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.

Wanted: DIY & Hybrid Distro Liaisons Internationally

The US has a healthy supply of "bookers"  and for-hire distro/marketeers who can help you navigate the theatrical waters when you are looking at DIY or hybrid approaches, but are there the same folks in Europe, Asia, and other territories?  There's got to be right?  So where are they and how can we access them easier?

Many a filmmaker in the US have now decided it makes better sense to split up rights across media, license on a short term or non-exclusive basis, and essentially handle the theatrical themselves on a non-traditional basis.  But why would what makes sense in the US, not also make sense in other territories?

This is one of my wishes for the new year: let's demystify hybrid distribution internationally and build up a good list of companies and individuals to partner with.  If you are out there, let us know!

PPP: (Picture, Parties, Panels) - a formula for success

Guest post by Joao Amorim, Emmy Award nominee director of 2012: Time for Change, a feature doc offering an optimistic alternative to apocalyptic doom and gloom and featuring leading experts, scientists and celebrities including: Sting, Ellen Page, David Lynch, Barbara Marx Hubbard, Gilberto Gil, Dean Radin, Buckminster Fuller, Paul Stamets, Shiva Rea, Tiokasin Ghosthorse and many more.  It is currently playing in NYC at Loews Village 7 through Oct. 28th. Moving towards an Open Source culture in film distribution with 2012: Time for Change

Understanding the changing distribution landscape in 2008 while we were financing this project, Mangusta Productions and I decided to build in some P&A monies into our budget.  When we completed the film in March 2010 we all agreed that the best chance we had to reach a wide audience with this film was to take it straight to our fans and build a movement from the ground up, grassroots style.

I had built some good relationships with environmental groups during the making of the film and we decided to begin by proposing a partnership with Green Festivals – the largest sustainability event in the U.S. that takes place in 4 cities throughout the year.  We suggested that we would bring several luminaries featured in the film to speak on a panel at their expo in exchange for a booth at the festival where we could sell dvd’s and other merchandise, and promote our screenings which would take place in that city simultaneously.  We began this process in San Francisco in April and  were able to put some amazing post-screening panels together featuring people in the film, as well as others activists based in the area.  The results were phenomenal.  We sold out a 280 seat theater three nights in a row and sold out of all our merchandise.  Finally, we co-hosted a party with a local venue and were able to connect directly with our audience and create new relationships that would help in spreading the word about the film.

We duplicated this model in two more cities with Greenfest; Chicago and Seattle. In Seattle, we decided to experiment with a more traditional theatrical run.  Partnering with Intention Media, the filmmakers that managed the initial release of  What the Bleep do we Know?!, we booked a full run at the Varsity Landmark Theater in Seattle in conjunction with our Greenfest panel. This release was successful enough to get extended for three weeks at that theater, and also allowed us to get reviews in some of the major papers.  We were able to book a theater in Portland because of our results in Seattle.  After seeing the enthusiastic response in these initial cities, and receiving a lot of requests for screenings around the world, we realized that people were hungry for what the film was offering and decided to plan a more traditional limited theatrical release.

In order to keep building momentum while we planned our proper theatrical release we scheduled a special screening in NYC specifically to attract press.  We did a “green carpet” event with celebrity luminaries and supporters. As with all of our other screenings we had a panel discussion following the screening, this time featuring Sting, Paul Stamets, Daniel Pinchbeck, Tiokasin Ghosthorse, Ganga White and myself.  Continuing with our PPP concept, the Picture with Panel was followed by a great Party where the audience could mingle with the luminaries…

This event gave us a lot of visibility in the media and ended up landing us a great piece on the well-respected BBC World show “Talking Movies”

Over the final summer months and early fall, we took orders for special screenings around the world and prepared for our theatrical run in NYC and LA.

