and the majority of major worldwide players are in attendance.

Sundance has an international presence, but nothing on the same level of going into the Hyatt and taking the United Nations tour of film booths.

Sundance also doesn’t take studio films, which TIFF does. I would argue this is part of the problem TIFF films face. The competition for attention is so much higher with studio films in the mix that many simply get lost in the shuffle.

The DIY Mindset

In the age of DIY options at very low cost, one has to wonder why so many films at TIFF didn’t take advantage of Vimeo’s $10k offer in 2013. In fact, 55 world premieres still lack US distribution, which means with 100% certainty they turned down $10k to chase a pipe dream of success.The worldwide sales agent aspect at TIFF makes it a lot harder to discuss DIY options, but things are slowly starting to change.

This year was the first time multiple filmmakers were willing to openly discuss DIY options for release with me during the fest.

Sundance has their Artist Services program and some very notable DIY success stories (Detropia, Indie Game: The Movie, Upstream Color etc). But the biggest difference is Sundance is early in the year. There are tons of festivals left with which to build exposure going into release.

While it is almost always advisable to hit the festival circuit running, if one didn’t do that at Sundance, it’s easier to rev up the process than at TIFF when the year is nearly finished. If you don’t pursue additional festival screenings right away, your film would play TIFF and not screen anywhere until the following year. Remember there aren’t a lot of festivals in November/December. By that point people have moved onto Sundance and don’t even remember what they saw at TIFF.

The Take Away

Don’t buy into the hype about a festival without carefully looking at the info. While many Oscar winners have come from TIFF, the stats don’t lie. For domestic success, your odds are better with Sundance. This doesn’t make TIFF a bad festival, it’s easily the 2nd best launch pad in North America, but it’s important to know that your film is more likely to get a distribution deal out of Tribeca than TIFF if you have a documentary.

The consensus from this year’s TIFF was that there weren’t too many hidden gems, but with 288 features would any of us even know? At a certain point size is a liability and I think that TIFF needs to shrink its slate or get more creative when it comes to highlighting world premieres without big names.

Reminder: EVOLUTION OF A CRIMINAL & THE CIRCLE

The Spike Lee executive produced Evolution of a Criminal opens in NYC Friday October 10th at IFC Center. They are also crowdfunding to support their nationwide theatrical release. https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/948417025/evolution-of-a-criminal-theatrical-release

In partnership with Wolfe Releasing, TFC Direct will be theatrically releasing Switzerland’s Oscar entry, The Circle. It opens November 21st in NYC and will be expanding through beginning of 2015.

 

October 9th, 2014

Posted In: Distribution, DIY, Film Festivals, Publicity

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At the recent Toronto International Film Festival, veteran independent film distributor Bob Berney gave a state of the industry address on distribution. TIFF was kind enough to make his keynote video available on Youtube (you can find it below), but here are some of the highlights if you don’t have 30 minutes to spare watching it.

-We’re in a chaotic, disruptive state right now with bigger studios making fewer, but massively budgeted films that involve huge risk.

-On the flip side, there are many more outlets now available to get a film into the market. The challenge as a producer is how to get revenue from these outlets in order to fund your next work.

-There are now well funded entities coming to major festivals and buying films without any real plan about how to release them.

-Open Road and Relativity Media are now distributing wide release theatrical films, sometimes as service deals (the production pays them to release, instead of the distribution company paying for rights).

-But platform release films, ones that start with opening in only 2-4 cities and then keep expanding their theatrical runs, are starting to have a tougher time finding a home, a company that will take them on. Fewer distributors are taking the traditional theatrical route and there are now more companies taking the day and date or VOD first route. Films that want a traditional release far outweigh the distribution companies that are willing to take on films for that kind of release.

-Berney believes that a theatrical release is the only way for a film to truly break out in the market in a big way.

