Season 9  :  October 2014

Thoughts from the world of passionate filmmaking


Film Distribution 101

by Fel

Hey everyone! I hope you're all doing well in 2013. Just wanted to blog a little about distribution of indie films. Every year we get tons of people asking us for advice about distribution of their film. Who should I go with? What should I ask for? How much money should I expect? Well, I always tell them to talk to Scott Currie during the Terror Film Festival. He's knows more about film distribution than I EVER will. But, if you insist, I shall earnestly dribble out the following for your consumption.

I was told by my film mentor kinda what to expect the offers to look like. Now, this is gonna be a little crude, but, here goes. Your first film, you should at least ask for some Vaseline. Your second film, you should be able to "give" as good as you're getting. And, your third film, they should be asking you to please use some Vaseline. See? Crude.

But, or should I say, "butt", that's a very loose rule of thumb. To be honest, on your first film, you're a total unproven. However, if it generates sales and profit, that should be good enough to catapult you right to third film status. And, therefore, you should be able to negotiate from a better vantage point now (or re-negotiate).

As far as who to go with, it's a crapshoot. What are they looking for? Is your film top-notch? Is your film feature length? Do they even distribute your kind of film? Sure, the majors are very tempting (if they're offering), but, will you get the push your film so critically needs in that oh-so-important first month of release or in pre-sales? And, after you sign, will you be shuffled off to the non-VIP section so the proven sellers can still get their full attention? It's really up to you to make sure you're being treated the way you feel you should be. I mean, let's say Lionsgate is about to release Saw 12. Will they give the necessary attention that your film release needs? Yet, will the smaller boutique distributors, who can focus more on your earlier career, have the muscle to give it a great push, and also place some dough in your pocket at signing, or at least, be able to slide semi-steady revenue into your pocket as the months/years go by? Or, will it simply be a buy-out? But, it also depends on "is your film a magnet for consumers?" Take like an Anchor Bay. Solid rep, and willing to work with the filmmakers on price. As long as you weren't naive enough to spend $500K+ on your film without having a distributor already attached. Remember, you are an unproven.

Then there's "how much money should I expect?" That is entirely up to how good a negotiator you or your rep are, and how open to negotiation the distributor is. Everybody's gotta give a little, especially you in the beginning. Get your wish list together before you talk to the distributors, who are VERY busy making money.

Hey, Fel! What about online distributors with a high% net deal? Well, to put it plainly, my preference is that I spent hard cash to make the film (which I now no longer have), so, I need hard cash for the license of the film. Regardless of the fact that the distribution landscape has changed drastically and the internet is moving at hyperspeed regardless of whether you're able to keep up. That's all fine and dandy, but, I still have to buy shampoo and feed my cat. So, a deal where there is nothing up front at signing makes me frown A LOT.

It used to be that getting your film on the shelf and instantly becoming "relevant" was worth the back-end deal. Because, at the very least, you could negotiate with the fact that you have something in a legit store. You know, clout. But, that doesn't exist anymore. Now, being in a catalog of indie films that may also be genre focused is like taking a DVD of your film and throwing it into the ocean and hoping that a million people will stumble across it so you can make some sales. The release MUST be promoted strongly. And, if you're not getting a release push that can generate sufficient interest from consumers, then the "DVD in the ocean" theory is just as sane as your release date. And, to be as frank as hell, you should have a distributor before you make your film, anyway. So, "how much" is completely unpredictable. Other than, more than it cost me to make it.

HOWEVER, there is hope. This is a formula I came up with and it works every time. When developing your film, if you don't have a distributor already, then make sure the budget is the lowest it can be without all your pie-in-the-sky expectations, and yet high enough that quality doesn't suffer.

If you already have a distributor, start scheduling your masseuse sessions. JUST KIDDING! Distributor or not, get that film in the can for as little as possible! If your distributor can't make money because the budget is too big, then they have to start thinking cross-collateralization, and YOU lose. Make it work for everyone involved. Use good common sense when budgeting your film, and ALWAYS remember that you'll need money for the sales pitch after the film is completed. So many filmmakers put everything into making the film, and then post, and when they get to selling the film, they have nothing to work with. But, again, first preference, try and get a distributor before you start pre-production. Development can be done on spec after work, on the weekends, during sex (believe me, I've been pitched in bed. It's a perfectly cromulent work place!). But, producing the film before you have the money already in the bank is a very risky way to do business. You're gonna make mistakes. Educate yourself before you start your film and be as ready as you can to guarantee your success. As always, just my humble opinion.

Well, that's all I feel like writing today. Nothing else to say, EXCEPT, we've just opened 2013 Call For Entries and we're all VERY excited to see the new slew of films this year. Get your projects done and get them submitted. Good luck to everyone at this year's Claw Awards!


Vincenzo Price

by Fel

Hey everyone! I was looking at the great films we've received this year at TFF and it always amazes me at the unbelievable passion that goes into these films. True, other genres have more notoriety and backing, but horror/fantasy/sci-fi/thriller/darkdrama seem to have more emphatic filmmaking zeal when it comes to that ever so crucial final result. It really does inspire me to continue on with the festival. Even when I wind up getting stuck watching a Hostel 2 or a Saw VI or some other new horror film that is trying to "improve" the mold.

