The Film Collaborative is working with a number of filmmakers who have decided to handle their own theatrical tours. Our colleague in charge of managing these theatrical tours is Bryan Glick and he shares the reasoning behind the cities and theaters chosen for the upcoming release of Born to Fly: Elizabeth Streb vs Gravity opening September 10 in New York City.
Anything that is too safe is not action!
Born To Fly: Elizabeth Streb vs. Gravity is the latest DIY Hybrid-theatrical that The Film Collaborative is managing. I was lucky enough to see a rough cut just before SXSW and was truly blown away by how visual the film is. It demands to be seen on the big screen in order to fully appreciate the daring exploits of these athletic dancers.
Film Forum clearly agreed and by the time SXSW arrived, venerable New York cinema had already secured a week long engagement for “BTF” in September. With that glowing endorsement in place, we moved forward to draft a self financed Theatrical plan for the film which was made up of festival screenings and cinemas, both of which will provide revenue opportunities.
On the festival front, the film has since played at Full Frame, Sheffield, and Frameline LGBT along with 20+ others. The festival circuit serves a dual purpose for the film 1) to boost interest in the theatrical and secure further bookings in that space and 2) the festival screening fees may be much more than what the film would take in from a theatrical run in some cities.
Elizabeth Streb and her dance company are based in Brooklyn, New York so it was clear NYC is where the film should start its release. We fully anticipate NYC to be the biggest theatrical total of any of the markets. While that’s not unique, our grosses are likely to be abnormally tilted towards the NYC numbers. We saw a similar phenomenon with Ira Sachs’ “Keep the Lights On,” (the film is set in Manhattan) which played for almost two months in NYC.
Having a several month head start, the filmmakers, TFC, and Streb reached out to a number of potential groups to take advantage of the $7.50 group discount at Film Forum. We now have over $5,000 in pre-sales for our engagement and multiple sold out screenings. In addition, we are “eventizing” these screenings by scheduling several Q&A’s with the filmmaker and central subject of the film. This strategy is being duplicated in LA and San Francisco where we open two weeks later. We are having a special free preview at The Hammer Museum in LA to boost word of mouth in Los Angeles ahead of a run at Laemmle’s NoHo where Elizabeth and the film’s director, Catherine Gund, will both be present for opening weekend. We also will have them Skype in for the San Francisco screenings during opening weekend at Vogue Theatre. In knowing our target audience, we chose this theater in Presidio Heights because it serves an older, well educated clientele with interest in the arts. The Vogue regularly shows special dance screenings from Ballet/Modern companies and comes at a much lower cost point than Landmark Theatres with none of the hassle.
In an effort to keep costs down and maximize revenue, we are relying on the strength of Inclusive PR to secure prominent press coverage and reviews; an in-house email database with 1000’s of contacts collected over the years; grassroots outreach to dance companies, arts organizations, senior organizations and the LGBT community; and social media. We are also avoiding chains like Landmark that require specially created DCP’s and bigger traditional print ad buys which, for a niche film of this nature, would not be targeted enough and enable the film to recoup the costs let alone see profit.
The theatrical rollout is intentionally slow, only adding 1-3 cities each week so as not to get overwhelmed by all of the support each city would need. We have a lean team and a lean budget so we are allocating a few hundred dollars in social media and digital ads and large markets may get highly targeted print ads. So far, we’ve saved thousands of dollars by not four walling at a single venue! As such, the release will cost comfortably less than $50k.
Elizabeth Streb is well known in the dance world, but it still takes time to build up word of mouth for this film. We are relying on a mix of lesbian, dance, and senior organizations for support. As with every specialty release, it is important to know your niche(s). While TFC usually avoids print ads when possible, in this case a limited amount make sense. Our audience skews older, educated and is more likely to read the newspaper. Our social media is geared specifically towards Facebook which, while falling out of fashion with millennials, is still prime territory for the 45+ group. We are sending regular email updates and blasts while consciously monitoring our paid media budget.
Added to these screenings, we will also incorporate theatrical on demand and have the film available on TUGG. That tool may be used by fans to bring the film to some smaller towns where Elizabeth Streb and her dancers have toured to in the past.
We anticipate somewhere around 20 markets for the theatrical in addition to festival screenings and a separate Canadian theatrical. The goal is to build a presence for the film that will feed the VOD/Digital/TV releases while minimizing the potential for loss that is often the hallmark of an indie film theatrical release. No easy task in the theatrical industry, but a challenge we happily embrace.