In October we opened theatrically in Los Angeles and NY. We stuck to the panel strategy but amped it up, allowing for multiple panels a day, and for several local community organizations to join in.  We also offered media sponsorships in exchange for exposure on our website and promotional materials.  This helped us to blast the word out to hundreds of thousands of people via email (note: another key component in our strategy since the beginning has been collecting peoples email addresses at each and every screening). Perhaps our greatest ally has been Daniel Pinchbeck’s social network Evolver who have helped promote the film and been our foot soldiers for spreading word of mouth from Day 1.

Our PPP model is proving to be very effective, having already grossed over 60K in the box office. Our first week in NY and in LA we out grossed every other film in those theaters (Loews Village 7 and Laemmle’s Sunset 5, respectively) and are currently rated 9th in the country for per-screen average as of last weeks box office numbers.

Although some media channels (NY Times) have been very dismissive of the film, we are getting the exact opposite response from our audience. We at Mangusta have learned a lot from this experience, and hope we can get this film out to more cities. I think we are close to reaching a critical mass and with a few more successful weekends, we could have the opportunity to introduce the film to the collective society on a wider scale.

After our screenings we have had panelists ranging from people in the film such as Gilberto Gil, Sting, Paul Stamets, Barbara Marx Hubbard, Penny Livingston-Stark, Tiokasin Ghosthorse and Ganga White, as well as other supporters from the community who were not involved in the making of the film such as Morgan Spurlock, Collin Beaven (No Impact Man), Damon Dash, Mallika Chopra, and John Perry Barlow.

Michael Moore recently requested a copy of the film for his theater in Traverse City after hearing about it from people in the community who’d asked for it to be screened there.  After seeing it they booked it and we had a very well-attended screening there followed by a Skype Q&A with myself.

This is all very much still a work in progress but my tentative conclusion is that it takes more then a good picture to get the people to the theater, you need to create a true event out of the experience. That is when I came up with the PPP model. You always need at least two of the P’s to get a group and all three to get a crowd.

At this point we want to spread the word of the film around the world and have many ways for people to get involved. For more info on our film please visit us at www.2012timeforchange.com and join the movement! Evolve to Solve.

João Amorim is Brazilian Director and Producer, focused on documentaries and animated films, with a social and environmental angle. João also helps run the NGO CICLO.ORG and the social media company PostModern Times.  He is currently working on the feature animation film "Gaia and Last Forrest".

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


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.

Coping With Symposium/Workshop Brain Fry

Today's guest post is once again courtesy of Jon Reiss.  Back before Jon wrote the book on DIY distro in the digi age (literally), he and I started brainstorming on the need for a marketing & distribution lab for filmmakers, somewhat modeled on the existing screenwriting & directing labs that many organizations run.  We had some real specific goals on this and pitched it to several key entities.  Everyone wanted to do it, and I believe everyone still wants to do it.  Money and time still are limited supply though, and our dreams have been deferred.  Yet, the initial steps have been taken by a couple of organizations, and most recently Film Independent put together: Seize The Power last weekend.  Jon's post below, is a bit of  an extension from that remarkable collection of speakers and participants and information. I heard a number of comments after this weekend’s LAFF Seize the Power Symposium that people where overwhelmed – that their brain’s had been fried by so many ideas and so much information.  To me that’s a sign that we succeeded.  When Film Independent and the Los Angeles Film Festival asked me to help them devise the Symposium (and accompanying Distribution Boot Camp for competition filmmakers) we were in immediate agreement that the event would focus on: 1. Nuts and bolts practical information for filmmakers.  2.  Forward thinking thought leaders indicating what the future might be.  3. Practical case studies of filmmakers who were using the new tools of distribution and marketing.  We wanted to avoid people sitting on a panel rehashing how we got here.   I also get the same brain-fry feedback when I give my weekend workshops – and I’m delighted.  This is what I suggest to people:

1. Focus on the Inspiration and Creative Potential One of the best uber-takeaways is how a symposium or workshop can inspire filmmakers to new creative opportunities.   Allow these ideas to run through you and don’t get caught up with any of the specifics just yet – you can delve into those when the time comes for you to act.

2. Identify on What Resonates With You.  Many ideas and concepts are presented – but no two filmmakers are alike and no two films are alike.  Take a moment to check in with your gut and see what resonates most with you, what makes sense for your current project, what makes sense for your artistic trajectory.

