The San Francisco Film Society's Great Sundance Hope: Ryan Coogler & FRUITVALE

Last year, the film that the San Francisco Film Society had supported with grants went on to great things.  Sure prizes and deals are not the only way to measure success, and really just getting a movie made is the real achievement -- and hell, getting it into Sundance is pretty damn sweet. I have loved what I have seen of Ryan's work so far.  I also love all he has to say about the film. I also love the the film is about something real to us all; in this case the killing of Oscar Grant at by a police officer. If you haven't checked it out this video already, I recommend you do so now:

 

If you'd like to read more about this and the original case it is based on, this HuffPost article includes many photos of the Oakland riots that followed after the officer was sentenced only for involuntary manslaughter for two years, minus time served.

Get Ready For The Indie Film Investment Deluge!

Let's celebrate!  The prospects look good for a lot of smart money to be available again for appropriately budgeted indie films.  The key now being the "appropriately" part of the equation.

The days of Machiavellian moves to maximize an limited audience art film's budget seem thankfully over -- and as sad as I will be to seem some friends' films become obsolete, I smell another golden age brewing.  Filmmakers and investors seem to have both embraced the "less is more' ethos.  Expect may more films to be made in the lower than $5M bracket, and far fewer indie works in Mark Gill's former sweet spot.  The large indie finance companies of 5 years ago, had to make films at higher budget levels in order to justify their overheads and salaries.  Those companies have crashed and so did the silly models of $20M art films.

The Film Biz is coming off two consecutive extremely robust film markets.  Toronto 2010 saw almost 30 deals close during the festival.  Sundance 2011 exceeded that mark.  Surely there were quite a few deals done post market too (I have not seen any reports to track this; let me know if you know any).  Coming off of two years where the prudent would not expect anything for US rights, this an exceeding positive change.  With a well produced and well positioned films, investors can reasonably hope to recoup -- and then some.  Now the challenge for producers will be to be disciplined enough not to allow the budget creep to return.

There are other factors, beyond the sales market itself,  that heighten my optimism.  The financing model for indie films shifted over the last couple of years to be generally inclusive of additional investors.  Seasoned producers generally try to keep investors to a minimum in order to better manage the relationships -- although having more than one (but still as few as possible) is still a recommended strategy so that creative control is not beholden to another.  The increase in the number of investment partners was due to a both a reduction of available capital and new investors' tendency to look towards others to verify a project's value, and their desire to limit exposure.

With more films selling, and those films having more investors than previously, logic reveals that we have more investors out there who may have actually recouped their investments.  The best part of this is that they are now investors with experience, who hopefully have gained the knowledge on how best to collaborate.

It's interesting to look at the ROI (return on investment) for the films that sold. Although I don't have the time to do an accurate comparison, I can tell you what it feels like to me.  The highest ROIs have come from the micro budget world that delivers quality to a quantifiable audience, particularly when they have a somewhat recognizable cast.  Sundance hit, LIKE CRAZY is the posterchild of this model with three accomplished young stars and a tale of love, helmed by a director of proven ability.  Word is that it delivered ten times it's negative cost on the Sundance sale alone.

For those that want to increase the production value in order limit risk and deliver a more polished look, the low budget range of $500K - $2M did very well this year.  The multiples were not as high, but several films at Sundance seem to have doubled their negative cost by sticking to this formula.  As Kevin Smith pointed out though, the days of Happy Texas sales are long gone.  Granted the higher budgeted star-cast flicks at Sundance may have had the highest sales, but certainly not the highest ROIs, particularly when one factors in the cost of the money, both literal and opportunity-wise.

The challenge this new investor breed faces in repeating this season's success is how to afford the experienced directors and producers when working on limited budgets.  Genius does bloom every year, but that is a risky game to play.  I have produced about 25 first time feature directors, and as much as I believe that talent is a recognizable attribute, experience is a more valuable resource when navigating the rapid speed and intense volume of decision making that feature film production requires.  Budgets of $2M and less will struggle to attract directors and producers with similar track records.  Lucky for them, many of us still truly love movies and want to see great stories told!

Sundance Sales Dissection: Septien (Part Two)

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.

Sundance Sale Dissection: Septien

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.

The Triumphant Return of Good Machine

Yes, it is true.  Good Machine is back.  But in a new and improved form.  Perhaps we should have done a press release, but I thought I should do it here instead.  Press releases are so yesterday.

If you went to Sundance, perhaps you noticed the secret stealth return of our so-called 90's powerhouse.  Or if you were at the Golden Globes, it must have caught your eye.  Hell, even if you just watched the Golden Globes.  If you missed all that, certainly by perusing the Oscar noms, something should have caused a bit of stir.  I've been waiting for some sharp newshound to break with the story, but nope.  So here's the real buzz...

The Good Machinists seem to have now taken over indie film.  The only difference between back then and now is that like any good thing, Good Machine the company achieved its own obsolescence.  The Good Machinists each have their own shop.  Call it, the decentralized approach. But look at what Good Machine achieved just this month.

My former assistant and partner, former head of production, Anthony Bregman, nabbed the biggest sale (I think) at Sundance for his production MY IDIOT BROTHER.  I haven't checked, but also think he's giving Mr. Rudin chase for the title of Most Prolific Producer (when I asked Ant his secret, he replied "Have four children, and you don't have a choice: you have to produce!").  His credit list also includes recent collaborations with many former Good Machine directors, including Nicole Holofcener and Bob Pulcini & Shari Springer Berman.

Good Machine's 2nd initial hire, and the first employee to enter the producer ranks, Mary Jane Skalski, had one of the best received films of the Sundance fest in her 3rd collaboration with Tom McCarthy, WIN WIN.  But why stop there?  She was also in the elite club of Sundance twofers, with the fest opener and competition stand out PARIAH, which Mary Jane Executive Produced -- and Focus just announced that they picked up.  No rest for the weary, eh?

The whole time Anthony was a partner at This is that, and even some of the time he was at Good Machine, he had one assistant, and a remarkable one at that.  With Bregman's new company, Likely Story, Stefanie Azpiazu has taken on Executive Producer duties (what are those exactly, btw?).  She holds that credit on Jesse Peretz's MY IDIOT BROTHER, as well as several others, including last year's Sundance opener, PLEASE GIVE (and this year's WGA nominee).

Another former assistant of mine, now the head of hottest international sales company in the entire universe (aka FilmNation), Glen Basner, recently decided to expand his company's portfolio into the specialized arena.  Awhile back he told me he had found something that should spark.  But I think 12 Oscar nominations for THE KING'S SPEECH is an outright bonfire.

Of course, my fellow Good Machine founder, the legendary erudite Mr. James Schamus, is always expected to do well, and last year -- back before Sundance returned as a sales market -- , he picked up a nice little title in THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT, and now has four Oscar noms for his label.

The founder of Good Machine International, David Linde, could well have decided to take some time off after running a studio, but as long as there's great movies to make, I don't think David will be taking a break.  Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu may be the most gifted filmmaker out there, but his films are challenges, thankfully.  But that means they will never be easy to get made, but luckily he has a Lava Bear on his side.  David EP'd this year's entry to my top ten list, BIUTIFUL and yes, as a result has some more Oscar noms to his credit.

Anne Carey, my partner at This is that, did not go to Sundance this year.  But that did not stop The Hollywood Reporter from naming her on their Indie Hit List the hottest producer there:

THE PRODUCER

Then: Lawrence Bender
On team Tarantino since Reservoir Dogs, he has also handled Oscar-winning pics like Good Will Hunting and An Inconvenient Truth.

