Brave Thinkers Of Indie Film, 2010 Edition

We have a bit of a redundancy in the recognition of those that create good work, but that good work does not end with what is up on the screen -- which is the part that everyone seems to want to write about.  I feel however that we must recognize those that focus not just on the development and production of good work, but those that commit themselves to ALL of cinema, including discovery, participation, appreciation, and presentation -- what I consider the other 4 pillars of cinema.

Last year at this time, I put forth a list of inspiring folks, people who by their acts and ideas were giving me the energy to keep striving for a better film culture and infrastructure, one that was accessible to all, and slave to none. We are closer to a truly free film culture this year than we were last year, and I remain optimistic that we can be a hell of a lot closer next year than we are today, thanks in no small part to the 40 I have singled out these two short years.

This list, like last year's, is not meant to be exhaustive. Okay, granted I did not get to the quantity to the 21 Brave Thinkers that I did last year, but the quality is just as deep.  Regarding the lesser amount, I don't blame the people -- I blame the technology (of course).  I wish I had better tools of discovery that would allow me to find more of the good work and efforts that are out there. I know I am overlooking some BTs again this year. But so be it -- one of the great things about blogging is there is no need to be finished or even to be right (although I do hate it when I push publish prematurely -- like I did with this -- when it is still purely a draft).

I know I can depend on you, my dear brave thinkers, to extend and amend this work into the future.  I do find it surprising how damn white & male & middle aged this list is.  And that I only found two directors to include this year.  Again, it must be the tools and not the source, right?  Help me source a fuller list next year; after all, it is as Larry K tweeted to me about regarding who are the most brave these days: "Those whom you don't know but who continue, despite the indifference of all, to create work that is authentic,challenging and real."  How true that is!

Last year I asked and stated: "What is it to be “brave”? To me, bravery requires risk, going against the status quo, being willing to do or say what few others have done. Bravery is not a one time act but a consistent practice. Most importantly, bravery is not about self interest; bravery involves the individual acting for the community. It is both the step forward and the hand that is extended."

This year, I recognize even more fully that bravery is a generosity of spirit, as well as a generative sort of mind.  It is extending the energy inside ourselves to the rest of the world.   I often get asked why I blog (or why so much), and I have no answer for those folks.  It can't be stopped, for I believe if we love the creative spirit as much as the work it yields, if we believe we create for the community and not for the ego, how can we not extend ourselves and turn our labor into the bonds that keep us moving forward.  In other words, no one can afford to create art and not be public (IMHO).  If you want a diverse and accessible culture of ambitious work, you can not afford to simply hope it will get better -- you have to do something (or get out of the business, please).

So without any further adieu, here's my list of the nineteen folks who have done more on a worldwide basisto start to build it better together, to take what remains of a crumbling and inapplicable film culture & infrastructure, and to try to bring it into the present. They all share a tremendous generosity and open spirit, embracing participation and collaboration.

This is no longer a world of scarcity and control. These nineteen have begun the hard work of designing a new world of film based on surplus and access -- and the resulting community that grows from that --, and their actions and attitude give me hope for what is to come.

