Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Distributors Weigh In

OK, we all know
1) we're in the midst of an economic crisis,
2) digitilization is changing the world in a shift only comparable (maybe) to that of the industrial revolution,
3) movie distribution patterns for the new generation of filmmakers are shifting to hybrid DIY with professional backup of the mature generation of former indie specialty distribution pioneers.

Before moving on, here are the words of one of these star veterans:
"Social networking is absolutely more and more influential. I personally think that retaking the indie film label from the usurpers and reeducating both the media and public about what independent film really is is our most critical challenge right now. Just confirmed that I’m going to be on a Digital Hollywood panel mid to late October..."
Mark Lipsky [], President, Gigantic Digital 212-219-3039.

One recent filmmaker comment to the constantly repeated litany of "the other veterans", that is, those who are still drawing corporate paychecks from such companies as IFC, Sony Pictures Classics or Focus (strike out TWC who just let go 30 more employees) who keep crying out "There are too many films!" was to question why this refrain is so acceptable. If the films are "art", who in the art world complains there is too much art, or in music why do we never hear there is too much music? Let's accept the state of the world today: There are 500,000 filmmakers worldwide and 10,000 films are made a year.

There are too many blogs blogging about the business of film, and mine is one of them. I do not intend to keep blogging about new modes of distribution and digital exhibition which, in effect, wipes out the oft bewailed "broken distribution system" because I see what is being offered by Peter Broderick (see below) and Ted Hope whose fabulous blog lists everything but fails to list poor little me. And TOH does its part as well. There are too many blogs blogging about DIY. We at SydneysBuzz will continue in other directions and will continue strategizing distribution routes with our clients, but this subject is being posted in all the right places already.

However, before singing my swan song, I want to bring to the forefront how the major studios always ride the tails of the indies when needing to find inspiration. Remember when they all had to have specialty divisions which drove up the acquisitions costs of films to the point of the market's collapse (here now) and yet did nothing to nurture new talent, which never stops?

A few days ago (September 20, 2009) L.A. Times ran a fascinating article on how Dreamworks took rights to a little unheard of gem and now Paramount will release Paranormal Activity. The ambivalence of the studio stands out but they are actually taking out all stops to see if they can create a The Blair Witch Project Redux release using ALL the latest online techniques which were so primitive at the time of Blair Witch's unprecedented and unmatched success. I am very impressed. Some notable actions in their campaign to make this Jason Blum (a name we all know) produced film, one of the annual harvest of 15,000 low budget horror films, stand out are:

- It was passed over by Sundance but played in Slamdance

- The second feature director Oren Peli Area 51 is about to start

- Older teens and young adults were invited to the IM Global's AFM screening

- It played midnight in the rain in Telluride and again outside the festival program in Toronto

Even better than these events which shall be a future subject of SydneysBuzz:

- Paramount is installing webcams in theaters so fans can record their impressions

- People who haven't seen the film will use the Demand website ( to request Paramount book the film in their town (a first for this music/ band request site)

Blum will be teaching the old dogs new tricks he says, demonstrating how to do more with less. I think Blum may be providing more than a demonstration. I think (and HOPE) that he will be opening the door of employment for young internet savvy executives at the studios. So all you young and older filmmakers, keep honing your internet skills with DIY and plan your CV to enter the studio system. If the studios think you can make a $50,000 production gross $250 million worldwide, you'll be employable.

To get back to the subject of this very long dissertation:

Peter Broderick, on the one year anniversary of his definitive
WELCOME TO THE NEW WORLD OF DISTRIBUTION published on IndieWire has now published the follow up Declaration of Independence: The Ten Principles of Hybrid Distribution\FEEDBACK WELCOME: outlining principles of hybrid distribution which emerged from the experiences of hundreds of filmmakers. They will continue to evolve as more and more independents use these strategies. ( He says,"My goal is to create a living document that evolves with the latest hybrid experiences and empowers filmmakers to realize their full potential. Visit to sign up for the 'Distribution Bulletin', featuring the latest in independent film distribution and marketing." Bravo!

Toronto Wrap: Indie Bloodbath - Thompson on Hollywood quotes Fox Searchlight acquisitions exec Tony Safford responding to the Big Question: But who will figure out how to market it? “You have to create a lot of noise, with a lot of arrows in your quiver...The film, marketing, critics are all important. It’s hard to rely on just one. Some of these films would have been released in another era.”

Now for a rundown of who are the current U.S. distributors of indie films which in being named makes the playing field seem pretty crowded:

Of course there are the veterans which, aside from Sony Pictures Classics, Miramax Films, IFC, Magnolia Pictures, Fox Searchlight, and perhaps Focus Features if it is still acquiring specialty films, have mostly retained their micro size, from Zeitgeist Films, Kino International, The Samuel Goldwyn Company, Roadside Attractions, Strand Releasing, Regent Releasing, Here Films, Indican Pictures, Film Forum, First Run Features, Women Make Movies, Roxie Releasing, Panorama Entertainment, Vitagraph Films .

Then there are the new interesting labels being led by Marc Urman's Palladium Entertainment, Bob Berney's Apparition, Summit and Overture Films whose path seems to be diverging from specialty films.

Next come those other distributors still needing to prove their longevity like The Weinstein Company, Palisades Tartan who just picked up Lourdes in Venice, Music Box Films , National Geographic , Indiepix , Film Movement, B-Side Entertainment, Oscilloscope Pictures, FiGa Films, Gigantic Releasing and Cinema Tropical who are also looking to make a profitable deal. There's also 24 Frames.

And now in great demand are the For-Rent-DIY distributors like Susan Jackson's Freestyle Releasing, Richard Abramowitz' Abramorama, Wendy Lidell's International Film Circuit and MJ Pekos' Mitropoulos Films, all run by truly professional vets able to think and act creatively on a case by case basis and to turn on a dime.

For the record of the past year's box office performance, I am citing
IndieWire's Summer Hot, Summer Cool: A Specialty Box Office Recap - indieWIRE: "Back in July, indieWIRE ran an article examining the first half of this year’s specialty box office. The general consensus was that while Hollywood was doing just fine (at the time tracking 10% above last year - now that number is a little under 7%), Indiewood was having a tougher go at it. Only two limited releases - Sunshine Cleaning and Away We Go had grossed over $5 million. The top five had a combined gross of $26.5 million, while at the same point in 2008, the top five had grossed nearly twice that. Two months later, things have seen a notable turnaround...With 2009’s unusually late Labor Day weekend about to commence, it’s safe to call this summer movie season a wrap. Reports have already found their way through the trades, proclaiming this Hollywood’s highest-grossing summer ever...“Not only will 2009 finish ahead of 2008 - which was our record year - but we continue to expand our audience. Because of the diversity of product we are attracting all ages to our theatres. And thankfully, they seem to be coming back for more.” claims Landmark Theater chain's Mundorff...Looking down the list of the summer’s top twenty-five limited releases (which you can find on page 2 of this story), nine of the top ten grossing films came from either Summit or one of four studio specialty divisions - Fox Searchlight, Focus Features, Sony Pictures Classics (which had an impressive 4 in the top 10), and Miramax...this isn’t new news...the idea of what makes a film “successful” varies greatly between the vast scope of what people generally consider an “indie film” (the mildly disappointing $3.5 million Summit got out of “The Brothers Bloom” would have been a massive success for, say, Music Box Films’ “Seraphine”).

In one final attempt to quantify and qualify the distributors today, I cite The Hollywood Reporter's
Distributor Report Cards: "Distributor Report Cards Written and compiled by THR Staff Aug 30, 2009 Updated: Sept 2, 2009"

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