GOING BIONIC – Article #17, “THE BUDGET GAME” September 7, 2010

GOING BIONIC: DISTRIBUTING INDEPENDENT FILMS INTERNATIONALLY – “THE BUDGET GAME”

During my time in international distribution, I’ve seen several $1,000,000 documentaries that should have been made for ten times less, and a few $100,000 features that should have been made for ten times more. In both scenarios, the producers always try to use their film’s budget as leverage in negotiating sales. The problem is most producers never realize that unless their film is laced with a star-studded cast, their budget has little to do with the value of their film to distributors. For example, if a producer spends north of $1,000,000 on a documentary while other like-minded documentaries are being made for under $100,000, then the distribution value of the million-dollar documentary is no more than the value of the docs made under $100,000. This is an incredibly painful pill to swallow for filmmakers and producers. Thus, in order to avoid such a sour pill being lodged down their throats, filmmakers and producers should remember that distributors will never reward overspending. The other fact to absorb is since the value of documentaries has severely crashed, they are now only worth one tenth to one twentieth of what they were worth as recently as three years ago.
Conversely, if a producer makes a $100,000 feature film that looks like a $300,000 film, then the distribution value of that film will be based on $300,000. Obviously, this is a much better position to be in because the budget can be recouped and the producers and filmmakers may even get to plant a few extra dollars into their hungry pockets. However, if that same producer lies to distributors about his or her $100,000 film costing $1,000,000, then their project will be seen as a failure if it only generates $300,000 – even though it really only cost $100,000 and enjoyed a profit. This is a scenario to be avoided at all costs. Since perception is everything in Hollywood, it’s important to always be seen as a success. Simply put, having the perception of being a person who made a micro-budgeted film that turned a profit is far more impressive than being seen as a person who made a healthy budgeted indie film that tanked.
One thing that’s consistently true about playing the “budget game” is everyone lies about his or her budgets. Filmmakers and producers lie to their distributors and distributors turn around and lie to their buyers. However, in the midst of the maze of smoke and mirrors, here are some vital truths about the “budget game” that will help filmmakers and producers understand how distributors play the game.
International Distributors/Sales Agents Will Slice Most Budgets In Half
Unless filmmakers and producers have proof of their budget, via a strong cast with stunts and or action sequences that clearly show where the money was spent, the budget filmmakers give their international distributors is divided in half in the minds of the distributors. So, if a filmmaker tells his or her international distributor their budget is “slightly under one million,” the distributor will immediately assume the actual budget is far less than half of a million. This is because the international distributor knows that all filmmakers lie about their budgets, and that he or she has to take those lies into account when they calculate the minimum sales potential of a film. But, knowing the budget will be sliced in half, doesn’t give filmmakers a license to inflate their film cost twenty times more than it is. Remember, not only do distributors usually know what a film costs just by looking at it, they also always know what a film is worth just by looking at it.
Bragging Upwards About Your Budget is Smarter Than Bragging Downwards
We once dealt with an amazingly well made micro-budgeted action picture that cost $6,000, but looked like it cost $150,000 (thanks to the legitimate $140,000 + of freebies given to the filmmakers). Several buyers were so impressed by the tight little film, that the initial offer for the first territory was $30,000 – five times the film’s budget. But, on the eve of signing the deal, our buyer researched the film IMDB and realized that our filmmaker was bragging about having made the film for $6,000. By the next morning, the film’s $30,000 offer turned into an $7,000 offer that we had to pull teeth to get up to $10,000. The buyer canceled their $30,000 offer, because they just couldn’t stomach paying five times more than the budget. Of course, when the buyer thought their $30,000 offer was only paying one fifth of the $150,000 budget, they thought they were getting a good deal. But, knowing the film cost $6,000 killed the buyer’s financial appetite for the film. The lesson learned here is that filmmakers should never brag about what they can do with little money, because the powers that be will assume they can only handle little money. Thus, the notion, “see what I can do with $6,000 so imagine what I can do with $6,000,000,” never works. This is because distributors usually don’t trust six thousand dollar filmmakers with six million dollar budgets, unless those six thousand dollar films make six million dollars.
The International Distributor Should Know The Actual Budget
Assuming the international distributor is well meaning toward the success of the film, he or she should be aware how much money needs to be recouped to break even. Too often filmmakers will play games and refuse to reveal their actual budget to their international distributor, but such a practice only hurts the filmmaker and the film. If an international distributor is kept in the dark of how much needs to be recouped, they will simply accept every offer, regardless of how small it may be.
Recouping The Budget Is Not A True Concern of An International Distributor
Technically speaking, international distributors don’t have to worry about a film breaking even because they will get paid on what they sell, even if those sales are far less than the budget of the film. Thus, it’s important to find an international distributor who truly believes in the film, because they’re going to get paid whether the film does well or not.
The Portion Of A Film’s Budget That’s Recouped By International Sales
In a perfect world (which we are clearly not in), a film should recoup 40%-60% of its perceived budget through international sales before the international distributor takes out his or her fees. However, in the current marketplace for independent films, getting even 40% of the budget from international sales would be a dream. More realistically, filmmakers should expect international sales to come in around 20%-25% of their perceived budget with an outside shot of wrangling 40%.
Tell Tale Signs A Film’s Budget is Far Smaller Than A Filmmaker Claims
Too many close-up shots, too few (or no) extras walking around in the background and limited locations are all obvious signs that a film didn’t cost much to make. Furthermore, small films tend to feel claustrophobic, because there are no overhead shots or wide shots. So, even if filmmakers need to go small with their budgets, they need to think big with the scope of how they execute it.
Know What You Have And What You Don’t Have
Producers and filmmakers alike should be well aware of the fact that a $100,000 film will probably not look like more than a $300,000 film – and will never look like a $1,000,000 film. In fact, if I had a quarter for every time I heard a filmmaker or producer tell me that their $100,000 film looks like a $1,000,000 film, I’d have more than a million dollars. The truth is, all distributors care about is that your film was a successful financial investment, regardless of how small that investment was.
At the end of the day, playing the “budget game” is a necessary part of every filmmaker’s journey. All of us, like our films, want to be perceived to be bigger than we are. Such a belief is what drives us to create bigger and better projects, and is also how such wonderfully poignant statements like “fake it ‘till you make it” and “he who can make one thousand dollars look like one million dollars will soon have one million dollars,” have become our battle cries. Thus, winning at the “budget game” doesn’t depend on how you play, it depends on knowing how the other side plays. Now play nice….
I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday weekend. 
Thank you for lending me your eyes, and I’ll see you next Tuesday!

Read more: http://www.filmthreat.com/features/25213/#ixzz1EgDCsNIH

GOING BIONIC – Article #16, “FILM MARKET BAGS” August 31, 2010

GOING BIONIC: DISTRIBUTING INDEPENDENT FILMS INTERNATIONALLY: FILM MARKET BAGS, BOOTHS, AND YOU

I was sitting in my sales booth at the European Film Market in Berlin watching a film seller in a neighboring booth boast about his upcoming film slate to a few overtly uninterested film buyers. The seller was positive his slate would surely afford him a yacht, or a Rolls Royce, by next year, while the buyer was even more positive that the seller’s future toys would be less amazing than the toys the buyer already had. As I tried to block out the bullshit littering the air around me, I couldn’t help but to notice that the market bag hanging on the shoulder of the seller was three years old. I had the same bag. I had given it to my wife (like always) and she had soon thereafter fed it to the monstrous mountain of market bags in our closet. And just like that, it dawned on me how much filmmakers can learn from a simple market bag.
My topic today is: Film market bags, sales booths, and you. An odd mix, I know, but it’ll all make sense soon enough. You may be wondering what the hell free shoulder bags given out by film markets have to do with anything, but trust me; these “badges of stability” can give you invaluable insight into your international distributor.
First let me refresh you a bit with what film markets are: Film markets are worldwide swap meets for film buyers and sellers to negotiate, deliberate and orchestrate sales of motion picture and television programming to various parts of the planet.
Secondly, let me explain what market “booths” are. A “booth” is a fiercely overpriced sales booth that film sellers spend between $15,000-$80,000+ per market to showcase their films at. Since the markets are usually three to five days long, with 10 days (Cannes Film Market) being the longest, film sellers (i.e. international distributors/sales agents) spend several thousand dollars per day just for the right to display their films for sale. These sales booths are no bigger than an ambitious lemonade stand, but they cost as much as a three bedroom home in much of the Mid-Western United States.
So, what great prize do us film sellers get for enduring countless hours on airplanes, being sleep deprived and spending a sick amount of money for booths, travel and advertising to make sure our clients films are exposed to film buyers worldwide? A free market bag.
Market Bags
Every market attendee expects a damn good market bag; because it’s so f-ing expensive to be at the film markets in the first place. Attendees will either praise or curse the market bag, and their ‘bag approval rating’ will partially mold their opinion about that market. The market bags given out in Berlin are clearly the best and most durable in the business. They last for years, and they are quite well thought out. The Cannes Film Festival/Marche Du Film bags are usually a close second, but the 2009 Cannes market bag was the ugliest and cheapest one ever made. That bag ripped apart the first day. When I had it replaced, my replacement tore apart by day three. It’s almost like Cannes had the foresight to know that a vast number of film sales companies would go bankrupt in 2009 (which happened), so they chose not to spend money on market bags when less companies would exist to buy their booths in 2010. Such foresight must be why Cannes is clearly the greatest film festival and film sales market in the world.
Some sellers will hang on to their favorite market bag for years. Others will change out their bags from market to market in order to nonchalantly prove their financial strength to their buyers (i.e. to show how many markets they attend). As for me, I give all of my bags to my wife. She gladly keeps the ones she likes. I donate some of the other bags to Goodwill, use the primarily useless ones to house toys for our dog “Pepper,” and the rest get the pleasure of joining me throughout my market-to-market trek.
Note to filmmakers: If your international distributor/film sales company hasn’t earned a mountain of useless market bags over the years, then something is definitely wrong with how they’re representing your film. This is because if they don’t have market bags, then they are a) not investing the $15,000 to $80,000+ into buying booths or worse, b) they’re not even buying the $800-$1,500 passes at film markets to meet with buyers. It’s elementary, actually: cheap passes + no booths = no market bag.
My favorite market bag ever was the Cannes Film Festival 60th anniversary bag – which printed every Palm De ‘Or winner since the inception of the Cannes Film Festival – right on the bag. Too bad I lost that bag – the only one I’ve ever lost – in a ridiculous act of stupidity. Please allow me to share how it happened:
Circa Fredonia, Kansas, April 2007: I was at my grandmother’s funeral in the middle of nowhere when I realized that I’d lost my cell phone (there’s a pattern here – I lose everything), so I had no way to touch base with my office back in Los Angeles. After a nearly two-hour drive back to my hotel – which was north of the middle of nowhere, I called my office for my messages. I was quickly surprised to learn that my friend David Blake, a co-producer on Julian Lennon’s “Whaledreamers”, had recommended my company to Julian. To my further surprise, Julian Lennon wanted to meet me at Cannes and discuss the possibility of having my company represent his film worldwide. If you had any idea how big of a fan I was of Julian’s music – (I bought his album Valotte on vinyl, before CD’s, with my lawn mowing money when I was 17), and how much I idolize his father John Lennon and the Beatles (I’ve loved the Beatles since grade school and I even named my dog “Pepper” from Sgt. Pepper’s…) you’d understand how thrilled I was to meet Julian and possibly represent his film. The stage was set…
I first met Julian in Cannes at my sales booth, where we (luckily) clicked. We then lunched and soon thereafter he agreed to have my company handle his film. Wanting to tell the world of my prized acquisition, my company teamed up with www.Hollywoodtoday.com to put together a massive party for “Whaledreamers” at the Hotel 314 beachside bar – a very highbrow bar planted oceanfront on the sand in Cannes. Julian agreed to play a midnight concert – his first show in a decade – and my company Lonely Seal Releasing and www.Hollywoodtoday.com both agreed to host the party as a charity event for Greenpeace. Julian’s song “Saltwater” was (and may still be) the international theme song for Greenpeace, so everything was flowing toward becoming a magical and memorable night. Simply put, it was. What was supposed to be a 350-person party, swelled to 1,653 people and Julian’s midnight set was an amazing memory that is firmly tattooed in my mind for as long as I have a memory.
So, what does that story has to do with my Cannes market bag? Well, the afternoon before our party, my Lonely Seal Releasing compadre Edward Stencel and I had just made about 30 VIP laminate passes for the party. In a rush, I stuffed the VIP passes in my market bag, and barreled into the parking garage of the Palais at Cannes, then put them in the back seat of our rental car…too bad it wasn’t our car! Yes, I actually planted my beloved 2007 Cannes Film Festival 60th Anniversary market bag – filled several VIP laminate passes to one of the hottest parties at Cannes – into the backseat of a stranger’s car. In the few seconds that I had my head turned looking for Edward, the wrong car’s owner drove off. Our party wine sponsor Ben and I ran after the wayward car for a block – but the driver never noticed that they had two frantic guys running and screaming behind them. Then again, maybe the driver did notice, and drove away because of it.
I often wonder how long it took the driver to see the “prize bag” in their back seat. They could’ve thought it was their own market bag, in which case they may have not noticed it until the following day or beyond. Then again, maybe the driver was a struggling filmmaker, or better yet a film student-turned-temporary-American-Pavilion-waiter, who found the passes, attended our party, got a job, a deal, a lover, or at least a lasting memory. I hope it’s the latter, as its certainly more cinematically romantic!
Incidentally, this year’s 2010 Berlin bag is their 60th Anniversary bag that sports all 15,000 plus films that played the Berlin Film Festival over the last 60 years on it. I’m sure printing all 15,000 films onto a shoulder bag was an effort to upstage Cannes’ 60th Anniversary bag that listed their 60-film festival-winning directors. After all, 15,000 is greater than 60. It’s a very cool bag indeed….
Booths
Since your international distributor is charging you a “market fee” to cover the expenses of taking your film to several film markets, you must find out what markets they are attending and which ones are they “boothing” at. In all fairness though, ever since the world economy melted, all international distributors are boothing at fewer markets. It just doesn’t make sense to spend $15,000+ on a tiny booth, when virtually no buyers are willing to pick up small independent films for anything more than a few thousand dollars. Thus, until the international film sales tide turns in favor of independent films again (which I hope it does), most international sales companies will limit where they booth.
Sales Markets That Can Change Your Life
There are four significant film sales markets that mold the trend of film sales worldwide. Ironically enough, three of them happen to take place in Cannes, France. The Rolls Royce of all film sales markets is the Cannes Film Market, which runs concurrently with the Cannes Film Festival in May. MIPCOM is at Cannes every October, MIPTV is at Cannes every April, and The American Film Market (AFM), America’s premiere film market, is in Santa Monica every November. The one clarification I wanted to make is that MIPCOM and MIPTV are officially TV markets, not film markets. But, since most independent films are not star-studded enough to get theatrical releases, they do far better sales wise in TV markets.
Film market bags and sales booths can’t tell you everything about your international distributor, but they can tell you about how your film will be positioned on the worldwide stage.  Since you need to make sure your film gets its share of the spotlight with buyers, there is no better way to do so than to understand the intentions of your distributor before you sign with them. Thus, asking about their favorite market bag and where they booth will give you some sharp insight into if they’re a good match for you and your film.
Thank you for lending me your eyes, and I’ll see you next Tuesday!

Read more: http://www.filmthreat.com/features/25211/#ixzz1EgCflMdT

GOING BIONIC – Article #15, “TAX CREDITS ROCK” August 24, 2010

GOING BIONIC: DISTRIBUTING INDEPENDENT FILMS INTERNATIONALLY – TAX CREDITS ROCK!