Now: Anne Carey
The former WMA agent toiled at Good Machine before partnering with Ted Hope on pics including Adventureland and The American.

And why not, her tenacity and genius, did yield the "coolest" film of the year in THE AMERICAN, which happened to enjoy the distinction of being the only This is that production to grace the top of the box office charts.  (PS.  Hey Anne: that wiki needs some updating!  And: Hey HRptr: she wasn't an agent, she just worked there!)

Unfortunately, Good Machine can't take credit for WINTER'S BONE, but that won't stop me from trying.  After all, Ang Lee's fantastic RIDE WITH THE DEVIL might have been Good Machine's biggest financial flop (despite being a great movie), but it was the first film to be adapted by WINTER BONE's novelist Daniel Woddrell.  Okay, it's a stretch but certainly it speaks a tad of our mutual fine taste for the man's prose and stories (even if Ms. Granik has turned down our efforts to work with her!).

Okay, so this does leaves some Good Machinists still unaccounted for, but after winning some Globes last year, Ross Katz is entitled to some time off.   Interestingly enough, Ross should take the reigns on a film Bregman is producing and Basner is arranging the financing on; the film, by title only is a mash up of several of our former projects, THE AMATEUR AMERICAN.  One of Mr. Schamus' former assistants, Jawal Nga, has been active on the producing front, with last year's Sundance hit HOWL and prior Grand Jury Winner FORTY SHADES OF BLUE to his credit.  And of course there's a squad of GMers doing great things behind the scenes too, some that will no doubt start some bonfires of benevolence in short order.

Me?  Well I already told you how I spent my Sundance non-vaction a few days ago (I've put a few updates into it if you want to check back) and how inspiring it was for me this year.

All in all, though, I must admit it is pretty swell to see the trees those seeds have sprouted.

DEALS & DIY: A Film Distribution Duet

Today's guest post is by Orly Ravid of The Film Collaborative(TFC), the first non-profit, full service provider dedicated to the distribution of independent film.  Orly was featured as one of HFF's Brave Thinkers Of Indie Film, 2010.

*This is Part II of the “If I Were a Filmmaker Going Sundance...

*Part III to will be written in the aftermath of the glow of the fest.

Sundance 2011, insofar as distribution was concerned, saw a spike on both the traditional sales and the DIY front.   26 deals were done so far and more to come. One difference between this year's Festival and those of recent years is that several acquisitions were done prior to the Festival and more deals occurred right at the beginning of the Festival rather than taken several days or weeks to materialize. In addition, some of the acquisition dollar figures were bigger than in recent times. There was a definite sense of ‘business is back’  (though mostly still for bigger films with either name directors or cast or both – and this we address below).  And DIY is seeing a new dawn with directors like Kevin Smith announcing a self-distribution plan and Sundance’s solidified commitment to helping artists crowdfund (via Kickstarter) and market their films (via Facebook for example) access certain digital distribution platforms (in the works and TBA).

Starting with the deals. So far I counted 26 (one at least was a pre-buy / investment in production) and two so far are remake rights deals.

I only list the deal points that were publicized… meaning if no $$$ is listed then it was not announced.

Deals done Pre-Sundance:

1.     Project Nim (James Marsh who did Man on Wire)  – sold to HBO for a hefty yet unreported sum.

2.     Becoming Chaz – produced by renowned World Of Wonder and sold to OWN (actually we gleaned OWN invested in the film and at the fest Oprah announced her commitment to doing for docs what she did for books via a Doc Club).

3.     Uncle Kent went to IFC

4.     The Greatest Movie Ever Sold (Morgan Spurlock) – went to Sony Classics.

Deals done at Sundance according to sections:

US Dramatic Competition:

5.     The Ledge: sold to IFC

6.     Like Crazy: (Director of Douchebag)  - Paramount for a worldwide deal - $4,000,000.

7.     Martha Marcy May Marlene: sold to Fox Searchlight, congrats to TFC Board of Advisor EXP, Ted Hope.

8.     Circumstance: Participant is funding the release and will (along with the filmmakers) choose a distribution partner, we hope Roadside Attractions.

9.     Homework: Fox Searchlight

10.  Another Earth: (Mark Cahill) – Fox Searchlight – a $1.5 - $2 mil deal with aggressive P&A as reported and for US and all English speaking territories.

11.  Gun Hill Road: Motion Film Group

12.  Pariah: Focus Features

Premieres (‘names’ in films):

13.  My Idiot Brother: TWC - $6,000,000 for US and key territories.

14.  The Details: TWC - $7,500,000 MG and $10,000,000 P&A

15.  I Melt With You: Magnolia (reported mid-high 6-figure deal reportedly w/ healthy backend)

16.  Life in a Day: NatGeo Films

17.  Margin Call: Joint deal with Lions Gate and Roadside Attractions

18.  Perfect Sense: IFC

19. The Future: (Miranda July) – Roadside Attractions

U.S. Documentary Competition:

20.  Buck: Sundance Selects

21.  The Last Mountain: Dada Films (MJ Peckos and Steven Raphael)

22. Page One: A Year Inside the New York Times: Magnolia and Participant

Park City at Midnight:

23.  Silent House: Liddell Entertainment

World Cinema Dramatic Competition:

24.  The Guard:  Sony Pictures Classics

Not distribution deals per se but Fox Searchlight bought worldwide remake rights to

25. The Bengali Detective &

26. TWC bought remake rights to Knuckle.

Please let me know if I missed any deals and feel free to comment in this blog. Of course more may be announced even as this posts and I am on a plane.

So we see mostly name filmmakers or cast but also definitely a few non-names generating deals the details of which are not publicized thus far.

AND NOW ON the DIY side:

RE: SLITTING RIGHTS & DIY: Andrew Hurwitz and Alan Sacks wrote an article in the Hollywood Reporter addressing all the same stuff TFC has talked about before, splitting rights, working and sometimes conflating windows and not settling for bad deal terms when one could do better on one’s own working with consultants etc. It’s nice to see trades addressing this in a context that speaks to more traditional industry players.

THE FLAT FEE MODEL EXPANDS: Distribber (now owned by IndieGOGO) announced a partnership that has been brewing with one of our Cable VOD partners, and TFC Board of Advisor Meyer Schwarztein of Brainstorm Media. Basically it expands Distribber’s flat fee digital distribution offerings to include Cable VOD (and also Hulu).  If a film gets onto all key MSOs the fee is set for now to be $9999 and there are prices per platform if a film cannot make it on to any given platform so that one is not paying for a platform or service they are not getting onto. As per the press release: “The films will be presented to audiences on the new "Filmmaker Direct" label; consumers who purchase films on "Filmmaker Direct" will know that 100% of profits go directly to the filmmaker, instead of to a parade of "Hollywood Middlemen.” For more info check out: http://www.distribber.com.  My only cautionary note: this is not a great idea for smaller films for which the gross revenues that would not justify the flat fee. One must remember and always know to ask about the splits that the Cable VOD aggregator is getting from the MSOs. They range, to the best of my knowledge to-date, between 30% and 60% depending on company and films. Studios get the higher splits for the obvious reasons. And so one has to do the math. And of course also evaluate MARKETING (which will be the focus on the 3rd and final part of this Sundance Blog series).  In any case, we work with both Adam Chapnick at Distribber and Meyer Schwarzstein at Brainstorm and are fond of and trust them both.