Bryan Glick September 2nd, 2014
Tags: Born to Fly: Elizabeth Streb vs Gravity, Bryan Glick, Catherine Gund, Elizabeth Streb, Film Forum, Frameline, Full Frame, Hammer Museum, laemmle's noho, self distribution of indie film, self financed theatrical release, Sheffield DocFest, SXSW, The Film Collaborative, Tugg, Vogue Theater
Handling self funded theatrical distribution for TFC clients, I find myself wondering why more filmmakers don’t consider the self releasing option from a long-term career standpoint and the potential upside that comes from receiving the bulk of the revenue from the release. I am continually intrigued, pleased and surprised by the success of many who do.
Here are pristine recent examples of self funded releasing. These films each found specific ways to tap into their audience and often opted to do something outside the norm. For the sake of transparency I only am listing films that are admittedly self released in their approach. I would argue Middle of Nowhere is in fact a self funded release as it is a solid example of building and controlling a filmmaker’s brand, but I didn’t include it in this list.
While Gathr have a number of films that have done very well using their demand a screening platform (such as Anonymous People which TFC advised on), no TOD (theatrical on demand) release was as monumentally successful as Girl Rising. The film was aided by many factors such as funding from the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, partnerships with Intel, the United Nations and World Vision as well as a small army of political and grassroots influencers, technologists and publicists. The documentary featured Hollywood A-list narrators like Meryl Streep, Anne Hathaway, Alicia Keys and Selena Gomez.and reached a fever pitch of screenings via the Gathr platform in the Spring of 2013. The film was also picked up by CNN Films for broadcast.
Much of the self funded distribution space is about the value of name recognition. Louis CK has such a loyal audience that he can get away with only selling his Live stand up docs on his website that are DRM free and asking fans not to upload it for free online. The films do so well that he is making seven figures in profit and will keep distributing them this way. His level of sales success, of course, is not realistic for most indie filmmakers, but it shows the value of brand developed over time. If you build up a loyal base and treat them with respect, they will follow you and as a result you can cut out the middle man.
Detropia world premiered at Sundance, won the editing award and came from two Oscar nominated directors. But they found distributors were wary to take on the film and/or didn’t get what the directors were trying to do. After a successful Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to self distribute, the film went on to gross over $300k+ theatrically. The filmmakers made the wise choice to open the film in a suburb of Detroit instead of NYC and the film grossed over $20k from that single screen at Landmark Royal Oak, far more than they would have launched with in NYC. They embraced their target audience and much like Escanaba in Da Moonlight pushed very heavily to a hometown crowd.
Sound City world premiered at Sundance 2013 and decided to do a day and date release less than a month after premiere. No distributor would have agreed to that. Dave Grohl himself promoted the film heavily (again the value of a fan base will pay off) and the film launched as the #1 doc on iTunes and grossed over $400k theatrically. It’s the highest grossing release from service theatrical company Variance to date. While fellow music recording doc Muscle Shoals may have grossed more money at the box office, they have to split the revenue with the distributor, Magnolia. Sound City likely made quite a bit more money back into their pockets.
Particle Fever has grossed over $850k to become the highest grossing Abramorama service release. They creatively tapped into the science community and quickly and quietly bypassed other more high profile docs like “Life Itself”. Using support from a community with solid internet leverage meant a lower P&A and this film, just shy of a $1 Mil grosser, can easily be called a success on all cylinders. It also doesn’t hurt that it scored a 95% from critics on Rotten Tomatoes. The film is now available for paid streaming on their website powered by VHX.
I Am Divine had a self funded theatrical release handled by The Film Collaborative. The film grossed $82k on a $8,000 release budget. This was run just as the film was finishing its 200+ festival screenings tour around the world for which the filmmaker has made 10’s of thousands from screening fees. We let social media and the Divine brand do much of the work as the colorful character inspired many around the world and they were excited to see his life story on the big screen. The film spent multiple weeks as the #1 Doc on ITunes when Wolfe Releasing put it out this year. A rare film to be profitable in every viewing arena.
God’s Not Dead again shows the value of a niche demographic that can be reached with the help of deep online data analysis. Working with Freestyle Releasing to open on 780 screens nationwide, the religious right pandering film has theatrically outgrossed Wes Anderson’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” which at its widest played over 1400 screens. This technically makes it the highest domestic grossing indie release this year. It’s passed $62 million on only a $2 Million budget production budget. The production worked with Ash Greyson’s Ribbow Media to handle a sizable social media advertising campaign directed toward Duck Dynasty, Kevin Sorbo, Dean Cain and Shane Harper fans and limited TV advertising on the 700 Club, Up TV and Pandora radio. It was a highly coordinated gamble that paid off handsomely. Lionsgate picked up the rights to distribute the movie through VOD (video on demand), SVOD (subscription video on demand) Pay-Per-View and television across the U.S. this month.
