Deal or No Deal: The Road to Self-Distribution, SXSW, 3/10/08
Karina Longworth, Spout.com
Stacy Schoolfield, Producer, Jumping Off Bridges
Kelly Sanders, Truly Indie
Sara Pollack, Film Manager, YouTube
Mark Halperin, President, Magic Lamp Releasing (absent?)
At the very beginning, moderator Karina Longworth laid out the premise of the panel: looking at self-distribution as the first resort, as opposed to the last resort.
Stacy Schoolfield was the first panelist to speak. After producing the movie Jumping Off Bridges, Schoolfield took the film to SXSW, expecting it to get a distribution deal. There was no initial distribution deal. Instead, what happened was that a mental health field professional saw the film and thought it would be appropriate to screen for her colleagues. Later, she called theaters in 26 cities and combed Lost fansites (Michael Emerson from that show appears in the film) to promote the film. She got the ultimate flattery when fans began to incorporate clips from Bridges into video tributes to Emerson. Eventually, Jumping Off Bridges got picked up by New Day Films, a distribution company specializing in educational films.
Sara Pollack, prior to her hiring at YouTube worked on a film titled Duane Hopwood, which only received a minuscule release despite debuting at the Sundance Film Festival, and having notable names like David Schwimmer and Janeane Garofalo star in it. Pollack believes that filmmakers are becoming wise to bad deals given by major distributors, and to the virtues of self-distribution. "You know your audience best," Pollack said.
Kelly Sanders works for Truly Indie, an offshoot of Magnolia Pictures. Truly Indie, like IFC First Take, is an outlet for brokered self-distribution. Whereas Magnolia would approach the filmmaker, it is the other way around with Truly Indie. Truly Indie only accepts 8-10 pictures a year, and if the filmmaker has a promotion idea, Truly Indie will work with the filmmaker. The filmmaker must pay Truly Indie a flat fee based on the cost of the opening.
Sanders believes that theatrical releases are still important, as they bring credibility to the film. Documentaries are usually the most successful in self-distribution, as people tend to read documentary reviews.
Overall, the panel was very encouraging. I got to introduce myself to Karina afterwards, explaining that I was the girl from "HOWL (For Lindsay Lohan)". Yippee!