The New Digital Repertory Mode

In a recent post on his excellent blog, Ira Deutchman asks

"Why not recreate the repertory cinema model for the digital age–program different strands of films on different nights, day-part them if you will. Why not stage national events to showcase those strands and have audiences feel like that are part of something larger–something they can’t get on TV or from a DVD?"

But Ira not only asks, he explains in detail how he is doing just that with the series FromBritainWithLove.

I am such a believer in this model. Read how it was done.

Hey NYC & LA Filmmakers!! Your Personal Invite (& DISCOUNT) To Distribution U!

Today's guest post is letter to YOU from Peter Broderick. Okay, it is to me, but only so I can forward it to you.  This is a can't-miss-event.

Dear Ted,

We would like to invite your colleagues and readers  to Distribution U and offer them a special discount (see end of post).  It is a unique event that will give them the latest information about new distribution models and connect them to many of the people who are pioneering cutting edge strategies. The event is being presented by me,  Peter Broderick, a leading strategist and pioneer of new distribution models, and cutting-edge author and tech analyst Scott Kirsner.

This one-day crash course on the New Rules of Crowd Funding, Audience Building & Distribution is being held Saturday, November 13th in New York at NYU and the following Saturday, November 20th in Los Angeles, where it is co-sponsored by UCLA's School of Film, Theater, and Television.

We are very excited about the stellar roster of resource people who have already committed to participate. They are pioneers who are creating and implementing the latest distribution models and strategies.

Richard Abramowitz (who organized the successful theatrical rollout of "Anvil: the Story of Anvil") and Marc Schiller (the digital marketing expert who heads Electric Artists) will present a case study revealing how they guided the release and marketing of "Exit through the Gift Shop" so effectively, without a director to promote it.

So far our other resource people include:

Caitlin Boyle (semi-theatrical maven and head of Film Sprout)

Jim Browne (theatrical booker and founder of Argot Pictures)

Adam Chapnick (founder of Distribber, the innovative company that works with filmmakers to maximize their digital revenues)

Brian Chirls (the tech guru who developed much of the Internet strategy for "Four Eyed Monsters")

Jonathan Dana (producer and producers rep "Road to Nowhere")

Ira Deutchman (producer and Emerging Pictures CEO)

Sandi DuBowski (producer/director "Trembling Before G-d" and outreach director for The Good Pitch)

Madelyn Hammond (marketing guru and former Chief Marketing Officer at Variety)

Justine Jacob (director of "Ready, Set, Bag!" and an attorney at the law firm Lee & Lawless)

Scott Macaulay (producer and editor of Filmmaker Magazine)

Slava Rubin(CEO and co-founder IndieGoGo)

Jill Sobule(singer/songwriter "California Days" and crowdfunding pioneer)

Anne Thompson (journalist and blogger "Thompson on Hollywood")

Other directors and producers include:

Robert Bahar and Almudena Carracedo ("Made In LA")

Jennifer Dubin and Cora Olson ("Good Dick")

Roberta Grossman ("Blessed Is The Match")

Joel Heller ("Winnebago Man")

Meg McLagan ("Lioness")

Vladan Nikolic ("Zenith")

Ben Niles ("Note by Note")

Jim Tusty ("The Singing Revolution")

Our resource people will lead off-the-record discussion groups in their areas of unique expertise and will be available to participants during networking opportunities throughout the day.

The experience of these resource people will be complemented by that of participants, many of whom have also been working on the frontiers of distribution. Scott and I have designed the event to give everyone a chance to connect and potentially collaborate in the future.

Here are discount links:

Distribution U. New York, November 13th

http://distributionu-nyc.eventbrite.com/?discount=friend

Distribution U. Los Angeles, November 20th

http://distributionu-la.eventbrite.com/?discount=friend

There is also a small group rate if two or more people sign up at the same time. For 2 it is $185 a piece and for 3 or more it is $175 per person.

We hope many of your readers and colleagues will be able to attend.

Onwards and upwards,

Peter

P.S.  From Scott:

Here's what Manohla Dargis wrote about last year's event, at USC: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/17/movies/17dargis.html

We're also giving away a pass to one lucky person who tweets the URL (http://distributionu-nyc.eventbrite.com) along with the hashtag #distribu. (We'll pick the winner Wednesday at 5.)

There's also some MP3 audio of one of the case study sessions last year, featuring the director of "Anvil" and the producer of "Good Dick," both of which were at Sundance 2008.

http://scottkirsner.com/DistributionU2009-casestudies.mp3

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.

Thoughts on "Free" From The Conversation: NYC Edition

Today's guest post is from producer Smriti Mundhra.  I confess I have been slow in my posting and should have run this last week! If the sun came out in New York City this past Saturday, I didn’t see it. Instead, I spent the day in Columbia University’s Uris Hall with about two hundred fellow filmmakers participating in The Conversation, an all-day conference about the future of independent film funding, marketing and distribution. There was a lot to talk about.

The program for The Conversation consisted of panels, discussion groups and breakout sessions, each featuring both indie fllm stalwarts (Eugene Hernandez, Scott Macaulay, Bob Hawk) and new media trailblazers (Lance Weiler, Arin Crumley). But it was Ira Deutchman, CEO of Emerging Pictures and professor at the university’s graduate school of film, who dropped the first bomb in his opening remarks when he quoted a businessman with whom he recently had lunch: “Film? That’s not a business, that’s a hobby.”

