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15 Years of Film Distribution: The Then & Now

15 Years of Film Distribution: The Then & Now

indieWIRE and the Film Society of Lincoln Center packed the new amphitheater at the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center on Satuday for a panel on “15 Years of Distribution,” tied to iW’s 15th anniversary over the weekend.

Hosted by iW’s own Dana Harris, panelists included Richard Abramowitz from Abramorama, Amy Heller from Milestone, SnagFilms and FSLC’s Bingham Ray, Ira Deutchman (Emerging Pictures), Bob and Jeanne Berney from FilmDistrict, Mark Urman (Paladin) and Arianna Bocco (IFC Films/Sundance Selects).

While the distribution vets on the panel looked back on the 15 years of distribution and its evolution, many of the highlighted commentary could fit well in ‘distribution of the past 15 months.’ Urman advised aspiring filmmakers, “I would make a very good movie and then would pray a lot.”

Asked what advice she would give a filmmaker on which model today would work best, Bocco noted that there’s one-size-fits-all hybrid model for distribution today. “It depends on the film, we go into [strategy] with an every case scenario in mind.”

Bingham Ray, who co-founded October Films noted a bit of nostalgia for old theaters that have now become victims of the changing economics. “I’m nostalgic for theaters that are now Rite Aids,” he said.

On a related note, Jeanne Berney noted that her son found FilmDistrict’s “Insidious” for free online. “We said, ‘If you want to stay in college, give us the name of that site.'”

The full panel is below…

This Article is related to: Filmmaker Toolkit and tagged


Wonton Marshall

A waste of time and billing. These are companies financed by would-be ‘artists’, who fancy themselves ‘Film Makers’. Milestone is nothing more than a 50 year old in a basement. Abramorama is slightly more than that. He works from his small dining room. I guess any day above ground is better than below.

I learned nothing from people who have nothing to teach. Ask their accountants.

I take that back. I learned something. That is, don’t attend these functions. And thank g-d for air conditioning in mid July.


The fact is that most of these folks if not all were NY based distributors, and LA based ones were obviously not there. What bugged me about the “billing” of this panel was that it would be the end all / be all conversation. I do not think that Dana did a good job of asking questions, pointed questions. Next time, just ask all the questions from the audience, and we’ll get a point of view that may be refreshing, instead of anecdotes about piss in the halls, or what someone’s kids are saying/doing while watching movies. e.g., Arianna really didn’t say anything of substance that gave us a perspective into IFC’s motto/model/success/failure so we can learn some kernels of wisdom. And that’s because she wasn’t asked or given a chance to speak.

The nuts and bolts were not discussed. Accusations of color / cast / creed all that are baseless in general, but quite relevant as IW has consistently been accused of not supporting or covering minority films or filmmakers.

Frustrated Producer

Considering the debacle that only occurred a month ago at a film panel at Linc Center, centered around it being a male-centric collection of directors, forgetting that there was also a significant argument about it being an all-white panel is fairly strange on iW’s part. While I think it’s rather silly to dig up people of color for the sake of quelling such Monday morning conversation, much as it is to show underwhelming work at film fests from under-represented minority groups, it goes to show that there are either few people of color in the industry to be asked to contribute, or few in their Rolodex. That’s the real shame here.

Secondly, much like the Old Timer’s Day at any baseball stadium, the panelists offered nothing of substance in 90 minutes of time due to the fact that they were lobbed a bunch of softball questions in the first place for the privilege of ‘surviving’ for the past 15 years, even though the vast majority of these folks have worked for a number of companies each in that time. Which went to prove two things:

1) much like at festivals, panels about distribution are almost always disappointing due to the complete lack of obvious success stories and/or frank discussion about the reality behind the curtain,

and 2) when you don’t have the fortitude to stay with or keep a company open for more than 3 or 4 years, in the world of distribution, how much of a successful expert are you really?