Upstream Color was the long awaited follow up from indie auteur Shane Carruth. He vetted offers while planning months in advance for a self funded release that launched out of the film’s Sundance premiere. Carefully planned and executed to reduce costs, Carruth’s intention was to give the film just enough of a theatrical release to legitimize and raise awareness for the film before sending it out to the online platforms where it would find actual significant revenue. For a while the film continued to play theaters simultaneously with the digital sales option, a feat almost unheard of in the Spring of 2013, but becoming a much more accepted and savvy practice now. Though lacking star wattage and a less than commercial story approach, Upstream Color amassed $444k and while Carruth kept full control of the release. The film is now widely available digitally.
Some honorary mentions for great self financed releases go to The Anonymous People (second highest grossing Gathr release despite no fest exposure), Spark: A Burning Man Story (Over $77k on another TOD service called TUGG with surcharged Burning Man tickets, over six figures theatrical and digital), Kids for Cash (Launched at 4 theaters in PA and grossed six figures), and Under the Electric Sky (a TUGG release with six figures, but curiously controlled by a traditional distributor, Focus Features).
Of this list, a vast number of the TOD releases are for documentary, some with star names attached and all with some kind of cause or niche audience interest to tap into and they all clearly did tap into that. Also, funds were raised to accomplish a theatrical release, hence the name self financed release. This should indicate to you that making a film meant for self funded release you NEED to have an identifiable brand, a social cause or a niche audience interest base to tap into. Think very carefully about how that film will be released successfully because these are the same considerations a distributor will look for when evaluating the release of a film.
Bryan Glick August 7th, 2014
Tags: Bryan Glick, Detropia, DIY film distribution, Gathr, Girl Rising, God's Not Dead, I am Divine, independent film, Kids for Cash, Particle Fever, Sound City, Spark: A Burning Man Story, The Anonymous People, The Film Collaborative, theatrical self release, Theatrical service company, Tugg, Under the Electric Sky, Upstream Color, Variance
It’s a new year, Oscar Campaigning is in full swing and that must mean one thing….Sundance is upon us!
There is no doubt that Sundance is the best launching pad for documentaries in the US if not the world. 10 of the 15 Oscar Shortlisted Docs premiered at Sundance, including the highest grossing doc of the year, 20 Feet from Stardom. Furthermore almost 90% of all docs had some form of domestic distribution secured.
There has been a lot of chatter about the recent New York Times article talking about too many films entering into a shrinking marketplace. I am usually quite the pessimist and cynic, but in this instance it is one of the best things that could have happened for film. THERE IS NO EXCUSE NOT TO HAVE DISTRIBUTION.
THERE IS NO EXCUSE NOT TO HAVE DISTRIBUTION. Looking at the films from last year’s festival, it becomes clear that the options are endless. And many films have combined approaches for their DIY. Netflix is distributing the audience award winner, The Square starting January 17. The film had a small DIY theatrical with the help of Participant Media, but that’s not the end of it. When it debuts on Netflix, it will also be available on GATHR only expanding the film’s reach.
With all this said, every filmmaker should be making distribution plans from the beginning. Put money aside to cover a festival premiere (publicist, lodging, travel, prints, etc) and for the strong possibility of a self financed release. Perhaps you’ll never have to use it. But it is better to be prepared.
Now with my rant out of the way, here’s a look at how the film’s from last year’s festival fared in distribution.
EVERY SINGLE US DOCUMENTARY and DOCUMENTARY PREMIERE selection had some form of domestic distribution, but multiple world doc films have yet to line something up in the States.
TV DOCS (HBO, SHOWTIME, CNN):
HBO acquired TV rights to or produced 7 documentaries from last year’s festival.
Gideon’s Army, Life According to Sam (whose subject passed away this week), Manhunt, and Valentine Road all world premiered in the US Documentary Competition. The Crash Reel and Which Way is the Front Line From Here? The Life and Time of Tim Hetherington screened as documentary premieres and the network acquired world doc entry Pussy Riot – A Punk Prayer for $1,000,000.
Not only does the network connect these films with far more viewers than they could reasonably expect in a theatrical release, but these films are also some of the critical favorites. Four of the seven films are on the Oscar shortlist for documentaries and a fifth won an Emmy.
HBO is not the only TV player in town.
CNN Films partnered with Magnolia on Blackfish. The film has been seen by over 20,000,000 people worldwide and grossed north of $2,000,000 in the US. It made the Oscar Shortlist and has been cited as a key reason Sea World’s revenue is down over 30% this year. The acquisition was for $1,000,000, split between the network and Magnolia and certainly profitable for the latter. The company also had Pandora’s Promise which grossed $66k theatrically, but got hundreds of thousands more views on the TV screen via the broadcaster.