BRAND NAME FILMMAKER DIY: Kevin Smith fueled the torch of DIY in his own flame-filled way.  He auctioned off the distribution of Sundance Premiere Selection RED STATE to himself and has pre-booked theatres and plans to be his own decider in distribution, sans print ads (Amen). We wish him well but caution his very “old world” production and release budget (4mil Prod & and 2.5mil to release (for prints etc)… immediate launch broad release plan… a slow build never hurt anyone.  David Dinnerstein formerly of Paramount Classics and Lakeshore consulted on the release.  For more on this topic just search the WWW.

ABOUT THE SHORTS:

DIY Hats off to the Sundance SHORTS filmmaker such as Trevor Anderson and I believe 11 others who are on Sundance’s YouTube Screening Room Initiative with tens of thousands of views. Anderson exceeded 94,000 views as of the other day and has put all his shorts including this year’s HIGH LEVEL BRIDGE on www.EggUp.com which allows him to monetize them via transactional digital sales.  TFC regularly refers filmmakers to EggUp and now also TopSpin though our gury Sheri Candler advises TopSpin works better for filmmakers with an already robust following.  Whilst Anderson may not be getting rich just yet, it’s a perfect model for a prolific and vibrant filmmaker who is building a brand and getting his/her work out there.

Last but not least, Sundance announces its DIY oriented initiative.

Sundance Institute announced (I’m now quoting from its press release) its Three-Year Plan with Kickstarter as Creative Funding Collaborator / Facebook® to Provide Guidance to Institute AlumniA new program to connect its artists with audiences by offering access to top-tier creative funding and marketing backed by the Institute’s promotional support…The creative funding component was announced today with Kickstarter, the largest platform in the world for funding creative projects.  A new way to fund and follow creative projects, tens of thousands of people pledge millions of dollars to projects on Kickstarter every month. In exchange for support, backers receive tangible rewards crafted and fulfilled by the project’s creator. Support is neither investment, charity, nor lending, but rather a mix of commerce and patronage that allows artists to retain 100% ownership and creative control of their work while building a supportive community as they develop their projects… In the coming months, Sundance Institute will build an online hub of resources related to independent distribution options, funding strategies and other key issues.  The goal is to provide for filmmakers a central location to explore case studies and best practices, in addition to live workshops and training opportunities with Institute staff, alumni, industry experts and key partners.  As the first of these partners bringing their expertise to the community, Facebook will offer Institute alumni advice, educational materials, and best-practices tips on how to build and engage audiences via the service…Further development will include access to a broad and open array of third-party digital distribution platforms backed by Sundance Institute promotional support.  In the future, additional opportunities for theatrical exhibition will be explored in collaboration with organizations such as Sundance Cinemas, members of the national Art House Project, and others.”

I have been championing festivals getting involved with exhibition since and distribution beyond the festival itself since 2005 and discussed some options and ideas with Sundance staffers last year and am thrilled about this powerful and liberating announcement that so connects up with TFC’s mission whilst having some serious muscle and we look forward to being involved in some way hopefully.

MARKETING IS KING:  One thing no one talks about in much detail is MARKETING. Of course the big guns have the cash to buy marketing but the small distribs and aggregators are starting to be difficult to distinguish at times, and yet sometimes distributors do earn their fees by investing real talent and expertise and even money in marketing. So comparing what one can do oneself (if one does not get the big fat offer) with what traditional but small distribution deals bring will be the focus of the 3rd and last post in this series to come after Rotterdam but hopefully before Berlinale.

Over and out for now. Questions and Comments always welcome!

Orly Ravid has worked in film acquisitions / sales / direct distribution and festival programming for the last twelve years since moving to Los Angeles from home town Manhattan. In January 2010, Orly founded The Film Collaborative (TFC), the first non-profit devoted to film distribution of independent cinema.  Orly runs TFC w/ her business partner, co-exec director Jeffrey Winter.

Indie Film Lives, Thrives, Blossoms & Blooms!!!

It is no longer the dawn.  We are now officially in the new era of a Truly Free Film Culture. Yes, the business of indie film is back.  The rapidity, volume, and consistency of deals blossoming ($30M and counting!) at Sundance should give investors more confidence that you no longer have to rely just on foreign; the US acquisition climate seems quite robust again.  Whew.  But the good news does not end there.

Indie Film has been infected by a new breed that -- like those that came before them -- refuses to ask for permission.  But unlike the earlier wave, their go-get-them attitude doesn't stop at production, it extends into all the pillars of cinema -- from discovery and participation on through production, distro, appreciation, and presentation.  The content, the form, the plans of cinema are not only for re-examination, but the rules have been thrown out.  Time to get out of the way, and let the fresh air disrupt the stale space.

It is so happening in every which way. Yes, there are new stars, but also new ways of working.  This Sundance there are plenty examples of "tribal filmmaking" (thanks to Brit Marling for that phrase) -- teams of collaborators, working together, and moving beyond single authorship.  The web world calls this "collabs", but the spirit of this can be found in Martha Marcy May Marlene, The Sound Of My Voice, The Woods, and Another Earth.  We will find more teams taking over in the days ahead -- and it is an incredibly refreshing antidote to the antiquated construct of pure "auteur" cinema.

New spirit is there in old bodies too.  Kevin Smith's self-distribution plan recognizes the realities of the day.  No one in indie film has used social media as well as Kevin Smith has. He understands clearly the need to eventize his picture, and he has done it well. Things started off with a bang at Sundance, and he plans to keep it going.  He gave a nice lecture on his past and his plan for the future.  In between the curses, he lays it out how he plans to go forward.  His roadshow approach of teaming the local premieres with his live act is a value-add propisition that his million plus fan community hopefully can not resist.

Smith's RED STATE plan has the core indie value at it's heart.  To me previously I only really saws this value in terms of content & production, but now has extended well beyond this. Indie refuses to ask others for permission. Smith makes movies his way -- as he learned what happens when he doesn't.  He gets his fans the way his fans get him.  It is not a one way street, but a true community.  He might be divisive, but he is a model to follow.  Perhaps, precisely because he is divisive!

The failure of corporate filmmaking to represent the world we live in, particularly compared to indie's success at that, is evident at fest like Sundance.  It is also painfully drummed home by the Oscar noms, when all the Best Actress candidates hail from indie projects.  As long as corporate filmmaking fails to offer realistic takes on women's lives, Indie Film will always thrive as a welcome alternative.  Sundance must be acknowledged too as a tremendous generator of quality content; Sundance's responsibility in delivering 15 Oscar nominees is nothing short of mind-blowing.  If the world was just, the Oscar would be renamed the Bob.

I left Sundance boosted and relieved.  As great as it was to license our film to a top distributor for a significant profit, it is more the spirit launch that I seriously needed -- and that came from the individuals I got to meet with and hang out with.  We are at time of change -- but as someone pointed out to me, what is so great about the now we are in, is that the new breed recognizes change as a constant.  They will not take this moment for granted.  They accept the fluidity of all.  They recognize how the whole world must turn for that one leaf to fall.  And they are okay with it.

We ARE going to work together to make this better.  Whew!