I always loved Halloween growing up. For one magical evening, I could transform myself into a clown, Dracula or any other flavor of the month costume and create future cavities as I devoured candy from the kindness of strangers. I deeply appreciated every freebee I was able to lasso into my trick-or-treat pillowcase, but it was finding the “mother loads” that made my night.  I’m talking about the families that gave out regular sized candy bars and didn’t care if you took more than one.  Every neighborhood had a mother load, but once they were discovered an army of kids raided them until every last morsel of chocolate was gone. That’s the thing with mother loads; they’ll make you ecstatic for a short period of time and then they’ll disappear for at least for one year, possibly forever.
The same is the case with Film Tax Credits.  While they serve as “mother loads” for the filmmakers lucky enough to grab a piece of them, there’s clearly not enough “candy” to go around. So, in an effort to help you get your own piece, here’s some information on film tax credits and what they can do for you.
The Basics
Film tax credits are incentive programs designed to entice film productions to shoot in their state. Generally speaking, these tax credits are reserved for the amount of money spent on below the line costs within the area giving the tax credit. This means money paid to above the line costs like talent, director, writer and producer, usually won’t count. However, there are areas that allow tax credits for above the line costs, if you meet certain requirements.
The Upside
A number of tax credits are structured like cash rebates, so film productions can be paid back in cash once the proper paperwork is filed. With the economy still struggling, filmmakers can use tax credits as a solid way to severely reduce the amount of money their film needs to recoup in order to become profitable.  Simply put, everybody wins. The state giving the tax credit gets an infusion of cash spent on their residents and services and the filmmakers utilizing the tax credit get cash back for doing so. It’s a beautiful honeymoon of a deal for both sides.
The Downside
Each state has limited funds to give. For example, just last week California announced its $100 million dollars of tax credit funds allotted for 2010, were fully spent on the very first day of funding.  The $100 million was dispersed to 30 applicants, who were selected randomly. But, there are already 45 films on a waiting list for the 2011 California film funds, which won’t be available until July 1, 2011.
The other potential downside is that there is a constant push by several state legislatures to repeal their own state’s film tax credits.  Several politicians find them to be a waste of the public’s money. So, many programs are constantly in jeopardy of either being reduced, suspended, or officially closed. Thus, filmmakers should have a clear understanding of the tax credit status of the state they’re trying to shoot in. The easiest way to do this is to contact the film commission responsible for the area where the production desires to shoot.
The Blind Side
Read the instructions and procedures of each offer closely and  follow them to the letter of the law.  If you don’t, your tax credit could be delayed or deemed invalid.  There’s nothing worse in business than having a stack of cash abruptly taken away because certain procedures weren’t followed.
The Best Film Tax Credits Available
  1. Michigan – Hail, hail Motown, the Motor City, and every other filmmaker-loving part of the Wolverine state, because they have the most aggressive program. Michigan film tax credits are 40%, which can swell to 42% if the production shoots in a designated “core community.”  Furthermore, all above-the-line personnel qualify for the 40%-42% tax credit as “direct production expenditures.” This is very important, because the above-the-line personnel cost is usually quite a hefty chunk of an independent film’s budget (especially the actors). Thus, allowing these costs to be included allows for the film production to receive a much greater cash rebate. As for the below-the-line costs, Michigan offers the full 40%-42% tax credit for costs deemed “direct production expenditures,” and 30% tax for costs deemed “qualified production expenditures.”

    Furthermore, the way to ensure your production qualifies for the 40%-42% tax credit is to be a resident of Michigan for at least 60 days before your application is approved. Proof of residency can be achieved by having a Michigan driver’s license or a Michigan voter’s registration card. If you’re not willing to become a Michigan resident to save several hundred thousand dollars to several million dollars, then you can either wrangle a Michigan based producing partner to file the application, or settle for the 30% tax credit given to non-residents of Michigan. For more information about the Michigan Film tax credit, please visit: http://www.michiganfilmoffice.org/For-Producers/Incentives/Default.aspx

  2. Louisiana  – The home of the “Big Easy” is an amazingly fun, ridiculously friendly place to shoot.  Their tax credit is between 30%-35%,  (usually 30%) and both residents and non-residents of Louisiana are eligible. Since these tax credits are fully transferrable, film productions can elect to transfer them to the state of Louisiana, in exchange for an immediate check for 85% of the tax credit’s value.  Only production costs that are spent within the state of Louisiana are eligible. For more information, please visit the Louisiana Film Office http://www.louisianaentertainment.gov/film/content.cfm?id=61
  3. New York – The “Big Apple” has quite a big bundle of green waiting to give to filmmakers. New York is putting their “money where their mouth is” to the tune of $2.1 billion dollars over the next five years. On average, that’s $420 million per year, $35 million per month, and about $1,166,667.67 per day.  Needless to say, utilizing New York as a production location is something to think about given their commitment to supporting filmmaking.
As for other places to help filmmakers turn their dream into a reality,  here’s a list of  states that offer transferrable tax credits (which means they can be turned into a cash refund).
  • ALASKA – 30 % Base Film Tax Credit. Add 2% if it’s filmed in rural areas. Add 10% for wages paid to Alaska Residents and an additional 2% if the qualified expenses are incurred between October 1 and March 30.
  • ARIZONA – 20% for productions spending $250,000-$1,000,000 in Arizona and 30% if more than $1,000,000 is spent on qualified expenditures.
  • CALIFORNIA – 25% for independent productions with budgets under $10 million.
  • CONNECTICUT – 30%.
  • GEORGIA – 20% Base Film Tax Credit, plus 10% more for using an animated Georgia promotional logo in the finished product.
  • ILLINOIS – 30%.
  • MASSACHUSETTS – 25%.
  • MISSOURI – 35%.
  • NEW JERSEY – 20%.
  • PENNSYLVANIA – 25%.
  • PUERTO RICO – 40%.
  • RHODE ISLAND – 25%.
  • WEST VIRGINIA – 27% Base Film Tax Credit, with 4% more if at least 10 local hires are made on the production.
Several other states offer some form of film tax credits, but the “transferrable” tax credits listed above are the ones filmmakers should focus on. For more information on any of the state film incentive programs, just contact the various state film commissions.
It’s so refreshing for me to see so many states offering healthy film tax credits. When I graduated UCLA Film School in 1994,  it was virtually unheard of for states to entice film productions  with public funds.  Today we have a full-blown film tax credit civil war between several states,  making the immediate future of independent film production look quite healthy.  But, just like  the “mother loads” I enjoyed on many Halloween nights, these film tax credits could  be eaten up and sent into extinction sooner than anyone is willing to admit. So,  filmmakers would be wise to start utilizing them today!
Thanks again for lending me your eyes and I’ll see you next Tuesday!

Read more: http://www.filmthreat.com/features/24340/#ixzz1Eg628xJf

GOING BIONIC – Article #14, “GOING THEATRICAL” August 17, 2010



GOING BIONIC: DISTRIBUTING INDEPENDENT FILMS INTERNATIONALLY – GOING THEATRICAL!

I was nine years old in June of 1977, when my uncle Babu convinced my dad to corral the family one Saturday afternoon to go see some new Sci-Fi movie called “Star Wars.” I still remember nursing my 7-11 Big Gulp filled with Dr. Pepper as I wilted in the hot Kansas sun waiting to get tickets. What was probably twenty minutes seemed like thirty years, as I couldn’t wait to nestle myself into a plush velvet seat in the Arctic-cool Glenwood Theater to see what my friends were raving about.
I was beyond excited as I sat in between my sisters Dolly and Mona armed with another Dr. Pepper and peanut M&M’s. Sure, I’d seen cinematic gems like “Herbie Rides Again,” “Freaky Friday” and “The Shaggy D.A.” before, but I’d never attended an “event” release like “Star Wars.” This was a big deal and everyone knew it.
As the theater lights finally went dark, I was hooked the moment “Once upon a time, in a galaxy far, far away” began. The bewildering special effects, amazing stunts and rich musical score all captivated me to the point that by the film’s end credits, I not only knew what I wanted to do with the rest of my life, but I knew what I had to do with the rest of my life. I needed to tell stories. That was the day I caught the “filmmaking bug.”

Every filmmaker has a cinematic experience that forever changes his or her life’s path. “Star Wars” was mine.
I believe because these remarkable moments of epiphany occur during the film that delivers “the bug,” filmmakers are forever focused on getting a theatrical r

elease for their films.




This brings me to today’s topic: Going Theatrical!

Like soap operas and toupees, theatrical releases aren’t for everyone. Don’t get me wrong, I wish generation-defining successes like “Star Wars” upon everyone reading this column, but it’s important to know the ins and outs of the theatrical game before you jump in. So, here are some insights into releasing your film theatrically.

The First Two Weeks Are The Biggest
It’s estimated that 70-75% of a film’s total theatrical gross will be earned on the first two weekends of its release. One reason for this is because when film studios know they have a dog, they open their “barker” on as many screens as they can. This way, they can make as much coin as possible before bad word-of-mouth kills the box office.

“Battlefield Earth” (2000), is an excellent example. It made $11.548 million on 3,307 screens on its opening weekend, which represented 53.8% of its total domestic gross. Simply put, if you make more than half of your domestic total in three days, it means by the Monday after your opening weekend, bad word-of-mouth quickly killed your film.

Even if a film is great, most people see it by the second weekend of its release, unless word-of-mouth increases its fan base or it earns repeat customers. A recent example of this is “Sex and The City 2” (2010). This picture grossed $95.3 million domestically and $286.4 million worldwide. But, the gross receipts dropped from $31 million in the opening weekend, to $12 million on the second weekend. That’s a 60.2% drop in revenue. That trend suggests those who wanted to see it did, but they didn’t recommend it.

Legs
When a film has “legs,” it means it keeps tearing ticket stubs week after week. “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” for example, opened with a weekend box office of $597,000, and then kept steadily chugging its way to a $241 million dollar domestic box office after 52 weeks in release. Fifty-two weeks. Think about that. That little indie romantic comedy stayed in theaters for one whole calendar year. Now that’s some seriously strong legs!

Per Screen Average
This is a key element in helping a distributor decide if he or she wants to expand your film into more theaters. For example, if your film makes $60,000 from being released on 30 screens, it has a $2,000 per screen average. But if your film earns $18,000 from being released on one screen, it has an $18,000 per screen average. Your distributor will be far more excited about expanding your film’s release from $18,000 on one screen as opposed to $60,000 on 30 screens. So remember, it’s not about the number of screens you get, it’s the number of “butts in seats” you get into each screening.

Rent-A-Distributor
If you remember nothing else from this article, please remember this: it is NEVER a good idea to pay a distributor up front to release your film theatrically. If they’re not willing to put their own money behind your film, then they clearly don’t believe in your film. All you’re doing by paying them to release your film, is paying for their overhead, their rent and their twin Ferraris.

Platform Releases
This is the kind of release you want for your brilliant independent film, and you want it with Fox Searchlight. A platform release is strategically placing your film on a few screens in key cities and utilizing critical acclaim word-of-mouth to carry it forward.

You want to work with Fox Searchlight because they’re the best at it. For example, in 2008 Fox Searchlight released “Slumdog Millionaire” on ten screens, earning $360,000 (that’s an incredible $36,000 per screen average). The picture eventually expanded to 2,943 screens, earning $141.3 million domestically, another $236.6 million internationally, and took home eight Oscars including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay.

Furthermore, in 2004, Fox Searchlight released “Sideways” on four screens. That picture went on to play 1,786 screens and earned an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay.
If you’re wondering what my connection to Fox Searchlight is, the answer is nothing outside of my admiration for their ability to curate great indies.

Four Walling
This is the dangerous art of renting a theatrical screen from a theater or multiplex and showing your film on it. It’s simple. If your box office receipts eclipse your rental fee, you’re in profit. If not, you lose. Either way, the theater wins because they still get a healthy rental fee from you regardless whether the film hits or not.
If you’re thinking about four walling, it’s probably a good idea to rent their smallest screen at first – and only do so for one week – even if a stand-alone week costs a bit more than if you signed a multi-week contract. The reason is if your film is wildly successful, the theater will probably give you a much better deal for week two in a much bigger theater. But, if your film doesn’t catch fire, then at least you can cut your losses after one week.

Advertising is also a key element. Who is going to know or care about your film unless you create awareness? Targeting a specific audience who is likely to watch your film is your best bet in getting the support you need.
Location, location, location, as they say, is the most important element in four walling. Thus, do demographic research about the area before you choose a theater. Are the people in the area in the age range you’re targeting? Have they supported indie films in the past? Are they too conservative? Too liberal? Knowing these answers will enhance your chances of doing well.

Lastly, you should report your weekend grosses to the trades. Usually, grossing $3,500-$5,000 will break into the “Top 100 grossing films of the week.” This, of course, can help you keep your investors happy while they’re waiting to get their money back. However, distributors won’t take notice until your film grows “legs.”

The Exhibitor And Distributors Split
Generally speaking, a little over half of the domestic box office stays with the exhibitors (the theaters). While it’s true that major distributors will demand 90% of the opening weekend box office for their “tent pole” releases, most films released can’t command such a fee. Besides, even the 90/10 opening weekend split gets more favorable for the exhibitor week after week.

Coke And Popcorn Make The Real Money
Someone once said that TV shows were just advertisements between commercials. That statement is also true when it comes to concessions at movie theaters; theatrical films are just a way to get people to buy more Coke and popcorn. It’s estimated that somewhere between 88%-95% of a theater’s profit comes from concessions, not ticket sales.

Breaking Even Theatrically
Because the distributor gets slightly less than half of the total domestic box office gross, it’s widely believed theatrical releases must make 2.5 to 3 times their budget to break even. Of course, that assumption does not take international box office, DVD, cable, V.O.D. and TV sales into account. These all contribute toward helping a film break even. But, even with all of these ancillary markets, less than 20% of theatrical releases ever break even.

How A Film’s Rating Affects Box Office
Indie filmmakers have long been obsessed with making “R” rated films, because they’re supposedly hip to do. Sex, drugs, blood and weapons are staples that usually can’t be escaped. But, if you look at the numbers, the domestic audience much prefers “PG” ratings. The following chart from www.the-numbers.com details a 2009 breakdown for each MPAA rating:

Rank MPAA Rating Movies 2009 Gross Tickets Share
1 PG-13 138 $4,802,199,968 640,293,335 45.20%
2 R 179 $2,731,948,073 364,259,752 25.72%
3 PG 66 $2,717,426,214 362,323,496 25.58%
4 G 15 $298,233,758 39,764,500 2.81%
5 Not Rated 117 $73,554,038 9,807,204 .69%

As you can see, in 2009, over $7.5 billion dollars, or 70.78% of all money made at the domestic box office, was rated PG-13 or PG. That’s something to think about if you truly want to take your film theatrical.

Why Indies Usually Don’t Go Theatrical
It’s a simple case of math. Since most indies cost less than the catering budget of a studio film, it doesn’t make sense to invest tens of millions of dollars into marketing a small film that costs a fraction of the advertising budget needed to push it. Think of it this way, you wouldn’t put a $120,000 stereo system into an $8,000 car, because the stereo, albeit amazing, doesn’t make the car more valuable. The other factor is that major distributors only have so many theatrical slots per year that their staff can handle. Thus, taking on an indie film effectively takes away their ability to distribute one of their much larger, star-studded studio films.

When Films Are Traditionally Released
Indie films are traditionally released in the fall or winter, unless they have an Oscar buzz, at which time they will be released from November to December 25th. In fact, Christmas is the last day a film can be released in order to qualify for Academy Award consideration. This is because a film must be screened theatrically for seven consecutive days before the end of the year in order to qualify for consideration. Indie films traditionally don’t do well during the summer, because May through August is reserved for the mega-budgeted studio action films to eat up most of the box office dollars.

The Only Thing That Really Matters
Filmmakers get so caught up over wanting a theatrical run, they forget what really matters: making money. I know you’re telling yourself making money doesn’t matter, and all you want is to have audiences see your work. But, unless you’re a billionaire, making money always matters. It matters to your investors, your future distributors, and to the perception of how good of a filmmaker you are. The good news is people don’t care how your film makes money, they just care that it does. Meaning, a very successful film on DVD or cable will do far more for your career than a theatrical run that flops.
At the end of the day, all filmmakers really want is a generation defining, bank-breaking theatrical success, which will deliver the filmmaking bug to some nine year old kid in Kansas. But in order to have your moment in the sun, you’ve got to be wearing the appropriate “cinematic sunscreen.” Understanding the theatrical game will allow you to bask in the glory of your theatrical success. But, ignoring these time-tested facts will burn you, if not worse….

Thank you once more for lending me your eyes, and I hope to borrow them again next Tuesday!

Read more: http://www.filmthreat.com/features/24148/#ixzz1Eg5C2GoD

GOING BIONIC – Article #13, “HOW NOT TO GET SCREWED ON YOUR DISTRIBUTION CONTRACT” August 10, 2010

GOING BIONIC: DISTRIBUTING INDEPENDENT FILMS INTERNATIONALLY – HOW NOT TO GET SCREWED ON YOUR DISTRIBUTION CONTRACT!