  1. Wendy Bernfeld - The transformation from an entertainment economy designed around scarcity & control, to one built for surplus & access requires new business models and new sales models.  Filmmakers struggle with this more than anyone as most of the sales agents still push for the deals that deliver them the highest return for the least amount of effort.  This is not so for Wendy, whom through her company Rights Stuff has started the task of moving towards the short term non-exclusive license world this new world requires.  Furthermore, Wendy has shared her knowledge both on my blog and at speaking engagements the world over.  Her openness and forward thinking is an example for all of us.
  2. Peter Buckingham - Until the UK shuttered the Film Council, Peter ran their innovation fund.  Perhaps it's just that I sit in America, but to think of  a public official who is so committed to moving both the dialogue and the process forward as Peter, is no easy feat.  Peter helped launch the UK's Digital Cinema Initiative.  His insight on the possibilities of meta-datat are always inspiring.  We could use an ample dose of his high energy leadership on our shores if we are going to get some real things done here.
  3. Edward Burns - Although he has more access to the Hollywood machinery than most, for his latest film, Nice Guy Johnny, Eddie not only went the no-stars micro-budget route, but he set out to distribute it himself from the start.  With no marketing or advertising spend, Eddie has enjoyed a revenue return far in excess of his investment.  As much as I admire his courage and commitment, it his openness about the process that I find most inspiring.  In festivals, colleges, and even The Today Show, Eddie has shared his frustration and hope.  He's also consistently looked for new ways to help people discover his work.  His Homage Trailers, where he remakes trailers of classic movies using footage from his own film, are filled with wit and humor and not to be missed.
  4. Efe Cakarel & The Mubi Team Of the folks listed here, Efe may be the one I am most remiss about not listing last year.  The former Auteurs -- now Mubi -- remains the most robust community of film fans on the web, while being a dynamo curator of quality film on a global basis.  Yet, it seems good that I overlooked Efe and his Mubi team last year, as the transformation to Mubi and their extension onto the Playstation platform gives film fans more access than I could have previously imagined.  The challenge of bringing quality work to the community and generating discussion remains large, but these folks are leading the way.
  5. Henning Camre - President of the Think Tank on European Film and Film Policy,  former head of both the Danish Film School and UK's National Film and Television School, and the Danish Film Institute, Henning is pushing through the necessary change in the Scandinavian Film Industry -- but it is a ripple that will resonate throughout the world.  I got to participate in the Think Tank as was deeply impressed at the quality and depth of the presentations and organization.  No one ever likes to volunteer for the heavy lifting, but Henning has several times over.  Change only comes when we recognize the pain of the present outweighs the fear of the future, and Henning's clarity of vision towards the new reality has no equal on our shores.  He embraces both the new and the old, the conservative and the radical, subscribing to the reality first, probing beneath the perception to unearth the hard facts about access and practice.
  6. Sheri Candler When you believe in something you want to share it, right?  Sheri embodies this statement like few others.  Her commitment and faith in audience and community building is contagious.  An avid user of social media, it is hard to miss Sheri in the virtual world, as she lends her voice, heart, and hand to filmmakers trying to sort out a way to connect and build the necessary bridges. Added bonus for following Sheri?  Her ideas are good and well thought out!   Last year's Brave Thinker, Jon Reiss attests: "I met Sheri just over a year ago after I had just finished Think Outside the Box Office – where else – but on Twitter. She reached out to me, as she does with countless others, and since our first meeting has been an invaluable partner – passionate, incisive and always on the hunt for new ideas and new people that can help filmmakers (myself included) connect with their tribe and help solve the problems facing us all in this challenging time. Her tireless engagement and generosity sharing her wisdom and discoveries is a constant inspiration to me and should be to all in our community."
  7. Adam Chapnick CEO of Distribber.com, a company that places film and TV content on digital sales platforms such as iTunes, Netflix and Amazon for a flat fee while allowing filmmakers to keep 100% of their revenue.  As Adam said in his HopeForFilm post: "Distribber was created to help rights holders maximize the payback from their work and investment.  More specifically, Distribber was conceived as a solution to several persistent complaints from filmmakers and other creative rights holders about distributors in general and aggregators in particular."  Distribber, and Adam's efforts, are key tools in the building of a middle class of artists who own and profit from the work they create.