Though the folks behind Avatar might disagree, the conversations that followed Deutchman’s speech had me wondering if this cold-hearted suit had a point when it comes to the independent film industry. If one could have extracted a theme from the day’s panels and discussions, it would have been this: you want to get your independent film out there? Chances are you’re going to have to give it away for free.

As Michael Barnard pointed out in his two-parter “Free is Not Worth the Price” a few posts back, this principle of “free” does not a business make. I was alarmed by the number of filmmakers I met on Saturday who have willfully resorted to giving the milk away—either to distributors by accepting zero-advance deals with virtually no hope of profit participation, or directly to the consumer via online platforms. Equally distressing is Eugene Hernandez’s case study of the upcoming film Breaking Upward, which reveals that the filmmakers took their generous-by-comparison $40,000 advance from IFC Films and reinvested it into their own marketing (thereby doubling the advertising budget for the film), and yet do not seem to have an increased participation in the film’s upside should it succeed.

Most vocal of these “free mavens” was panelist Nina Paley, director of the charming and deeply personal animated feature Sita Sings the Blues. Paley, who was road-blocked into a selling no more than five thousand DVDs of her film because of a complicated music licensing deal, decided instead to give it away for free, in all digital formats and in perpetuity, to anyone who wants to screen or sell it. She then crafted a “creator-endorsed” logo available to anyone who shares part of the profits with her. Paley spent years making her film and took out loans to pay the $50,000 music licensing fee, and now relies on the kindness of strangers—who voluntarily pay screening fees or share profits, and buy Sita-inspired merchandise from her website—to see profits from her work. This suits her just fine.

Though Paley has become the poster child for Free Method, not everyone shares her enthusiasm. The filmmaker came to a head with distribution consultant Peter Broderick during his dealmaking seminar, when she announced to all and sundry that by guiding filmmakers into selling of exclusive rights to their films, Broderick was perpetuating a monopolistic system that killed free trade. She informed Broderick that she was “the only filmmaker in the world who is happy with her distributor,” to which he curtly replied, peering at her over his eyeglasses, “I doubt you know every filmmaker I work with, Nina.”

Throughout the day, my thoughts kept drifting back to the “film is a hobby” statement. The dictionary defines hobby as “an activity or interest pursued for pleasure or relaxation and not as a main occupation.” As anyone who has made or distributed a film recently knows, it is not relaxing and is very much a main occupation. In fact, it was made clear during The Conversation that filmmakers are having to work harder than ever for increasingly smaller pieces of pie (crumbs, really). However, as condescending and arrogant as it is to refer to independent filmmaking as a hobby, for most of us it’s not exactly a business either. As panelist Richard Lorber, CEO of distributor Kino Lorber, put it, “everything’s possible but nothing’s working.”

Though no distributors seem to be willing to reveal numbers or metrics, I would have liked to hear more from companies such as Oscilloscope Laboratories and Palm Pictures (who released a feature I produced called Bomb the System with some success) that at least seem to be making money selling independent films to consumers, as opposed to the myriad companies selling distribution platforms to filmmakers.

Ryan Werner of IFC Films—the lone voice of semi-traditional distribution at the conference, bless his heart—offered some candid insight into what sells and what doesn’t: no-name personal indies and romantic comedies are the toughest sells, genre material and anything laced with controversy are the easiest. Anybody surprised? Probably not. And yet, the majority of us independent filmmakers work doggedly to make films that have virtually no chance in the marketplace, only to have to jump through hoops to get people to watch even as we give them away for free. Clearly, we on the content-production side have some reassessing to do.

Just as everyone was getting ready to collectively throw up their hands in despair and looked for the nearest exit, The Conversation co-host Scott Kirsner reminded us that when the film business started over a hundred years ago, when somebody started charging people to watch thirty-second reels in a kinetoscope parlor on Fifth Avenue, the average weekend box office was $120.

“I think if you were in Manhattan back then, you would have said ‘this isn’t really storytelling, this isn’t an art form, and this certainly isn’t a business,’” Kirsner said from behind his podium. “I think we’re in a similar moment right now. It doesn’t feel like a business yet, but those of us in this room are the early pioneers, ignoring the warning signals that eventually won’t mean anything.”

In the mean time, events like The Conversation are helping bring like-minded pioneers together to share and experiment so that one day, the independent film business can truly be a business again.

LINKS:

The Conversation:

http://www.theconversationspot.com/home.html

Eugene Hernandez’s case study: http://www.indiewire.com/article/eugene_hernandez_breaking_upwards._breaking_even/

Sita Sings the Blues:

http://www.sitasingstheblues.com/

Required Reading: NYC Indie Film Summit Wrap Ups

I hope to get a breath to give my thoughts on all this, but it more likely will come in the form of short subject posts, but I am really impressed with the wrap ups that greeted me this morning.

As much as I hope to address this in the weeks ahead, I am even more excited to hear from those that weren't there. I have heard a plethora of solutions and reasons for hope in recent weeks -- but from those in outside the film biz industry and those who have not been ordained into the establishment.
I am more energized than ever as I feel that although the business has changed we have a wave of new leaders about to claim ground. It won't be the same old cinema, the same old festivals, the same old windows that it has been.
Sure it may mean my way of doing business is dead and I will soon be out on the street with my tin cup, but I guess that's the price for thinking I was doing it right for too long. On the other hand, we have some movies going and I know my next group of films are even better than the ones I have made before so maybe I will get a few more years before execution.
Anyway, I would love to hear your responses to these articles.