I still remember how wide-eyed and excited I was when I attended my first American Film Market (AFM) in 1992. President Bill Clinton was less than two months into his term, and I was less than two months away from getting my Bachelor’s degree. As I entered the main floor, I was immersed in a zoo of overpriced Italian suits, snakeskin boots and naive wannabe filmmakers, who were ripe to get screwed by distributors. I remember approaching a self-proclaimed “big-shot” distributor and asking him how long his contracts with filmmakers were. He just smirked and said, “forty years, kid.” Forty years? I was twenty-four at the time, and all I could think about is if I had a film and signed with him today, I’d be a few months away from retirement when I got the rights to my film back. The experience was the first time I realized how badly filmmakers actually get screwed. It was a daunting and depressing moment that will forever be tattooed in my mind.
This brings me to today’s topic: How not to get screwed in your distribution contract.
Over the years, I’ve been screwed heartily by distributors (on things I produced) so, when I started my little international distribution/sales company, Edward Stencel and I took a vow to always offer very fair-pro-filmmaker contracts. Since both of us are filmmakers, the last thing we set out to do is to screw our own kind. Thus, here’s a few key points you should be aware of so you don’t get that “freshly-screwed feeling” before the ink dries from the pen you used to sign your film away.
Advance Payments
Getting an advance on an independent film these days has gone the way of the woolly mammoth and legwarmers. Even if you have a solid cast and a multi-million dollar budget, advances are hard to come by. If you demand an advance, just know it will probably be the last check you will ever see. This is because most distributors are afflicted with an inability to pay you a penny above the advance money they shelled out to you, because in their minds they already paid you for your film.
Money Guarantees (MG’s)
Money guarantees from independent distribution companies are usually nothing more than a piece of paper to get filmmakers to sign with them.  Most distributors are well aware of the fact your film is never going to generate the income needed to fulfill the MG. They also know if they told you the truth, you would have never signed with them in the first place.  So, once you complain about not getting paid your MG, your distributor will release the rights of your film back to you, instead of paying you the money they guaranteed.
Sales Projections
Swallow a pound of salt before you read or hear sales projections from a company trying to sign your film. I’ve personally lost films before because I was too honest. When you tell a filmmaker their $600,000 film would be lucky to recoup $120,000 in today’s marketplace, that filmmaker runs away. They’d obviously rather hear someone say it’s going to make “$3 million easy.” In fact, a filmmaker friend of mine once told me her previous distributor claimed her little $200,000 film would sell 2 million DVD’s. The only thing crazier than that boldface lie is my friend actually believed him.
Cross-Collateralization
Do not allow cross-collateralization to occur. This means your distributor can’t charge off losses from their other titles onto your title. Your film should have its own accounting, and your distributor should only charge you costs that you’ve agreed to.
Single Contract Packaging of Several Films
This one may make your stomach turn, so if you have Pepto-Bismol or Tums handy, get them ready…What a lot of fiercely unethical film distributors do is sell an army of films to one entity at a painfully low price, which forces the filmmakers to get screwed beyond belief while the distributor banks a big fee.
Here’s how it works:
The distributor signs 100 indie films, and then builds in outrageous administrative fees of $100,000-$250,000 into each film. Meaning, the distributor must first recoup these ridiculous fees in full, before they are legally obliged to pay the filmmakers their profits. So basically filmmakers are giving away the first $100,000-$250,000 in sales of their film to their distributor, plus their distributor will take their sales percentage on top of their administrative fees. If that doesn’t want to make you swallow a bottle of Pepto-Bismol, this will…
Then the distributor takes all 100 newly signed films, and sells them off to one entity for $1,000 per film. ($100,000 total). Since each filmmaker owes the distributor the first $100,000-$250,000 of their film’s sales, the $100,000 payment from the entity buying the films goes directly to the distributor. In the end, each filmmaker is still $99,000-$249,000 away from seeing dollar one, while the distributor pockets a cool $100,000. It’s sick, I know. Thus, make sure if your film is included in large package sale, it has its own contract and is not lumped into a single contract with 99 other films.
Term Lengths
The length of a contract truly depends on what your distributor gives you upfront. In the event your distributor pays you an advance, they’ll want the rights to your film for 10-25 years. However, if they’re not paying you an advance, 3-7 years is more reasonable. But, there’s also something tricky about term lengths you should clearly understand. These are the length of time your distributor has the right to your film – not the length of time they can sign your film away to another entity. An explanation, let’s say your distributor has your rights for Germany until August 14, 2010.  On August 13, 2010, they can sell your rights to Germany for 10 years. Thus, you may be out of a contract with your distributor on August 14, 2010 but your film rights in Germany are sold until August 14, 2024. In cases like this, your distributor is still on the hook for making sure you get paid for that last-minute deal, even if you’re film is no longer under contract with him or her. But of course, if you still owe your distributor money for administrative fees, the money from that last-minute deal will go straight into their pocket.
Payment Schedules
Distributors will usually pay 30-60 days after the end of each quarter. That is of course, if they ever pay you.
State Laws To Be Governed By
Regardless if you made your film in Kansas, Bombay or Brussels, it’s always a good idea to agree to have your contract governed under the laws of the State of California or the State of New York. I’m not saying this is because my company is in wonderfully sunny Los Angeles, I’m saying this because California and New York are the two places on the planet that have thousands of precedents from previous cases, which will clearly help your argument. Thus, taking a film related lawsuit to a court in Des Moines, Iowa (even if you are from Des Moines and made the film there) is far riskier than trusting the Meccas of filmmaking (California and New York) with your dispute.
Market Costs
Every distributor has them, just make sure you clearly understand how much they are. These costs are related to the cost of going to film markets, not marketing. Market costs are usually included in the “administrative fees,” but you should clarify that.
Advertising Costs
Make your distributor place a cap on how much they can charge you for advertising. If you don’t, every time they get close to having to pay you, they’ll tack on more advertising fees.
Sales Reports
Regardless of what your distributor agrees to, most of them will only generate a sales report for you after sales are initiated on your film. Since most indie films either a) never get a sale or b) get a sale several months or more than a year after signing the deal, don’t be freaked out if you don’t get a sales report for a while. Besides, what’s the point of sending you a sales report with no sales in it? It’d be like giving you a Big Mac with no meat in it. However, once you get your first sale, you should get regular sales reports.
Percentages
Here’s a simple rule of thumb: The bigger the budget, the lower the sales percentage. For example, an international distributor will usually get 8% -12% of sales on a budget of $50 million, but they’ll command 20%-25% of sales on films with budgets ranging from a few hundred thousand dollars to a few million dollars. On occasion, you may be able to negotiate having your distributor take a much higher percentage (30%-35%), in exchange for not charging you administrative fees. But, getting someone to agree to waive his or her administrative fees these days is quite unlikely. This is because current indie film sales are not high enough for the distributor to cover their overhead costs solely by their cut of sales.
The bottom line with distribution contracts is that they’re only as valid as the intentions of the distributor giving them to you.  The key is to go into every contract negotiation with your eyes open, your ears perked, and your hand armed with a pen ready to sign – if and only if you get yourself a fair contract.
Simply put, when you deal with most distributors over their contracts, imagine yourself being a gazelle thrown into a den of hungry lions. They’ll tear you apart given the chance, but you’re no ordinary gazelle. You’re “bionic,” and bionic gazelles will escape the deadly clutches of a bad distribution contract any day of the week.
Until next Tuesday, thanks for lending me your eyes.

Read more: http://www.filmthreat.com/features/24146/#ixzz1Eg4OAQda

GOING BIONIC – Article #12, “DEVELOPMENT HELL” August 3, 2010

GOING BIONIC: DISTRIBUTING INDEPENDENT FILMS INTERNATIONALLY – DEVELOPMENT HELL!

The first draft of the first screenplay I ever wrote left a lot to be desired. It was a family drama I wrote with a friend of mine in the fall of ’94, just months after I graduated UCLA Film School.  I still remember how sure Mike and I were we’d sell our script. Unfortunately, I also remember our first “big Hollywood meeting” where the overtly polished studio executive’s biggest suggestion for our script was for us to “buy a shovel.” That’s right, “buy a shovel” as in “bury this waste of paper and never dig it up again.” I was shocked, crushed and disillusioned.  I was even more depressed after the second, third and fourth drafts of the script triggered similar responses. This incessantly painful experience was my first (but not last) foray into DEVELOPMENT HELL!!!
For those of you who are wondering what development has to do with distribution, ask yourself what an engine has to do with a car. Like an engine, a solid script makes your film work. But without it, your film will be dead on arrival. This is clearly the case for independent films more so than studio films, because indies don’t have the luxury of a star-studded, $200 million dollar budget that can cleverly mask a really bad script.
After years of being a writer and a producer who has optioned several writers, I’ve compiled certain insights about the development game that may help you.  These insights are for writers with either no sales or limited sales to their credit. Once you’re earning $2 million per screenplay, or have an Oscar prominently placed on your mantle, some of the following suggestions may no longer apply to you.  But, until that earth-shattering, life-changing moment, you may wish to consider the following suggestions.  In an effort to promote clarity, I’ve separated my suggestions into two categories: Preparing Your Script and Submitting Your Script.
1) Preparing Your Script

The Standard Screenplay Length Has Shrunk!
The standard length of a screenplay is now 110 pages for dramas/action/thrillers, and 95-105 for comedies.  Like VHS tapes, 120 page screenplays are a thing of the past.
The First Thing A Development Executive Will Do Is…
Flip to the last page of your screenplay, to see how long it is. If he or she deems it to be too long, they will not read it. Your beloved life’s work will become a doorstop for a few months before it’s recycled.
Don’t List Your Copyright Or WGA Registration Number
Placing these numbers on your cover page is telling the person you’re submitting to that you think they’re going to steal your work.  Talent agencies never list registration numbers on their script cover pages, so you shouldn’t either.
A “Poor Man’s Copyright” Is Not An Actual Copyright
It always amazes me how few new writers register their screenplays with the U.S. Copyright Office. It only costs $40, and takes about 5 minutes of your time. Yet, not doing so will definitely put the rights to your screenplay in jeopardy.  Trust me, mailing your script back to yourself is not a legal copyright.  All you have to do to secure your work is go to the Library of Congress website and look up the Registrar of Copyrights.  Some writers choose to register their work at the WGA (Writers Guild of America). This is an excellent step to take in addition to, not instead of copyrighting your material. Remember, WGA registrations are good for five years, while copyrights are good for 99 years after you go to your final resting place.
Never Submit A First Draft
Ever. All first drafts (including mine) suck. Even Ernest Hemingway once said, “The first draft of anything is shit.” You’ll thank yourself later for not submitting a first draft, and you won’t even be able to read your own first draft once your script gets into a well-developed form.
Never Put The Draft Number On Your Script
Stating your script is a “first draft” will make your reader think you’re an idiot for submitting a first draft. Conversely, stating your script is a “fourteenth draft” will make your reader think your writing still sucks after fourteen tries, if in fact they don’t like your script.
Don’t Listen to Praise From Your Friends And Family
Family and friends won’t share their true opinion about your work in fear of damaging their relationship with you, so you must take their praise with a pound of salt. However, if you get praise from a qualified film industry professional who had no idea who you were at the time they read your work, then you may be on to something.
Get Coverage
Hire a company to write professional coverage for your script. If your coverage comes back strong, you could have something worthy. But, if it comes back weak, you’ll still benefit from having detailed notes on what to fix. Many screenwriting contests also offer these services.
Recognize Trends Of Opinion About Your Screenplay
If one person hates a specific story aspect or character in your screenplay, then make a mental note of it. But if four, five or six people mention the same problem, then you should change it
.
Know Your Audience
One of the keys to making a solid script is to know who you’re making it for. So, when you sit down to scratch out your first set of notes for your future-Oscar winner, ask yourself one simple question: “Who is going to pay $14 to watch this film in a theater?” Make sure you have that question clearly answered before you start writing, so you can craft your story to fit the demands of your audience.
Limit The Number Of Characters
Fewer characters are better, because they are easier to remember.  Once you confuse your reader, you lose any chance of having them buy or champion your script.
Give The Best Lines To Your Lead Character
Never give your best lines to sidekick characters. Remember, “I’ll be back,”  “Go ahead, make my day” and “You had me at hello,” were all delivered by lead characters.
Make Sure Your Characters Talk Naturally
Humans don’t usually converse with each other in complete sentences; so neither should your characters. In fact, if you pay close attention to your next real-life conversation, you’ll notice that you and the person you’re speaking with often cut each other off. Conversational dialogue delivered in short sentences will read better on paper and play better on screen.
Dovetail Your Characters
If you find you have too many characters who do too little in your story to matter, then combine (aka dovetail) those characters into a fewer number of more meaningful characters.
Don’t Fall into the Gender Trap
Women don’t talk differently than men in real life, so they shouldn’t do so in your script. Of course characters, whether they are male or female, will speak differently. But don’t have your characters talk differently just because they are female.
Don’t Fall Into The Age Trap
Thanks to the Internet age we live in, kids don’t talk like kids anymore (unless they’re really young).
Don’t Fall Into The Indie Filmmaker Trap
This is a crucial element of this development process. Here’s what you want to avoid:
1)   You write a script you love, so you send it to a few places.
2)   Those places say “no,” so you send it to a few more places.
3)   The new places say “no,” leaving you frustrated.
4)   Instead of rewriting, you make your film yourself.
5)   You risk your credit cards, car and other assets to do so.
6)   Two years later, you have a completed film – but it probably has a limited cast and a low production value.
7)   You send your film to the same places that rejected your script two years earlier.
8)   More often than not, they will reject your film, because you never bothered to change your screenplay.
The above sequence happens far more than it should. In my office alone, we get pitched a countless number of indie films that will probably never find a distributor. I often wonder if anyone told those filmmakers how limited their options would be after they finish their film, or if those filmmakers knew their film’s fate all along and wanted to make the picture anyway.
2) Submitting Your Script

Never Send Out Unsolicited Material
Mailing your script to a person or company, who never asked to read it, will do two things; a) burn your bridge with them b) get your script returned unread.  Always contact the person or place you’d like to submit to. They’ll probably require you to have an agent or entertainment attorney submit your screenplay to them. Due to the legalities, writers usually can’t submit their own work.
Submission Releases Are A Great Tool To Help Get Read
In the event that you can’t get an agent or entertainment attorney to submit your screenplay, you can contact the company you’re trying to submit to and ask them if they’ll accept a “signed submission release.” A submission release basically waives your right to sue the entity that would be reviewing your work, in the event they are developing or develop something in the future with similar elements to your screenplay.  Don’t worry, if they truly rip-off your script, having you sign a submission release won’t free them from legal action.
Keep An Open Mind During Development Meetings
So your script as about a 22 year-boy, but a development executive wants you to switch it to a 34 year-old woman. Listen to what they have to say before you shoot down their idea. Who knows, maybe they have an actor in mind that would love your script. One of the other reasons development executives may suggest radical changes, is because they’re trying to gage how easy you are to work with. In short, the more you say “never” to suggestions, the more you’ll hear “never” from them about buying your script.
Submit Your Screenplay To Screenwriting Contests
There are several screenwriting contests out there, but far fewer credible ones that have withstood the test of time and have the respect of the motion picture industry professionals. The contests that will get you noticed if you win them include: The Nicholl Fellowship, Chesterfield, Sundance, Slamdance, Zoetrope, Bluecat (very cool because every script submitted will receive notes back to the writer) Scriptapalooza, Script Pimp and The Austin Heart of Film.  You should do in-depth research on each contest and consider submitting to the one(s) you jive with.
*On a side note, I personally created a screenwriting contest called “Script Accessible,” which I currently house at the Slamdance Screenwriting Competition. “Script Accessible” is for writers with disabilities who are free to write about whatever they wish, as well as non-disabled writers who have a disabled lead character in their script. Should you fall within either of those two guidelines, and are interested in submitting, please contact Slamdance directly.

Be Patient With Feedback
It’s highly unlikely that the person reading your script will do so in a short amount of time. It will take at least several weeks, if not a few months for them to give you feedback. Contacting them weekly (or God forbid) daily isn’t going to make them read your work any quicker.  All it will do is piss them off.  You may want to contact them about every three weeks to check in on the status of your screenplay. Just remember the task of carving out an hour and a half to two hours to read a new writer can take a while to schedule.
Always Have At Least A Few Different Scripts Ready 
What if the film professional you’re meeting with likes you, but doesn’t think your script idea is right for them? If you have a few more script ideas ready to go, you can submit them instead. But, if you only have one idea, you’ll be seen like a one-trick pony and you’ll lose your contact to the professional.
Development Hell is a necessary evil to endure for your script to reach the heights you need it to. The journey is treacherous and oftentimes painful, but the results from a well-crafted screenplay can be wildly enjoyable.  Creating a great script will allow you to attach better talent, get a bigger distributor (way bigger than me) and ultimately allow you to go bionic.
They say good things come to those who wait, but remember, great things come to those who rewrite!
Thanks for lending me your eyes, and I’ll see you next week!