  8. CineFamily - When it comes down to email blasts that I love to receive, nothing rivals Cinefamily's.  Bold programming, well presented.  As curators, they expand my knowledge.  As a hardened New Yorker myself, these Losangeleans give me a reason to long for the west coast.  They show us all how to use the web, and use it well.  In an era and city of mass conformity, they show that it is still both set & setting, programming broadly to the narrow, with verve and attitude. Sure this kind of stuff goes over in quirk capital's like Austin, but little did I suspect LA to deliver so much fine weirdness. To quote their own site: "The Cinefamily is an organization of movie lovers devoted to finding and presenting interesting and unusual programs of exceptional, distinctive, weird and wonderful films. The Cinefamily’s goal is to foster a spirit of community and a sense of discovery, while reinvigorating the movie-going experience. Like campfires, sporting events and church services, we believe that movies work best as social experiences. They are more meaningful, funnier and scarier when shared with others. Our home is the Silent Movie Theatre, one of Hollywood’s most beloved and beautiful cultural landmarks. There, The Cinefamily will provide a destination spot for Los Angelenos and others to rediscover the pleasures of cinema."
  9. Dylan Marchetti & Variance Film - I may not have heard more filmmakers praise a distributor this year, than Dylan.  Furthermore, I don't know of a distributor who maintains such an accessible and vocal presence online, thinking aloud, and engaging the community on the search for a new model that could serve the widest definition of film.  Working on a flat fee basis versus a percentage of the gross, committed to a firm code of ethics, committed to 100% transparency in accounting, and 100% control for the filmmakers at all times, Dylan is a true partner in the emerging artist/entrepreneur economy.
  10. Thomas Mai - I have had the first hand pleasure of sitting in the audience as Thomas pitches filmmakers on the power of social media and the new era of truly free film ahead of us.  I have seen the skeptical grow empowered from his presentations.  Thomas, a former sales agent, has taken his rant on the road, sharing his insights with audiences worldwide.  From a base in Brazil, Thomas has used a shaky internet connect to distribute his lectures across the global.  And he has given quite a few public speaking tips along the way, not to mention writing well-shared posts for HopeForFilm. You can check out one of his lectures on his site www.thomasmai.net.
  11. Karol Martesko-Fenster Brian Newman summed it up well, about Karol: "While he is no newcomer to the scene, having either founded or been part of the founding of a great part of the indie scene (Resfest, Filmmaker Magazine, indiewire) he continues to reshape it at Babelgum. Under the direction of Karol, Babelgum has been licensing (i.e. paying real money) work from independents who push boundaries. Whether it's funding the Workbook Project, helping Sally Potter to be the first filmmaker to release a feature on a cellphone (day and date with it's festival premiere) or funding the "prequel" docs leading up to the film "Bombay Detective," Karol is pushing the field forward with the development of new artistic practices and business models."
  12. Thom Powers Founder of Stranger Than Fiction, programmer at TIFF, co-founder ofCinema Eye Honors, this year Thom expanded his base still further as one of the founders of the DOC NYC fest.  Few have done as much to further the community and appreciation of film in NYC.  He has helped to build an energetic and passionate doc community, and never stops thinking about how to extend it further.  A man with a mission if there ever was.
  13. Casey Pugh We need to facilitate collaboration between the tech and filmmaking worlds.  Having been involved in building the Vimeo player and then Boxee, Casey's already done a lot (and I think he is only 26).  An Emmy award joined his list of accomplishments this year, and the cause of this award, is my favorite film of the year, Star Wars Uncut.  I am eager to see his latest project, VHX launch in the months to come, as I am confident it will be another step forward for a truly free film culture.  Casey sees the big picture, the full definition of cinema.  In his work he's building the ramps and bridges connecting the six pillars of cinema: discover, development, production, participation, appreciation, and presentation.
  14. Orly Ravid & The Film Collaborative - A not-for-profit film distributor has long been a dream of mine, but it took Orly and her team to actually do it.  For a truly free film culture to exist, sustainable enterprises must be built that facilitate the connection between unique work and audiences on terms that go beyond profit.  THE FILM COLLABORATIVE is the first non-profit, full-service provider dedicated to the distribution of independent film.  Not much more to be said, but Orly's demystification of the sales and distribution processes, a refreshingly open approach to the numbers and realities of the distribution effort, via her blogging have gone a long way to helping filmmakers across the globe understand the world we are living in.