Three of the five highest grossing Sundance docs from last year were about singers/musicians (3 of the top 5 were also sold by Submarine and 4 of the top 5 were distributed by Radius-TWC or Magnolia) Clearly, they are resonating with a larger audience and the top players in documentaries recognize this. What’s truly impressive though is two of these films were day and date releases.
Sound City was a self financed release and dominated iTunes while also grossing over $400,000 in the care of Variance Releasing. While Variance handled the theatrical release of Sound City and Dave Grohl and his team did their own direct distribution through VHX, Gravitas Ventures handled the traditional VOD release of the film both in North America and internationally, including on iTunes. The film has grossed north of 7 figures on VOD since Gravitas Ventures launched it almost a year ago. Muscle Shoals has managed just under $700,000 with Magnolia at the helm, but theirs is a traditional distribution situation and the acquisition amount was not stated. Twenty Feet From Stardom also had a traditional release and has grossed just under $5 million and is RADIUS-TWC highest grossing film to date. The film, acquired for just over a $1 million, is also a top performer digitally and has been selling well internationally.
SELF FINANCED IS POPULAR
Over 25% of Sundance 2013 docs pursued some form of self-distribution.
Running From Crazy, Blood Brother, The Square, God Loves Uganda, American Promise, Linsanity, When I Walk, Sound City, Pandora’s Promise and the yet to be released Citizen Koch all went for self financed theatricals.
Linsanity and Citizen Koch both raised over $100,000 on Kickstarter for their theatrical releases. Linsanity has made $299,408 in cinemas. This more than justifies the DIY campaign and assuming they didn’t pour extra money into the release would net them just over $100,000 before digital and other ancillary are factored in.
The Square, which is the first Netflix Documentary pick up, had a small Oscar Qualifying run that turned into a little bit more and helped the film make the shortlist. It has grossed over $50,000 to date. That threshold was also exceeded by fellow shortlist film God Loves Uganda. Variance is releasing God Loves Uganda and should either film make the final Oscar cut you can expect additional revenue. That said, neither release appears to be profitable on its own. Variance said a few years ago they wouldn’t do a release for under $20,000 and cinemas do take a large chunk of revenues. Add the cost of Oscar Campaigning and the absence of the Netflix deal and God Loves Uganda clearly needs the Oscar nomination to boost its bottom line for digital (It will air on PBS later this year).
Running From Crazy quietly earned $33k, When I Walk did not report totals and Blood Brother has grossed over $50,000, but all through TUGG screenings. Blood Brother’s total is at once impressive and instantly disappointing. The film won the audience and grand jury awards, but failed to generate major buyer interest. ITVS has TV and Cinedigm has digital rights, but the film has become one of the lower grossing performer’s for a major festival award winner. At the same time, it screened at festivals left and right and, while skipping week long engagements, has screened at churches and small towns around the country. It may ultimately reach $100,000 via TUGG.
While Sundance continues to push for a lot of political docs, they are far from the best performers at the box office. After Tiller is a great film, but hardly a Friday night date movie. Festival revenue has provided a boost for the Oscilloscope release, but with under $70k in theatrical and a solid push for Oscar (it was not shortlisted) feels like a disappointment. Similarly award winners The Square and Blood Brother also are far from the top of the pack at the box office.
Meanwhile, over 1/3 of the World Doc films have nothing lined up for the States and Fire in the Blood is the lowest grossing Sundance Doc from last year that reported box office totals. It still has made about $20k and much of it from TUGG.
Other underperformers include Cutie and the Boxer, which was not day and date, and The Summit, which was one of the biggest doc deals at low 7 figures from Sundance Selects, but failed to pass $300k theatrically. Compared to films like Dirty Wars (IFC) which pulled in $371, 245 and Inequality for All (Radius-TWC) grossing $1.1 million, the buy was a bust.
Next week, we’ll take a look at how the narrative films from Sundance 2013 fared in release.
Bryan Glick January 15th, 2014
Tags: 20 Feet From Stardom, After Tiller, American Promise, Blackfish, Blood Brother, Citizen Koch, CNN, Cutie and the Boxer, Dirty Wars, Fire in the Blood, Gathr, Gideon's Army, God Loves Uganda, HBO, HIstory of the Eagles Part One, Inequality for All, Kickstarter, Life According to Sam, Linsanity, Magnolia, Manhunt, Muscle Shoals, Netflix, Oscar short list, Pandora's Promise, Pussy Riot, Running from Crazy, Showtime, Sound City, Sundance Film Festival, The Crash Reel, The Square, The Summit, The World According to Dick Cheney, theatrical releases, Tugg, Valentine Road, When I Walk, Which Way is the Front Line From Here?