Read more: http://www.filmthreat.com/features/23966/#ixzz1Eg310APT

GOING BIONIC – Article #11, “CO-PRODUCTIONS – FINANCING – PART 2” July 27, 2010

GOING BIONIC: DISTRIBUTING INDEPENDENT FILMS INTERNATIONALLY – CO-PRODUCTIONS (FINANCING PART TWO)

Over the past five Octobers, my company has trekked to Tokyo, Japan to attend TIFFCOM, an up-and-coming film sales market that runs concurrent with the Tokyo Film Festival. Knowing that very few American companies attend TIFFCOM, and achieving healthy sales in Japan are primarily based on trust and relationships, Edward Stencel and I have found an oasis of opportunity just by maintaining our relationships there.
One amazingly productive event we engage in while we’re there is The Tokyo Project Gathering. TPG is a four-day international co-production market where filmmakers meet with producers, financiers and distributors from all over the world in order to discuss ways to collectively finance their projects. We usually listen to 25-35 pitches each per year, some of which are given to us via a translator (which is a very cool experience because it reinforces the fact that a great idea is a great idea in any language). If you knew me personally, you’d know that I love to: a) talk and b) meet people. So, I’m always a breath or two away from losing my voice at the end of each TPG.
The reason I’m mentioning TPG is to shed light on ways of financing your film that you may not be considering. While you may be asking yourself why I am suggesting you fly half way around the world to finance your film, ask yourself something else; why not? Tokyo is one of the most incredible cities on the planet where the food is great, the people are nice, and the Tokyo Fish Market is something you will never forget. Besides, a trip to Tokyo will only cost you about $2,500-$3,000. If that seems expensive, consider the fact you’re probably budgeting your film right now for several hundred thousand to a few million dollars. Thus, spending a few thousand dollars to get your dream financed is a pretty good trade off, isn’t it?
Another key co-production market that you should consider attending is the Producers Network during the Cannes Film Festival. Since Edward and I attend Cannes three times per year for the Cannes Film Festival/Film Market and two TV markets, I can assure you that you will not regret making your way to the South of France in May. It’s quite a breathtaking experience that will not only invigorate your creativity, but it will expand your Rolodex overnight. Cannes is clearly the Super Bowl of film events, so you will meet the best of the best from Africa to Austin and beyond. Of course, since you belong in that category yourself, you should probably meet your peers as soon as you can.
The co-production market at the European Film Market (EFM) during the Berlin Film Festival is also excellent. This event lasts two and a half days every February (not three days, but two and a half, since Germans are so exact about everything). The insight on this market is simple:
a)   Berlin is a world-class city and the Berlin Film Festival (where the co-production market is concurrent with) is one of the finest film festivals in existence.
b)   The people in Berlin are incredibly serious and committed to their craft, so the “flake factor” will be at a minimum.
c)   The weather in Berlin during February is about as cold as the weather in Hell is hot.
Okay, that comparison may be a bit exaggerated, but Berlin is damn cold. If you consider “snow” to be a four-letter word for more than one reason, make sure you’re bundled up before you go. Of course, I find Berlin in February to be especially unpleasant, because I’m in Park City the week before for Sundance. So, my teeth are usually chattering from mid-January to mid-February.
On a side note  – which has nothing to do about this article but is nonetheless interesting – several restaurants and hotel lobbies in Berlin in February have flat screen televisions with images of a chimney fire burning on them. When I saw them for the first time, I thought, “What the hell is a televised image of fire going to do for me? I’m still damn cold. Somebody, turn up the heat!” The hotels and restaurants claim that warm images of fire always help their guests feel warmer, but it think it’s probably the work of an incredibly gifted sales person who got them to buy into the scam.
The one thing to know about Cannes, Berlin and Tokyo is that since they’re incredibly fun cities to play in, everyone involved in the co-production markets are usually in a damn good mood. The best way to get something from someone is to ask them for what you need while they’re ridiculously happy. Thus, just as the person you’re pining to meet is sucking down his or her fourth shot at that mind-blowing, ridiculously ostentatious yacht party you slid into in Cannes, or at a cocktail party overlooking Potsdamer Platz in Berlin, or even during a 4 A.M. adventure to the Tokyo Fish Market, ask if you can buy them lunch sometime to discuss your project. They may be too busy to accept, but your gesture will probably get you their e-mail address, or at least get you their assistant’s e-mail address, which is a start.
Another thing to consider about going overseas is the fact that you endured a painfully long flight, lost luggage and delays at customs to find a way to finance your film, tells the people you meet with all they need to know about your commitment to your project. Besides, you’ll have a lot of fun. Film markets and co-production conferences are rarely placed in boring cities. I grew up in Kansas, which I still love dearly, but you’ll probably never see many international co-production movers and shakers converge at the Embassy Suites in Overland Park. You will, however, see them in Cannes, Tokyo, Berlin and other world-renowned destinations.
By the way, if you’re wondering why I’m not mentioning AFM in Santa Monica as a great place to initiate co-productions, it’s because the rapid decline of the Euro has directly affected how many European financiers and distributors make the trip to Santa Monica. Ever since the Euro has tumbled in value, I’m hearing several European financiers say they’re choosing to attend the European co-production markets in order to save money. Don’t get me wrong. AFM is a solid market, but if you want to fund your film from other parts of the world, then it may be a good idea to actually visit those parts of the world.
When you do grab your passport, buy an eye pillow (Bucky eye pillows are awesome) and fly the friendly skies to meet with the people who may help your dream become a reality, here are a few key points, which may help you have a positive experience.
Don’t Give Them A Copy of Your Script or DVD
Most people will want you to mail or e-mail them a copy of your work, instead of taking it from you on the spot. Even if they would accept your sample right then and there, tell them you’d rather send it to them after the market. This is because regardless of how interested they may be in your film, they probably won’t take your sample home with them. When you try to follow-up with them a few weeks later, they’ll just pass on your film instead of admitting they never actually gave it a look. Why won’t they give your film a look?  Simple. When a distributor, financier or like-minded person is at a film market or co-production gathering, they hear at least 100 different ideas. If every filmmaker gives them a DVD, script, one-sheet or an electronic press kit on their film, they have 100 extra things to pack in their suitcase the night before they fly home. Just imagine sitting in your hotel room, looking at 100 items that you have no space for, and wondering if it’s worth paying for the extra baggage fees to transport the work of filmmakers you met for forty-six seconds. Never mind the fact your luggage just got a hell of a lot heavier and more cumbersome to carry. See what I mean? Your film will either be thrown away or simply left in the hotel room. So, unless the cleaning staff of the hotel is in the business of financing films (which is possible, you never know), your work will be prematurely disregarded. The better move would be to send your work to their office a few days after they get home. That way, you will be fresh in their minds, and you won’t become one of the countless people they met at a party.
Don’t Talk About Your Film Too Much
If you give people the word-for-word, scene-by-scene account of your film, they’ll felt like they’ve already seen it and have no reason to inquire further about it. Keep it simple. Give them a taste, but not a full bite, and they’ll want the four-course dinner.
Ask Them About Themselves 
One of the biggest mistakes I see filmmakers making at co-production meetings is they’re so wrapped up into their film’s universe, they never bother to ask anything about the people they’re meeting. Spent some time learning about with whom you’re meeting, and you’ll quickly find out what they respond to and how you can best utilize their abilities to benefit your film.
Don’t Be Set In Stone Over How Your Film Should Be Made
If someone asks you if you’d consider changing you film from being about a drug bust in Detroit, to being about a drug ring in Paris, keep an open mind. If you flat-out say “no,” you’d better have a compelling reason why the city in your story can’t be changed. Just know the person inquiring about this change is probably asking you for two reasons; 1) They’re looking to see how open you are to changes in your film and 2) They may have a source of financing based in the location they’re inquiring about.
Keep An Open Mind With Casting
When dealing with co-productions, you’ll have to consider what every actor you choose to cast is worth on an international stage (When I say “actor” I mean both male and female actors). It’s amazing how varied the value of actors can be overseas. Thus, you could pay the same amount for two actors, where one could be worth ten times more than the other. Meeting with an international distributor/sales company would be a good first step to learning what your proposed actors are worth.
International co-productions may seem daunting or far-fetched, but they’re actuality rewarding and fun. If you notice I often mention the “fun” factor, just know it’s done on purpose. Fun work won’t seem like work at all, and what else could you ask for from a job?
The key to having a successful co-production is to create a multi-country collaboration to unlock financing hurdles together. Meaning, there is a stack of cash out there in some national, regional or city based production fund, in some country you’ve never put in your vacation plans, just waiting to be spent on your film. But that pile of green, blue, purple, or whatever color of currency finances your baby, will need certain elements to be involved in your film before the funds flow your way.  It’s like leading a horse to water. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. You can also lead a filmmaker to financing, but you can’t make him or her fly. But, if you choose to “fly” to help your film get off the ground, you’ll quickly meet the elements that you can turn around and thank during your Academy Award acceptance speech a few years from now.
Until next Tuesday, thanks for lending me your eyes.


Read more: http://www.filmthreat.com/features/23806/#ixzz1Eg2RAlSO

GOING BIONIC – Article #10, “INDIE FILM FINANCING – PART 1” July 20, 2010

GOING BIONIC: DISTRIBUTING INDEPENDENT FILMS INTERNATIONALLY – INDIE FILM FINANCING (PART ONE)

It was February of 2006. I had just returned from my annual birthday trip to the Super Bowl when I learned that an indie producer from the east coast wanted to hire me to rewrite a modern day pirate script. So we met, agreed on the value of my words, and I started writing. A week later my mailbox still hadn’t been graced with a check.  After avoiding my first several calls, my “producer” finally answered my call just long enough to try to renegotiate my price. Obviously, mutiny was afoot over my payday.
When we met again, I asked him how his film was being financed. His answer was the most harrowing and painfully unique I’ve ever heard. He claimed his film was going to be financed by lawsuit settlement money from a guy who was run over and turned into a quadriplegic.  Wow!  A recent quadriplegic wanting to risk the bulk of his settlement money on the second-most dangerous investment in America (restaurants being the first). What a huge mistake. I wasn’t sure if I should laugh, cry or puke, so I just gasped. One thing I was sure about is that I no longer wanted to have anything to do with his film.  God knows, I don’t need bad karma, and the producer never paid me anyway, so I bowed out.
That experience solidified my belief that indie producers will do anything – and I mean anything – to get their films financed.
This, of course brings us to today’s topic: Indie Film Financing.
Let me start by saying over the past sixteen years, I have directly invested in production financing for independent films, development financing for much larger films and I’ve been a indie producer who has tried to reel in investors. Throughout it all, I’ve made money, lost money and have learned hard lessons that will forever be tattooed in my memory.  So, my goal here today is to give you some insight on how to position your film in its best light to potential investors.
The Right Investors Aren’t In It For the Money
Classic film investors won’t be affected if you lose their money. Of course they usually want to make money (sometimes they don’t because of tax liability reasons) but their real reason for investing in an indie film is so they can tell their friends they’re an ‘executive producer.’ These investors are usually too busy to keep tabs on your film, or visit your set more than once. But, they’re also very shrewd and they need to make sure you know what you’re doing before they cut you a check. Thus, they will rake you over the coals on your budget and demand your production is filled with seasoned veterans. They will also ask you hard questions about your film’s distribution. In most cases, these investors have invested in films before, so be ready for an assault of challenging questions.  Obviously, their money is hard to get. But, it’s the best kind because you’ll keep getting it in the future if your film gets to breakeven or even gets close to breakeven for them. Plus, in the event your film tanks, these investors usually won’t cause you much grief because they’ll use the loss as a write-off on their taxes.
Getting ‘Dumb Money’ Is A Dumb Move
By ‘dumb money,’ I certainly don’t mean these types of investors are dumb. In fact, they’re usually quite intelligent and highly successful. Doctors, dentists, lawyers and corporate professionals usually fall into this category. These are people who make a very healthy living, but will certainly feel a pinch in their pocketbook if you lose their money. These investors are usually easier to get on board, because they have no idea they have a better chance of starting for the Los Angeles Lakers next season than they do of making their money back. They will also want to be on your set far more than you’ll want them to be there, and they will call you incessantly for updates. Be very careful with these types of investors, because they will come after you if their money is lost.
Be Honest With Family And Friends Who Invest
Let’s be honest; mom, dad, grandma, your siblings, cousins and your best friend from grade school don’t really believe your film is going to make them rich. In your mind they’re investing, but in their mind they’re donating. So, if you choose to take investment money from family and friends, it may be a good idea to ask them to give you the amount of money they can live with losing. That way making them money is a pleasant surprise. But, losing it won’t ruin your relationship with them.
Create a Business Plan That Makes Sense
If I had a dollar for every business plan that has come across my desk with ridiculous assumptions, promises and exorbitant fees for the filmmakers, I could actually afford to the buy the Ferrari I’ve always wanted. Some indie filmmakers try so hard to make their investment look like a good bet, they shoot themselves in the foot by going way overboard. Trust me, once your assumptions shoot into the galaxy of ridiculous, your potential investor won’t sign that check you’re pining for. So, in an effort to help you get that check signed, here are some insights on how investors view indie film business plans:
a) Your business plan doesn’t have to be Bible-thick, especially since 99% of your potential investors won’t read it anyway. They will, however, focus on two crucial aspects: how much money you’re asking for and when they should expect to see a return on their investment.
b) Don’t pay yourself too much money of your proposed budget. For example, if your film is a $1,000,000 budget, don’t pay yourself $100,000 to direct, another $100,000 to write and yet another $100,000 to produce.  Asking your potential investors to let you pocket $300,000 of a $1,000,000 budget will kill their interest. Remember, they don’t want you to get rich off their money  – they want you to get rich off the profits your film makes. In the meantime, they want to see you making just enough money to cover your bills during the shoot. Simply put, your investors want you to suffer alongside them until they get their money back.  Besides, if you ask for heavy fees, some investors will ask you to prove you’ve made the same level of money on your previous project (I know I always ask).
c) Demanding the investor sign a NDA (Non-Disclosure Agreement) before they look at your proposal is NOT a good strategic move. Think about it, if you’re asking an investor to give you money, you shouldn’t threaten them with a lawsuit.  In this age of lawsuit happy people, the last thing an investor will do is sign something that allows you to sue them. Thus, most of them (me included) would rather not get involved in looking at your business plan.  But if you insist on having a NDA signed, you should clearly notify your potential investor of your intention before you meet with them.  I was duped by such a crafty move several months ago, when I took a meeting with a producer friend of mine who wanted me to invest in and distribute her upcoming multi-picture production slate. Since I was very interested in working with her, I made sure I carved-out enough time for her and her producing partner to pitch me their slate. A very positive ninety-minute meeting ensued. But as the meeting winded down, my friend pulled out a NDA for me to sign. Asking me to sign an NDA after telling me all about her film slate? That doesn’t make any sense. Needless to say, I was a bit taken aback. On the inside I was thinking, “damn, what a waste of ninety-minutes,” while on the outside I politely told my friend and her partner that I don’t usually sign NDA’s for film business plans. My reason was because since I fly more than 100,000 miles per year to film festivals and film markets, I hear several dangerously similar ideas. I still highly respect my friend as a producer and would welcome the opportunity to work with her in the future, but if I had known that she wanted me to sign a NDA up front, I would have not taken the meeting.
d) The film successes you choose to compare your film with should be within the realm of believability. For example, if you’re making a $400,000 comedy, don’t compare its potential to “The Hangover” – which was a bigger studio film, with studio advertising and studio muscle at the theater chains. Try to find films with budgets like yours, and list how well they did without a theatrical release. Since getting a theatrical release on an indie film is like winning the lottery, your numbers should look strong without adding potential numbers at the box office. If they do, you’ll have a much better chance of getting a check cut.
e) If you choose to describe your film (tonally speaking) as a cross between two other films, make sure those two films were successful! You can’t imagine how many filmmakers will list their film is a cross between two critically-acclaimed indie films that nobody outside of the indie film world has ever heard of. Remember, investors don’t care if your film is like other critically acclaimed gems. They don’t care or if it plays at Cannes, Sundance and Berlin, or how many awards it’s won. All investors care about is making money. So, if you’re going to say your film is a cross between two others, make sure you mention highly successful titles that a even farmer in Kansas has heard of.
f) Make sure your numbers make sense, because once an investor thinks you’re clueless, you’ve lost them. I recently looked at a business plan, which stated since the filmmaker’s previous short film made 798% in the educational market, his feature film will make 798% in the mainstream market. Are you kidding me? How much did his short cost? A few thousand? How much does he want for his feature? A few million?  Anyone with half of a brain will see the flaw in that logic. Sometimes you have to take a step back from your financial pitch and ask yourself if you would actually buy what you’re selling.
g) Do not include your script with your business plan, unless your investor specifically asks for it. No, I’m not worried about an investor stealing your script; I’m worried about them reading it. Most investors have never read a screenplay, and so they may not understand the “EXT. DRIVEWAY – DAY” or the “CU: ON A BURNING CIGARETTE.” Just give them what they need and no more.
Only Take Money From Accredited Investors
Being an accredited investor means your investor is willing to sign a document stating they understand the high-risk nature of investing in your film, and they have the money to lose. Usually, this means the investor’s total net worth should be at least ten times greater than the amount they’re investing.  Making sure your investors are accredited is the one step that most independent producers ignore. But, it’s an important element of your investment package, because accredited investors can’t sue you if they lose money.
Treat Your Investors Like You’re Married To Them
Because you will be married to them, for at least few years. Before you take money from an investor, ask yourself if you’re okay with dealing with them on a frequent basis. I firmly believe some of the best investment money I ever dealt with was the money I chose not to deal with.
There are several ways to finance your independent film and since we’ve only covered investors and business plans today, I will continue discussing other ways of financing next week.
I wanted to reiterate that I’m not trying to be negative by continually mentioning how an investor can lose money in your film. Actually, I would love nothing more than watching your film become the next “Paranormal Activity”  (2007) or the next “Blair Witch Project” (1999). But, those films were: a) genre films and b) released eight years apart. Hence, such luck doesn’t strike often. The truth is, less than 18% of all films break even, including studio films. As for independent films, several thousand of them are made every year in America, but the average person usually hears about one or two of them. My mission here is to help you position your film so it can become one of those two.
In closing, just know that I firmly believe all things are possible.
When I was an eight-year-old kid in Overland Park, Kansas, I used to dream about moving to L.A. attending the UCLA School of Film, living at the beach, working in film and driving a German convertible with my UCLA alumni tags on it. Today, thirty-four years later, I do and have done all of the above. So the next time you get frustrated over the seemingly endless hurdles of financing your film, just think of me and tell yourself, “if that idiot can do it, so can I.”
Thank you for lending me your eyes, and I hope to borrow them again next Tuesday!