3. One Step at a Time.   Don’t feel like you have to do everything at once.  Do one thing first.  See how it feels – works for you. The world of distribution and marketing can seem overwhelming – they each comprise an entire division at every studio.  You are one person – reread item 1.

4.  Connect and Collaborate.   Further the connection with the people that you meet at these events.  Create study groups and film cooperatives.  Film distribution and marketing does take a village.  I was really excited to hear that some of the attendees of my Vancouver workshop formed a PMD discussion group to process the information and more importantly to work with each other in order to act on it.   I still feel that cooperatives among filmmakers is one of the ways to handle all the new work and potential.

5. Revisit the information.   You can be sure that any of the speakers have written about the ideas that they have presented.  The day after the symposium Henry Jenkins posted the basics of his talk on his blog.   Subscribe to Peter Broderick’s newsletter.  Check out The Film Collaborative’s site. Read Truly Free Film.  Keep up with Film Independent’s ongoing educational program.   Heck – even check out my blog or my book Think Outside the Box Office – I wrote it so that all filmmakers could have a companion to this process.   And of course – if you are inclined, follow all of the above on Twitter – and then engage.

-- Jon Reiss

Seize the Power – Why You Should Pay Attention to the LAFF Symposium this Weekend

We are now treated to another Jon Reiss guest post.  Jon holds the world record for the most comments on a single TrulyFreeFilm post, but he is one of our New Model Gurus, helping to pave the path to the emergence of a sustainable Artist/Creator Middle Class.   We he speaks, I listen. Two weeks ago I wrote a guest post here about the need to educate filmmakers on distribution and marketing their films.  This weekend the Los Angeles Film Festival is hosting a truly wonderful event which I am proud to have developed in collaboration with LAFF and Film Independent (with strong push and support from Ted):  Seize the Power: A Marketing and (DIY)stribution Symposium.

The Symposium is designed to focus on the nuts and bolts solutions to the current distribution and marketing malaise plaguing our industry.  The intention is to provide an introduction to a wealth of new tools for filmmakers (and all artists/media content creators) as well as strategic guidance from many of the key practitioners and thought leaders in our field.  It is an antidote to the concerns of too much talk talk talk on this subject with little true education.

In addition there is a non-public component that you can participate in via twitter.  I will be giving a distribution and marketing boot camp to the LAFF competition filmmakers Friday June 18th 9am – 12:30pm and 2:30pm – 5pm and Saturday June 19th from 9am-11:30am.  All times PST.   We will be tweeting bullet points on #totbo  We have done this in the workshops I have given in the past month – and we have found that people around the world start to participate and chime in – creating a global discussion around these topics.

The Symposium: Starting Saturday afternoon at 1pm – Ted kicks it off with a presentation on the need for the artist entrepreneur to encourage filmmakers to think expansively about their creative output in order to create sustainable careers.  This is followed by a plethora of service providers (from Orly Ravid of the Film Collaborative to Yancy Strickler of Kickstarter to Bob Moczydlowsky of Topspin) that we brought together so that filmmakers could learn the best ways to put these tools into practice in their own careers.

Sunday morning will kick off with a discussion between myself and Corey McAbee (The American Astronaut and Stingray Sam).  We will explore how he uses the new distribution and marketing tools and landscape to create a viable artistic career for himself.        Caitlin Boyle from Film Sprout will give one of her incredible introductions to grassroots audience development and distribution.  I am super excited to see Lance Weiler and Henry Jenkins on Transmedia.  (somehow Lance always has a way of frying my brain – in a good way).  The inimitable Peter Broderick will lead a discussion on crowdfunding,  Colleen Nystadt and Sean Percival will present different tactics for audience engagement.  The event will cap with one of those incredible Film Independent public case study examinations of two films:  Children of Invention and Bass Ackwards.

Last but not least – it will give filmmakers an opportunity to connect with each other and the presenters.  Come on down and introduce yourself, learn and contribute.