Sundance Teams With KickStarter & Facebook For New Initiative To Connect Artists With Audiences

Official Press Release:

PARK CITY, UT -- Sundance Institute today announced a new program to connect its artists with audiences by offering access to top-tier creative funding and marketing backed by the Institute’s promotional support. These essential services will act as building blocks for future program components which aim to provide filmmakers access to a broad and open array of third-party digital distribution platforms. Adding to the nonprofit Institute’s acclaimed programs for Screenwriters, Directors, Film Composers, Producers and Theatre artists around the world, the new services were developed based on research and input from filmmakers, industry advisors, its Technology Committee and its Board of Directors, including President Robert Redford. The creative funding component was announced today with Kickstarter, the largest platform in the world for funding creative projects.

A new way to fund and follow creative projects, tens of thousands of people pledge millions of dollars to projects on Kickstarter every month. In exchange for support, backers receive tangible rewards crafted and fulfilled by the project's creator. Support is neither investment, charity, nor lending, but rather a mix of commerce and patronage that allows artists to retain 100% ownership and creative control of their work while building a supportive community as they develop their projects.
“Technology now allows filmmakers to fund and make films in ways we could never have even conceived. Just as we did 30 years ago, the Institute is responding to a need, with a responsibility to help the individual artist,” Redford said.
“Today’s media landscape presents opportunities for audiences and artists to connect in new and exciting ways. This program is a natural and much-needed extension of our mission,” said Keri Putnam, Executive Director, Sundance Institute. “With unparalleled recognition worldwide, Sundance Institute is in the unique position as a nonprofit to bring together a wide range of services and lend invaluable promotional support.”

Creative Funding Support

Kickstarter has agreed to provide branding, educational, and promotional support to Sundance Institute alumni. More than 350,000 people have pledged over $30 million dollars to projects on Kickstarter since its launch in spring 2009.
To launch the collaboration, the first alumni workshops took place at the Sundance Film Festival this week, conducted by Kickstarter co-founder Yancey Strickler and attended by a range of artists from first time filmmakers to seasoned veterans. Beginning this spring, the Institute will curate alumni projects at Kickstarter.com and drive alumni and fans to support projects in various stages of funding. In addition, Sundance.org will showcase projects and interviews with artists on a monthly basis for even further reach.

“We're excited to be working with the Sundance Institute and its esteemed community," said Kickstarter cofounder, Yancey Strickler. "Kickstarter has been an effective tool for artists of all stripes, and we're looking forward to the projects that this collaboration will bring to life."
Education and Resources

In the coming months, Sundance Institute will build an online hub of resources related to independent distribution options, funding strategies and other key issues. The goal is to provide for filmmakers a central location to explore case studies and best practices, in addition to live workshops and training opportunities with Institute staff, alumni, industry experts and key partners.

As the first of these partners bringing their expertise to the community, Facebook will offer Institute alumni advice, educational materials, and best-practices tips on how to build and engage audiences via the service. Earlier this week at the Sundance Film Festival, Facebook led the first in a series of hands-on workshops for Institute alumni. During these workshops, artists received unique training on free tools and apps for social engagement, education in the types of pages and profiles they can utilize, and insight into Facebook's advertising opportunities. Artists needing more direct assistance were able to share Pages while Facebook staff assisted them in making improvements and changing settings. Facebook and Sundance Institute have had a relationship for years and last year provided Page assistance for films including Waiting for Superman, A Small Act and Restrepo among 20 others.

All Sundance Institute artists from Sundance Film Festival, Labs and Grantees, will be the first to gain access to the programs. Further development will include access to a broad and open array of third-party digital distribution platforms backed by Sundance Institute promotional support. In the future, additional opportunities for theatrical exhibition will be explored in collaboration with organizations such as Sundance Cinemas, members of the national Art House Project, and others.

To execute the program, Sundance Institute has hired Christopher Horton as Associate Director of Filmmaker Services. Horton, who will relocate to Los Angeles after nearly a decade with Cinetic Media, will work closely with Joseph Beyer, Director of Digital Initiatives, Katie Kennedy, Associate Director of Development, Corporate along with the Institute’s Program Directors.

Legal Services for Sundance Institute have been graciously donated by O’Melveny & Myers LLP, headed by a team including Paul Iannicelli and Chris Brearton.

Kickstarter
Kickstarter is the largest platform for funding creative projects in the world. Every month on Kickstarter, tens of thousands of people pledge millions of dollars and help bring creative projects from the worlds of music, film, art, technology, design, food, publishing and other creative fields to life. The Kickstarter community features projects by Oscar winners, Grammy winners, TED Fellows, New York Times best- sellers, Pulitzer Prize finalists, and thousands of others. Kickstarter is open to creative projects big and small, serious and whimsical, traditional and avant-garde. www.kickstarter.com

Sundance Institute
Sundance Institute is a global nonprofit organization founded by Robert Redford in 1981. Through its artistic development programs for directors, screenwriters, producers, composers and playwrights, the Institute seeks to discover and support independent film and theatre artists from the United States and around the world, and to introduce audiences to their new work. The Institute promotes independent storytelling to inform, inspire, and unite diverse populations around the globe. Internationally recognized for its annual Sundance Film Festival, Sundance Institute has nurtured such projects as Born into Brothels, Trouble the Water, Son of Babylon, Amreeka, An Inconvenient Truth, Spring Awakening, Light in the Piazza and Angels in America. www.sundance.org

Ambition In The Best Sense (aka Lance Weiler)

I've had the pleasure of working with Lance Weiler for maybe two years now.  I love how he thinks.  I love how he takes that thought and transforms it into action.  Process is more key to what he does, than virtually anyone else I have worked with.  The journey is the destination.  He is willing to walk without knowing where it all might be going.  He is collaborative to the Nth the degree.  His vision for cinema truly knows no limits.

Wired Magazine singled him out this summer as one of the fathers of transmedia.  BusinessWeek credited him with changing cinema alongside Thomas Edison, The Warner Bros., and James Cameron.  Between his features, The Workbook Project, & DIY Days, the man is profoundly generative.

If you were in Sundance this past week (and even if you weren't), you probably witnessed how he infected Park City with a Pandemic.  Others certainly did.  Jamie Stuart shot this beautiful video for Filmmaker Magazine on Lance's Pandemic activities. FearNet has acquired his short which was screening at the fest. For those that like to hold their stories in their hand, you can follow it on Twitter here. AND  of course there is a website. Granted, I am producing the feature, but believe me when I tell you it is thrilling, horrifying, beautiful, and groundbreaking; it's a shame you have to wait until I raise the money to see it.

Christine Vachon and I also got to speak to Lance for KillerHope on Hulu.

Lance created this short as a style template for collaborators throughout the world to help capture the outbreak in their local territories.  Check it out and get filming!

How I Spent My Sundance Non-Vacation

To think I once got to see movies when I went to film festivals...

I had one film to share with folks this time around, Sean Durkin's MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE, which I had the pleasure and good fortune to Executive Produce -- even still I did not plan to see any others.  I knew I was going to be too busy with the work that festivals have become for me.

The reception for the film was great -- which has generated a lot of meetings (and which has yielded some nice announcements ).  I forgot to read the latest Exec Prod job description though and did not realize it now means moderating press conferences.  Check out the video here, and let me know how you feel I did.

When I wasn't dealing and celebrating Sean's movie, I was doing my part to aid in the promotion of indie film.

Christine Vachon and I have been doing this talk show on and off now for several years, now dubbed KILLER / HOPE.  Hulu's got it up on their Sundance page. Please check it out while you still can (at least in all its glory). New episodes will be added daily throughout the festival.  Additionally, we were invited to talk to Eugene Hernandez for the local NPR station.  Gotta get the word out, but man does all that yapping, make for some seriously dry mouth.