http://www.filmthreat.com/features/23714/#ixzz1Eg1iRzEx

GOING BIONIC – Article #9, “OMAR BENSON MILLER” July 13, 2010

GOING BIONIC: DISTRIBUTING INDEPENDENT FILMS INTERNATIONALLY – A BIONIC AFTERNOON WITH OMAR BENSON MILLER

I first met Omar Benson Miller at the Cannes Film Festival in May, when he was with his brother Terry, who is also his creative partner. We initially argued about the NBA playoffs, an argument that couldn’t be settled in one round. So, we decided to continue our sparing session over dinner on the Croisette. Since I’m a lifelong, die-hard Lakers fan and season ticket holder, I had to defend my beloved boys in purple and gold any way I could!
While we were at dinner, I was amazed at how humble and gracious Omar was with several fans who constantly interrupted us to ask him for an autograph or a picture. Every time, and I mean every single time – even when he had a mouthful of food – Omar always obliged his fans. That’s when I knew I wanted to get to know Omar and Terry better.  Soon thereafter, I learned that in addition to being a co-star on “CSI Miami,” Omar was going to be in “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” and that he had also recently written and directed his first independent film; a family comedy called, “Gordon Glass.” I still remember telling Omar and Terry that I was going to start writing a column for Film Threat, and that I definitely wanted to interview Omar for it someday. He said “sure,” just as another fan interrupted our dinner.
Flash forward a few months later to last Friday, when Omar and Terry were meeting me at my office to do this interview. Knowing Omar’s recent projects have given him a global reach, coupled with the fact that he’s also an independent filmmaker, made him the perfect interview for “Going Bionic,” in my opinion. It’s really cool to get some insight from a guy whose doing it on both scales, studio and independent.
When Omar and Terry showed up at my office, I greeted them in a deep purple polo shirt and purple Nike’s, just to rub in the fact that I was right about my Lakers. Omar burst out in laughter and teased me over my crazy purple shirt (pictured) and shoes (not pictured) before we headed into my office.
Omar nestled himself into a comfortable sofa with a bottle of water in his hand and the sounds of Hollywood and Vine outside my office window, as we started the interview.
You’re currently in “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” a massive release that opens in the U.S. on July 14th. It also opens in 36 additional countries before September 16th. Did you approach your role any differently, knowing how wide the release is globally?
No, no.  I’ve been doing the same stuff technique wise from when I did plays in college that nobody came to, to now a film [“The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”] that will, God willing, make a half a billion dollars or something like that. I don’t think the technique changes based on whose watching. I think that you have to do your best and figure out the angle you’re gonna connect with the material in the most honest way, at which point the audience will connect with you. That’s what I’ve found is the most delicate and important relationship. It’s this little triangle, to use a Laker reference, of how you relate to the material and how in-turn, that makes the material relate to you and the audience.
You also play Walter Simmons on “CSI Miami,” which is one of the most watched television shows on the planet.  Have you considered how your role on that show affects the people in different countries?
You know, I really hadn’t until we took that trip to Cannes and beforehand, I’d gone to Paris and Holland and…um… it’s amazing. Once I ran into Jerry Bruckheimer at the gym when I first started the show, and I was like, wow man, the power of this show is amazing. The way the people react now in the street is different than they reacted to when I was the guy in “Tranformers” or when I was the guy in “Shall We Dance” or “8 Mile” because the net that it casts is so much larger.  So, he [Jerry Bruckheimer ] responded, “wait till you go overseas.” And when I went overseas and got to see, it was amazing. It just further solidifies to me the power that art, film, television, and music has over the world and over people in general. I think it’s something that can be used for good or evil. And it’s very dangerous I think because some people get lost in the shuffle of using that power in the wrong way.  I’d like to influence people in a more positive way, and I think the show does that.
According to TV.COM, your fan approval rating for your work on “CSI Miami” is 94% – the highest of any actor on the show. What do you attribute your loyal following to? 
(beams and cracks-up as he looks over to Terry)
I think the only person that voted was my mom and my brother and my ex-girlfriend. And my ex-girlfriend was the 6%… You know, I don’t know. Thank God. That’s great. I’m glad that people were feeling it. That was one of my major concerns stepping to the show. The show already has an audience and is so established and [I was] hoping that they [the audience] would accept me, because if they don’t accept you, you’re going nowhere fast. I think it’s a testament to my writers. I get a lot of great material.
Knowing how visible you are internationally, both on the silver screen and the tube, are there images or you wish to portray through the characters you play?
Absolutely. I am very interested in promoting positive images of African American people worldwide. I think it’s time now in this Obama era to move forward, and now what I want to portray is positivity.
You’re also an independent filmmaker, who recently wrote, directed and starred in “Gordon Glass.” How different was it taking on your own indie project from being a part of much larger studio projects?
I was a bit more meticulous on the angles because it was all on us. The big thing about the financing the studio brings is that it makes everything easier. But, sometimes in making things easier I do believe it makes things less creative. I loved the family feel of the small film. I really enjoyed that, and I can’t wait to jump back into it on the next hiatus from the show.
Just having completed your first indie film, do you have any advice for filmmakers that may be in the same boat?
Absolutely. I’ll let my brother speak on this one.  (Terry answering) Just be persistent and you have to have a tight, tight budget, because it’s a really a big monster and that boy comes to life once you start working it. It can take you over. It can consume you, so you have a tight budget and stick to it.
As a director, do you have a vision, or a visual voice?
I definitely feel like I have a vision. “Gordon Glass” was the first piece that I directed and I feel like after I watch it now there’s a lot of things that I would’ve changed. The primary thing that I would change is being in the movie so much while directing it. It’s very difficult. When I watch people that I admire that are in the films they direct, guys like Spike Lee and Woody Allen, they’re not in the film in the capacity as the number one on the call sheet.  They’re in the poignant scenes and their characters are important for the story, but it’s [their time on screen] not enough to distract them from the overall goal, which is to make a good movie. I really want to focus on the stylization of my future work, and I really want to focus on the relationships I can build within the structure of the film. Coming from a performance background, my strong suit is dealing with performers and getting performances out of them. So, that’s something I need to focus on and I think that will happen for me more with the less I am in the movie.
Very few people will ever say that [about starring in your own film]
Yeah… I don’t know why. Nobody wants to be honest about it.
As a writer, what thought do you give to how your story will play to international audiences?
Certain topics encompass the whole world. When you start talking about family, faith. You know, they transcend your culture and your race. Because these are tenants of life, and if you can make those tenants of life intertwine with entertainment, you can really, really score. If you look at giant, giant films, they always deal with family of some sort. Look at “Star Wars.” “Star Wars” is a family story… it’s a dysfunctional story about a father and a son and a daughter that goes full circle.
You’re also a celebrated athlete.  Are there any similarities between how you prepare for a film or a game?
(Omar’s face lights up. He leans forward toward me as he answers).
Definitely. In sports, you have to prepare yourself physically and more importantly mentally. It’s a combination. Everyday something goes wrong when you’re shooting an independent film. So, you have to be mentally strong and mentally prepared to deal and problem-solve and be malleable and change your thought pattern.  The exact same tenants of success are in every single facet of life. It’s just about how you apply them.
You once said “I do not want to be one of those actors who are disillusioned by Hollywood Instead of letting Hollywood work me, I will work Hollywood.” Can you explain that?
(Omar grins)
It’s a common thing out here [in Hollywood] that the same people you step on getting up are the same people who are watching you when you come down. And, I don’t want to be one of those people. I’m interested in doing good business with the people that I’m involved with. I’m interested in making good projects and having fun at the same time.  Ultimately, I want to create art that lasts longer than me, than you, than my brother, that people can watch down the line and say, “man, that guy got it.” I want to be the person who can tow the line between art and commerce, and who doesn’t end up at the end of the day jaded despite what happens. Even if I catch a raw deal, I don’t want to be that jaded person because that’s just not who I am.
Tell us something that we may not know about you. Do you have a special ritual that you go through when you’re about to start a new project? 
(Omar leans back into the sofa, looks at his brother, and then grins widely).
I’ll tell you one thing that people don’t know I do. Every time I find out I got a job, I go see movie that night.  It’s like my way of giving back to Hollywood. Even if it’s something I don’t want to see. I just have to do it.
Ten years from now, when you look back at your body of work to that point, what would you like to see? 
So, say I look back ten years from now, I want to be able to be proud of the characters I played. I don’t want to have to hang my head, or hide my material from my kids, and be like, “ah, you don’t want to see that. They had me over a barrel, I needed the money.” (Omar laughs). I want to look back on meaningful work that touches people. My job is to make people feel and I think I’m successful with that because I’m honest with the material. And when people feel, they remember you, and that’s what’s been going on for the past ten years. So over the next ten years, God willing, you know, we’ll just continue to turn it up, keep getting these great opportunities, and maybe throw in a few films I made myself.
That’s where we wrapped-up the interview. Soon thereafter, Omar, Terry and I headed off to lunch to argue about if the newly revamped Miami Heat could beat my beloved Lakers next year (I think not)….
Omar Benson Miller was a pleasure to interview and it’s an honor to call him and his brother Terry my friends. Their honesty, talent, and relentless ethics are incredibly refreshing. Hollywood would be a much better place if there were more people like Omar and Terry. But since I’ll be looking up at my gravestone from six feet under before that day will come, I’ll just thank my lucky stars that a seemingly meaningless argument over basketball has lead me to this refreshing friendship with a creative force who has gone so very “bionic.”
Thank you again for lending me your eyes, and I’ll see you next Tuesday!!!



Read more: http://www.filmthreat.com/features/23507/#ixzz1Eg0tNYPx

GOING BIONIC – Article #8, “Territorial Insights” July 5, 2010

GOING BIONIC – DISTRIBUTING INDEPENDENT FILMS INTERNATIONALLY – “TERRITORIAL INSIGHTS”

One of the best lessons I ever learned about knowing my international territories came in Budapest, Hungary at DISCOP; a Film and TV content market “for growing world regions.”  I was at dinner with Edward Stencel, (a dear friend who helps run my company) and some new clients. We were at a hip restaurant on a boat called “Spoon,” when the conversation shifted to the emergence of Benelux. Benelux, I thought. What the hell is Benelux? It sounded like a virus, or a new military coup. As dinner wore on, I started to wonder why I’d never heard of it. Flashbacks of seventh grade suddenly arrested my thoughts as I remembered getting a “C” instead of a “B” on a world geography test because I failed to list the countries in North America (I listed the USA and Canada, but missed Mexico). So, before desert was upon us, I asked Edward where Benelux was.  He just gave me a look and said “Benelux isn’t a country. It stands for Belgium, Netherlands and Luxemburg.” I was surprised, but relieved.
The thing about film sales territories is you have to know where and what they are and how they work – before they can work for your film. Currently there’s about forty territories worldwide, but less than ten that will be financially significant to your film. I’m not saying that most film territories are insignificant, since all of them provide a vital platform for getting your film out. Nor am I saying your film will only sell to ten territories (although you should do cartwheels if it does sell to ten territories). What I am saying is don’t be surprised if some of the smaller territories offer you such little money for your film that you’re too offended to say yes.  At my company, we’re used to having small territories offer us a few hundred dollars for the rights to indie films. But, we never accept those lowball deals.  My rule of thumb is simple: If the offer is a) less than the cost of my Fed EX and related shipping costs to complete the deal, or b) if I know our client will surely go into cardiac arrest after hearing the offer, then I can’t accept it. But filmmaker-be-warned: there are more than a few distributors out there who will accept lowball deals. Those deals are too small to ever help you, and you’ll never see any money from them because they’ll be eaten up in your distributor’s fees.
Since there are many more “territorial insights” that you need to know, here are some key ones to consider.
How Territory Sales Work
Don’t worry. It’s simpler than it seems. Basically, buyers will offer to pay your distributor a “flat fee” for the right to distribute your film in their country. You get paid and they get your film. It’s that simple. They’ll pay for all language dubs and they’ll duplicate and market your DVD in their country. In rare cases, you can also get a back-end bonus on your DVD sales put into your contract. But, it’s almost impossible to get a distributor in another country to pay those bonuses. I’m sure it has happened before, but such a magical occurrence happens about as often as people prove the existence of Santa Claus.
The Going Rate
The Hollywood Reporter publishes an annual listing of how much territories will pay for films called “The Going Rate.” This very important listing used to be the Bible of film sales rates, as it set guidelines for how much companies would ask for their films. But, after worldwide financial meltdown of 2009, “The Going Rate” no longer publishes rates – they publish percentages. Meaning, instead of listing a dollar amount for what your film should sell for in Germany, they now list that a sale to Germany should pay you 7%-10% of your film’s budget. One thing to be aware of is that all of the rates are based on films costing $5-$15 million to produce. Thus, these rates are generally adjusted downward for indie films.

The Most Significant Territories
The two biggest territories are Germany and Japan. Getting healthy sales there will significantly increase the value of your sales in smaller territories. But, the opposite is also true. A weak sale to Germany or Japan equals almost no sales in smaller territories.
Insights on Selling to Germany
Bigger is always better in Deutschland. Big stars, big budgets, and stories with big scopes are what sell. High-end documentaries and some nature content also sell.
Insights on Selling To Japan
Sci-fi, Sci-Fi, Sci-Fi. Did I mention Sci-Fi? It seems as though Japanese buyers can’t get enough of good Sci-Fi. But, before you start writing the next “Star Wars,” you should know that a sale to Japan takes a lot more than a good film. It takes commitment from your distributor. For example, my company attends TIFFCOM every October (TIFFCOM is Tokyo’s sales market that coincides with the Tokyo Film Festival).  We also spend a hell of a lot of time while we’re there attending the Tokyo Project Gathering  – an area where we hear pitches on Japanese developed projects. Showing the Japanese buyers how committed we are to providing their territory with quality films and keeping our doors open to their product, is an important reason why we enjoy healthy sales to Japan.
Unlike other territories, Japan is not a place where a distributor can swoop in and make a quick buck. But, if nurtured correctly with honor, a relationship with Japan can provide decades of healthy sales.
Listing Of Percentages From Territories
As stated earlier, these are general guidelines on what percentage of your budget you should get from sales to the following territories. They are based on budgets between $5-$15 million, so smaller films will skew a bit lower. These rates, for example, are quoted from The Hollywood Reporter’s “The Going Rate” listing published on October 30, 2009:

Britain 7%-10%
Germany 7%-10%
France 6%-7%
Italy 4%-6%
Spain 3%-5%
Scandi [Navia] 1.5%-2.5%
Netherlands 1.5%-2.5%
Russia 2%-3%
All others in Eastern Europe 1%
Japan 0%-5%
Australia 2%-4%
South Korea 1.5%-2.5%
All Territories in Latin America 2%-3%
India, China, Mideast, Turkey, South Africa 2%

Key Notes About Some Territories
Germany usually also includes German-speaking Switzerland.
France is very hard to sell to, because their government limits how much American product can be distributed.
Pakistan is often times thrown in for free when your distributor sells to India.
What’s In A Name?
Your film’s title will probably change overseas.
What’s In A Look?
You film’s artwork will also definitely change in other countries. But don’t fear, they’re just trying to position your film in its best light to capture healthy sales. Actually, you should request posters of your film from the various countries your film sells to. That fun exercise will do two things: 1) Create a great conversation piece for your friends, future investors and lovers when they see how many different countries your film played in, and 2) You’ll get a sense on how your work is being marketed to other countries.
What’s In A Final Cut?
Some territories will re-edit your film in order to get it approved by their censor boards, or to make it more acceptable to their viewing audiences. I know this cuts into the hearts of many filmmakers, but think about it this way: is cutting out sixty-eight seconds from your film worth getting a $25,000 sale? Or, worse yet, is keeping your sixty-eight seconds worth losing a $25,000 sale? But you shouldn’t stress, because it’s doubtful you’ll ever be in Cambodia to see how they altered your film. Then again, maybe you should stress, because Cambodia would never pay $25,000 for your film – or any film for that matter. They’d alter your baby after paying no more than $500-$1,000 for the right to do so.
Financing Your Film From Territory Sales
This is getting more and more popular due to the world financial crisis, but because of the crisis, utilizing territory sales as a way to get financed is growing harder and harder. The main problem is territories won’t pay your distributor until after your film is completed. The ones that will agree to cutting a check before you start shooting will only do so inpre-sales.