-The bar for films that warrant having a large theatrical release has really been raised. The expense to release those films, even if using digital marketing, is big and the market is very competitive. Distributors who fund the marketing and distribution costs for those films are very wary about the ability to recoup.

-This summer there were many indie films that played in theaters against the studio blockbusters and did well. Boyhood, Magic in the Moonlight, Chef, Belle, Begin Again all surpassed expectations about how they would fare against the studio films. Berney believes it was because there was nothing else to see. Either superhero films or these and nothing in between. He guesses that the market could have taken even 4-5 more indie films this summer. People went to see some of those successful titles 2-3 times because there wasn’t much to choose from. Theatrical companies could have picked up more. The Fall season is crowded, but the summer could have used a few more releases.

-Because the deals are so different and the numbers come in sporadically, releasing VOD numbers is still not common.Also there aren’t very many success stories being reported from day and date or VOD only releases.

-Many European companies or smaller indie division within the studio units are not finding deals on their films very viable now. P&Ls for sales coming domestically (US) often have a 0 in the profit column. Sales can’t be counted on any more. Budgets have had to shrink accordingly because large deals aren’t happening so much any more.
Many of the newer players in the digital and VOD arena are constantly looking for content to fill their channels. Those films can play for a while until the audience gets more discerning.

-For any avenue chosen for distribution, the release has to create the feeling of an event to catch an audience’s attention. There is just too much in the market.
There is no one size fits all marketing and distribution plan. Each film needs to have its own plan handcrafted.

-Given the risk and expense, distributors are going to be much more discerning about what films they are passionate about and believe in before offering a deal.They want to be very sure there is an audience for a theatrical release before committing to such a deal.

-The Blu Ray market is still huge for certain types of films. Genre including family, horror, sci fi still do business on disc for Walmart and Redbox.

-Certain theaters are catching onto the idea of making the cinema an experience. Food, bigger seats, more varied showtimes, 4D seats are all increasing the feeling of an event in the cinema.

-Theaters are still resisting the idea of day and date. Regal and Cinemark chains are adamant about preserving the theatrical window. But AMC is more open to experimentation as long as the distributor will pay a 4 wall fee to rent their theaters. IFC and Magnolia own their own theater chains so they have been the most aggressive about trying Ultra VOD and day and date release. IFC buys about 50 films a year that they run though VOD and day and date releases.

-Due to regulation, Canada has not been able to experiment with this kind of releasing model yet.

-Berney still believes in the power of the theatrical release to affect an audience and that it is the best way to make a film break out.

-Netflix has been the savior for films that may not get a pay TV deal. Essentially, subscription VOD is on par with selling to HBO or Showtime. But Netflix takes far more films than those broadcasters.

-Social media advertising is allowing a more targeted and lower cost alternative to traditional advertising, plus providing much needed data on which to base strategic marketing decisions. Also these tools allow filmmakers to get clips, trailers, images etc to get out more widely for a lower cost and build pre release awareness that wasn’t even possible 10 years ago.

-There are just so many more opportunities now to get a film out, but it will take some time for the business side, the money making side, to catch up. That’s the uncertainty we are dealing with now.

September 19th, 2014

Posted In: Digital Distribution, Distribution, Theatrical

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

photo credit Flickr Stock Monkeys

photo credit Flickr Stock Monkeys

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

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

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

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

February 26th, 2014

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

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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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The 2013 Toronto International Film Festival has come and gone. The Oscar race has started and films from the festival are opening theatrically this week (Prisoners, Enough Said).  From the press circuit, you might think that only films starring Oscar nominees or made by Vegas magicians were in the festival, but those films represent only a small sampling of the diverse array of cinema from the festival.

Over the course of my 9 days, I saw 47 films from 19 different countries on 6 continents. While some of these films such as Metalhead have yet to secure a US distributor, they have been able to close a number of other territories and directors and talent have signed with major agencies.