But man, what a test of will power it is.  I admit I am an addict for great film, and even noble failures.  To be in Park City and to have booked myself into back to back meetings to extent that I am unable to watch movies, leaves me quaking and shaking.  I want to see some movies!

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Breaking the Rules: To Screen or Not to Screen Before the Festival Premiere

Today's guest post is from attorney Steven Beer. Steven's contributed to HFF/TFF before, and was one of the original Brave Thinkers.  With Sundance around the corner, Steven offers some perspective of a question on many filmmakers' minds.

To screen or not to screen for distributors prior to a festival premiere?  This question often plagues producers in the months prior to festival season.  Hypothetical Scenario: Shortly after you receive an invitation to premiere your film at a prestigious film festival, an established distribution executive calls to request a screener.  She congratulates you and says that she has heard wonderful things about the project.  Sadly, the acquisition executive reports that her company may not be able to attend a festival screening due to schedule conflicts.  If you screen the film for her company before the festival, however, the company may be able to make an offer and announce a deal at the festival.  What does a producer do?

In the past, cynical producers and their representatives viewed such requests as a professional seduction and respectfully declined.  Conventional wisdom discouraged filmmakers from screening their film prior to a high profile festival premiere for a variety of reasons.  Nothing compares to the satisfaction derived from screening a well crafted film in a state of the art theater -- the optimum venue for which the film was created.  After pouring vast sums and sweat into producing a film that was created for the big screen experience, who can blame filmmakers for resisting requests to distribute DVDs before their premiere.  Invariably, producers prefer to showcase their projects to acquisition executives in adrenaline-charged premiere screenings brimming with enthusiastic audiences.  Given this scenario, one can appreciate the cardinal rule against pre-festival screenings.

The traditional way of thinking is beginning to give way, however.  Industry colleagues are observing that more and more films are circulating this year in the weeks prior to Sundance 2011.  Why are producers and their representatives reconsidering their stance against pre-festival screenings?  Distributors are acquiring fewer films in general, and even fewer at major film festivals.  In times of cost cutting, the economies of sending an acquisitions team to a film festival are under scrutiny.  Consequently, distribution companies are sending fewer buyers to festivals and covering fewer films.  Given the declining number of indie film distributors and perceived surplus of films seeking distribution, acquisition executives are less motivated to compete with other distributors for a film.

Distributors claim they are ambivalent about film festivals.  While they appreciate seeing how a film screens and an audience reacts to a film, acquisition executives are reluctant to participate in an auction-like atmosphere where they risk overpayment for a title.  Moreover, distribution executives assume that many films will be available after the festival reviews are published and awards are granted.  In support of their DVD request, distributors claim that most consumers will view the film on a television or computer screen so they should not have to attend a screening.  Distributors feel it is more important to evaluate how a film looks on the small screen, outside of the comfy confines of the art house theater.  Without A-List stars or a headlining director, ensuring that the right people even screen your film, with or without interruption, can be very difficult.

The realities of today’s indie film marketplace compel producers to re-consider the cardinal rule against screening films prior to a premiere.  Some producers believe that pre-festival screenings can raise awareness and generate momentum for a film within the marketplace before the cacophony of a major film festival.  Such screenings can serve as a head start on the festival crowd and may contribute to a sale prior to or during the festival.

Other producers, however, remain skeptical of pre-festival screenings.  They advise others to consider the genre of the film when analyzing the options.  Certain film genres, such as comedy and horror, depend upon a crowd to set the atmosphere.  Screening such films without the benefit of an audience to laugh or scream with can lessen the impact and adversely affect the chance the film is acquired.  Some producers caution that distributors that have screened a film prior to a festival are incentivized to talk the film down to other distributors in order to lower the acquisition price for themselves.  Others state that even if a pre-festival screening is wise, the filmmaker or producer must be prepared to position the film for the distributor.  They will need to know and be able to convince the buyer of the story angles that can be pitched to journalists, who the target audience is and how they can be reached, and must also be able to speak on what they can contribute to marketing and positioning the film.  In short, the filmmaker’s team must be prepared to sell the distribution company on the marketability of her film.

The traditional rule against screening a film prior to festival premiere was based upon the premise of a more competitive market in which distribution companies had the time, money and desire to see as many films as possible.  These assumptions may no longer be valid.  Producers should re-evaluate their options in light of established goals and the challenges of the marketplace.  To screen or not to screen?  The answer to this complicated question requires careful consideration.

Steven C. Beer is a shareholder in the international entertainment practice of Greenberg Traurig’s New York office. Steven has served as counsel to numerous award-winning writers, directors and producers, as well as industry-leading film production, film finance and film distribution companies.

Declaration Of Interdependence

I have not yet seen Tiffany Shlain's CONNECTED but this trailer alone should be the motto for all Truly Free Filmmakers. And it certainly gets me excited to see the film. How timely!

PS. Based on what Tiffany did with her short film, she has long been one of the Truly Free Film heroes.

If I were a filmmaker going to Sundance….

Today's guest post is by Orly Ravid of The Film Collaborative (TFC), the first non-profit, full service provider dedicated to the distribution of independent film.  Orly was featured as one of HFF's Brave Thinkers Of Indie Film, 2010.

* This is part 1 of 3 parts to this Sundance focused blog.

* Part 2 will be written during the festival.

* Part 3 will be written in the aftermath of the glow of the fest.

If I were a filmmaker going to Sundance, and let’s say that I had a film with no recognizable press-generating cast that would be attractive to a distribution company for a large MG… What would I do? Seriously, I asked myself that question. And I realized how tempted I would be, even I, to find some sexy publicists and rockstar agents or sales company so that I could get the hot sexy sale at Sundance and make all my dreams come true.

What can a distributor do for you that you cannot do yourself with just a little bit of money, not even a lot, and some low fee consultation? And above all, what are you giving up by not building community for your film before and during the fest, instead letting other people run your show, potentially losing out on the momentum of the festival?

Let’s look at some films from Sundance last year that were in this position and the routes they took and what they may have netted. These are films that cut distribution deals of some kind and got less than wide releases from their distributors:

A Small Act (Doc): Distributed by HBO, I don’t know exact sale price but suspect it was less than $150,000 and they did not need a sales agent to do that.  They are also a TFC client for festival distribution. TFC handled film festivals for the filmmaker though by the time we got involved HBO had aired the film and that hurt our festival bookings and hence diminished potential revenues to the filmmaker. The director, Jennifer Arnold, is presently closing a DVD deal as well that she got herself.

*Gasland (Doc): Distributed by HBO, TFC consulted at Sundance along with their lawyer Michael Donaldson, and they did not need anyone to help them get a good HBO deal though they did have help handling offers and pursuing interest. The deal came to them directly and would have come to them regardless.  They did some self-distribution for theatrical (Box office $30,846) and festivals. The film is now available for DVD.  Zipline did PR and the film got its good rightful share of it.  The filmmakers received a deal that has worked out very well, with some great PR and it played lots of fests. It’s shortlisted for the Oscars too.

*Extenuating circumstances: Debra Winger executive produced this film and she definitely helped a lot. Josh Fox is a very committed activist and spokesperson of the film’s critical message so he is very embedded in the community that would be most interested in this film. It’s a great example of a film that got a lot out of being at Sundance and the filmmakers got a deal they are happy with and they probably recouped as a result given the low budget of the film.

