Younger Audience & Creators Tell Old Fogies To Wake The F Up!

Guest post by Audrey Ewell Ted Hope invited me to do a guest column about attracting a younger audience to indie film, after I commented on a column by Robert McLellan at Globalshift.org.  That column was a recap of the debate between Hope and Jeff Lipsky during a Cagematch at IFP Week.  You can read it here: http://www.globalshift.org/2010/09/19/indie-film-can-art-house-theaters-attract-a-young-audience/.)

The column’s final statement, attributed to Hope was this: “It all comes back to having a relevant and compelling story and telling it well.”  That is an oft-repeated statement, and I noted in the comments that what mattered more to this crowd was plot, subject and genre.   So who am I, and why should my opinion matter?

I’m the director and producer (along with my partner, Aaron Aites) of the documentary film, Until The Light Takes Us.  I am 34 years old, white, female, I love Antonioni, Fellini, Marker, and science fiction.  I have Gizmodo, The Huffington Post and The Economist on my Twitter stream.  I own three video games consoles and I’m currently on level 7 of Halo: Reach.  I listen to indie rock, stoner/doom, experimental, dubstep; and I am often on my boyfriend’s and friends’ guest lists when their bands play shows.  I am the audience you’re (they’re, we’re) trying to reach, + four years. But I’m immature enough to let those four years slide.

My current movie, Until The Light Takes Us, is a doc about black metal, a music scene from Norway that involved as much crime (murder, church arson… etc) as music.  We premiered at AFI 08, passed on a few so-so initial offers (including a too-vague offer from IFC, as it seemed possible that we might only be relegated to their crowded on-demand space).  We knew we had a very passionate young audience that went beyond fans of the genre.  One that could fuel (with both attendance and promotional help) a theatrical release, even when most distributors didn’t agree.  And we actually made a profit on our 22 week, 35 market, ’09 -’10 theatrical run, grossing nearly 140K on a 25K P & A with Variance Films.

Until The Light went on to win international awards, was a NY Times and LA Weekly Critic’s pick, got picked up for all-rights deals in German territory, Australia, Japan, we self-released in the UK, aired on the Sundance channel here, and is slated for an Oct 19th DVD/Blu-ray release via Factory 25.  Yet no one in the American indie film world seems to know who we are.   And here’s the kicker: according to our data, our average viewer is 27 years old.  Less than 10% of our audience is over the age of 38.  70% of our audience is male.  We not only got a young audience, but it would seem that our type of film is so under the radar to the established indie film world, that no one noticed.

Despite making the sort of risk-taking, surprising, edgy film that would appeal to a young core audience and enough of a broader audience to really work (we used social networking and events based promotion and targeted cross-promotions), and despite the industry claiming to want films that do these things and that appeal to younger viewers, they did not take notice.  Our type of film, our type of release, must be so far from the establishment’s radar that it didn’t even register.  Ted didn’t seem to know who I was before I commented on that Globalshift column.

And it’s not just us.  I don’t have figures on which other recent indie films got a younger audience, but a couple come to mind, including Paranormal Activity and Anvil, music and horror films.   I’m also going to guess at which films didn’t draw a particularly young crowd: mumblecore and films about people learning things through some process of self-discovery.   If you want to know about the kinds of films the industry supported and didn’t support: invert the above two film types.

So this makes me wonder if the established indie film world is serious about wanting to attract a younger audience.   If you ignore films and filmmakers who appeal to a younger audience, are you not in fact maintaining the status quo?  If you ignore films like ours, will they go away?   Will the people making them become discouraged, and will the fight to make the next movie be too hard, too brutal, too futile, knowing that there is no support on the other end?  Do we even have a chance of getting financing, when we’re not noticed, let alone supported?