Just prior to SXSW, I was contacted by a new digital distribution outfit called Devolver Digital Film who were launching during the festival. I rolled my eyes as I opened the email because frankly, digital distributors are becoming a dime a dozen and few offer anything that differentiates their services. Yes, they are all non exclusive, but most do not have much to offer in the way of audience recognition of the platform.
Film distribution in some fashion isn’t difficult to obtain anymore…but getting an audience to know a film is available, actively seek it out AND getting them to watch it is another story. So, I was intrigued to find out that Devolver is planning to help solve that problem. Devolver Digital Films is a company expansion out of video game publishing and distribution. Devolver is primarily known for the Serious Sam series of games and their success within the video game industry coupled with founder Mike Wilson’s filmmaking interests lead to a desire to use the same successful game marketing techniques for independent films.
The company’s first title, Cancerpants, is described as “a story about life, love, and a young woman’s journey with breast cancer.” Cancerpants is currently available on VOD networks Verizon and Frontier, and will reach Comcast, Cox, Cablevision, and Dish Online on June 4th. Local theatrical screenings are planned for May 30th in several cities including Grass Valley, CA (hosted by the filmmaker), Los Angeles, Austin, Houston, Oakland, and New York City.
I spoke with Andie Grace, VP of Acquisitions, and Mike Wilson, Partner and filmmaker, to hear what lead to Devolver’s foray into independent film distribution and what they plan to offer that other digital distributors don’t.
AG: “The experience that motivated the creation of Devolver Digital Films comes from the games space. Mike is also a filmmaker and he knows what it is like to run up against the wall of getting distribution. After spending years of making the film, getting your own network together, hitting the festival circuit and landing a distributor and then they put it out, but do little to support it. Devolver Digital would never put out a game that way and now there are so many films on the digital shelves too, a small film that is great could do a lot better with a little help.
When a filmmaker’s own network is exhausted, they themselves are exhausted and ready to move on to another project, they just need a partner to be interested enough to work the title and we saw it as a niche to be filled.”
SC: “Speaking of a niche, does Devolver have a niche audience that they are serving with films? My main problem with film distributors is they don’t really have an audience for their company. They are used to speaking to other businesses (exhibitors, video stores, broadcasters), but not speaking directly to any audience for their titles. Their titles are so diverse that they don’t even really know who is watching. Will this be a unique aspect for Devolver? Is there a Devolver audience?”
AG: “Genre fans definitely stick with a label because of what the label brings them. This is definitely true in the games space. We now have many gamers saying ‘What is my favorite game label going to do with movies?’ So our aim is to keep that fanbase alive and choose films we think they will like.
A lot of counter culture films are coming our way and I definitely look at those films and say ‘I know where to find people who will like this, I know how to organize events around this.”
MW: “Our brand will be built on films that we believe we can make bigger than they would have been without our help. Decisions on films will be based purely on what we think we can do with the network we already have in place. It won’t be according to genr. Inevitably everyone wants us to do films that are considered ‘gamer’ fare. But people who are outside of the gamer world don’t realize that gamers aren’t only into zombie movies or sci fi movies. The independent gamer tends to like lots of independent entertainment. Independent music, independent films, they tend to look a little further past the mainstream. More interesting, less predictable. So that is what we will specialize in.”
SC: “Is there something that the filmmaker has to bring with the project? Do they have to have a certain mentality? Do you want the filmmaker to be an active participant in marketing his/her work, or are you fine with them leaving it with you to make it successful?”
MW: “There are 2 kinds of filmmakers. Those that are exhausted from making the film and just want someone to take care of the rest for them. Some of those are very good films, but there is no promotional hook, and no niche we can tap easily. If they just want it out there, use our service to get it into the world, we’ll put it out for you and you can move on with your life.”
AG: “But we regard this as a partnership. We amplify what they have already started doing on their own. Anyone who wants to just turn tail and walk is probably not going to work well with us. Now, we do understand that by the time the film is ready for distribution, the filmmaker has already exhausted their network and they have done all they know how to do with their Facebook page or Twitter account and they need someone to help them, do it with them. It’s better for them to stay present, be there for the interviews, help craft the story, and use the opportunity to build their own brand as a filmmaker by working with us in a promotional partnership.”
SC: “What will be the range of services Devolver offers? I was thinking it was just digital distribution platforms, but you are working with Tugg to do events too?”
AG: “We will offer cable VOD and internet VOD right now. Being from the games world, we also have our eyes on gaming consoles. We will talk about the total distribution strategy based on the film. It may include using tools like Tugg to do some live event screenings rather than spending time exclusively on the festival circuit. Events can help power the VOD sales. We also will talk about the marketing and publicity, some of the more traditional tactics. We will motivate our own networks to help with promoting screenings. By having the film on VOD when it is in theaters, we can get it highlighted in the ‘in theaters now’ sections of Amazon Instant and such.”