- Jon Reiss

Seize The Power: LAFF's Film Financing Conf Now TWO-DAY DIY MARKETING & DISTRIBUTION SYMPOSIUM

Film Independent sent out the following email:

We have spent the last ten years making the Film Financing Conference an invaluable experience for filmmakers, and as the industry is swept by very significant changes, we want to rise up to meet those changes with programs that meet filmmaker needs at this moment.  With that in mind, the Los Angeles Film Festival has created Seize the Power: A Marketing and (DIY)stribution Symposium, a new program specifically designed to help filmmakers navigate marketing and distribution in the growing age of new media and to promote an open dialogue on the impact and exciting possibilities the changes in our industry bring.

Seize the Power: A Marketing and (DIY)stribution Symposium will be held June 19 - 20 at the GRAMMY Museum at L.A. LIVE, and will host the same insight, quality of information, and caliber of speakers that has made our Financing Conference a vital stop for filmmakers.

Are you looking for financing?  About to shoot? It's time for filmmakers to think about their marketing and distribution from the moment they get the green light. Remember, distribution begins NOW.

If you want to MONETIZE YOUR ART, you can't miss this event.

Get the full schedule here.

Filmmakers vs. Aggregators: Distribber speaks of Win, Win!

Today's guest post is from Distribber founder Adam Chapnick responding to the question of just what IS Distribber and how can it make the world safer for filmmakers. Distribber was recently acquired by IndieGoGo, and in the wake of the publicity surrounding the announcement, we received a tremendous outpouring of enthusiasm and interest in Distribber's service.  As is inevitable, there's been some confusion around what Distribber does and doesn't do.  

Distribber was created to help rights holders maximize the payback from their work and investment.

More specifically, Distribber was conceived as a solution to several persistent complaints from filmmakers and other creative rights holders about distributors in general and aggregators in particular.  ("Aggregator" is the term used for a company that acts as a gatekeeper between a rights holder and a retail platform, such as iTunes, Netflix, Hulu or Cable VOD operators like Comcast, Time Warner, etc.)  

The complaints surrounded 3 specific pain points: 

Complaint #1.  Eternal revenue-share for finite service
Aggregators (other than Distribber) work on a revenue-share basis, meaning that they make money by keeping between 15% and 50% of your revenue that they collect from the retail platforms on your behalf.  They take this portion of revenue for the entire term of your deal with them.  The complaint from filmmakers was that while aggregators take this money "forever," they didn't seem to be working forever.  To many, it seemed that aggregators placed their film on the platforms and then moved on. 

This situation was even more frustrating for larger rights holders -- production companies, sales reps, etc. -- who controlled the rights to several (often dozens) of titles, and who engaged in significant marketing and grassroots outreach but lacked access to iTunes, except through revenue share entities.  The shared-revenue structure has continued to frustrate these larger companies as they have been the core demand-drivers.

Now, in defense of aggregators, encoding a film, ushering it through Quality Control "QC" and having the access to place it on iTunes or Netflix or Hulu or Cable VOD or anywhere else is indeed a valuable service -- and often a time-consuming one.  

However, it seemed that one could put a fair price on that service that accounted for the work and value of relationships, and offer it to filmmakers cleanly, without the burden of a revenue-share.  This would enable a filmmaker, production company or other rights holder to know their cash outflow in advance, and enjoy 100% of the benefit of their film's success.  So, Distribber adopted a flat-fee-for-service model.

Complaint #2.  Large deducted expenses, often including fees for marketing services that seemed unhelpful or nonexistent
Filmmakers complained that distributors and aggregators deducted expenses that seemed unreasonable, like $1500 for encoding, or an array of costs for marketing services that the filmmaker wasn't sure had actually been done.  

Here, the opportunity was again to charge a fair price, once.  So, Distribber adopted a fair price.  The $1295 one-time fee for iTunes placement was less than some rev-share companies charged for the encoding alone, and after only 185 sales at $9.99 on iTunes, rights holders have been entirely in profit.

