Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Downtown Film Festival Los Angeles Panel on Distribution

This Sunday Tristen Tuckfield from The Samuel Goldwyn Company, Dustin Smith from Roadside Attractions and Wyn Tran, a producers rep from The Institution discussed the topic
Film Distribution in a New Age at the Downtown Film Festival Los Angeles in a panel organized by local attorney Clifford Lo and moderated by yours truly.

Film distribution models and opportunities are constantly evolving. These days people are watching more and more films and videos on the Internet and their mobile devices. Thanks to blogs, web-videos, and social networking sites the online universe is becoming a valuable landscape for artists. However, most filmmakers are still making their films with their eye on the prize: theatrical distribution, DVD and TV sales for which they receive advances and minimum guarantees. The discussion will define a middle ground between the old and the new and attempt to help filmmakers find their footing in this new landscape.

The combination of Wyn, Dusty and Tristen was just right and I know the audience was very happy to have the chance not only to hear them and to speak with them afterward at a reception hosted by DFFLA.

For me, having the chance to see the “new generation” of acquisitions execs was rather eye opening. I don’t recall my generation having such spontaneity and camaraderie, though I know we did have a great esprit de corps which the succeeding generation was pressured out of having too much of because of the great competitiveness to acquire films (at top dollar). Their obviously passionate interest in the business and their sharp articulation of current issues was also very impressive. I learned a lot and have written some notes below about what was discussed at the panel. I hope this will help the reader. BTW, thanks to those who came up to me, took my card, and acknowledged where we met, how they follow my blog, and what their successes and questions were.

Tristen follows many projects from script stage which she finds in labs, etc. And of course all participants attend festivals and markets looking for their newest acquisitions. Though neither Goldwyn or Roadside has prebought projects, there is always an underlying possibility that is could happen because of their early tracking. Wyn too, tends to rep finished film, but his position is more fluid and could include producing along with repping and even distributing and licensing foreign rights.

To arrive at making an offer, everyone in the office must see the film and love it before an acquisition is made. That includes the distribution and financial executives.

Absolutely, all rights are acquired with the companies acquire a film. Sometimes the filmmaker raises P&A money and holds onto other rights and uses Roadside Attraction as a “for-lease” distributor, if all parties agree that a theatrical release is worthwhile strategically. But whatever permution in the acquisition is negotiated, both companies treat all their films as if they acquired them with their own money and put up their own P&A.

The Samuel Goldwyn Company acquires 10 to 12 films a year and releases them theatrically as does Roadside Attractions. Dustin said they would release in various ways, from 3 theaters to 1,000+ depending upon the film and the strategy. They tend to follow the traditional windows in releasing, in contrast to “aggregators” such as IFC which acquires many films, can release them in at least one owned NY based theater (Waverly) and plans put them on their channels. They are weaker on the DVD release front as they are not their own distributor but must sub license the film to other DVD distributors which in turn dilutes the share to be returned to the producer. The numbers on VOD or streaming are held closely and are not tracked so that revenue stream is not quantifiable. But if they are agregating and sell 10,000 films at $3-5 a shot, where they might make some money, the filmmaker makes very little.

Similarly, Magnolia can release VOD and streaming day and date with their theatrical release because they own the Landmark chain of theaters. However, when a Goldwyn or Roadside Attractions releases theatrically, theater owners with whom they must keep a long term relationship, do not want day and date release. This is particularly true of larger releases in the large theater chains who absolutely do not want day and date.

As it is, the producer begins to get a revenue share only after the costs of theatrical release and the marketing costs have been recouped by the distributor

Viral marketing, the use of Facebook and Twitter are in decidedly in place with these companies. Dusty at Roadside does it himself with smaller releases; larger releases use other marketing firms. Goldwyn’s recent letter from the director of ‘Cold Souls’ marked a unique and convincing marketing tool when it was sent out to an aggregated number of emails.

Being that theatrical release is a loss leader in the distribution chain and it not always even the best way to go, the panel forwarned the audience NEVER to take passes personally. It is not the “acquisition person’s fault” if a film is turned down. It is a team decision based on lots of issues besides whether the film is good or not. That point being made, that their film can be very good and still not get picked up for many other reasons known within the company who has a particular mission and scope; having completed a film is a great accomplishment and should be used to open the doors and used as the tool to acquaint the filmmakers with all the appropriate players in acquisitions and distribution as well as to show their talent to secure future commitments for their next moves in their career paths.

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