  15. Michel Reilhac of Arte France I asked Brian Newman about Michel: "Michel has probably embraced the "new paradigms" of the film/media world better than anyone else, and he speaks and writes about it with an eloquence sorely lacking in the field. For just one example, see his "Gamification of Life" speech at the Power to the Pixel forum.  He has helped transform Arte France into a leader in the support of transmedia, even pushing them to think about how this affects their daily work. He is also a mentor and friend to many filmmakers, helping them find and tell their stories in both new and old ways - but always better. But what most endears me to Michel's work was his recent decision to stop funding conferences and training, instead giving more money to filmmakers to push the field forward by experimenting in their craft. Great idea: less talk, more action." Amongst many round-breaking projects are their award-winning documentaries, Gaza-Sderot and Prison Valley -  beautiful examples of new approaches to story-telling using the web and interaction.
  16. Mike Ryan - Perhaps no post on indie film initially infuriated me as much as Mike's Filmmaker Mag piece on the "current preoccupations of the indie film scene".  I strongly disagree with Mike's blame-it-on-the-audience and build-it-and-if-it-is-good-they-will-come approach, but as the days turned to weeks and the weeks turned to month, the necessity of his central message of needing to be driven by the art and not the business resonated in deeper and deeper ways with me.  It is a brave thing to say, particularly as a producer, that you do not care if something makes money and that the art comes first. Mike leaves no doubt that he is  a man of bold visions and strong opinions; he is not afraid to speak truth to power.  He is both rigorous and playful in his thinking, and he invests it in new projects and filmmakers, not because of the business or opportunity, but because he believes that what they have to say and how they choose to say it is important.  American Indie would not be the fertile ground it is these days without Mike's efforts, but his efforts don't end there: Mike helped to co-found HammerToNail with both Corbin Day, Michael Tully, and myself; Mike helped start an initiative in Memphis to train underprivileged youth in film, and Mike has trained many another up and coming producer.
  17. Yancey Strickler & Perry Chen Of any one on this list, Yancey and Perry are probably the only ones whose creation has moved from an object to a verb.  In certain circles I have heard Kickstarter to stand in for crowdfunding.  Although they are not the only game in town when it comes to mobilizing the community to put worthy projects into being, they've certainly been among the most prominent.  Mark Rosenthal of Rooftop Films makes their commitment clear: "It’s brave to share your creative dreams with the world, to put your faith in people, to seek support from strangers. Everyone who’s putting their films and albums and paintings and gizmos on Kickstarter is taking a chance that people will like what they’re doing. But it takes other brave people—like Yancey and Perry—to spend years of their lives building the site and enabling the community to build. Great job, guys."
  18. Timo Vuorensola PowerToThePixel's Liz Rosenthal said: "Timo Vuorensola is a film director from Finland and an early advocate of crowd-sourcing and social filmmaking. His first feature, the sci-fi comedy Star Wreck: In The Pirkinning was several years in the making. He and his team built an active community of 2,500 around the making of the film . The community co-created around 50% of what made it into the final film, They helped with aspects of casting, writing, music, 3D modelling, CGI effects, translating the film into more than 30 languages. It has since achieved cult success, his evangelical community helping spread the word and has been downloaded over 8 million times through official torrents whilst the team sold DVDs and merchandise of the film. Timo launched wreckamovie.com, a new web service that enables filmmakers to build and collaborate with online communities around their films.Timo’s second feature, the sci-fi comedy, Iron Sky, which tells the story of Nazis who come from the Far Side of the Moon, is due to be released in 2011 and has a budget of 6.5 million euros. Fans have already been able to help with ideas in Wreckamovie and helping to fund the movie by buying merchandise, donations and also offering a chance to invest in the movie and share its possible profits."
  19. Rainn Wilson As I stated the other day: "Rainn gives back in a big way. I am a bit in awe in how generative and generous this man is. There's a reason why he has over 2 million twitter followers and it's not just because he's really funny. He cares about things. He cares about people. He cares about process. He's thoughtful."  If you haven't ever checked out Soul Pancake, a site he helped found, nows the time.  I got to know Rainn this year as he both Executive Produced and starred in SUPER (which I produced with Miranda Bailey).  It was Rainn's tweet that he and "James Gunn were going out with a low budget f'd up Watchmen" that drew me to the project.  His commitment to social media definitely played a big role in the financing and sale of the film.  Through Rainn's commitment to a better world, he is inadvertently building a better model both for film and us as individuals.