A Film Unfinished:  Distributed by Oscilloscope. I will say that $320,000 theatrical box office is very very good (I have no idea what they spent though to release the film but it’s likely some money was made on the theatrical). The film had a sales agent (CINEPHIL from Israel) and I am almost positive the MG was less than 6-figures. My judgment is that the filmmakers could have done just as well releasing on their own with just some money set aside for a booking agent and a publicist, especially for this niche.  It is a doc that hits a niche audience that works consistently and is lucrative and I can’t say that the filmmakers needed a sales agent and a distributor to be in between the film and its audience. I doubt the filmmakers will make as much money as they would have handling the film on their own with just some low fee consultation.

The Dry Land - reported budget from imdb $1mil, box office  $11,777

Most likely a service deal since it was theatrically released by Freestyle Releasing. Freestyle service deals are not cheap; most of their releases involve budgets of $200,000 + (though sometimes less) and most for-profit service deals involve fees of tens of thousands of dollars). Clearly not a good result here, but we assume hoping to recoup in home video.

Douchebag -Paladin is distributor and so that generally means it was a service deal paid for by the filmmakers. However the filmmaker Drake Doremus told us: "douchebag was not a service deal paid for by the Filmmakers. Paladin bought the film from us for an amount way above the budget of the film." Bravo! Box office return however was $20,615. Also, not a good return.

Bhutto - Distributed by First Run Features. Just released December 3, to day box office $16,216, only playing 2 theaters. A large advance was not paid and most of what was accomplished could have been done by the filmmakers themselves without large percentages paid.

Taqwacores: Distributed by Strand , most likely a very small advance was given. The box office was $9,347 on 2 screens. Another example of a film that could have done this much better and faired better overall without a distributor involved. With just some low fee consultation, time and money set aside, the filmmaker would still be in control of their film and able to work up the audience.

I am not knocking these deals, simply noting that if one is to do them, one should at least cut out excess middle men and do them smartly, reserve some rights, negotiate carefully on the back end, monitor expenses, maybe even have been better off not doing these deals.  It would have helped all of these films to build community around the film leading up to the festival and exit the festival with a bang, ready to reach audiences immediately. I think a lot can get lost during the time it takes for distributors to bring films to market, especially for the smaller films.

I think the decision to cut a deal with a distributor, no matter what, is emotional because even when I put myself in the filmmakers’ shoes I realized the emotional power of having an offer made to just take care of this for me. It signals that what has been made must have value and was done well. It also allows for one to not have to get hands dirty with the money stuff and the business stuff.

But, if you are a filmmaker, you did choose the most expensive art medium in the world and unless you are rich or your investors don’t care about getting their money back, I want you to at least consider this: You don’t NEED traditional distribution. For MOST of you, without special connections or name cast, MOST traditional distribution will not serve you. Most distributors don’t pay enough or do enough or are fair enough, and many of them have to raise P&A anyway, or hire the same service providers you can, so do the math, think twice, and be careful.  And remember, buyers are happy to buy direct, especially many TV buyers and VOD platforms, and you can get inexpensive help negotiating.

The more you can set up to do on your own the better for you and your investors in the long run. You run a risk doing nothing in terms of building community around your film or not setting up a distribution plan, having several layers of middle-men and waiting for Godot.  When you do the math, the Sundance dream often connects up to cast-driven films and just a few rare gems each year, and there are those to be sure, each year, but just a very few.  Most other deals you could get anyway if you wanted them, with someone on the side advising you in a fair way.

PS: Here is additional info on films from Sundance 2010:

* 3 BACKYARDS: Screen Media all rights, no verifiable release.

*12th AND DELAWARE: HBO Films, premiered on 8/02/10,currently HBO OnDemand.

* ANIMAL KINGDOM: Sony Pictures Classics, Box office $1,008,742 and this is a great example of a film that might otherwise have done no business were it not for Sundance.

* CATFISH: Rogue Pictures / Universal with a box office of $1,315,573 and it is definitely a great release for a doc and if the deal is good for the filmmakers then it’s a dream come true. Of course that’s an ‘If”.

* CASINO JACK AND THE UNITED STATES OF MONEY: Magnolia Pictures, $175,865 – and this is directed by Alex Gibney one of the most famous doc directors but sadly probably lost market share to the feature starring Kevin Spacey.

*EXIT THROUGH A GIFT SHOP: Producer’s Distribution Agency (a distribution company set up by John Sloss specifically to handle this film), Box office $3,291,250. I am in love with that film, and it’s to Banksy’s credit the film did what it did and some in the industry actually think it was a financially weak release given how much was spent, estimates are put at over a million. In any case, most filmmakers cannot imitate a set up that had John Sloss turn down a just over 6-figure advance (as far as I know) because he wanted to handle the release himself and he did with the help of Richard Abramovitz and had the reputation and cult following of Banksy, Shepard Fairey , and Thierry Guetta.

*FAMILY AFFAIR: OWN the Oprah Winfrey Network, air-date:  possibly spring.

* THE FREEBIE: PHASE4, the box office was just  $16,613 the deal was allegedly worth low - mid six figures for US & Canada, all rights.  The film was sold by Visit films.) Now I have inspired Phase4 to buy two films I did not take a commission on.  I am not saying Visit films is not great and I am not saying it’s not great to have guidance at a festival or market especially when there is a bidding war, which there was apparently, I am just saying buyers buy films they want, not because of who is selling them.  We hope the filmmakers of all these films weigh in on their overages and overall bottom line.

* FREEDOM RIDERS: PBS with an outreach campaign by outreach campaign by American Experience...www.pbs.org/freedomriders, film to

be shown in May on 50th anniversary of the original rides. Ok that’s cool.

*GROWN UP MOVIE STAR, NO US or INTL distribution, E1 entertainment is the sales agent, Mongrel Media (distributor in Canada)

* HESHER: NewMarket, reported budget $7mil, no release info

* HAPPYTHANKYOUMOREPLEASE (DISTRIB: Anchor Bay, release was supposed to be in March but as far as we know it has not happened yet).

* THE IMPERIALISTS ARE STILL ALIVE: no info

*JEAN-MICHEL BASQUIAT: The Radiant Child (Arthouse Films (which also produced the film), Box office was $250,129. A big hit in France, what a great niche and great doc. The producers did handle their film themselves in the US.

*LAST TRAIN HOME, Zeitgeist Films, released: 9/03/10-TOTAL GROSS: $282,092

(Here is a good example of a good doc sales company from what we hear and a good US distributor and a doc that probably sold well relatively speaking).

* LOVERS OF HATE: IFC –which is primarily a VOD play and some very traditional deal terms.

* MY PERESTROIKA: no info

* THE OATH: Zeitgeist, box office $42,273

* OBSELIDIA-reported budget $500K, still with a sales agent it appears

*THE RED CHAPEL, Lorber Films, opens 12/19/10 at IFC Center, Lorber Films plans a theatrical release of the film in the U.S. and Canada, followed by television broadcast and a DVD release.

* RESTREPO (US distribution: National Geographic Entertainment, Box office $1,330,058 –another Sundance success story to be sure, assuming terms are good for the filmmakers, which we have no information about

* SYMPATHY FOR DELICIOUS: Maya Entertainment (US, media)

* SKATELAND: Freestyle Releasing in March 2011 – and this means most likely it’s a service deal and paid for by the filmmaker. I should note that sometimes Freestyle helps raise the P&A. (though I don’t know what their cut is; one day I will ask).

* TWELVE: DISTRIBUTOR is Hannover House and the box office gross was $183,920 (somewhat shocking given the cast and the director.

