Big Apple Film Festival - Distribution in the New Age - Nov. 17, 2007
(ED) Erik Davis (Managing Editor, Cinematical.com)
(PG) Peter Goldwyn (Vice President Acquisitions Samuel Goldwyn Films)
(BC) Brian Chirls (Four Eyed Monsters)
(CT) Clémence Taillandier (Head of Theatrical Sales, Zeitgeist Films)
(AL) Aaron Levine, Gen Art Film Division Coordinator
“Distribution in the New Age" is a panel discussion that will focus on utilizing the Internet, as well as other modern technology and media outlets as a means of independent film distribution. The panel will focus on areas such web based marketing and promotion, how to best utilize websites such as YouTube and MySpace and other options available for DIY film distribution in the modern age.
(AL) Where are we at with the WGA strike? What are the writers looking for? How does the strike affect your job or the nature of what you do?
(ED) Learned last night that talks are scheduled to resume on November 26. It’s kind of a surprise. The Davinci Code sequel became the first casualty of the strike. Looks like there will be a media blackout. I support the writers.
(BC) The writers are looking for a larger percentage share of DVD and download sales. The last negotiation was in 1988. They received too small a share from home video sales. Producers argue that sales are not significant enough.
(CT) The strike doesn’t affect Zeitgeist, which distributes foreign films and documentaries.
(PG) Samuel Goldwyn released Southland Tales, which had a lot of bookings, but The Rock was supposed to promote the film on late night TV and couldn’t because those shows weren’t being taped. We also release foreign films and documentaries. There’s still going to be stuff for us to buy. The effect won’t hit us till 2009.
(AL) Have innovations in digital distribution changed your business model?
(BC) The amount of screens for digital projection is still limited. Most theaters still want prints, but there’s always a way to do it. The traditional window is theatrical, then PPV, DVD, now download. There’s room to mix that up. With Four Eyed Monsters, it started out at film festival, then had a theatrical release and on YouTube (1 million views). After YouTube, got a TV deal. There’s also a DVD distributor who will take it wider, but still in negotiations on that.
(CT) Zeitgeist is still trying to make money through theatrical releases. We distribute five films per year. We’re thinking of digital distribution. We’re doing some, but not making any money. Still relying on prints. Hoping there will be a niche audience for digital.
(AL) Will Day-and-Date be a standard of practice five to 10 years from now?
(ED) There will be a lot more within five to 10 years slowly as the Internet moves to TV. There’s a lot of talk about Brian DePalma’s new film Redacted now. You can watch it on PPV or in a theater. It’s hard to imaging films like Spider-man or Transformers doing Day-and-Date.
(PG) It’s debatable. Redacted has a $20 price point on Day-and-Date. Exhibitors have a lot of problems. These films can only play in certain theaters that allow for Day-and-Date. It’s nice to have options. Some theaters aren’t as nice to go to anymore. Personally, I like going to theaters. Newer generations like watching things on smaller screens. There are a lot of unanswered questions.
(BC) Everything’s going to be Day-and-Date. If there’s no difference between watching a film at home or at a theater, then what’s the point? In almost every business, you can’t sell to consumers based on what they can’t do. Some theaters are now selling alcohol. Innovations can be made. The social experience is the biggest thing. Why spend more money on beer? Because it’s a social experience.
(CT) Exhibitors Zeitgeist deals with are devoted completely to cinema. Trying to make it a more cultural experience, ie. inviting filmmakers to Q&As. There’s still going to be an audience for specialty films. You can’t create the same experience on your flat screen TV.
(AL) What other innovations would you like to see in theaters?
(ED) I don’t go to theaters anymore. You have to sit through 20 minutes of ads. It bothers people. There should be two start times. The problem is, in New York City, every weekend films are sold out, so you have to get to the theater sometimes one hour early. It’s draining. There have been some ideas for special reserved seats and call-buttons on chairs for people making noises in the theater.
(PG) I like previews, just not the ads. I’ve always enjoyed trailers. Do you feel watching DVDs at home gives you a disconnect from the audience?
(ED) I don’t feel like I have a disconnect. I get comments from readers.
(PG) As a distributor, we want critics to watch films in theaters. There’s a big difference in the communal experience than watching something on DVD. Something gets lost when you don’t see a film with an audience.
(ED) There’s something to be said for watching a film at home.
(PG) We get a lot of DVDs before going to festivals, because sometimes we miss stuff. Ads can be reduced. I like a theater to be clean and have comfortable seats. An example of a good theater is the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, TX.
(BC) There should be a complete change in the way theaters schedule films. There’s always a lot of empty screens. There’s so much opportunity to fill screens with more independent and local films. This is a benefit of digital projection. Theaters should push back scheduling. Mix it up a little. Make screenings more eventful..
(CT) There’s a difference between art and commercial movie houses. Art houses should be closer to the audience. A platform for discussions.
(PG) There was a time when theaters did a lot of promotion themselves. You can’t leave your children in theaters by themselves anymore. The charm is lost. The distributor has to find group sales for the exhibitors now.
Q: Can the model for the new Radiohead album be applied to independent filmmakers?
(PG) It’s more inexpensive to make an album than a movie. How will you pay off your bills? Some films are cheap to make, ie. Mumblecore. Their distribution deals on a whole aren’t profitable, but their goal is to show it to an audience.
(BC) I love what Radiohead did. Pay what you want. People will download it anyway. Listen, then buy. Four Eyed Monsters co-director Arin Crumley got an emailed from someone who’d been searching for monster movies and found 4EM. He downloaded it, liked it, then bought it. This is a great opportunity.
Q: Do you think people will be willing to send money to filmmakers?
(ED) I paid between $10-$15 for the Radiohead album. It depends on the person. The target age is teenage males. Would the average teenaged kid shell out money? It depends on the individual person and how passionate they are.
(PG) There’s always a certain level of stealing. If you make things accessible, you take a risk.
(BC) You can get people to pay if there’s an experience. I think we’ve lost that.
(PG) Our job as distributors is to bring films to an audience. If you just put out a donation plate, a lot of people won’t put anything in it. You have to set a few standards. There needs to be some way to monetize the work. The Radiohead album was sold on a sliding scale, but their concert tickets won’t be.
(BC) We need to come up with equivalents. There is a cultural experience of consuming media. Four Eyed Monsters was a big challenge. Was the directors’ first feature and had no celebs. They created a podcast/video series to promote the film.
Q: What’s your opinion on the primary way for an indie producers with their own money to distribute their films with a goal to recoup expenses and make a profit?
(PG) The traditional theatrical route. Distributors get back the cost. They buy all rights to certain territories. Get a sales agent, or at least a lawyer. Work out a deal. Some filmmakers put out their own money. Some producers put up all the P&A (prints & advertising).
(BC) I’m a strong advocate of being prepared to self-distribute as a back up, even if you don’t want to. You can’t always count on going to a festival and expecting to get a huge deal. You plan gives you a better negotiating position if a distributor approaches you with, for example, $15,000 for all rights to your film.
(PG) Be careful about giving rights to distributors for long-term deals. Don’t take something like $15,000 for eternity.
(CT) If you’re making a documentary, make sure to clear all your rights. You need to trust the distributor.
(PG) Find out which distributors pay their bills. Find someone who has experience getting their money from distributors.
(CT) Be available to promote your film with the distributor.