Pre-Sales
Pre-sales are when a territory buys your film before you finish it, or sometimes even before you make it. But, these deals are generally reserved for star-driven films, which are made in bionic genres (action, thriller, sci-fi).
There’s a ton of things to know about the various territories, as their cultures, tastes, and business practices vary so much.  All of those elements factor into what kinds of films each territory will buy and how much they’ll pay for them. So, how do you learn more about this stuff? You could travel 100,000 miles per year to all of these sales markets worldwide like Edward Stencel and I do, or you could read as much as you can find on the topic. If you don’t have the frequent-flier miles ready to burn, or if reading doesn’t quite do it, you could also contact Edward’s new websitewww.FilmmakerAdvisor.com. Not only is Edward an international film sales professional, but he’s also a producer, as well as an advisory board member and programmer to various film festivals. In addition, Edward was also the first Filmmaker Advisor for I.F.P.L.A. (which has since changed its name to FIND – Film Independent). So, I’m sure he can help your film’s impending strategy.
In closing, I know the thought of understanding the various needs and wants of each territory can be daunting, but how is that different from understanding the needs and wants of your significant other who is wondering why you’re reading this article instead of spending “quality time” with them? In both cases, do the best you can, and let the Universe figure out the rest.
I thank you again for lending me your eyes, and I look forward to hopefully borrowing them again next Tuesday.

Read more: http://www.filmthreat.com/features/23275/#ixzz1Eg09Uvyr

GOING BIONIC – Article #7, “V.O.D. IS VERY V.I.P.” June 29, 2010

GOING BIONIC – DISTRIBUTING INDEPENDENT FILMS INTERNATIONALLY – V.O.D. IS VERY V.I.P.

I was a student at the UCLA Graduate School of Film Producers Program in the spring of 1994, (which was pure heaven and I’d recommend it to everyone) when one of my professors boasted about the seemingly limitless possibilities of an emerging technology called Video-On-Demand (V.O.D.).  Suddenly, millions of consumers would have hundreds of movie and TV choices at their fingertips – literally – through a touch of a button on their TV remote control. “You’ll be able to watch what you want, when you want. The TV Guide will become useless,” I remember my professor saying.
As I was absorbing the future of content delivery, all I could think about was that my dad might never leave his house again. Sixteen years later my dad has become such an, “I’ll watch it on my own TV” homebody, that it’s like pulling teeth to get him to a movie theater. Hell, after seeing his distaste for the new “Karate Kid” I don’t think I’ll get Dad to a movie theater for the rest of this decade. My dad’s seventy-one years young, and outside of the fact that he can’t use a computer (and hence can’t read these articles), he’s embracing how new technologies are changing the way we view filmed content.
My dad serves as a key example of how powerful V.O.D. can be for your film. Because if a seventy-one year old man can do it, imagine how much you can make from the technology-riddled seventeen year olds of the world. As DVDs go the way of the dinosaurs over the next handful of years, it’s good to be prepared to know some V.O.D. insights and strategies.
The “V.O.D. Gates” are Unlocked, But Not Yet Flooded
Like we discussed in last week’s article about DVDs, Video-On-Demand (V.O.D.) is not generating enough income to replace DVDs yet. In fact, I recently read an article where Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me, 30 Days) said his latest DVD residual check was for $60,000 while his accompanying V.O.D. check was for $2,500. But, as always, as technology continues to progress, those numbers will flip.
Attention Is More Important Than Access
Just because you can get your film on iTunes, or on a host of non-exclusive V.O.D. platforms, (neither of which is hard) doesn’t mean anyone knows that your film exists. Finding a way to get your film noticed can be as hard, or harder, than finding the money to make your film in the first place. Of course having certain elements like a notable cast and a “bionic” genre (i.e. action, sci-fi and thriller) will certainly help. But, you should have a clear idea about who your audience is and how you can exploit your product to them through the correct V.O.D. platform.
Find The Right V.O.D. Platform For Your Film
V.O.D. isn’t just a new way to get on-demand content through your TV. You can now send your content through computers, smart phones, to hotels, planes, trains and boats. Since there are various ways to sell your film through V.O.D., you should pay close attention to how each platform may benefit you. For example, comedy and action based content usually sell well over cell phone networks. I’ve always thought this was the case for two major reasons: 1) When you’re watching something on a 3” screen, the content must require little thought to enjoy. 2) People under the age of 25 buy most of the content sold to cell phones. Conversely, while family films do very well on cruises, more risqué adult based content thrives at hotels (of course, the strong marriage of adult films doing well at hotels must be from a rash of business travelers who miss their loved ones when they’re away from home….) Thus, understanding which V.O.D. platform to sell your film on will help you immensely toward generating a financial return.
Target Marketing Will Increase Your Sales Immensely
One of the ways to increase the overall health of your V.O.D. experience is to go to a V.O.D. supplier who specializes in your film’s specific genre. Obviously, if they promote other films like yours, their customer base is far more likely to buy your film. This can be a great help to films made in the harder-to-sell genres, because a more targeted marketing approach can do wonders in helping you find an audience for your film.
Don’t Leave Out The Goliath V.O.D. Supplier
Of course, engaging in target marketing doesn’t mean you shouldn’t house your film with a goliath supplier of V.O.D. Since most contracts with V.O.D. suppliers are non-exclusive, your distributor should exploit your film to multiple suppliers. Let me just clarify that point: Your contract with your distributor is always exclusive, but their contract with V.O.D. suppliers is usually non-exclusive. This means you can have your film available to multiple V.O.D. suppliers if it makes sense to do so.
Viral Campaigns Are Crucial To Your V.O.D. Success
Many V.O.D. suppliers also target certain age groups and genders through viral marketing. Thus, having a presence on the net is crucial to your success. I can’t emphasize this point enough. Since a healthy portion of V.O.D. sales are done over the computer, your film’s presence on the net (or lack thereof) is directly tied to your V.O.D. sales (or lack thereof). Make sure your film has a “fan page” on several social networks. Go onto Twitter and “tweet” updates about your film. Surely, nobody may care about your tweets, but it’s not about them caring. It’s about them seeing your film’s title – over and over and over again. It’s kind of like enduring the pain of a local election. Every time there’s a local school board seat or city council chair up for grabs, a sea of signs endorsing the candidates litter the front yards in your neighborhood. There’s always one candidate who has twice as many signs planted about, and that candidate usually wins the election. Not because he or she was better than their opponent, but because they blanketed the voters with their name and a smile – over and over again. Thus, if you can increase the number of people who see or hear about your cinematic masterpiece, the easier it’ll be to sell it to them.
V.O.D. Will Cut Down On Distribution Costs 
As soon as V.O.D. replaces DVDs, the overall cost of getting your film out will be less. Your distributor will no longer have to duplicate, replicate and ship your DVDs, and the time of getting your film to market will also sharply decease. Spending less on DVD production and shipping will mean more funds will be allocated to marketing and advertising, which of course is good for your film.
Don’t Cut-Off Your Nose To Spite Your Face
As previously discussed in the Going Bionic article about online distribution, you should be fully aware of the rules and regulations about how selling your film through V.O.D. will effect the other distribution models you have planned. For example, selling your film on V.O.D. before your theatrical release (if you’re lucky enough to get one) will kill it. Furthermore, it will also disqualify you from Academy Award consideration. Going to V.O.D. too early may also disqualify your film from most film festivals and will definitely lessen its value for DVD, TV, and with distributors. So please be careful on how you strategize your film’s release because an ill-timed misstep can trigger an otherwise avoidable tragic situation.
Video-On-Demand is a wonderful tool for filmmakers to utilize on their journey to make their film bionic. But, like all tools in your toolbox, you must know how to use it in order for it to work for you. Use it well and you’ll soon build your dream house. Use it poorly, and you’ll soon be in the doghouse. But, don’t fear, the “hammer” is in your hands. Just get a firm grip on it, take a deep breath and go create a smash on V.O.D.!
Thanks again for lending me your eyes and I’ll see you next Tuesday.

Read more: http://www.filmthreat.com/features/22975/#ixzz1Efzc4XNu

GOING BIONIC – Article #6, “RIP DVD” June 22, 2010

GOING BIONIC: DISTRIBUTING INDEPENDENT FILMS INTERNATIONALLY – R.I.P. DVD

It was right after “Star Wars” came out in May of 1977, when my dad brought home a totally groovy, bulky, space-age-looking silver box with red lights, clicking parts, and something called a corded remote control. I had no idea what my Dad’s newest prized possession was, but it looked like something Han Solo and Chewy would manipulate on their cockpit dashboard as they guided the Millennium Falcon through the seemingly endless galaxy. All I knew was that Dad was damn proud of his new toy and he paid north of $1,600 to get it.
It was of course our first VCR.
A whole new world of home entertainment suddenly opened up to my family because now we could watch our favorite movies in the comfort of our own home.  Admittedly, most of those movies were painfully long and wonderfully inept Indian films that sucked the life right out of me. But I did get to sneak in watching an “Empire Strikes Back” or two along the way.  My cinematic obsession of collecting movies on VHS bordered on insanity over the next two decades, as I would buy movies I didn’t even like just to have them in my collection. Hell, I still have several VHS videos I’ve never even unwrapped.
Then, in 2001, I followed in my father’s footsteps and paid $1,500 for a high-end version of the next generation in home entertainment, a DVD player.  My continued obsession to engulf myself into the newest form of entertainment got the best of me again, as I started building up an army of DVDs.
The interesting thing is nobody seemed to care when DVDs made VHS videos obsolete. DVDs were better, stronger and faster, hence “more bionic.” Everyone just seemed to accept the fact that their mountain of VHS tapes were about as useful as the dirty diapers they would soon accompany in the local landfill.
The transition from VHS tapes to DVDs was seemingly flawless because sales for new DVD players and DVD titles were very robust.  Hence, the entertainment industry didn’t feel the pinch of losing the entire sales market for VHS and VCR sales (there were over 900 million VCRs sold worldwide).
Obviously, that’s not the case today. DVD sales, much like my beloved nine and a half year old dog Pepper, are heading into the last four or five sunset years of their lives.  The problem is Video On Demand (V.O.D.) – the next technology that’s knocking on the door to force DVDs into retirement – isn’t bionic enough to replace deeply declining DVD sales.  Thus, DVDs are dying a slow death. It’s like knowing you can always beat your nephew in a game of “Horse” until that fateful day he gets a hell of a lot better and reminds you your days are numbered. You ponder how the hell your “technology” got so outdated overnight, and all you can think about is how it’s your own ass that will be kicked in the future. Simply put, I’m DVD and my nephew Sean is V.O.D.
This brings me to a few points that you should consider about selling DVDs in today’s worldwide marketplace. These points are meant to help position your film in its most advantageous light by understanding the darkness which surrounds it.
The DVD Market Is Not A Sales Justification For Making A Bad Film
It always amuses me when a filmmaker tells me it doesn’t matter how their film does theatrically or on cable, because they’ll “make the money up on DVD.” These days, those are famous last words right before you file for bankruptcy. While in the past major studios have enjoyed a steady diet of healthy DVD sales that have saved several theatrical failures, the “nutrients” of that diet are now depleted.  In fact, the only chance of having healthy DVD sales today is: a) having a hit theatrically, followed by a multi-million dollar marketing campaign, or b) creating a very specific DVD for a very targeted consumer base. Either way, it’s quite rare that DVD sales will help the financial viability of an average film. Not to say that you’ll make an average film, but if it doesn’t turn out to be as economically magical as you had hoped, don’t expect your DVD sales to save it.
Shelf Space At Retail Stores Is Disappearing for Indies
Quite a few DVD distributors have deals in place to sell their product on the shelves of major retailers like Wal-Mart and Target.  The problem is, all national retailers are slowly but surely killing their shelf space for DVDs. This makes it virtually impossible for anything other than a major studio release to get any shelf space whatsoever.  So you should ask your domestic DVD distributor what percentage of their DVD retail titles are actually indie films.  If they give you a satisfactory answer, then go on to ask them how many units they would expect to move on your title.  Lastly, you should ask what the expected time frame to get paid is, because I assure you it’s a lot longer than you think.
The Truth About Retail DVD Sales Is Ugly.
In an effort to give you some insight on how a retail DVD sale to a monster sized retail outlet works, here a few key points:
1)   You don’t set your DVD sales price. Neither does your distributor. The value of what your masterpiece will be sold for is determined by the retail chain, because they will give your distributor a “take it or leave it” offer.
2)    The big retail chain will make your distributor pay for the cost of producing, duplicating and shipping your DVDs to the retail chain. Now please be clear on this point – the retail chain does not buy any DVD copies of your film from your distributor. They have your distributor pay for your DVD copies and ship them to the retail chain without getting paid for them.
3)   Your DVD copies will sit on the shelves (or in the discount bins) of the retail stores for about nine months until they close the window on your first sales report. Does your distributor get paid for your DVDs then? Not even close…
4)   From the date your distributor gets the first sales report from the retail chain, the retail chain has another 3-6 months to pay your distributor.
5)   But… before the retail chain pays your distributor, they subtract all of the customer returns of your DVD. That really sucks, because on independent films 20%-70% of retail DVD sales are returned. Thus, your distributor may only see 30% of the original amount, one and a half years after making the sale.
6)   Once your distributor finally gets paid, they then have 3-6 more months before they have to pay you. Thus, filmmakers will usually have to wait 18-24 months to get paid on their domestic DVD deal. Nobody wins in this situation, outside of the goliath retail chain that gets to dictate the terms of getting their precious shelf space.
International DVD Territory Sales Generally Pay Out Quicker Than Domestic
The beautiful thing about selling your DVD rights to international companies is you generally get paid far quicker than doing a domestic deal. The difference is the foreign entities are paying a flat (negotiated) fee for your film. So, the first time you get paid will also be the last time you get paid on the deal.  Of course, there are some exceptions when a back-end profit can be negotiated on your DVD sales. Since your international distributor/sales agent is dealing with countries with various laws which limit what they can or cannot do legally to a company that owes them money on your film, you should be happy with your up-front fee because it’s probably all you’ll ever see.
Advances Are Generally Viewed As First And Last Payments To Filmmakers
Many distributors have an innate belief that if they pay a filmmaker an advance then they don’t ever have to pay that filmmaker a dime on the deal again. It’s crazy, I know. But that belief holds true, even in the most disgusting of circumstances. For example, one of my former clients shared his domestic DVD sales report from another company with me. His film had made over $1.5 million in domestic DVD sales, but he (the filmmaker) had only received…brace yourself for this… $20,000 from his initial advance. That’s it. Twenty grand. I’d love to tell you that such a hard screwing is rare and unusual, but I’d be lying if I said that.
Netflix Should Be Last On Your Dance Card, Not First
Many filmmakers don’t realize that selling your film to Netflix too early in the process will virtually kill most of your viable sales. Think about it. If consumers can get your movie through Netflix for free, then distributors probably won’t pay for the rights to sell it to other media forms (TV, Cable, V.O.D. etc). Don’t get me wrong; Netflix is an excellent outlet for your film. It’s just not the first outlet you want to plug into.
DVDs are like the rainforest. We love them dearly, but they are disappearing minute by minute. The key for us now is to embrace the next “seeds of technology” and hope like hell we’ll replenish our vast forest of entertainment.
Thank you for lending me your eyes and I’ll see you next Tuesday.