Without putting too fine a point on it, it bears emphasizing:  after 185 iTunes sales at $9.99, a rights holder is in profit for the rest of the film's life on iTunes. Going forward, Distribber charges $79 per year for account access, collection and sales stats.  

The best evidence that we were on the right track came when the Age of Stupid production team chose to use Distribber -- they have been incredibly successful trailblazers in the hybrid distribution movement, and their endorsement told us that our service is providing its intended benefits for its ideal users.

To compare Distribber's model with revenue-share models, consider the illustration below.  At 1000 iTunes sales (retail price $9.99), rights holders give up 174% more money under a 15% rev-share than they pay to Distribber ($3,550 compared to $1295).  Under a 25% rev-share, rights holders pay 228% more ($4,250).  At 10,000 sales, Distribber's one-time fee doesn't change, but a 15% rev-share deal now costs ten times the Distribber fee ($13,000), while a 25% rev-share deal costs over fifteen times more ($20,000).  Obviously, at 20,000 sales, the disparity only increases.

Looking at revenue, with Distribber's flat fee, at 1000 iTunes sales, rights holders are paid 65% more than they would be with a 15% rev-share deal ($5,705 vs. $3,450), and they're paid more than twice what they'd get from a 25% deal ($5,626 vs. $2,750).  At 10,000 sales, Distribber clients keep $11,705 more than they would under a 15% rev-share, and  $18,705 more than they would under a 25% rev-share.  And again, at 20,000 sales, a rights holder does even better.


What A Filmmaker Is Charged, With:                     What A Filmmaker Keeps, With:

Distribber 15% Rev-Share 25% Rev-Share Distribber 15% Rev-Share 25% Rev-Share
At 1000 iTunes sales -$1,295 -$3,550 -$4,250 $5,705 $3,450 $2,750
At 10000 iTunes sales -$1,295 -$13,000 -$20,000 $68,705 $57,000 $50,000
At 20000 iTunes sales -$1,295 -$23,500 -$37,500 $138,705 $116,500 $102,500

(The chart assumes Rev-share companies deduct from filmmaker's revenue $2500 for encoding and/or marketing.)

And now, with Distribber's addition of Amazon VOD and Netflix's streaming service, we decided that as a limited-time promotion, for the same $1295, Distribber clients could have our Amazon and Netflix service for free. This of course only makes the above comparison even more lopsided in Distribber clients' favor, since it adds revenue without adding any expense.

Complaint #3.  Late payments, and sometimes no payment

Filmmakers complained that even after resigning themselves to a rev-share deal, and agreeing to the small payout left after expenses and revenue share deductions, they had to chase distributors and aggregators for reports and checks, and sometimes with none being sent at all.

So, Distribber has decided to do away with reports and checks, and instead employ a user account system, whereby clients login with a username and password.  Here they gain access to collection stats by platform, and see their collected funds balance.  Clients withdraw their own money on demand, with the click of a button.  Having all sales stats and collection in one account removed a major, time-consuming headache from our clients lives for $79 a year.

Next: More Pain, More Answers

Even a casual follower of the distribution business knows that there are plenty of areas it can be improved, and in plenty of ways.  Distribber is continuing to actively developing new methods and models to serve rights holders across a variety of platforms, from internet to cable to mobile. 

With the proliferation of tools like Wordpress, Facebook, Twitter and all the plugins and apps that support those services, it's more possible than ever for innovative companies, teams -- or even individuals -- to disrupt old marketing models and connect with audiences.  Filmmaker/marketers like Gary Hustwit, Lance Weiler, Tiffany Shlain and others have shown the way to create demand via their own efforts and investment. Peter Broderick is shepherding rights holders through a hybrid strategy that teaches careful allocation of specific rights to companies that are highly specialized, with the goal of maximizing the revenue a filmmaker keeps.

The key thing to understand about Distribber is that it's a powerful tool to help enterprising rights holders keep the most of their own money.  The more skilled you are at connecting with audience, the more buzz that you've built, the better Distribber's deal works for you.  