I truly wish Hollywood would give some of these indie filmmakers a real shot with a real budget. Because some of the films we get are so much better than anything coming out of the "professionals". As one of my favorite indie filmmakers, Mike Turner, once said..."I wish Vincent Price was still alive." To me, that says it all. Just my opinion.


Dude! Where's My Submission Fee?

by Grace

The 7th season of the Terror Film Festival officially opened for submissions on March 1st, and being that I’m head of TFF marketing, well, I have to do some marketing (I hear it is an ongoing process, kind of like a re-write that never ends). 

Recently, I was trolling the web (which I do everyday), specifically looking for information on how this bleak economy has affected film festivals and the industry of independent filmmaking. I came across a few interesting articles, but two really grabbed my attention, and both happened to be about the Sundance Film Festival (one of my favorite festivals). Heck, Robert Redford is one of my personal favorites, from as far back as his Twilight Zone days.

The first article was about a recent lawsuit filed by independent filmmaker, Darryl Abbinante (2012 Abbinante vs. Sundance H12S00037). The lawsuit alleges that Sundance is committing fraud by not returning submission fees to filmmakers whose films were not viewed and evaluated by Sundance in the selection process. The lawsuit claims that Sundance received 11,700 films in 2012, and had a committee that could not possibly view all of them, and is therefore guilty of fraud for not returning the fees of unviewed films. The ruling was in favor of Sundance, stating that their legal obligation is to only watch 30 seconds of a film, which was a total shock to me. And, apparently, it’s in their submission agreement. Which brings up the question, “Why would a filmmaker agree to that?” 

In the article there are some interesting bits of information supporting Abbinante's claims, from former Sundance personnel giving some insight into the politics of festivals, to another filmmaker who for five consecutive years submitted a film on a tape that was basically blank, except for a few opening credits. The second filmmaker was sent rejection letters each year until Sundance eventually realized that his submission materials didn’t actually contain any films. There is a YouTube video on Sundance Film Festival Fraud and Scam that takes it all a little further. 

A second article I bumped into happened to be a thesis authored by Matt Dee Cottrell in 2009, from Utah State University, titled, “The Question Concerning the Cooptation of the Sundance Film Festival: An Analysis of the Commodification of Independent Cinema.” I found this to be interesting, because the same conclusions are made as the first article, without being polemic or overtly accusatory, and that is that Sundance has become an industry controlled by the Hollywood film market, and doesn't exist for smaller unknown independents. 

Now, I'm not writing this because I am concerned with how Sundance operates (although, maybe I should be, considering Sundance’s annual revenue intake). At TFF, we have our own model of operation and a unique selection process that we are very proud of, and that we designed ourselves and have perfected over the years. I am concerned with submitters’ perceptions of the selection process in general though, and while I can't reveal our process, I can tell you that we worked on this formula from day one when we opened in 2006, and since then, it has been honed to both a science and an art.  

Our process is academic and we worked hard on developing a system that was fair to every type of submitter, whether a novice or an expert. And, every film is watched, and every screenplay is read, from beginning to end, sometimes more than once. After that, we discuss each and every film in a roundtable type setting. It does take quite a bit of time, but we are in the business of making these types of decisions, so there are no complaints. Plus, we actually do enjoy the healthy debates on the projects. 

Each year of the festival is a very humbling experience for us. And, though we have grown to be experts in film and screenplay analysis, we understand all too well that we only exist because of our clients – the filmmakers and the screenwriters.  

Sundance is expecting over 13,000 submissions next year. WOW! That’s a lot of entries, and a lot of money! If they didn't have that many submitters, I wonder how much industry support they would receive? I mean, after all, how many films can Hollywood complete in a single year? Maybe 25, max?  

In the end, I wish the filmmaker would have won the lawsuit (because I’m a filmmaker), but on the other side of the coin, I’m also glad Sundance was able to win and “defend their honor” (being I’m also from a film festival). However, I hope this wasn’t a case of Goliath the bully beating down David. Not that Sundance is a bully. But, how do you explain cashing the check, watching for 30 seconds, and then not selecting it? Are you telling me that "A River Runs Through It" grabbed the reviewers within the first 30 seconds? Come on.

You see, it’s commendable to start a film festival. It’s also a given that you will be expected to view every project that you take a fee for. The bottom line is, if you can’t find a way to review the projects that you cashed a check for, then, maybe you shouldn’t be running a film festival. And, mix watching a film for 30 seconds with Redford’s whole ordeal on the film Downhill Racer, and I have to wonder whatever happened to the vision that started Sundance in the first place? Just my humble opinion. 

I would like to talk about distribution in my next blog and I am looking forward to what the future will bring to the world of indepedent filmmaking...and to
indepedent filmmakers. Later, alligator!


Call For Entries 2012

by Fel

Call For Entries for 2012 opens on MARCH 1, 2012 and closes on AUGUST 21, 2012. Films and screenplays are accepted. Check out Submissions for all the info. Get your projects ready!