Read more: http://www.filmthreat.com/features/22843/#ixzz1Efz0Vkn8

GOING BIONIC – Article #5, “Online Distribution” June 15, 2010

GOING BIONIC: DISTRIBUTING INDEPENDENT FILMS INTERNATIONALLY – ONLINE DISTRIBUTION

I was on a flight home from New York in the spring of 2003 when the man sitting next to me was bawling his eyes out. While I respected his right to wallow in his pain within the confines of his own seat, after two hours of incessant wailing that rivaled a spoiled child on a bad day, I couldn’t take it anymore. So, somewhere over Kansas I finally asked him what was wrong. The man sheepishly replied that: a) he was getting divorced b) his wife won his dog in the divorce settlement (a dog she hated) and c) to “stab him with the knife of hatred,” his wife just had his perfectly healthy dog put to sleep and then she mailed him a copy of the ugly details. I was so disgusted I wanted to cry myself. But, before I joined his “tear party,” a lighting bolt of creative thought struck me and I suddenly came up with a TV show idea called “Pet Divorce Court” a California legal forum where divorcing couples fight over the custody of their pets. I wrote “Pet Divorce Court” on my remaining time “up in the air,” and then I had my idea copyrighted within hours of landing home in Los Angeles.
“Pet Divorce Court”
Years later I produced and directed a pilot for “Pet Divorce Court.” My experience introduced me to James Evans, the actor who played the courtroom bailiff. After his convincing role in my pilot, James went on to co-star as a prison guard in the “YouTube” sensation called “Paris Hilton Goes To Jail,” a video that at most recent count had 29,029,922 hits:
Having had more than fifty-eight million eyes see him in “Paris Hilton Goes To Jail,” James instantaneously enjoyed a rush of national publicity as well as getting more opportunities to act. But ultimately, being a “You Tube” sensation proved to be more of a conversation piece than a cornerstone piece to James’ career.
This brings us to this week’s topic: Online Distribution. Now, before you think I’m painting a picture with all black paint that’s void of any light, please consider the following example of how online distribution can be a game-changer for you.
I wanted to meet Brian Dalton the moment he won the best feature film award at the 2003 Temecula Valley International Film Festival for his hilarious comedy “Killing the Dream.” I thought Brian was really damn funny, and I was sure he’d tattoo his comedic style onto our society’s willing arm. Brian then “inked” his way into popular culture when he created the ingenious webisode series called “Mr. Deity.”
“Mr. Deity,” which chronicles the everyday life of being God, (played by Brian) was fledgling with a small yet smitten fan base, until “You Tube” showcased it on their front page. Suddenly, Brian’s witty and clever concept launched to seemingly limitless heights. Brian’s first episode, “Mr. Deity and the Evil,” had 469,903 hits, while the sophomore effort, “Mr. Deity and the Really Big Favor” followed with 291,188 hits. Not to be outshined, Brian’s third installment, “Mr. Deity and the Light,” slammed home 460,469 hits of its own. 
Proving to have a consistent fan base totaling 1,221,560 hits over the first three webisodes, (as opposed to having a one-time slam dunk that may garner several million hits on its own), “Mr. Deity” quickly grabbed the attention of a major Hollywood studio and struck a deal to produce one season for the studio.
After the agreement with the studio ran its course (as all agreements with studios eventually do), Brian got the rights to “Mr. Deity” back and then strategically built a very successful online sales model. With the support and sponsorship from Bob Parsons of Godaddy.com, Brian utilized “YouTube,” embeds, an RSS feed, “iTunes,” and over 20,000 subscribers, to build “Mr. Deity” into a tour de force that today commands between 400,000-600,000 views per episode. Thus, “Mr. Deity,” (which is about to launch its fourth season titled “Prequel”) has gone from being a hip side-project into being a very hip main project that also happens to be Brian Dalton’s full-time career.
While these case studies are examples of wildly successful online treats, please be advised that just like your favorite infomercial, these are “extraordinary cases, and actual results may vary.”
Furthermore, there are three key points that every filmmaker should know about the world of online distribution outside of your home country.
1) Always Have Internet Rights Clearly Defined.
When a filmmaker sells a distributor the retail distribution rights to their project, the filmmaker usually wants to hold back their Internet rights, or get an additional fee from the distributor for those rights. But, the filmmakers rarely read their contract close enough to realize that most distributors seize control of the Internet rights without having to pay for them, or even listing them under their rights held. Here’s how: If a distributor sells a film to Wal-Mart, Target, Blockbuster, etc., under a “retail deal,” all of those retailers will put the product up on their own website. Since they are considered retail companies with physical store locations, sales from their websites are considered to be a division of their retail stores and not Internet sales. So, if several major retailers are already selling the film on their websites, then the actual “internet rights” are primarily worthless because nobody is going to pay for something when everyone else is already selling it. This practice is especially ridiculous in the case of Amazon.com, because they too are widely accepted in the distribution world as being a retail store and not an Internet based sales. Amazon isn’t classified as an Internet based sale? It’s crazy, I know. Much like the time when my fifth grade teacher hit me over the head with a book for not comprehending a story problem that asked what a field gopher stood on (answer: his hind legs), I clearly cannot fathom how Amazon.com is considered to be a retail store and not a source of online sales.
2) Define Exact Territorial Boundaries On Sales.
Once your distributor buys your Internet rights, you MUST make sure they limit your sales to only the addresses within the country they bought your film for. Think about it, if a distributor buys your Internet rights for France, what’s stopping them from selling it to an address outside of France? Absolutely nothing if you don’t specify they can’t sell it to any household without a physical address in France. This can prove to be an important contractual distinction in your favor. Because if your distributor is selling you film to everyone on the planet who wants to download it, they are effectively killing its value. Not only will your internet rights in most countries be worth about as much as a used VHS cassette of some film student’s ten year-old short film, but such careless and unethical distribution practices will lead to the death, or near death of your TV, cable, and DVD values. Remember, if your Internet distributor doesn’t hold the other rights (TV, Cable, DVD), then they clearly won’t care if they destroy the value of those rights.
3) Send “Cease and Desist” Letters To Violators.
If you find that other Internet companies are selling your film illegally, notify your distributor immediately so they can have their lawyers send out letters demanding the violators to refrain from selling your product immediately. Most unethical companies are like criminals in the sense that they never think they’re going to get caught. Subsequently, they never think filmmakers have the wherewithal to do something about it, if and when they get caught. Even though the practice of sending out cease and desist letters may seem daunting, don’t stress too much over these pesky pirating issues, because a forceful letter from your distributor’s legal department should solve most infringement situations. Of course, your distributor will also monitor such violations, especially if they attend the major film sales markets worldwide. I’ve always believed that nobody protects his or her creation more than the creator. In other words, it’s your job help your distributor keep your baby safe.
Online distribution has always fascinated me because it truly embraces the essence “Going Bionic” by giving each and every filmmaker the opportunity to become an independent distributor. Filmmakers are no longer required to beg the major studios or agencies to approve or endorse their creativity, as all filmmakers need these days to get discovered by millions is a good idea, an Internet connection and a You Tube account.
Thank you once more for lending me your eyes, and I hope to borrow them again next Tuesday.

Read more: http://www.filmthreat.com/features/22640/#ixzz1EfyJftzr

GOING BIONIC – Article #4, “Film Festival Strategies” June 8, 2010

GOING BIONIC: DISTRIBUTING INDEPENDENT FILMS INTERNATIONALLY – FILM FESTIVAL STRATEGIES

I was gazing at a stuffed bear in a glass case at the airport in Fairbanks, Alaska when the first eerie, “what the hell am I getting myself into,” feeling arrested me. The bear wasn’t a cute little stuffed animal – he was very big and very dead, and was the proudest example of taxidermy that Fairbanks had to offer. My filmmaker buddy Steve Nelson and I were only in Fairbanks because we were en route to the 2001 Dawson City International Short Film Festival in Dawson City, Yukon. That’s right, the Canadian Yukon – incredibly damn north from everything and just south of the Arctic Circle. All I knew about Dawson City was it had been a thriving Gold Rush town and Steve and I were staying at a hip B&B called “Bombay Peggy’s,” which used to be a brothel. (Side Note: Owen Wilson, Steve Martin and Jack Black just stayed at Bombay Peggy’s last week, while they were shooting David Frankel’s new film, “The Big Year.”) So, as I bid farewell to “Mr. Bear” and boarded our plane, which was no larger than a Dodge minivan – I almost went into cardiac arrest when I realized our flight attendant was also our co-pilot! But, my fear quickly melted in sheer fascination as we flew over some of the most breathtaking unbridled wilderness on the planet.
Once Steve and I landed in Dawson City, we were immediately smitten. Nestled at the edge of the Yukon River and the Klondike River, this perfectly timeless location for a film festival sported gravel roads no streetlights and no cell phone service. In short, Dawson was a slice of Heaven itself and “Heaven” was graced by some of the most fiercely creative and wonderfully eclectic people I’d ever met. David, the festival director, was a gem of a guy who actually had his beloved dog sled him to work during the winter months. Wendy was the owner of “Bombay Peggy’s,” (the brothel turned high-end B&B) John, an artist turned Webmaster, turned Mayor of Dawson City and John the Vet, the town veterinarian turned animator, were also some of the town’s golden nuggets. Hell, I even befriended “Caveman Bill,” another fine artist who actually does live in a cave (I’m serious! Look at the photo attached). Throughout the weekend, I embraced the fact that this festival is exactly what all festivals should become, or strive to become again: a place to celebrate films and filmmakers, without the politics of trying to get a sale, an agent or even a distributor like me.
The only other time I experienced anywhere near the same level of magic at a film festival was in 1997, the first time I served on the jury of “Flickerfest,” a short film festival on the sand of Bondi Beach in Sydney, Australia. Flickerfest was a place where my fellow jury members and I would rush into the warm summer ocean waters between screenings – a practice that served the festival filmmakers quite well because their jury was always in a good mood.
In addition to having experienced film festival bliss from way up in the Great White Canadian North, to down under on the warm Sydney sands, I’ve attended well over 100 film festivals and have had the honor to be a judge, screener or panelist at several of them (including Sundance, SXSW, Slamdance, and Nashville (NaFF) to name a few). Thus, I have picked up a few trends about film festivals – all festivals – big and small – short and feature – that may be helpful.
So, here’s eleven key Film Festival Strategies:
1) Submit A Completed Film – Not A Rough Cut.
Filmmakers should refrain from applying with a rough cut or an otherwise incomplete film because your first impression is just that, your first impression. Trying to get noticed off a rough cut, would be like me back in my dating days, showing up on a blind date with my 5’4”, rail thin and somewhat disabled body, telling my date “Hi, I wanted to meet you right away, but don’t judge me for what you see. Give me a few months to make myself look better and I’ll come back a foot taller, far more buff and able bodied.” Obviously, that tactic would never work in dating, nor does it work while applying to a film festival. People can only see what they see, and what they see is forever tattooed in their memory.
2) Shorter Is Better.
Of course I believe “shorter is better” because I’m a short guy. But, with regard to films, this trend applies to both shorts and features.
With shorts, try to keep their total running time in single digits – under 10:00 – because the shorter your film is, the easier it is for the festival programmer to find it a slot. It’s easy to program a six-minute short in front of a feature film or in a shorts program, but a thirty-six minute short makes that task much harder. This is because most screening slots are two hours long including an intro and a Q&A session. So, a “long” short will miss out on several festivals that may have liked the film, but simply couldn’t find a slot for it. The other reason for keeping it short is that distributors, executives or agents can review it between meetings or over coffee. Conversely, a long short may sit on their submission pile for eternity, because the thought of watching something perceived to be too long is daunting.
With features, I’d try to keep your film somewhere between eighty-five and ninety-five minutes long, especially if your film isn’t laced with well-known actors. Longer indie films without stars tend to become less effective after about ninety minutes or so. For example, when I was a screener for Sundance in 2005, I saw seventy-eight features in five weeks. When all you’re doing for over a month is watching movies from morning till moonlight, there’s a noticeable difference between watching a very good ninety-minute film and a drawn out two hour film that could have been a very good ninety-minute film.
3) Avoid Student Film Markers.
Most student films are littered with drugs, weapons, nudity and foul language. While I love these elements when they enhance the fabric of the story, like in “Scarface” (1983) and “Raging Bull” (1980), several indies use them so incessantly that their film gets lost in the mix with thousands of other films just like it. I’ve always believed that doing something fresh and different is a far more potent weapon than using a potent weapon.
History tends to support my claim as most Oscar winning and nominated shorts of late tend to be fresh and quirky, rather than dark and deadly.
4) It’s Where You Start, Not Where You Finish.
Unlike most cases in life when your finish is more important than your start, the perceived value of your film on the film festival circuit is based on the first film festival that accepts you. Thus, having your “World Premiere” at Cannes, Berlin, Sundance, Toronto, SXSW or Tribeca is a dream come true. Subsequently, premiering at a small festival before you find out if any of the larger ones want you may turn into a nightmare because you will probably be disqualified from larger festivals for playing a smaller one first.
5) Be Careful Not To Play Too Many Festivals.
Do you know what a distributor thinks when an indie filmmaker says their film played thirty-eight film festivals? He or she immediately realizes that since the film has already played in so many cities for free, most of the people the distributor wanted to sell the film to have already seen it.
6) Hide Your Treasure Before Your Premiere.
Never show anyone a copy of your film before its Worldwide Premiere – unless a buyer/distributor is willing to buy your film before it premieres.
7) Don’t Hold Back DVD Copies From Distributors.
After your World Premiere, show distributors what you have. Most distributors can’t make screenings and it’s easier for them to watch it on DVD anyway. Don’t worry, if your film is solid on the silver screen, it should hold up on the tube.
8) Wine Is More Expensive Aged, But Films Aren’t.
If the goal is to get your film distributed, then you should think twice about going on a full-fledged, year long festival tour, because all you’re doing is making your film older and worth less money. Just play some key festivals, then get your baby sold while it’s still perceived as being new and fresh. In the event that your film fails to get distribution, then play as many festivals as your heart desires.
9) Construct A Great Website And Viral Campaign.
Make your website and Internet campaign hip and memorable by giving festival programmers and distributors a reason to visit it more than once. Just make sure that you don’t upload your actual film upon the Internet, because doing so may quickly disqualify you from many festivals.
10) Get Film Festivals Engaged Early On.
First do your research on what film festivals best suit the tone and genre of your film, and then contact them early on in your filming process. If you can get them engaged into your film, you may have a better shot at getting into their festival. Of course, your final product is what really matters, but a healthy relationship with a festival can often times tilt the chances of a “yes” into your favor.
11) Don’t Burn Bridges With Festivals.
There are quite a few reasons why festivals may pass on your film. They either didn’t like it, they liked it but it didn’t fit into a time slot, or it didn’t fit into their program’s theme, to name a few. Either way do not call festivals that rejected your film and give them a screaming piece of your mind. Always remember, not only do festival programmers have feelings, they have memories…
Much like a sixteen year old getting a driver’s license, getting accepted by a film festival is a privilege, not a right. Filmmakers should embrace film festivals as such (a privilege) because they may be your film’s best platform to capture an audience.
As always, I thank you for lending me your eyes, and I’ll see you next Tuesday!