*UNDERTOW: (Sundance World Cinema Audience Award Winner) TFC is doing theatrical and worldwide festivals and consulted on the distribution deals. We will be covering this in a case study to be written after the release is completed.

*WASTE LAND, Arthouse Films, released 10/29/10-TOTAL GROSS: $96, 597

Arthouse Films handled the theatrical release later followed by a DVD and digital release on the Arthouse Films label in early 2011...E1 Entertainment holds the international rights and is managing worldwide sales which to date include Australia (Hopscotch), Hagi Film (Poland) and Midas Filmes (Portugal). E1 Entertainment will also distribute the movie in Canada and the UK. Downtown Filmes is the Brazilian distributor.

* WINTER’S BONE: Roadside Attractions, Box office $6,210,516, and this is a great example of a film that would have likely lingered in oblivion were it not for Sundance and the right distributor);

* Other films not listed in detail are Cyrus, The Kids Are Alright, Waiting For Superman, Splice, and The Runaways because they all have big names involved, in a few cases the deals were done before Sundance and not all of them even had great releases in the net analysis.

Orly Ravid has worked in film acquisitions / sales / direct distribution and festival programming for the last twelve years since moving to Los Angeles from home town Manhattan. In January 2010, Orly founded The Film Collaborative (TFC), the first non-profit devoted to film distribution of independent cinema.  Orly runs TFC w/ her business partner, co-exec director Jeffrey Winter.

A SMALL ACT – The Little Things Count

Guest post by filmmaker Jennifer Arnold. How much do the little things count when it comes to staying visible?

My first documentary feature, A SMALL ACT (www.asmallact.com ), opens at the Quad Cinema in New York today. I started the film three and a half years ago with very few resources. DIY filmmaking is hard. We all know that. You have small budgets. You have small crews.

So how can you stand out when you have very little? The biggest lesson I learned while making this film is to leverage any small triumph into something bigger. Use every resource and relationship you have, no matter how small they are. Eventually, all those small things can add up.

Trust me, I started out with nothing, but this film has already been seen by almost a million people and it’s actually changed some of their lives. As this blog points out, there are well over 38 (are you up to 76?) things wrong with indie film today, but that shouldn’t stop any of us. Indie film is daunting, but you can still start small – who knows where you’ll end up.

I promise I’m not going to make this post into a big ad for the film, but the plotline sort of parallels our distribution journey, so bear with me for a moment. A SMALL ACT follows Chris Mburu who was the top student in his Kenyan village, but without money for school fees he had little hope of a future – until a total stranger, Hilde Back, sponsored his early education through a “sponsor a needy child” campaign. She paid roughly $15 dollars a term to keep Chris in school and unbeknownst to her, this tiny contribution paved the way for Chris to go all the way to Harvard Law School. Today he’s a human rights officer for the United Nations. Chris decides to find his sponsor and thank her by starting his own sponsorship program to educate a new generation of kids in his village. There’s a lot more to the story than that, but the core idea is that it only takes one small act to completely change the course of your life (or your film) and there are programs out there that can give us DIY filmmakers a real chance.

We started production as a crew of two. I wrote, directed, did sound and produced. Patti Lee shot the film, produced, did on-set assistant editor work and also cooked lunch for the postproduction crew everyday. We had two great investors, Jeffrey Soros (producer) and Jane Huang (executive producer) but we were still editing the film in the garage with no idea how to get the film done, let alone distributed, and then we got our first (of many) lucky breaks.

We got into IFP’s Spotlight on Docs, which is part of Independent Film Week. I think people probably know what that is, but just in case, it’s a market where filmmakers pitch unfinished projects to distributors, sales agents and other helpful people. It was here that we met Lisa Heller from HBO (another lucky break) and Louise Rosen our foreign sales agent. We wanted the film to be theatrically released, but we also wanted maximum eyes on the project – we got both. I should also mention that the first time we applied for Spotlight on Docs we were rejected, so for anyone out there who hasn’t gotten into this (or any of the other programs out there) – keep trying!

We got a lot of momentum from Spotlight on Docs; we also started making pre-sales (to HBO and ABC Australia), which allowed us to finish our budget. Originally we hadn’t planned on applying to Sundance that year, but with the little momentum we had, we decided to give it a shot. Not only did we get in, we premiered in documentary competition and once again we were the little guys. There were 16 films in competition, I think half of the other filmmakers had won or been nominated for Academy Awards. They all seemed like massive big shots to me. But we had HBO behind us, something that was leveraged from a short meeting at Spotlight on Docs. We had good word of mouth; yes, I asked all my friends to please spread the word about the film. We ended up with standing ovations. Bill Gates and George Soros both showed up to screenings. Roger Ebert wrote a wonderful piece about our film and WAITING FOR SUPERMAN and – the most exciting thing of all – audience members, though totally unsolicited, started handing over donations to the education fund featured in the film.

Over the course of Sundance (10 days) $90,000 dollars was donated to the fund. This was our next lucky break. A lot of people started talking about the impact the film made. Sundance Documentary Fund (which had given us a grant) invited me to attend the Skoll World Forum and talk about film and social impact. A trailer for the film was shown at a TED event. HBO helped launch a major outreach campaign. Each good thing led to the next.

We did a limited theatrical release in April and a HBO broadcast in July. Viewers donated $400,000 dollars to the Hilde Back Education Fund and pledged another million for new students as the fund expands. This got even more people talking, and little by little, we decided to broaden our release into something bigger.

We’re launching the “What’s Your Small Act Campaign?” which is a mix of community screenings and a slow rollout in traditional theatres. We’re starting with the Quad and if our numbers are good we’ll expand. Once again we’re the little guys. There are a lot of great films out there right now and we’ve got no P&A money and no team of people. But being little has worked so far. We’ll see how it goes this week!

A SMALL ACT has been selected by the NYTimes as "Critic's Pick".  You can view the trailer here.

Committing To Hybrid Distribution: "The Taqwacores" Story (Pt. 2 of 2)

Guest post by filmmaker Eyad Zahra.   His first feature film “The Taqwacores.” -- a DIY production -- world premiered at Sundance earlier this year, and opens in New York City at the East Village Cinema today, October 22nd. To learn more, visit www.punkislam.com.  Check out the 1st part of this post here.

Make no mistake.  The indie film world is pretty topsy-turvy right now.  As anybody who reads Ted’s blog knows, there are fewer buyers out there, all the while the digital revolution has allowed for movies to be made then ever.  The market is flipped upside down, and who knows when or where it will every land back on its feet.

As the producer and director of The Taqwacores, my first feature length film, I have had the highest of highs, and lowest of lows in my first filmmaking adventure.  I want to be honest here, and not sugar coat the experience whatsoever.  It has been a wild roller coaster to make this independent feature film, a roller coaster ride that has been going on for nearly 3.5 years (and counting).

As a first time feature length filmmaker, I had thought the biggest hump was production.  I figured, all we had to do was get through those 3 weeks of shooting, and everything else would be down hill.

The reality is that it never gets downhill.  It only gets uphill, and it gets steeper and steeper the more you go forward.

That said, I would do this all over again in a heartbeat. That’s how much I love the story I have chosen to tell, and the life-long friendships I have made because of this production.  To any filmmaker out there, you better make sure you love (not just “like”) the people you are working with, and that your narrative is something you can dedicate years of your life too.

To learn more about how we made the film, check out the production notes here.

Today we release the film in New York City at the East Village Cinema.