I recognize that many of these folks have written for HopeForFilm, but it is something that I encourage people whom I admire to do (even some that I don't!).  There are also some on this list that are good friends, but I like to socialize with such types, so what can I say?  Some people on the list are folks I have or have had business with, and some I plan to have business with in the future, but the same holds true for the professional sphere as is in the personal -- when people do good things, I want to get to know them.  Is that at all surprising?

I remain thankful a great deal this year including making one film and selling another.  This list is my thanks to some of those who inspire me.  We can build it better, together.

P.S.  I solicited nominations this year from last year's Brave Thinkers.  David Gertz went as far as to write a whole post on the companies that are doing the work that will allow a new infrastructure to take hold.  Check out his post here.

The New Independent Film Distributors’ Business Model (Pt. 1 of 2)

Guest post by Sheri Candler. In this second post, I want to focus on how to rehabilitate the film distribution entities so that they may continue to exist. I know what you are thinking “What’s she on about? We’re fine. We survived the latest shake out and are all the stronger for having less competition.” I am here to tell you that is fallacy. The old ways of bringing films to market are fading fast and it is time to reinvent your business. I want to acknowledge my gurus Gerd Leonhard, Seth Godin and Clay Shirky (though he is more my go to guy on all things having to do with immersive storytelling and audience collaboration) for being a constant source of inspiration for me in looking toward the future of media.

When Ted announced on his Facebook page that he would take part in a panel discussion at the upcoming Woodstock Film Festival concerning the new distribution paradigms, I had to look at who would be involved in this discussion. What people and companies would be taking part who are practicing radically changed business models for film distribution? It was as I thought; none. I posted a link on his page (http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20100326/1452138737.shtml) asking all involved in the discussion to read it and then talk about how they see the new paradigms. I don’t know if anyone did, but I did get a response from Dylan Marchetti from Variance Films explaining to me how his company functions to actively engage audiences for films they’ve booked in the theater. It was a lengthy exchange that resulted in my writing this post. I don’t think he read the article before he spoke because the point of that piece was to inform on how businesses need to form ecosystems around their companies, not continue only to sell copies of the content they distribute. Distribution companies should not be focused on selling copies, either for viewing or for owning. They should be selling access, creating networks of devoted fans around their brand and developing customized experiences instead. In other words, selling things that cannot be copied. This means they must first gather and cultivate a community of engaged followers and then develop, acquire, produce, and source material with only these people in mind.

Of the companies taking part in the Woodstock panel, I would say only Cinetic with their Film Buff organization has started with the potential to do this, but rather than building an engagement platform, they have merely built another online distribution portal (like so many others in existence that consumers have never heard of) to put copies out on the internet. Actually you can’t see any of the films on the site, it just directs you to their existence on VOD channels. Their “community” engagement is only a call for an email address so that they may send marketing messages. What is communal about that? What connection would a consumer have to the company itself besides advertising? None. Cinetic has no idea who these people are, what drives them, motivates them, interests them. It is not fair to pick only on Cinetic, I can’t think of a single distributor currently connecting directly with audience who can answer those questions. Troma comes to mind as a distributor with a very clear brand identity but even they are not directly in dialog with their audience. All current distributors are far too dependent on push marketing, usually hired from outside the company, and sourcing films purely on guesses based on audience reactions at festivals , favorable press or from hottest trends in market research. Every investment prospectus will tell you future earnings are not indicative of past performance, so why is that how decisions are continually being made?