ADAM CHAPNICK is CEO of Distribber.com, an IndieGoGo company that places film and TV content on digital sales platforms such as iTunes, Netflix and Amazon for a flat fee while allowing filmmakers to keep 100% of their revenue. Adam can be reached at adam@distribber.com .

You Too Can Have Cassavettes' Distrib Work For You

It was a busy week. Jeff Lipsky, distributor turned filmmaker, has returned to his distro roots and wants to work with you! I got an email from him and have been meaning to post but my To Do List is a bit unruly. I need an extra hand. Now I was beaten to the punch, but better late than never.Jeff's email states:

Theatrical business is flourishing – it wasn’t just Tim Burton’s film that broke global records this past weekend, the IFC Center in New York City also made history, and that’s generally the way things have been going for well over a year. Yet with more and more new distribution platforms on the rise revenues for independent producers and filmmakers continue to diminish. (Of course, that merely an educated guess since there is absolutely no transparency about such numbers whereas box office grosses are as readily available as the weather report.) These and other vexing realities have inspired me to return to my roots. I’m once again hanging out my shingle as an independent distributor for hire, making myself available to filmmakers and producers seeking to engage the services of an ever-passionate and experienced executive who still believes (perhaps now more than ever) in the potential and the immediacy (think revenues) of a theatrical release. In 2007, on a “service deal” basis, I released the record-breaking “Sweet Land,” the award-winning documentaries “The Bridge” and “The War Tapes,” and my own film “Flannel Pajamas.” I can be contacted at jeff.lipsky2010@gmail.com. For those who may not know my history feel free reach out to me so I can relate further details about the other 225 or so films I’ve marketed and distributed, from films by Cassavetes to Jarmusch, from Lasse Hallstrom to Mike Leigh. And so we can discuss how to exploit your film with the same verve, acuity, and exuberance, greasing the wheels for its ancillary future, a future that will remain 100% yours.

Update 3/21/10: Jeff published his manifesto on theatrical distribution this week in IndieWire and it is a must read.

Free Sundance Hybrid Distribution Consultation w/ Jon Reiss

Today we have a guest post from Jon Reiss announcing his generous offer to do some free consulting for filmmakers with features at Sundance.


As some of you might know, one of the reasons that I wrote Think Outside the Box Office was after those first Filmmaker articles I wrote in Fall ‘08 about my experiences distributing my graffiti doc Bomb It, many filmmakers contacted me to help them with their films. However they were all broke, as most filmmakers are. The book started as a brain dump so that I could share my experiences with others. I figured people could at least afford $20-$25. (After many requests the book is now available as a PDF from my site for $14.95)


But filmmakers still need individual advice; how to apply the new distribution and marketing models and landscape to their specific films. And unfortunately since filmmakers in general are not saving money for distribution and marketing, they are still broke.


So I wanted to do some kind of community consulting “event” at Park City this year. I thought about sitting in a coffee shop for 2 hours a day and having online sign ups for 20 minute sessions (I still might do this if enough people request it).


However, Lance Weiler asked me to do a live consulting session at the Slamdance Filmmaker Summit (Saturday January 23rd) with two filmmaking teams one narrative/one doc. Anyone in Park City can attend and it can also be live streamed (along with the rest of the Summit that I recommend you all check out).


I’ve decided to expand this to 10 more feature filmmakers from either Sundance or Slamdance. I will provide 45 minutes of consultation by phone or Skype before the festival begins and 45 minutes during the festival. This can be used in any way the filmmakers want, from helping to devise a complete DIY scenario, to getting my opinion on any deals being offered.


For selection any interested film should email me by Thursday January 14th by noon at reiss.jon@gmail.com. Send me what you have eg synopsis, trailer, website, plans you have in mind etc.


I will pick the films and announce them by Friday January 15th.


For any other Sundance/Slamdance filmmaker not chosen I will be reducing my consulting rate before and during the festival from $75 an hour to $50 an hour. This rate will apply even for the chosen films if they want to go beyond the first hour and a half.