MW: “We are going to be direct to the platforms when that is possible, but until we build up our catalog, it isn’t realistic to think we will be big enough to negotiate direct deals with the bigger players. With our zero overhead, we will be competitive with the percentages we take even when a third party is involved. Plus, we’re going to help promote it which should make the revenue bigger than it would if you went through an aggregator who isn’t doing that.”
SC: “Do you take rights over the film or do those stay with the artist?”
MW: “We wouldn’t take all rights like broadcast network rights, or international rights at the moment. But to the extent that we do put time in to exploit on certain platforms, we want exclusivity on those. It is just bad business for everyone if you have several companies pitching the same film. As a filmmaker, I know there are distributors who want to take all rights just in case in future they want to do something with them. That is not the case with us. Our reason for existence is to avoid that scenario, we have all experienced it as filmmakers ourselves.”
“We do ask for a minimum of one year with options to extend. Most cable operators do want a 5 year minimum. We have found on the games side that there are opportunities for digital bundles and we will want to include our films in bundles without having to keep going back to ask permission. We aren’t going to be releasing 30 movies a month or anything. The films we do have are precious to us and we will be working harder to make the small amount work for us and for the filmmaker.”
SC:”Advertising and promotion aren’t free, they often make up the majority of any kind of film release. Is this a service deal agreement where the filmmaker fronts the money for Devolver to spend or is this more like a traditional distribution situation where Devolver will front the money and recoup from revenue before the filmmaker sees any profit?”
MW: “This won’t be a six figure M&A budget. It is more like soft dollars from us in our organization and network of already existing connections. This is what helps support our games as well. Filmmakers will also be expected to help each other when they are on our label. So anything we provide from this network is just the cost of us doing business and we provide that.”
“Then, if there is an opportunity to buy into a promotional program or whatever, we’ll agree it with the filmmaker and write the check up front and share that cost. If the filmmaker gets a 60% split with us, we share the cost of the promotion.That’s the way we work in games too, it is purely situational. To the extent that they want to be involved, the filmmaker will sign off on any promotion we want to participate in and they will know the whole cost.”
“Another thing we feel is important is being completely transparent. If we do have to go through another distributor to get to a certain outlet, I will forward every royalty statement we get from that distributor so that the filmmaker knows what the revenues were. There has just been too much damage done by ‘Hollywood accounting,’ I use that term to mean all entertainment. The games industry is as bad as any. The little things we can do to remove any doubt about whether we are on the filmmakers team, we will do. The world may not need another VOD distributor, but one thing we will provide that others do not is transparency. There is always room for that.”
SC: “When is the best time for a filmmaker to approach you? In preproduction? Production? Post?”
MW: “I would say in post. We’re not a production company and we aren’t trying to influence the outcome of a movie. We can’t really have a conversation about a film until we know the level of quality it will be. Most of the people we are talking to are in fine cut or have a festival version that they still want to trim.”
AG: “We are having conversations now with people who are in post and it is pretty obvious who their audience is. We are also talking to people who are not going on the festival circuit, they are launching straight into distribution.”
MW: “We have many dream producers coming to us who get this online promotion stuff. We want to network them all together and help to promote each other.”
SC: “How will you bring them together?”
MW: “Google Hangouts I envision. I want just these producers who all have great ideas and are on the same label to get together and brainstorm with each other. Their films are all coming out near the same timeframe so I think some great creativity and excitement will come from it. I don’t think they imagine for a minute that helping someone else will hurt their own projects. It just makes their own network bigger, by aggregating everyone’s together.These are all young, smart, tech savvy producers who want to learn from each other.”
SC: “Well, that is definitely a differentiator for Devolver! Most distributors don’t bother themselves with bring together the filmmakers to help work with all the projects in the catalog. It means you really want to work with filmmakers who are giving, tech savvy and want to help make everyone’s work successful.”
MW: “The filmmaking process just sucks everything out of you, you are totally exhausted when finished and often you are the last man standing. The crew disappears after the wrap party. It will be great to have a company that knows this, pulls together a group of filmmakers in the same situation about to release their films and supports everyone.”
“It is really fun to be coming in at a time when we aren’t having to undo our skills. You go to industry panels where these veteran people are completely unsure of what is happening and frustrated at having to relearn everything because they are used to doing things in a certain way for many years. For us, it is exciting because it is wide open.”
I will be keeping an eye on this young and enthusiastic company. If you have a project you would like to approach Devolver Digital Films about, contact Andie Grace:
films [at] devolverdigital dot com
Sheri Candler May 9th, 2013
TFC is stoked to be at SXSW 2013! In preparation of this year’s festival, we’ve taken a good look at how films performed that premiered at the festival last year. Always good to know a few facts.
