self funded film release

 

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.

 

August 7th, 2014

Posted In: case studies, Distribution, DIY, Theatrical

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By Bryan Glick

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

July 18th, 2012

Posted In: Distribution, Film Festivals, Theatrical

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