At this juncture, we are releasing the film domestically through Strand Releasing (Marcus Hu, Jon Gerrans, and David Bowlds), and these guys have been nothing short of incredible.  They have allowed me to be part of the entire release process, and I deal directly with the heads of the company, and my concerns are always answered by them in an immediate manner.   I have been even given an open invitation to swing by their offices any time.

What I love about our release strategy is that we are using a hybrid method towards launching this film.  We are doing a standard limited theatrical launch in NYC and LA, while along stressing an intense grassroots campaign effort.  It’s a bit of the old and new wrapped in one, which allows me to be involved as much as I want to be.  I have been involved in every major decision for the film.  I also manage our online media (website, facebook fan page, twitter) personally.

We originally launched the film at the Sundance Film Festival, which we were incredibly fortunate to get into.  You can read about how that happened here.

At Sundance is where the seeds of our distribution deal were planted.   Our sales team Visit Films (Ryan Kampe, Aida LiPera), were quite remarkable in helping us setup to sell at Sundance in a matter of weeks.  Visit Films is a global sales representative with a business model designed to help first-time filmmakers maximize their audiences on a global scale.  They are really the only people who do what they do in the United States.  By having only one sales agent to deal with all of our distribution deals, and our global film festival outreach, a huge weight had been lifted off our backs.

We were quite lucky to find ourselves working with both Visit Films and Strand Releasing, and for us, working with these companies has been an incredible fit.  I know there is now a movement for filmmakers to remove themselves from sales reps and distributers, but I urge caution to all filmmakers on this point.  Make sure the route you choose is best for your film.  Research as many case studies as you can, and always think of what’s best in the long run.

Eyad gives an in-depth presentation about the do and don’ts of DIY indie filmmaking through a workshop he has created called “DIY NOW”.  He has presented “DIY NOW” at USC and most recently at the ABU DHABI FILM FESTIVAL.  To learn more about DIY NOW, contact EYAD at info@rumanni.com


The Douchebag Process: A Look Inside

Guest post by "Douchebag" writer/director Drake Doremus. We actually shot "Douchebag" in two separate sessions over the course of a year and a half. The first time we went out we had a very specific outline from which the actors improvised from and the second time we had a loose script with lines actually written.

The first scene in the film for instance where Sam is laying in bed with Steph was mostly written and shot during the second session when we knew exactly how to set up the film. A lot of the rambling lecture scenes -- like the scene on the beach about kites, the credit card fiscal responsibility scene, and the scene about our hands not being designed to tear flesh -- were all shot the first time out when we had more character than story.

It wasn’t until after editing the first session’s material that I knew the exact pieces we needed to finish the story. The filmmaking process was very exciting and challenging for me but also very creatively freeing because I could keep writing and coming up with ideas after I'd shot, the film kept evolving that way and there was always a way to make things better. It's really the only way I would work now I think. I learned so much.

In pre production a lot of what I was doing was watching Woody Allen films. I really admire him and his process on his films. I hate it in movies when actors wait for people to finish their lines before they speak. He really has a way of making things seem real and unrehearsed.

I read somewhere once that thirty percent of his film budgets are dedicated to reshoots and pick ups. That sure is a luxury but I sure love the idea of knowing you’re gonna shoot more and no matter what get it right for what you were trying to make.

I love that he makes at least a movie a year it seems, I’d love to be able to do that. I just shot my third feature this past June called Like Crazy and I’m very excited about it. It’s the story of a seven-year long distance relationship between a young man in Los Angeles and a young woman in London. It was mostly improvised from a fifty page outline, so I’m continuing to use this format. I’m cutting that now and I’d love to do my fourth in 2011. It’s hard to keep going so fast but as long as I have ideas that I’m passionate about I won’t stop.

After I’ve shot and have time to reflect and gain perspective on where the story wants to go, in a way it tells ME where it wants to go. The footage we had on Douchebag spoke to us and the rest of the story just kind of filled itself in and it was very clear at a certain point of what we needed. The story was always about two brothers and one was always getting married and they always went on the road to find Mary Barger so it was really just finding a support structure that finished telling that story. The ending for instance was literally filmed last on purpose always knowing that we wanted to build up to that and find what it was last just like the characters do in the story.

I guess you could say I’m always striving to find everything organically. I never want anything to feel forced or on the nose. I love subtly and and organic characters who are reacting genuinely to their environments and the scenarios that are thrown at them. That was always my goal on Douchebag. I love those moments on set when the camera is rolling and the actors don’t realize it for a while and then the scene starts organically without an ”action” or a mark being hit. There’s nothing more exciting then when the actor and the character become one.

To back track to the start of this whole thing…I was in the edit room with Andrew Dickler (who is a picture editor and not an actor, in fact never had acted ever before in his life) in 2007 and about a month in to working It hit me that I had to make a movie about him. It was a lighting in a bottle type moment. I had known Ben Jones since we were 16 doing plays in my mom's theater basement and I had this idea that the two would have an anti chemistry, if you will, where there would be this natural conflict onscreen. The two become friends but always had the perfect onscreen anti chemistry. I always knew they had to be brothers at odds. The road trip aspect came later, It was much more interesting than the brothers sitting in a room and talking for 80 minutes.

I think the autobiographical part spawned from my real life relationship with Andrew in real life. We became fast friends but I always found myself in intense conversations about things with him that I never discussed with anyone else before, like weather figure skating was a sport or a dance contest and his opinion after he learned that I did not have a credit card and of course listening to his theories about eating meat and the environment. The character Andrew plays in the film is a very exaggerated version of himself and that was always the plan. Given that Andrew had never acted before I was and still am blown away at his ability to commit to the moment.

Check out the DOUCHEBAG trailer.

Friend DOUCHEBAG on Facebook here.

Relish these reviews (and see it this weekend!):

"A bubblingly sharp, fresh, dark and winning comedy! A minimalist Sideways." - Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly

"Surprisingly hilarious and cutting, this lo-fi comedy about two ill-matched brothers reconnecting while looking for one's old sweetheart is distinguished by sharp dialog and terrific lead performances by Dickler and Jones." -New York Magazine

"Smart, surprising, and funny! Hollywood could learn a few lessons from this indie sleeper." - Leonard Maltin, Maltin on Movies, ReelzChannel

"Dickler gives an inspired comic performance!" Keith Uhlich, Time Out New York

"Refreshingly original! Tremendously effective." -Metrosource

Drake Doremus, 27, a graduate of the American Film Institute, is the youngest fellow to be accepted into the program at the highly lauded institution. Doremus' first feature film, SPOONER, premiered at Slamdance in 2009 and Won Best Feature at the Louisville International Fillm Festival, Mt. Rainier, Sonoma International, Newport Beach International and Lone Star International in Dallas. The film will be released theatrically by Moving Pictures in January 2011.

Doremus’ second feature film, DOUCHEBAG premiered in dramatic competition at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival to rave reviews.  The film is being released by Red Dragon and Paladin and will open in New York on Friday October 1st, followed by Los Angeles on the 8th and several prominent cities throughout October.

Doremus recently completed principle photography on LIKE CRAZY, his third collaboration with Jonathan Schwartz of Super Crispy Entertainment.  LIKE CRAZY stars Anton Yelchin (STAR TREK, TERMINATOR SALVATION), Felicity Jones (THE TEMPEST, CEMETARY JUNCTION) and WINTER’S BONE sensation Jennifer Lawrence.  It will be completed in 2011.