Read more: http://www.filmthreat.com/features/22500/#ixzz1Efm96QQY

Going BIONIC – Article #3, “Packaging Your Film” June 1, 2010

GOING BIONIC: DISTRIBUTING INDEPENDENT FILMS INTERNATIONALLY – PACKAGING YOUR FILM

It was July 20, 1984, when I piloted my fierce navy blue Camaro to my local movie theater in Overland Park, Kansas to Eddie Murphy’s newest comic masterpiece. I was 16, recently licensed, and if I got to the theater quick enough – my buddy who worked there was going to sell me the much-coveted “R” rated ticket. As I broke red light after red light to get there on time, I remember thinking how blessed I was that I actually landed a “golden ticket” to what would surely be a memorable film. My cinematic experience that evening was beyond memorable, as watching “Best Defense” forever tattooed a painful memory into the depths of my mind. I was crushed. “Best Defense” sucked and Eddie Murphy was barely in the film. As the end credits rolled away, my disappointment swelled as I wondered how I got duped out of my $3.75 – (slightly more than my hourly wage at Showbizz Pizza) – for a stupid movie with barely any minutes with the star I paid to see. Simply put, I had no defense against Paramount Studios packaging their hottest star (Eddie Murphy) into a dog of a film – in order to get me to pay to see it.
This, of course, bring us to today’s topic: Packaging Your Film (with stars and sellable names).
Before we get into to strategies on how to package your film and how to know whom to package, I must admit that in all fairness, Paramount Studios didn’t dupe me at all – they actually warned me. In fact, the “Best Defense” movie poster clearly warned all of us as it stated, “With strategic guest star Eddie Murphy.” Little did I know that Paramount’s “strategic guest star” was talking about their release strategy for the film, not the strategy within the film’s storyline.
Apparently, Eddie Murphy wasn’t originally in “Best Defense” and Paramount only created a role for him after the film failed miserably in test screenings. That’s why Eddie Murphy doesn’t interact with the other lead in the film (Dudley Moore). Eddie Murphy was an after-the-fact “star power” addition, trying to save an otherwise less than magical film. The move was a classic case of bad packaging.
Just so you don’t think that packaging your film with names is a bad thing to do, consider “Rain Man” (1988). This film’s genre doesn’t fall within the easiest ones to sell, until former CAA agent Michael Ovitz packaged his own clients Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman into the film. Suddenly, a script that was headed to become a TV movie suddenly morphed into a star-studded extravaganza that won four Academy Awards and became one of the most iconic films of its decade.
Before you start arguing that all I’ve mentioned are huge-budgeted studio releases, remember that indie films like “Pulp Fiction” (1994) got John Travolta and “Snatch” (2000) landed Brad Pitt and “Monster” (2003) landed Charlize Theron based on the strength of the script alone. Thus, while “stars” may seem out of reach, you can help the Universe align them toward your project, given the right tools.
So, let’s give you some “bionic” tools.
1) The “talent” in your film is crucial to its success, because “who is in the film” is the very first question that any international film buyer asks us when we’re trying to sell at a film market. That question precedes the second question, “what genre is it.” Thus, consider the elements of your film’s “talent” and “genre” as the yin and yang of your project. You may do okay with one, but having both will help you succeed harmoniously.
But, before you rush out and attach a name whom you think will be big enough to get you financed and distributed, you should meet with an international distributor-sales agent to learn what your proposed actor’s value is overseas. The reason is that an actor who is “sellable” overseas may have little to do with who is “sellable” in the USA (I use the term “actor(s)” for both male and female actors, since my wife is a doctor and nobody calls her a “doctress”….)
In explanation, you could be considering several actors for one role – all of which may cost the same money. But, they could all bring you vastly different international values. Whereas, one actor could possibly guarantee you most of your budget back internationally, another could bring you virtually nothing in sales. This phenomenon certainly isn’t the actors’ fault; it just reflects how tastes around the world differ. Sadly enough, it also reflects a few “ugly truths” about the international viability of actors. As you absorb these following two Neanderthal-minded “ugly truths” that I personally find appalling, just know these are truths that most international distributors and film buyers will never share outside of their own circles – much less ever to filmmakers. But, since reading this article puts you into “my circle”, I’m (un) happy to share the following:
1) Films with minority-based leads have little value 
(Outside of a few international superstars like Will Smith, Jackie Chan and Denzel Washington).
2) Films with female leads have even less value than films with minority-based male leads.
(Outside of international superstar Angelina Jolie).
Of course, as a minority myself, I’m working diligently to change these senseless trends by showcasing good work starring minorities and women, but I just wanted to share the information with you to keep you informed.
3) Four Elements That Capture an Actor’s Attention.
When you’re trying to get to an actor, these four elements that may be able to help you get your star:
a) Money.
b) Material.
c) Opportunity.
d) Purpose.
Money is the easiest route to getting someone solid attached. But, if you don’t have deep pockets, or if you can’t get your hands into someone else’s deep pockets, then your material (a strong script with challenging roles) may also land you a name.
Of course in the event that you don’t have money or a great script, you can still peak someone’s interest by offering an opportunity they haven’t been offered before (i.e. letting them direct, produce, write, or in the case of Charlize Theron in “Monster,” offer them an eventual Oscar-winning role that’s a great departure from what they’re known for).
Lastly, many actors will do independent films that are aligned with their own chosen purpose, whether it’s political or social. Thus, if your script showcases something they believe in, the actor may climb on-board, just to get the word out about their cause.
3) Getting Your Material to the Actor.
While getting to top-notch talent may feel like a 100-year war in itself, it may be worth your wait if you feel your script deserves such treatment. Unlike some indie filmmakers who try to slip scripts to big actors through a grip or make-up person who recently worked with them, or better yet, stalking the actor at a grocery store they frequent (all situations that filmmakers I know have tried), I firmly believe the best way to land the talent you want is to go through the front door.
First, go to their agent and make sure you have a record of contacting the agent, even if they turn you away. This is important to document, so in the event the agent gets pissed-off that you went around them to land the actor, you’ll have proof that you approached the agent first. Just remember that you can’t complete the process of attaching an actor without eventually dealing with their agent – so be nice to the agents even if you crash and burn with them early on.
On that note, I find too often that filmmakers blame agents for not allowing their clients to attach themselves to small, non-financed films even if the actor wants to do it. Trust me, it’s not personal; the agents are just keeping the value of their clients safe. If an actor gets attached to an un-financed indie film that never gets made, the actor’s value decreases because the word gets out that their name “can’t even finance an indie film.” If you look at it from that angle, protecting them makes perfect sense.
Second, check to see if the actor has a production company. If so, the actor may have a vested interest in any film made through his or her own production company (since they’ll get paid twice – as an actor and as an production company).
Another good place to go is an actor’s manager, because they are usually tied to the actor’s films as a producer in addition to their management fee.
You can also try is to win or place well at a notable screenwriting contest. Some of the best ones around (in no particular order) are The Nicholl Fellowship, The Sundance Writing Labs and the Slamdance Screenwriting Competition. In all three cases, if your script wins or places, you will get noticed.
I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to try to get a “name” in your film. It may take you a lot longer to get your film made, but it will be well worth the wait – because who you have in your film defines its value worldwide.
This brings us to a twist onto the age-old question “If a tree falls in the forest, but nobody is there to hear it, does it make a noise?” I have no idea about the tree, but I wonder, “if an indie film gets made without names and nobody’s there to see it, was it ever really made?”
I hope you had a wonderful Memorial Day Weekend. 
Thank you for lending me you eyes and I look forward to seeing you here again next Tuesday.

Read more: http://www.filmthreat.com/features/22381/#ixzz1Efjr1H5o

Going BIONIC – Article #2, “Genres That Sell” May 25, 2010

GOING BIONIC: DISTRIBUTING INDEPENDENT FILMS INTERNATIONALLY – GENRES THAT SELL!

It was a crisp morning in the fall of 1979 when I first learned that I had won the district-wide “Why I love America” essay contest. I was a sixth grader at the now defunct Valley View grade school in Overland Park, Kansas and I had never been recognized for anything before (outside of talking in class, occasional tardiness, and being the last kid to learn how to tie my shoelaces). I still remember my mom leaving her shift at 7-11early so she could watch me recite my love for the red, white and blue to a cafeteria full of students, teachers and lunch ladies. The experience was amazing, and I left it swelling with the false belief that anything I created from thereon out would work flawlessly…
Such a belief proved to be fatal 21 years later in 2000, when I made my first (and last) short film called “Baptized at Lucky Lube.” My film was based on a true event when an inspired woman in the waiting room at Jiffy Lube declared that my left hand was “crippled, because I wasn’t Christian,” then she proceeded to pull out a pocket Bible from her cut-offs and offered to baptize me in the nearby water cooler. I was so sure that my personal story would get me noticed, that my ears fell deaf to the people close to me who warned me otherwise. After all, I was an “award-winning writer”… I was also an idiot who was overtly wrong. Although my short went on to play in over 20 film festivals in six countries, spawned another project and a road trip to the Yukon, and cemented my friendship with my lead actor Paul Griffin (who is now a celebrated novelist in New York City), it failed to get me where I wanted to go. None of the film festivals I got into were “game changers,” and none of the game changers (Cannes, Sundance, Berlin, Toronto) wanted my film. I was left stranded with a $36,000 six-minute film with an 18-minute accompanying CD soundtrack –that would spend its life cluttering a closet at my parents’ home.
My lesson learned on my short ten years ago is still valid for features today: Only certain genres sell well internationally. What are these “best bet” genres?
1) Action – which are always a slam-dunk.
2) Thrillers – which often do well.
3) Sci-Fi – which are the hottest genre these days, since replacing the dying demand of horror films.
The reason why these genres perform so well is because audiences don’t have to know the language in which these films were made, in order to understand their basic story. Think about it. You wouldn’t need to know English to follow “Die Hard,” “Fatal Attraction” or “Star Wars.” The opposite is also true, as in the cases of “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and “Life is Beautiful,” American audiences didn’t need to know Chinese or Italian to follow their basic stories through action and visuals.
Furthermore, this “best bet genre” rule doesn’t only apply to studio releases, as my company has enjoyed success distributing smaller films within these genres. Namely, we distributed a small Australian action film called “Among Dead Men,” which has already made several times its budget internationally. We also executive produced and distributed an independent sci-fi film called “The Men Who Fell,” which actually is “huge in Japan”, and we’re now prepping the late 2010-early 2011 release of “Nydenion,” a $4 million dollar German based sci-fi film that will surely perform extremely well. Thus, the best way to ensure that you have a shot to make your money back is to make a film within these well performing genres.
If you think I’m saying that all films should be action, thrillers or sci-fi based, let me make it abundantly clear that I am by no means suggesting such a horrific thought. Many other genres are so vital to the enrichment of our society, culture and sanity, that life itself would be far less enjoyable if we were never graced with such gems like “Slumdog Millionaire,” “Slacker,” or “My Left Foot”. But, since my mission here is to help you go bionic, part of doing so is to understand what sells and why.
This brings us to the ugly topic of what genres generally won’t sell internationally. When it comes to comedies, romantic comedies, dramas, coming-of-age films, personal stories, family films, horror films and most documentaries – you have a better chance of winning the lottery than you do of enjoying healthy sales internationally. There are always exceptions, but they occur so rarely that if you’re blessed to be one of them, you have won the lottery.
I’ve personally experienced several instances when indie films made in the “difficult genres” have fallen flat overseas, as my company has represented many of these otherwise wonderful films. You have no idea how unpleasant it is for me to sit across from a filmmaker in my office and tell them that the film they maxed out their credit cards for, sold their car for, and in some cases put up their house for, is going to make less money overseas than it cost them in gasoline to drive over to my office. That visual may be harsh, but trust me – it’s true.
The reason that most genres don’t work overseas is because their content is specifically designed to work within the country they were made. For example, in comedies, what’s funny in Los Angeles may not be funny in Zimbabwe and in romantic comedies, what’s romantic in Nashville may be offensive in China. (Filmmaker beware! Romantic comedies are the kiss of death for international sales, as no other genre is harder to sell).
Family films are difficult to sell as well, because the very definition of what makes a family varies from country to country.
As for horror films, they’ve gone the way of the 80’s mullet (something I shamefully sported back then). In fact, there’s been so many horror films made lately, that they have saturated their own market to the point that they’re virtually worthless. Of course, you can still sell a standout slasher film every now and again, but it’s clearly become more of an exception rather than a rule.
Then we have dramas and documentaries, both of which usually flame out abroad because they require deep thought from the viewer – which cuts out the largest portion of moviegoers (men 14-25).
One way to combat this relentlessly painful uphill battle of selling difficult genres abroad, is to infuse them with “star power,” which, given the right star, can definitely change your fate. Although I’ll discuss strategies of packaging the right talent for your film in a future post, I will say that attaching star power, even for documentaries, will surely help your sales.
My company has actually done very well with star-driven documentaries. “Whaledreamers,” which was produced and narrated by Julian Lennon (Julian also did the music) and “Dalai Lama Renaissance,” which features his Holiness The Dalai Lama, with Harrison Ford narrating, have both sold throughout the world. But, even with “star power,” documentaries will usually never perform as well as narrative features, especially those narrative features that are made within the action, thrillers, or sci-fi genres.
In closing, I strongly feel that filmmakers should make the films they wish to – I just think it’s equally as important to know what you’re getting into before you bet the farm on your idea. Then again, it may not matter how well you do overseas, if you make the next “Napoleon Dynamite” or“Paranormal Activity” and sell the hell out of it domestically…
Thanks again for lending me your eyes, and I hope you see my next post again next Tuesday.

Read more: http://www.filmthreat.com/features/22250/#ixzz1EfjGZoMI

GOING BIONIC – Article #1, “Film Markets” May 18, 2010

GOING BIONIC: DISTRIBUTING INDEPENDENT FILMS INTERNATIONALLY – FILM MARKETS

On a flight home from the MIPTV television market in Cannes a few weeks ago, I was pondering how I would introduce myself and describe the world of selling independent films internationally to you. Then, before I landed in Los Angeles, the Eyjafjallajokall Volcano erupted in Iceland and instantaneously tortured millions of travel plans worldwide. Albeit tragic, the volcanic chaos gave me my answer: the selling of independent films, as we know it, has erupted like a furious volcano, leaving us with a chaotic pile of nasty ashes.
The good news is that we’re all Oscar Goldmans now and distributing independent films is our collective Steve Austin (not the wrestler “Stone Cold” Steve Austin).  I’m talking about the “Six Million Dollar Man.” Remember? “We can do it. We have the technology.”
Simply put, it’s time to go bionic.
Hi. I’m Hammad Zaidi of Lonely Seal Releasing, and my goal here is to give you the tools you need to make your film “bionic.” While I can’t help your film take on Sasquatch, or give it X-Ray vision, I can share distribution insights and strategies so your film can be primed to outperform its competitors throughout the world. With Internet based self-distribution on the rise, and video-on-demand technology about to force DVD’s into retirement, filmmakers have a vast array of distribution options these days. But, there’s a lot more to distributing your film than creating a viral campaign and hoping your YouTube clip gets more than one million hits. That’s where I come in.
While I certainly don’t have all the answers, I do fly more than 100,000 miles per year (four times around the world) with my company to major film markets and festivals in order to distribute films, documentaries and television. In fact, as I write this entry, I’m back in Cannes for the film festival and film market. My company’s “world tour” includes two more stops per year in Cannes for MIPCOM and MIPTV, (TV markets). We also get our passports stamped at the EFM Film Market during the Berlin Film Festival, FILMART in Hong Kong, TIFFCOM in Tokyo, and the Toronto Film Festival.
As for our “domestic tour,” we’re regulars at Sundance, Slamdance, SXSW and AFM in Santa Monica, as well as a few regional gems like the Kansas City Film Fest, Temecula and Nashville. We even sponsor a few film festivals including SXSW, Slamdance, and the Dawson City International Short Film Festival way up in the Canadian Yukon just south of the Arctic Circle.
Thus, my insights here stem from my daily experiences. I promise to be candid, up front and overtly truthful.
Now that you know a bit more about where I’m coming from, let’s dive into today’s topic: film markets. Film markets are essentially “swap meets” for movies; a place where international distribution companies (also commonly referred to as sales agents), trek from every corner of the globe to meet film buyers in order to negotiate, deliberate and orchestrate film and TV sales to several countries.  Imagine a collage of cultures, languages and traditions meshed together in a convention center style atmosphere, all taking place at some of the most amazing destinations on the planet (Cannes, Hong Kong, etc). Sound flawless?
Now imagine that most international film buyers know exactly what they will – or will not buy – before they see the first frame of the film in question. Thus, getting them to consider anything outside of what they’ve been instructed to buy for their country, is not the easiest task on your to-do list. Being rejected by buyers before they even consider your film, is a lot like being shot down by your object of obsession in high school, before you get a chance to say “hi” (of course I’d know nothing about that)…

Lonely Seal Releasing Booth at the 2010 Cannes Film Market

Another key point to know about film markets is that they are not film festivals. In fact, film markets and film festivals are about as different as the Jonas Brothers are from Judas Priest. While film festivals showcase budding and established talent, support independent visions and explore unconventional story telling, film markets care about one thing and one thing only: selling product. Oddly enough, most major film markets are married to major film festivals (Cannes Film Market With the Cannes Film Festival, EFM with Berlin, AFM with AFI). It’s a cruel marriage built mainly for financial convenience, as most of the films at film markets are not the type of films that get into film festivals. The exact opposite is usually also true, as several film festival films have less of a commercial appeal needed to thrive at film markets. Thus, when you’re making your film, you should consider which route suits your film best; a critically acclaimed film festival run, or sales at various film markets with virtually no acclaim. Both routes are valid and smart; it just depends on the needs of each specific project. Of course, in rare cases, you can have both.

Regarding my personal experience at film markets, I still remember attending my first Cannes Film Market with my company in 2006. I’d been to Cannes several times prior as a producer wanting to make contacts, but my eyes were opened much wider when I attended as a film sales company. The Cannes market was so amazingly crowded, and the parties were the size of small Kansas towns. I’m not kidding. The parties were actually held on yachts, in castles and even some on nearby private islands. Simply put, it was obvious that distributors would go to any lengths to get buyers to buy their films.
I was also blown away by the sheer number of movies represented at the market. There were over 10,000 films being sold, with 9,950 of them being titles I’ve never heard of. But, some titles were selling to multiple countries. With a television sale to Germany here, and a DVD deal to Japan there, every single aisle of the market I trekked seemed to have activity. As I comprehended the impact of a healthy film market, I couldn’t help but wonder how many people in Zimbabwe, Poland and Pakistan were watching indie made in Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Austin. I can’t say for sure, but I doubt those indie filmmakers ever considered how their films would play outside of the USA. If they had considered international audiences, their films would have clearly been bigger, stronger, and yes more “bionic”…
Don’t worry; we’ll discuss how to cast an “international net” with your film, in a future post. For now, I hope I’ve given you a good jumping-off point into taking your film bionic. Forgive me if my information seems daunting or depressing, as it’s not meant to. In fact, you should be ecstatic that everything is in distribution is changing, because you are the change. You’re in a legion of filmmakers that will reshape the world of distribution and guide it to its next form, while the “gatekeepers” are left wondering how the hell everyone slid through their gates.
I thank you for lending me you eyes for a few minutes, and I look forward to sending your eyes more information in the near future.

Read more: http://www.filmthreat.com/features/21996/#ixzz1EfiEfsaY