John Sloss at his Hot Docs Master Class.
Few folks in the independent film industry are more qualified to teach a master class on rights management and film distribution than John Sloss. Founder of Cinetic Media, a co-founder of both FilmBuff and Producers Distribution Agency (the theatrical distributor of "Exit Through the Gift Shop," "Senna," and more), Sloss himself has facilitated the sale and/financing of well over 300 films including "Before Midnight," "Little Miss Sunshine," "Precious," "Super Size Me," "The Kids Are All Right" and "We Need To Talk About Kevin."
Sloss has been at it for 30 years, and at Hot Docs Thursday he indeed taught a master class, opening this up by noting that he's never been "at a more
dynamic transitional period" in terms of the way he does his job in a quickly changing world of film distribution.
"For me, it's extremely exciting," he said. "It creates
great opportunities for people making movies."
For nearly 90 minutes at Hot Docs' industry center on the campus of the University of Toronto, Sloss sat down with a good hundred budding filmmakers, answering their questions about how to get their films out into the world. Here's 10 highlights:
1. On how to utilize the current state of distribution as a filmmaker: "Our general feeling at Cinetic -- and we say this on a daily basis -- is that all good films have one community in common: Cinephiles. Which are people who just love good films. But if you push through that and go beyond it, every film has other identifiable communities. What the promise of infinite storage in cyberspace brings -- together with the ability to market directly to the core community for your film -- is this idea that you can now go out and monetize. You can go find the eyeballs that we meant to see your film even if you don't get the interest of the various distributors that usually pay money to pick up all the rights and release films theatrically."
2. On the importance of a theatrical release (or lack thereof):
"If you want the most amount of people to see your film, it isn't something you'll necessarily accomplish by insisting on that it go through a theatrical release. There are films that lend themselves to theatrical release because of their spectacle or subject matter. But if you go to New York there are 22 films released every weekend and 18 of them just die a painful death. And I think those films actually get damaged in the after-market from having been released theatrically."
3. On handing over transactional rights to broadcasters:
"The short answer is that you should be mindful of this as a filmmaker. The default position of any broadcaster is to take all the rights, but most of them will get off that position if they really want your film."
4. On what to look out for with digital aggregation:
"I'm sick of the opaqueness of Hollywood accounting. Of distributors who basically tell you you are on a need-to-know basis. There are different components to aggregation. There's optimizing the film and being smart enough to know what the sequence of windowing and where the film should be so you can optimize the revenue. I'll give this example. I sold two films at the same time. One was "Freakonomics" and one was "Client 9." "Freakonomics" did huge business on iTunes and no business on cable/VOD. "Client 9" did huge business on cable/VOD and almost no business on iTunes. There's a lot of accumulated knowledge that comes with putting those films out and knowing what the sequence is. Can you do a stunt on Hulu for a day that functions as a word-of-mouth for transactional? It's sort of the wild west now... There's so many ways you can stunt and sequence a film to optimize it. And I think an aggregator should know that."
5. On how the filmmakers role does or doesn't change in the VOD space:
"I don't really see the filmmakers' role changing. I think filmmakers
have an obligation to shill for their movie. And I think anyone who
doesn't see it that way deserves the consequences. Especially in
documentaries. You can have the subject and the subject can be out there
selling the film. But it's about storytelling. The business we are in
is storytelling. If the storyteller basically can't get out and tell the
story about the story they are telling, then why are they doing it?
I've always taken that point of view.