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.

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.

Lipsky's Indiewire List on Why He Loves Theatrical Distro

Cassavettes' former distributor announced last week that he was going back to his old ways and taking other people's films to the people. This week he (Jeff Lipsky) did a must read article to try to explain why. It's in the pop form of a list and after each bullet point he goes into some detail to back up his assertion. Check it out. I post the list (w/o the explanation) below. There is some food for thought in Jeff's positions and I look forward to discussing it further. I have always believed in a collective sub-conscious; is there really a new? In reading, Jeff's list it reminded me of several points from filmmaker Michael Barnard, who's thoughts on the current state I am posting today and tomorrow. Stay tuned...

The whole article is on IndieWire and you should read it. Jeff's bulletpoints are:

1) My number one job as a distributor-for-hire is to run a collection agency.

2) All new distribution platforms (with the possible quirky exception of movie downloads to laptops and PDAs) fall under the heading of “home entertainment.” And, one after another, they all tend to cannibalize each other. 3) According to an article in Reuters, in 2009 combined theatrical and DVD sales/rentals in the US yielded $26 billion.

4) We should be talking about how to capture the attention of a film’s potential theatrical audience (which is hungrier than ever) while being able to reduce the marketing spend.

5) Approach domestic film festivals with great caution.

6) From the Everything Old is New Again Department: Addict teens, get them into the habit of going to see independent films, to debate them, to spread word-of-mouth, to love them.

7) What do I make of the state of film criticism today and how do I assess its role in the distribution of movies right now?

8) What about the state and role of trade media? Do we need a trade media at all?

9) I’m not in denial about technology.

10) I do believe in social networking…

11) I want to continue to distribute films theatrically because I still love movies.

As with all online publishing these days, the comments make for necessary reading.  In this instance, Chris Dorr, who says:

A very good post. A couple of ideas to amplify.

Numbers 9 and 10. The innovation that is occurring in technology today often takes place in what some call the “golden triangle”, the three sides being mobile, social and real time. The three poster children for this innovation are Apple, Facebook and Twitter, however, the innovation extends far beyond each of them. Each side of the triangle drives the other.

As a result the internet for many, (though not all) exists in the physical world. It is now something to which you are constantly connected while you move about in the real world. As a result you are connected to your social graph and to the choices you and your friends make and recommend as they move through the world. These choices include things like restaurants, music venues and yes—movie theaters.

Every aspect of the innovation within the “golden triangle” enhances the possibility of independent movies reaching their audiences in a theatrical release at a radically lower cost. It is only a matter of independent filmmakers and their distributors truly understanding this innovation and harnessing it .

So don’t deny this technology or ignore it—dive in, understand it and embrace it. There are real people and yes, even real money here.