What would I suggest for these companies? First, a total rethink of what business they’re in. Distribution of goods is no longer needed from you. You should not think of yourselves in the film distribution business because distribution has become easy to access by anyone online. (I know Dylan, you’re not online, but art house theater days are numbered too). Attention getting is now your main role. But from whom? If you don’t have a following as a company, a deep relationship with a community, how will you get attention and keep it? By building a tribe around the people in your company and, in turn, the company brand itself. This starts by identifying what kind of group you appeal to or want to appeal to, actively seeking them out and forging those deep connections. At first, this will mean attracting people through outside means, appealing through media and various outside groups to introduce yourself. Eventually the effort to enlarge the circle will be done by the community members, but until you have one, you must do that work.

Often, in a rush to monetize, companies jump right over the relationship building. The dismal failure of paywalls in newspaper circles only serves to prove my point. They did not build up an engaged community first, and then ask for payment. They falsely thought that their paper subscribers would be willing to continue the previous paid relationship even after it was possible to get most of the news stories from aggregators for free online. There is a great video from Jeff Jarvis explaining the new business models for newpapers here (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jsb9NfJmqPY&) and lots can be gleaned from it for all corporate endeavors.

The reinvention “The future leaders in business will be connectors, not directors”-Gerd Leonhard The new model will be to build and foster a community around the brand as a company and to be in the entertainment fulfillment business. This community will have interests that the company can fulfill and that is the company’s ONLY function. To try and serve a well balanced diet of wide ranging content is to spread too thin and attract no one. Mass is not your target. You will be a resource to your community not only in entertainment but in anything that interests them. This means you MUST know what “that” is. Is it books, is it music, events, clothes, games, causes, other similar tribes? These will be your other revenue sources as you create a network of interconnection with other companies who have their own niches, their own tribes. Also, consider enabling community members to profit in what you have sourced, to be affiliates and to create networks of their own. The network will feed each other spreading the brand even further.

A key part of your site will be to connect your community to each other. Some companies have sites where they connect to the user, but they don’t allow for intraconnection and some networking platforms are merely housed on a company website but members are never engaged by the company, merely left to use the tools as they see fit. Listening and collaboration will be cornerstones for this model to work. This isn’t work to be left to interns, by the way, but by those in power within the company.

You will also partner with other tribes of like minded individuals. Through these interactions, you tribe influence grows. There is no need for shouting out messages, gaining favorable PR placement, buying media for attention or forcing members to spread the word. If you are fulfilling their needs admirably, they will do it. You will however, generously reward those members in your community who do enlarge your circle. Instead of paying large amounts of money to outside companies to get “buzz” and “traffic,” you will invest that money in building experiences tailor made for your community. Development of experiences can only be done from active participation in the community and collaboration with them.

This model is far simpler to run as you won’t be going for masses, you will only cultivate your community. It will be labor intensive work, but not prohibitively expensive. You will need to develop tools so that the tribe members can speak to each other and so that they can spread the word to their friends easily. You should be facilitating sharability at all times, not closing it off and being insular.

The filmmaker/artist whose content you will source (not acquire as creators will have an equal partnership in your tribe) will be encouraged to participate with the community. In fact, if they will not, then their work is not very attractive to your community. Engagement at all times is key, this is no place for egos.

Tomorrow: How To Make Money With The New Model!

Sheri Candler is an inbound marketing strategist who helps independent filmmakers build identities for themselves and their films. Through the use of online tools such as social networking, podcasts, blogs, online media publications and radio, she assists filmmakers in building an engaged and robust online community for their work that can be used to monetize effectively.

She can be found online at www.shericandler.com, on Twitter @shericandler and on Facebook at Sheri Candler Marketing and Publicity.

Theatrical: To Do… or NOT To Do.

Today's guest post is from Orly Ravid of The Film Collaborative. Theatrical: To Do… or NOT To Do. (or perhaps more, HOW and WHEN To Do):

We all struggle with this, filmmakers, distributors alike. I remember giving a presentation to distributors about digital distribution and theatrical came up. I talked about the weirdness of showing a film 5 or 6 times a day to an almost always-empty house save a couple showings. This makes no sense for most films. When I released Baise Moi in 2000 we broke the boxoffice records at the time, and the “raincoat crowd” did show up at the oddest morning hours, but that is the exception, not the rule. Not every film has an 8-minute rape scene that just must be seen by post-punk-feminists and pornography-lovers alike. It’s an odd set-up for smaller films and it’s not the only means to the end we are looking for.