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If your film is star driven and could warrant a wide release, the fest can serve as a great launch pad. The fact remains though that the fest will never be in competition with Sundance where more challenging fare is able to be discovered.  In fact, fewer than five films from the discovery, contemporary world cinema, and wavelength sections were acquired for US distribution over the course of the festival.  Proportionately the festival also offers very little room for documentaries. Of the 288 features in the festival, fewer than 15% are documentaries.

To be fair, several films were able to close deals for multiple territories, but were not able to get a US distributor as of the time of this writing, and of course many films will secure distribution in the coming month. I did not get the sense of urgency at this year’s festival though there were a few all night negotiations and about a dozen films that sold for seven figures. That sounds like a lot until you realize Sundance had more films passing that benchmark despite having about ½ as many films available.

If I was a filmmaker I would personally be very wary of premiering my film at TIFF without stars.

The big players at the festival were The Weinstein Company and Roadside Attractions. TWC made the flashier deals nabbing Tracks out of Venice/Telluride for an undisclosed sumThe Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Him and Her for just over $3,000,000, The Railway Man for $2,000,000 and the behemoth deal for Can a Song save Your Life. That film sold for $7,000,000 with a $20,000,000 P&A commitment. On paper this may seem absurd, but the movie is a musical with original songs and, considering the director’s prior feature won an Oscar for best original song, there is certainly an added revenue stream for the film. If you see the film though, it is also clear that TWC has to be careful in how they price the music, charging more than a specific dollar amount goes directly against the message of the film.

All four of these films will not be released until 2014. TWC already had Philomena, August Osage County, One Chance, and Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom in the festival, plus their Radius label had The Art of the Steal, Man of Tai Chi, Blue Ruin, and The Unknown Known. Unlike last year, Radius did not strike for any films at the festival.

Roadside Attractions came to the festival with Blood Ties and Gloria (Both North American premieres) and left with Life of Crime for $2,000,000, Joe for north of $2,000,000, Words and Pictures, and Therese. The first two are in partnership with Lionsgate. The total of four films is one shy of the five films they nabbed last year, but still makes them one of the two most active distributors at the festival.

A24 was another company that made a big splash acquiring for over $1,000,000 each EnemyUnder the Skin, and Locke.  Locke screened in Venice and a TIFF market screening, but was not in the festival. The company that has had continued success connecting to the millennial generation seems to be guiding themselves toward genre fare.

Magnolia acquired The Right Kind of Wrong ahead of its world premiere and also acquired The Sacrament.  Their films Pioneer and How I Live Now were in the festival.

Open Road is tackling The Green Inferno for wide release, but with no MG. They are partnering with XLRator on All is By My Side. Relativity Media meanwhile decided to partner with Blumhouse Productions to acquire Oculus from the Midnight Madness section and is planning a wide release. The film was originally attached to Film District, but they parted ways just prior to the start of the festival

Focus Features acquired Jason Bateman helmed Bad Words for north of $7,000,000 and premiered Dallas Buyers Club.

Millennium and CBS also made big buys. The former acquired Fading Gigolo for $2,000,000+ and the latter paid $2.5 Mill for The F Word

On the TV side, Showtime snagged Made in America and HBO went for Dangerous Acts before they world premiered at the festival.

IFC just acquired Hateship Loveship and IFC Midnight (The genre arm of IFC) went for Proxy and The StationTheir sister division Sundance Selects added Bastards and Finding Vivian Maier prior to the festival.  IFC/Sundance Selects had another 5 films that screened at the fest including the world premiere of The Face of Love.

Well Go USA was able to get Rigor Mortis pre-fest and McCanick during the fest. McCanick is one of the final films starring the late Cory Monteith. Drafthouse Films continued their pursuit of genre films with Why Don’t You Play in Hell?.

