If you have been reading the TFF post on the sale of Septien, you know that IFC bought it for Sundance Selects. What you may not know is that it is up on VOD now but it's only on the market until February 24th, though it will be VOD-able later in the year once it gets a theatrical release and has a (hopefully) healthy spring/summer festival run.
Today's guest post is from George Rush, producers rep and attorney. Yesterday George started telling us about how he engineered the sale of Michael Tully's Sundance At Midnight hit, SEPTIEN. Today's post concludes the dissection. I had been to Sundance before with Midnight films and know it can be difficult to get good buzz. Sundance audiences are not reflective of real audiences. It is a mixture of film nerds, rich party people, and earnest do gooders seeking some culture. I’ve found most people want to see the buzzed about stereotypical Sundance films—The Are All Right, Winter’s Bone. These tickets are hard to come by. However, midnight screening tickets are easier to come by and thus people get stuck with them. They come in hoping for some culture and get blood and guts and farts.
I’ve seen packed houses at Midnight screenings pretty empty by the time the lights came up. Because Michael’s film, SEPTIEN, is so different, I felt a good number of the audience and some critics would dismiss it outright because it did not fit their expectation of what a Sundance film should be. It sort of reminds me of a friend of mine who hates Wes Anderson movies because he expects Bill Murray to always play the Bill Murray of Ghostbusters.
Those who stayed, who bought in, would be massively rewarded by SEPTIEN, but there would be some naysayers. So my feeling was Sundance was going to be a wildcard, with champions and detractors.
With a small film without a cast, getting positive buzz is essential. With so many high profile star driven films at Sundance, it is easy for a non-buzzed film to be overlooked. Michael’s film is hard to describe—you just need to experience it. Screening at Sundance would mean a buyer getting it, and having the balls to take a risk on something new.
Ideally, the Sundance formula is the buyers see a screening at the fest, the crowd loves it, the press loves it, the energy in the room reaches a fever pitch and the buyers lose their sense and overpay or get in a bidding war and the filmmakers all buy new jetskis (“the jetski scenario”). Conversely, you have a bad screening, and that energy is sucked out of the room and it is more of an uphill battle. Given the originality of Michael’s film and the fact it was a midnight screening, I was concerned.
However, I also thought the film was completely awesome. I had spoken to IFC about another film I was repping about possibly including it in their Sundance stunt, that is IFC acquires the rights to the film before the festival and launches it on VOD at the same time it premieres on IFC. I had a sense of what the range was of what they were paying, and also knew that they planned to have five films for the stunt. Most filmmakers or reps don’t consider this option because they are holding out for the jetski scenario. However, I felt if we could get IFC interested, perhaps we could get the other buyers interested and do something before the fest.
I have done a couple of deals with Jeff Deutchman at IFC and contacted him about Septien. Describing the film sounded borderline crazy, so I really had to stress how much I believed in it, which I actually did. We had a pretty good rapport, and he checked it out. He too understood how good it was and that there was potential for a bigger film if given the chance. It quickly was screened by the IFC team and they made a pretty decent offer.
Once we knew they were interested, we quickly got screeners to other distributors we felt might have an interest in the film, letting them know that we had a time sensitive offer. Meanwhile, our conversations with IFC continued and the terms of the offer seemed reached our goals—recouping the costs of the film and a theatrical commitment. IFC had a certain urgency because of their Sundance stunt and were more motivated to make this happen than I believed they’d be at Sundance.
So we were at the crossroads of taking a good deal from IFC, or rolling the dice and seeing what happened at the screening. I know Michael was at first conflicted, but ultimately I believe quite strongly that this was the right choice and the right partner. As we expected, Septien divided critics. It is not a genre film, not a typical Sundance film, no stars, weird, but nonetheless an exciting cinematic experience. I have to commend IFC for taking a chance on this.
So that’s how it went down, and I am proud to have been part of it. There is nothing more rewarding in what I do than seeing a little film, with little to no resources, actually succeed as a film and better yet with a buyer. It is like witnessing a miracle. So much of the indie content is so similar in tone, style, issues and setting.
When I read summaries from film festival catalogs to my wife she thinks I’m just making up joke indie summaries. These films are good, and what drew me to indie film in the first place. But outside the indie film world, most people don’t care, or worse yet, hate indie films. But to see something new, to hear a fresh voice, to have a film be outside my expectations and exceed them actually gets my adrenaline flowing.
Commercially speaking, the goals for all indie films is to breakout of the indie audience and find a larger broader audience. Maybe I’m wrong, but I believe if our business is going to reach a new and larger audience, there needs to be more risk taking films like Septien. I constantly hear filmmakers bemoan the state of the business, but I would also bemoan the state of most content. Budgets are lower, buyers pay less, so if you’re going to make a bold move in your filmmaking, there is no time like the present!
Now go and order Septien on VOD!
George Rush is an entertainment attorney and producer’s rep in San Francisco.
Today's guest post is from attorney and sales rep George Rush. It is part one of two. George handled the sale of Michael Tully's Septian to IFC's Sundance Selects. I have worked as a lawyer or a producer’s rep on hundreds of films over the years, and this experience has made me quite skeptical about the business model for independent producers. The business is worse than it has been historically, but it is still the same very basic model. You produce a film, a distributor exploits those rights. You are good at creating content, they are good at marketing. Hopefully those two things come together to benefit both parties.
I’m a hyper skeptic of producers essentially acting as their own distributors because generally they aren’t strong in both skill sets, and thus something usually suffers. So I usually assume a producer is good at producing, and try to leave it at that.
Most of what I work on is low budget films with few if any stars. Ten years ago, I considered a low budget film under two million dollars. Today, I consider it under $500,000 and believe if you do something for a larger budget without a truly bankable cast, you are being reckless with your budget.