Recently The Film Collaborative released Eyes Wide Open in NYC, LA, Palm Beach and Palm Springs. We have a little over $10,000, all in it will be about $12,000 tops). We have made our money back and the great reviews and extra marketing / visibility will drive ancillary sales but we also did not invest or risk too much as you can see. That is a great formula (one that small, disciplined and seasoned distributors such as First Run Features, Strand, Zeitgeist, employ) but it is not viable for all films. First of all we have an “A” list festival film (Cannes & TIFF & LAFF) and second it caters to two or three niches (gay and Jewish/Israeli) though one can argue that the niches also slightly cancel each other out to some extent, the film did well so obviously the campaign worked.

But there are many films for which that strategy would not work, either theatres could not be booked, or reviews would not always be great, and / or the film would simply not galvanize a theatrical audience. Plus, once you start adding up 4-Wall Fees the bottom line leans more likely to be shades of red. The Quad Cinema sent an E-blast promoting its 4-Wall program. It was a good sales pitch and I am not going into it all here but the take home is that you’re more likely to get a broader theatrical, and/or a distribution deal, and/or picked up by Netflix and other digital platforms if you open theatrically in New York. I would argue that is true to some extent but also VERY MUCH dependent on the FILM itself and there should still be a cost-analysis and overall strategy consideration before one pays the Quad for their services and hopes for the best. Here is a link to the info and we are happy to email the blast to any who request it www.quadcinema4wall.com . It should also be noted that generally speaking, The New York Times does not consider your film among “All the News That is Fit to Print” unless it’s opening wider than just New York.

So how to decide? Companies such as Oscilloscope are all about theatrical but they pick their films carefully and my guess is Adam Yauch can afford to lose money too if it comes to that. Home Video companies such as New Video, and Phase4 are doing some theatrical but on an as-needed basis and yes, to service the ancillary rights, but that’s a very experienced analysis on their part. When we posted on Twitter about the Cable Operators warning they will start requiring a ten (10) city theatrical, all at once, believe me, if everyone blindly follows suit the bar will get raised even higher right until we all go broke. The point is to mitigate the glut and distinguish films in the marketplace not get us all to be lemmings and empty our bank accounts. There is math to be done and I know it’s hard without all the back-end numbers at your disposal but they are coming. We will publish case studies of all our films and we encourage you to get down to the detailed back-end numbers analysis before spending more on the front end and often gratuitously.

We have both experienced and heard about the impact a filmmaker can have in his or her city when working the film and then really impact the gross.. and that is inspiring but usually not long-lasting because it takes a lot to get people to pay to see your film in a theatre when there are so many other films, and so many more marketing dollars behind them. And what’s in it for you? The only reviews that matter are the big ones and we all know what they are… and remember what we said above about The New York Times.

The general perception of indie film releases is interesting. Most don’t take into account the money that is spent to get the “gross”. More of the time the distributor or whomever booked the film gets less than half of the boxoffice revenues. Sometimes as little as 25% - 30% though of course sometimes more. And there are the expenses. The Kids Are Alright may not even be in the black right now but you’d never know that reading certain coverage. I love Exit Through A Gift Shop and actually flagged that release as stellar release and then I learned that the marketing spend was actually a lot more than I realized such that the spend may be up to a million dollars. I don’t actually know, and not sure anyone will tell me. I do know that the bottom line for many of The Weinstein releases was reported to be in the red because of spending. And you know if you have a film that can sell a lot of units and especially in an evergreen manner, and if you can trigger a great TV sales and if you have foreign sales legs than there’s a real upside. If you don’t, then be clear what you’re goals are. Sometimes it’s just a career move and that makes sense. Canadian filmmakers need a theatrical release to get their next projects funded (say that like this: ‘pro-jects’). Sometimes people just want that awards qualification and that’s another ballgame.