This is the only major film festival in the US that is a FOR PROFIT. As of this writing, it is also the only one that does not provide grant and/or distribution support directly to at least some of their films. In addition, the festival coincides with a tech conference where companies like Twitter were launched and it is the largest music festival in the United States. All of the above can make it very easy for films to get lost in the shuffle.
With all that said, slightly over 2/3 of films that world premiered at the festival last year secured some form of domestic distribution. While these numbers might seem bleak, they aren’t as bad as they appear. Noticeably absent from last year’s list are the big indie players like SPC, Focus Features and TWC. These companies often exhaust their funds at Sundance and EFM looking for bigger tent-pole releases. Still the festival is one of the best launching pads for an indie film in North America. IFC, Magnolia, Factory 25, Phase 4, Go Digital, Anchor Bay, Cinedigm, and Snag Films all acquired multiple films. I expect many of these companies to be in play again this year as well as a lot of distributors that were outbid on films during the buying frenzy at Sundance this year.
From last year’s premiere crop that were not studio releases, there have been three films that have grossed over $100,000 in domestic box office (though I expect one more to reach that mark). Roadside Attractions acquired rights to Blue Like Jazz before the festival and the film has far and away the highest grossing theatrical revenue with $595,018 for 8 weeks on a max screen count of 136 . The film notably raised $345,992 on Kickstarter, almost 3x its stated goal. Adapted from Donald Miller’s memoir, the film came with a large fan-base already attached and was widely supported by the Christian community. Take heed of this fact!
PDA self-released the child chess documentary Brooklyn Castle after raising funds via Kickstarter. The film also sold remake rights for a TV series. To date it has grossed slightly over $200,000 after 11 weeks in theaters with a max screen count of 13 which, while out performing all other documentaries from the festival, makes it the lowest grossing PDA release.
Beware of Mr Baker, meanwhile, has become something of a surprise hit and just passed the century mark at the box office. It is now available on iTunes where it is in the top 100. A little under ½ the film’s tally came from one theater in NYC. So far, it has played 12 weeks in a maximum of 15 theaters. This doc is exactly reflective of the film one expects to see at the festival. It is a music focused film with a young director and edgy subject matter. Snag Films holds all digital rights to the film. This is notably much better than fellow Snag Films doc, Decoding Deepak, which reported opening weekend grosses of $9100 on 3 screens and quickly faded out of the theater. Both have most likely done solid numbers on digital platforms as marquee titles for Snag.
Like Blue Like Jazz, Fat Kid Rules The World was massively successful on Kickstarter raising $158,000 for its theatrical release. Matthew Lillard made his directorial debut with this film based on an award winning book that has many shades of his punk music upbringing. The film’s production budget was reportedly $750K. However, the film only grossed $41,457 in a one week run according to reported theatrical box office numbers. The theatrical consisted of a dozen cities with additional screenings supported by TUGG. It was released in partnership with Arc Entertainment.
Music Box Films has steered Starlet to over $88,000 with the film still playing in theaters, but near the end of the run. So far it played 12 weeks at a max screen count of 10. While not great numbers, the film about a unique friendship between an elderly recluse and a young porn star features real sex, which made it inaccessible to a number of theaters. Also still in theaters is the doc Gregory Crewdson: Brief Encounters about the notorious photographer. Zeitgeist keeps slowly adding dates and the film has steadily passed the $50k mark after 17 weeks with a max screen count of 3.
Performing on a smaller level were some well received documentaries. Oscilloscope’s Tchoupitoulas with $19,375 after 5 weeks on a max of 6 screens and Samuel Goldwyn’s Waiting for Lightning which got only $21,577 for one week on 11 screens.
On the narrative side, Cinedigm took horror film and midnight audience award winner Citadel to $13,377 in theaters for 9 weeks on a max of 7 screens and Red Flag Releasing handled the theatrical for the long delayed Duplass brothers film The Do-Decca Pentathlon. That film grossed $10,000 in its opening weekend on 8 screens and Fox Searchlight handled all other aspects of distribution.
TFC client Gayby was acquired for six figures out of the festival by Wolfe Releasing. The film grossed $14,062 from four screens and was the highest grossing gay comedy of the year. It played two weeks in Manhattan where it out-grossed all other films screening at The Cinema Village combined and later had a bonus run in Brooklyn. It also included a number of unique approaches. Most notably instead of a week-long theatrical in San Francisco, we held two special screenings at the Castro Theater. The gross for those screenings was higher than that of the entire run in the LA market. Though only out on DVD/Digital a few months, the film has already been profitable for Wolfe Releasing.