This is the first of many issues, but it’s a big one, because it’s the easiest to fix.  John Stanwyk, who said he had never read Truly Free Film, commented in Ted’s column (here http://trulyfreefilm.hopeforfilm.com/2010/09/how-can-indie-film-appeal-to-alternative-youth-culture.html/comment-page-1#comment-5444) that there IS indie film made for alternative youth but that it’s ignored by the established film world, so the makers move over to genre, where they’re supported.  He cited Matt Pizzollo and his films Threat (arthouse) and Godkiller (genre) as examples.  That’s a really great point.  My next film (if I can get it made)?  A sci-fi/horror.  I happen to love sci-fi and horror, so it’s not exactly a sacrifice.  But as someone who can (and has) made films for a younger audience, my options are limited – not by the audience, but by the established film world.  The taste of the gatekeepers is a problem in this regard.  And I need to look Matt up and give him my support.

*Note: after writing this but before sending it in, I was contacted by two well-known genre-specific publications that would like to do a piece on The Egg, our in-development sci-fi/horror.  I have not heard from Indiewire, Filmmaker, or anyone from the establishment.  It’s already been written up on Brutal As Hell.  Michael’s point about genre being more supported is proving to be valid in this case.

Here’s what the establishment (and some of you reading this are now the establishment… weird, right?) doesn’t like to hear: the films you like aren’t going to do it.  Your taste may be hurting Amerindie cinema, which I have no doubt you love.   Here’s what you might not understand: so do we (we being the filmmakers making movies you don’t like, for a younger audience).  A quick peek into my top ten shows Contempt, 8 ½, Naked, and Blow-Up brushing shoulders with Carpenter’s The Thing, Blade Runner, and Battle Royale.   Now here are the two films that I saw in the last two weeks: Enter The Void and Resident Evil Afterlife (3D, Imax).   ETV fed my soul and broke cinematic ground.  RE was fun (and its audience is young).  I don’t believe these have to be mutually exclusive.

We will not kill film: we will merely bring it into the current postmodern, hyperreal era, a now that is shrinking from the future and afraid to look at its recent past.  We are squeezed into a breathless space of unreality and diminished possibility, and we are trying desperately to find films that reflect our experience.  We’re not finding them in the American indie film world, that’s for sure.   My current film for instance, is about a violent music scene, but its themes revolve around simulation and simulacra of identity in a overwhelmingly mediated, postcapitalist, globalized world.  I’m not seeing that sort of thing in the films championed by the “indie” establishment.  Maybe there are actually two independent film worlds.

It was put forth in the Cagematch at IFP Week  http://www.globalshift.org/2010/09/19/indie-film-can-art-house-theaters-attract-a-young-audience/ that the only films kids are going to see are big budget sci-fi and horror/thrillers.  And then the conversation went back to, so how do we get this audience to come see movies that are obviously only going to appeal to middle aged or older white women and us?  (I went ahead and paraphrased that.)  Clearly, films that might be considered genre need to be part of the solution.  And the word “genre” simply has to stop being a four-letter word.

I’m not saying that every gore splatter-fest out there should be appreciated or supported.  I hate B movies, I really do. I’m not even a little bit amused by movies that wink at the audience in order to cover up their own ineptitude.  My point is that there is and there can be “genre” films that are also smart and relevant … and fun/intense.  It’s what I love, it’s what I make.  It’s Blade Runner.  It’s Alien.  It’s Alphaville.   These types of indies are being made in other countries, by the way, then re-made here for huge sums.  Maybe we should consider doing this at home.

So ok, point number 1 - stop ignoring those of us who are already reaching the younger audience with relevant and edgy films, even if the films we’re making aren’t to your personal taste - as it’s such a personal point, it took up a whole lot of room.  If Ted is willing to let me stretch this over two columns, I’ll have other points next time.  I really want to address several other issues raised, including working with an audience ignorant of film history.  And I’d like to thank Ted for reaching out.

Audrey Ewell is a filmmaker living in Brooklyn, NY with her partner Aaron Aites and their three rescue animals.  More info on her current film can be found at http://www.blackmetalmovie.com.

Theatrical: To Do… or NOT To Do.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We’re interested in these companies and services:

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

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

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

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

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