We have written some of our TFC Distribution Tid Bits about Hybrid Theatrical and Marketing options but here is a bit more on the topic:

If creating buzz is what you want, you don’t need a traditional theatrical and you definitely don’t need to overpay for the privilege.

Some OPTIONS – try HYBRID THEATRICAL – do FILM FESTIVAL, CREATE EVENTS, HOLD SCREENING WITH ORGANIZATIONS, show in MUSEUMS (in some cases), other ALTERNATIVE VENUES depending on the film, and also there are all sorts of ways to book a few days here and a few days there at theatres (we cover that below). Theatres are and will continue to do this more and more. AMCi announced their intentions and they are still in the marinating phase but we know you’ll all be ready when they are.

We’re interested in these companies and services:

1. Cinedigm: They have a program in the works that is meant to be similar to ScreenVision and Fathom (which is no longer handling indie films generally speaking, as far as we know) but aimed at independent cinema, and working with all the big theatre chains (Regal, AMC, Cinemark). I asked them to write a few words for me about themselves and their plans: Cinedigm Entertainment, a theatrical distributor, has built several “channels” of content for movie theatres. This is niche content that plays at what is traditionally slower times for the theatres. Examples are; Kidtoons a monthly matinee program; Live 3D sports, like the World Cup and NCAA Final Four basketball; and 3D and 2D concert films with artists from Dave Mathews to Beyonce. For each “channel” the most appropriate theatres are chosen and theatres sign on to play the content as a series, thereby creating the expectation in the marketplace for the next installment. In the company’s newest “channel” it looks to apply the concept to indie-films which will provide filmmakers with the theatrical element for distribution.

2. Emerging Pictures: Owned by Ira Deutchman (now also a Film Prof. at Columbia University) I spoke with Joshua Green who I have known for a while and booked with, though no real revenues were made in the past, their latest network of theatres sounds potent. They connect up to 75 theatres and they do very well with Opera, Ballet and Shakespeare but also indie films. They work with all the usual indie film distributors either taking on 2nd run of films in major markets or handing the first run in secondary markets. On screen now for example is Mother & Child, My Name is Love, and Girl with a Dragon Tattoo. 30% of the Gross is paid to the distributor or filmmaker. They charge usually a 1-time encoding fee to get the files needed for the theatres. The fee is $1,000. If that’s an issue that can sometimes in advance to make sure the bookings will happen to make the fee worthwhile. They create a Hi Rez file 720p VC1 file which is a professional HD version of MS Windows. They work with the Laemmle theatres in LA and Sympany Space in NY and lots of others across the country. What does well on the Art House circuit will do well with them I was told. Makes sense.

3. Variance Films: Dylan Marchetti (former exec at Imaginasian and Think Film) is a firm believer in Theatrical and it’s his business. He may promote its necessities a bit more than I will and its not his money to spend and he was honest about the range of success (meaning not all films work theatrically and sometimes money is lost, and we know of at least one example but it happens). We spoke for the first time and I was comforted by his grassroots approach (they do that work themselves) and his commitment to alternative low cost venues: event screenings, niche-specific / lifestyle specific venues, as well as traditional theatres (all the usual chains and small theatres etc). He noted that generally speaking they do not charge more than $50,000 and that they get paid via back-end fees only. He said a release in NY and LA for $20,000 can be done. Variance is not a believe in print advertising; they have to believe in the film to take it on; and Dylan said that there is no correlation between P&A spending and a film’s success. Amen. They don’t do PR but rather refer out to outside agencies, as does The Film Collaborative.

The Film Collaborative is theatrically releasing UNDERTOW (which won the World Cinema Audience Award at Sundance). Stay tuned.

Orly Ravid is the Founder and Co-Executive Director of The Film Collaborative, the first non-profit devoted to distribution. Having previously served as a distribution executive at Senator and Wolfe, and worked as a Programming Associate at Sundance and Programming Consultant at PSIFF, she also co-owns New American Vision, a boutique B:B marketing services company whose clients include AFI Fest, LAFF, IDA, and Roadside Attractions.