The distribution business has become tougher and they are paying less for content, and thus budgets go down correspondingly. So how can you make something quality for under $500K—most people fail at this effort and there is a glut of so so films that just can’t compete with larger budgeted film—they are clearly inferior. Indeed, most festival films in this budget range will never see the light of day beyond the festivals. However, I don’t know how, but some people do. It takes an extremely resourceful producer and director who is willing to take some chances to pull it off.
Enter Michael Tully’s Septien. I hadn’t met Michael before, but I was somewhat familiar with him from Hammer to Nail. He called me up and said he had a fucked up film that got into Sundance Midnight section. As I listened to him, it didn’t sound like a genre film, but something that defied categorization. He sent me a screener, and I really had no expectation when I popped it in.
I had worked on plenty of fucked up films, but most were weird for the sake of being weird and really didn’t have a life beyond a slender contrarian audience. So I watched Michael’s film and it was fucked up, but it wasn’t weird for the sake of being weird. There was something strange, unsettling, and wholly original about it. I watched it again, and I was sold. I loved it.
I lack a poker face, so I’ve found that trying to sell a film I didn’t like was pretty clear to the buyers. I only rep a film if I am actually into it, and I loved this one. So I was in, but the film had challenges. The first was how to characterize this film in a nutshell and who the audience was. The film did not fit neatly into box.
I came up with a lot of ways to describe Septien -- but my refernces often veered into more obscure things like Dogtooth and Henry Darger. Cool things for sure, but not exactly elements that scream big audience. I also felt like the audience would be cool indie kids and would build buzz from there. I know distributors have a difficult time reaching audiences under 30. That audience is accustomed to watching things digitally for free. Our challenges for the film are the indie audience skews older (my parents love The King’s Speech), and that for a distributor, this film would be as hard to market as it was for me to describe.
What to do? Check back tomorrow for part two.
For another angle on why 38 Films -- Some dark -- Sold At Sundance 2011, check out Anthony Kaufman's article here.
George Rush is an entertainment attorney and producer’s rep in San Francisco.
Although there is certainly a lot of "truth in the jest", HammerToNail's Tully's plea to end all the blah-blah-blah of film panels on how-to-social-media-ize-your-film-to-glory and Stop-the-sky-from-falling-by-old-white-guys (I am on one this week!) is still written as humor: no one really needs another manifesto (and I live to write a manifesto each week). Yet... The Take-Back has gotten a good deal of Talk Back. I think many of us fall on both side of the fence: tired of the same old, same old, and desiring to figure out some way to get the conversation started. Let's face it: we need to figure out how to get people to talk about culture in a more meaningful way. Still though, Tully's started a lot of good dialogue on film panels and their relevance. Now Brian Geldin of The Film Panel Notetaker has chimed in. Check out his post and lend your voice to the discussion.
I wish I had published this earlier. It comes from Michael Tully, our editor over at HammerToNail. It was originally published on his blog, Boredom At It's Boredest, on Indiewire. It takes a much different tact than most of what we've been discussing here. I totally get it; discussion and strategy about reaching audiences, is exhausting. For some, it will never create better films, or even bring them to audiences. Yet, courtesy of HTN, I have come in contact with a plethora of good films that are not being seen by audiences. I love the spirit of this manifesto, but.... The Take-Back Maifesto
By signing the following petition, we film lovers of all types—critics, reviewers, screenwriters, directors, producers, production assistants, grandparents, art history snobs, coach potatoes, Multiplex squatters, etc.—believe the following to be true:
— We realize that bringing any film into fruition, however great or small the budget, is an outrageously difficult task. We realize this, and yet we don’t care. The final product is all that matters.
— A production’s back-story only becomes relevant after—not before—one has watched the film on a screen. Once we see your film and like (or dislike) it, that is when we will decide if we want to learn more about how it came to be. Not everyone can be Werner Herzog.
— We know that making thought provoking, ambitious, challenging, adventurous films is complicated by the fact that cinema is such an expensive art form. We know this, and yet we say so what. Everyone is a martyr for their art.
— We don’t want to help pay for your movies. Either: 1) We have our own movies to finance; or 2) We feel like an active enough participant in the process by watching your finished film and being affected by it. That is the extent of the participation we seek.
— We understand that we are living in a constantly evolving technological world and that there are kinks to be worked out. We trust that the sharpest, most appropriate brains will solve these problems. Convening weekly panels about how to use Twitter is not the answer.
— We admire and respect many of those who have given birth to this new panel industry, but we also understand that we now have access to most, if not all, of those participants every day, on a minute-to-minute basis, through their Internet voices. Because of this technological advancement, these panels have begun to feel increasingly unnecessary, a summing up of the latest ideas rather than a newly informative experience.
— We believe in the mystery, the power, and magic of cinema, and we feel strongly that the more one reveals about one’s production—at least when it comes to this recent phenomenon of obsessive reporting and documenting of every step of the filmmaking process—the less powerful the impact will be. Exposing the process is only for Christo.
— From this point forth, we are only interested in the film itself. By marketing your marketing, you are only alienating us. If you are doing anything, you are making us not want to watch your film.
— We call for a ban of the conversations/panels/symposiums/etc. about “How To Market Your Indie Movie In The New Media World!” until at least 2012, when these troubles will naturally work themselves out.
— All of this talking about “finances” and “connecting” and “publicity” is the insidious language of a corporate, numbers-before-content mindset. Truly personal, independent cinema has never been preoccupied with these details, and making us feel guilty for not caring about them is not the answer. You’re only driving the most talented souls away.
— Can we get back to talking about movies, please?
(If You Wish To Be Included, Add Your Name In The Comments Section Below here)