Congrats to each for maybe putting 2 or 3 great, financially successfully films out each in the last 15 years, but if we did a track record for them all in this period, how impressed would we be at their credentials? And that’s not even a dig at them, it’s a comment of how hit and miss distribution is in general. If the best anyone’s gonna offer is, ““I would make a very good movie and then would pray a lot,” then the emperor’s new clothes have been revealed and everyone can go home.

Greedy Distributor

@frustratedproducer Damn, it’s too bad you weren’t on the panel to share all of your copious expertise in the realm of indie film distribution. What this really needed was an aloof, condescending voice to put things into perspective and empower filmmakers to completely forgo traditional methods of theatrical distribution and cut out those greedy distributors who really don’t do anything but count money all day anyways.

Then you could have shared your success stories and financial conquests to really bolster your argument that people like Arianna Bocco and Amy Heller really have no place declaring themselves experts in the world of film distribution. I mean just look at IFC’s pathetic track record:

Companies like Milestone (which has been around for over 20 years incidentally), Zeitgeist, Kino and Cinema Guild should be embarrassed too. It’s like everyday they are getting into their limos to go to work and think of ways to completely screw over hardworking filmmakers. Assholes.

So, Frustrated Producer, why don’t you stop using a fake name so that you can be invited to the next distribution panel and then you can impart to us your vast knowledge of the landscape and your foolproof way to fix it? Otherwise, please continue bitching on comment boards about how unfair the world of independent films is.

Dennis Doros

I’m a bit biased as the husband of one of the panelists (Amy Heller), but I do want to point out that IndieWire and FSLC made a strong effort to include women on this panel and several more were invited who couldn’t make it. As for minorities, Amy and I personally would have loved to have seen Carlos Gutiérrez, Haili Gerima, John Sinno, Dorothy Thompson or ‘Kgantsi Kgama (among others) on the panel.

BUT I find it very snarky to assume they weren’t asked AND to criticize the people (especially for the color of their skin or their age) who did show up and volunteer their time to share their experiences.

Finally, Amy and I are very proud of having the same job (and working hard and honestly at it) for 21 years and keeping Milestone going through thick or thin, but I doubt that makes us any smarter or more experienced in the field than the rest of the panel.

Daniel J. Harris

I would not blame the distributor, if you have any idea how slim the margins are in independent features you have never made a film.

If you are a real filmmaker turn the gun around and stare down the barrel, if you have nothing to say in film, please blow your goddamn head off.

Sydney Levine

When the new generation starts finding its success in distribution they will be on the panel but it will take a few years of experience…All the U.S. distributors are working like dogs to make indie and art house fare profitable and, as they have since the 40s, they must go head to head with the majors who control most theaters and the most widely visibly marketed VoD, Pay TV outlets etc.

Maybe IndieWIRE will host a panel on arthouse theaters who are also doing their best to hold their own against megabuck multiplexes.

IndieWIRE blog Shadow and Act is blogging on “colored”s African American films, AFFRIM is working hard to establish African American distribution, but the fact is, at this moment, the panelists above are the most seasoned and the most successful in the business.

Why do all the nastiest people come onto blog comments all the time?

Jonathan Dana

Great panel. It DID look like 15 years ago. And thanks to Indiewire for making it available to all of us who could not attend in person. X jd


wow. i learned nothing watching this. the most intelligent questions came from the audience. the nuts and bolts of the business were not talked about, which is odd since they billed this as the “last panel on indie distribution.” if this is how they want to do panels, then that’s a good thing.

eamonn bowles

go for it johan. and keep besmirching the character of people with your feeble assumptions. it’s incredibly easy to release films. go ahead. do it, man. these idiots did it, so it should be no problem for you. don’t sit around complaining. let see some action.

Johan Sloss

a cabal of remora fish — with too much (relative)
power for too long. these middle men should
be cut out of the process entirely.
they offer nothing (materially or creatively);
they lie about (and never share) profits.
indie filmmakers should deal directly
with the exhibitor chains and theater owners.

cosi dolce

usual suspects.


nice and white. just like indiewire likes it.

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