A lot of SXSW films embraced the youthful component of the festival and eschewed theatrical distribution entirely.
Documentaries: The Announcement, The Central Park Effect (Music Box has DVD rights), Uprising: Hip Hop & The LA Riots, and Seeking Asian Female premiered on ESPN, HBO, VH1, and PBS respectively.
Booster is available for download on iTunes/Amazon. Daylight Savings did a DIY digital, Extracted was released on digital platforms courtesy of Go Digital and Anchor Bay acquired The Aggression Scale, but opted to go straight to DVD.
Factory 25 just put Pavilion into release. They released The Sheik and I at the end of 2012, but did not report grosses. It played in four theaters with only Seattle lasting more than a week.
3,2,1…Frankie Go Boom (Phase 4),The Tall Man (Image), $ellebrity (DIY), King Kelly (Go Digital) and The Jeffrey Dahmer Files (IFC Midnight) also opted not to release grosses and all were out of theaters in a week (except for King Kelly which lasted 2) with a tally of under $10,000 likely for each. A few of these are in Amazon Instant Video’s top 25 list though.
Funeral Kings (Freestyle) and Beauty Is Embarrassing (DIY) did not release grosses, but played in far more theaters. The latter likely finished comfortably over $25,000. Kings is in the top 100 list on iTunes.
Meanwhile, several films failed to break $10k. Notably, they are all non-competition narrative films. All except for The Last Fall had rotten ratings on rottentomatoes.com, many below 10%. Perhaps they fared much better on digital and VOD for which numbers are not available.
These films included Crazy Eyes, bought pre fest by Strand Releasing and grossed $6,106 on 5 screens in 3 weeks. Cinedigm’s In Our Nature, a family drama starring Zach Gilford, Jena Malone, John Slattery, and Gabrielle Union grossed $6,543 in 2 weeks on 1 screen. The critically panned Magnolia comedy Nature Calls grossed a paltry $646 on 2 screens in its entire run. The Last Fall, a life-after-football drama, only reported its opening weekend gross of $6,100 on 1 screen. Of these films, it came the closest to covering basic costs of a theatrical run.
Millenium Entertainment dumped comedy The Babymakers into the marketplace on 11 screens where even with the help of TUGG it only amassed $7,889. Anchor Bay’s generic horror film, Girls Against Boys, grossed $7,529 and went right to digital and VOD after 1 week in theaters. However, it is one of the top 100 horror films in DVD and Amazon instant video. They acquired the film for seven figures! Rec 3: Genesis, the third film in this successful horror series, was pre bought by Magnolia and lasted 4 weeks in theaters, but never had a PSA over $1k and bowed out at $9,600.
In the yet to be released category– IFC’s jury winning narrative film Gimme the Loot will be released March 22. Phase 4 is sitting pretty on the audience award winning Eden and See Girl Run. Tribeca has Somebody Up There Likes Me queued for VOD release on March 12. Magnolia just bought Big Star which screened as a work in progress at the fest. Small Apartments bought by Sony Pictures Worldwide is also waiting in the wings for release sometime in 2013. Factory 25 has Sun Don’t Shine geared up for April 29 release.
BONUS TIDBIT: KICKSTARTER
At least 20 films at SXSW this year raised funds on Kickstarter. That is slightly more than 15% of the films playing at the festival. 22 features from last year’s festival used Kickstarter with a number of those campaigns held post fest. I anticipate this year’s fest to ultimately have over 30 feature films using the crowdfunding platform. Obviously crowd-funding is a huge boost for indie filmmakers as it provides the luxury of not having to worry about paying back investors. And this list does not include films that have used other sites like Indiegogo…In no particular order…
Mr. Angel 12 O Clock Boys, Improvement Club, Continental, Linsanity, Swim Little Fish Swim, Big Joy (x2), Our Nixon, Good Ol’ Freda, I Am Divine, Good Night, Fall and Winter, Medora, Maidentrip, White Reindeer, Bayou Maharajah (x3), All the Labor, This Ain’t No Mouse Music!, The Punk Singer, Finding the Funk
From last year’s festival, the list of Kickstarter funded films include ½ of the competition titles: Gayby, Gimme The Loot, Booster, The Taiwan Oyster (x2), Bay of All Saints, Seeking Asian Female, Welcome to the Machine, and The Jeffrey Dahmer Files, and also Girl Walk/All Day, Brooklyn Castle (x2), Pavilion, The Last Fall, Blue Like Jazz, Fat Kid Rules The World, Beauty is Embarrassing, Code of the West, Tchoupitoulas, Leave Me Like You Found Me, La Camioneta, Electrick Children, Wonder Women! The Untold Story of American Superheroes (x2), Trash Dance (x2)
Bryan Glick March 8th, 2013