A small number of foreign language films were able to secure distribution in the States. Cohen Media Group grabbed the documentary The Last of the Unjust, Artsploitation said, yes sir to The Major, Film Movement went for Le Demantlement, Viva Pictures decided to play with Antboy, and Tribeca scored Bright Days Ahead

Other deals include EOne acquiring Watermark, FilmBuff scoring the one digital deal of the festval with TFC Alum, Jody Shapiro’s doc Burt’s Buzz. Everyday Pictures will handle the theatrical. And of course Disney continued their relationship with the now retired Anime icon for The Wind Rises

Companies that were noticeably absent in the acquisitions department at the festival include Fox Searchlight, Oscilloscope, and Anchor Bay.

40 films secured US distribution between the festival slate being announced and the time of this writing. This is great, but pales in comparison to Sundance numbers, and is noticeably ahead of Tribeca’s. The Midnight Madness and Gala sections are the only ones in which over ½ the films have US distributors attached. The Special Presentation and TIFF DOCS sections are also well represented.

Now I want to address the issue of manners and etiquette. While talking on your phone or doing screen grabs during a screening is rude, it does not warrant calling the cops.

There were some very troubling scenes to me at this year’s festival. At no point is it acceptable to yell and curse at volunteers. They are merely doing what they are told and are graciously helping all of us partake in our fabulous festival excursion. If you have to say, “Do You Know Who I Am?” not only do we not know who you are, but you aren’t important enough that it matters. Also, though most of us were taught how to line up and wait patiently in kindergarten, it is common courtesy to do this when people have waited an hour in line for a screening. Do not shove your way through the corn maze line to go near the front.

And if someone from your company is lucky enough to attend the fest freelance, do not turn them into your workslave. If you wanted to send them to the festival, you could have paid for them to be there.

Remember, we have the best jobs in the world and a little decency goes a long way.

Film Distributor Amount Paid Territories
Locke A24 $1.25 Mil US
Enemy A24 low seven figures US
Under the Skin A24 $1 Mll + US
The Major Artsploitation US
The F Word CBS Films $2.5 Mil US
The Last of the Unjust Cohen Media Group North America
The Wind Rises Disney North America
Why Don’t You Play in Hell Drafthouse Films US
Watermark Eone US, Canada
Le Demantlement Film Movement US/World Airlines
Burt’s Buzz FilmBuff/Everyday Pictures US
Bad Words Focus Features $7 Million Worldwide
Dangerous Acts HBO US TV
Hateship Loveship IFC US
Proxy IFC Midnight North America
The Station IFC Midnight US
The Right Kind of Wrong Magnolia US
The Sacrement Magnolia Pictures US
Fading Gigolo Millennium Entertainment Btwn-$2-3 Mil US
The Green Inferno Open Road Films No MG North America
All Is By My Side Open Road Films/XLRator US
Oculus Relativity/Blumhouse Productions US
Words and Pictures Roadside Attractions US
Therese Roadside Attractions US
Joe Roadside Attractions/Lionsgate $2 Mil + US
Life of Crime Roadside Attractions/Lionsgate $2 Mil US
Made in America Showtime US TV
Tim’s Vermeer SPC Worldwide
The Armstrong Lie SPC Worldwide
Finding Vivian Maeir Sundance Selects North America
Bastards Sundance Selects US
Eleanor Rigby Him and Her The Weinstein Company About $3 Mil US/UK/FR/CA
The Railway Man The Weinstein Company $2 Mil US
Can a Song Save Your Life The Weinstein Company $7 Million US
Tracks The Weinstein Company US
Bright Days Ahead Tribeca Films US
Antboy Viva Pictures US
McCanick Well Go USA US
Rigor Mortis Well Go USA US

September 19th, 2013

Posted In: Film Festivals

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

Bell Lightbox

Five positives to highlight from last year

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

Five negatives to highlight from last year

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

BONUS

Congratulations to TFC alums with films in the festival.

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

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

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

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

September 5th, 2013

Posted In: Distribution, Film Festivals

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

photo by chensiyuan

photo credit chensiyuan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

September 3rd, 2013

Posted In: Film Festivals, International Sales

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