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by Peter Knegt
April 30, 2009 7:29 AM
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10 Tips For Strategizing Distribution Today

David Fenkel, Geoff Gilmore, Sara Pollack, Jon Reiss, Cynthia Swartz, Ryan Werner, and Steven Zeitchik at the Tribeca Talks: Industry panel Tuesday afternoon in New York. Photo by Peter Knegt.

Aimed at aspiring or challenged filmmakers, a Tribeca Film Festival panel discussion examined the emergence of innovative new strategies for marketing as well as digital distribution, and how there are now multiple ways for filmmakers to control what happens to their film. Six industry insiders gathered at the School of Visual Arts Theater in Manhattan to discuss alternative distribution and marketing 2.0 during the "Tribeca Talks: Tools of the Trade" session, moderated by The Hollywood Reporter's Steven Zeitchik.

Participants included an eclectic mix of voices, including Oscilloscope Laboratories founder David Fenkel, Tribeca Enterprises' Chief Creative Officer and former Sundance head Geoff Gilmore, You Tube's Entertainment Marketing Manager Sara Pollack, "Bomb It" filmmaker Jon Reiss, 42 West publicity's co-head Cynthia Swartz, and IFC Entertainment's Vice President of Marketing, Ryan Werner. The conversation was targeted at answering filmmakers' questions about the best formula for success in this confusing new landscape

Here are ten tips from the panelists:

1. The Safety Net Is Gone

"The system that we've evolved from has been going through this enormous change without us really even understanding [it]. Thirty years ago, video didn't exist. Pay television didn't exist. Those two ancillaries became the safety net for independent film. Everybody went out there with the idea that even if we don't make back theatrical we'll get half our money back with a pay television sale or some sort of video release. It's gone. After thirty years, that safety net is gone. And I've been using this joke for the last several years and it's not a very funny joke: The good news is that more films have been distributed in the theatrical marketplace than at any time since the 1950s. And what's the bad news? That more films have been distributed in the theatrical marketplace then at any time since the 1950s. Because the marketplace itself is so cutthroat, and so crowded, that all of the truths that used to be what made independent film work, are now going away." - Geoff Gilmore

2. Online Revenue Is Going To Come From Different Places

"You Tube, I think, from its conception was really a great place for film just by virtue of the fact that it's video-based and people are sharing stories and we have millions of people around the world tuning in to see what those stories are. It makes a lot of sense for film to be there. But I think there's a lot of work to be done... I don't think there is a silver bullet for monetization online. I think that it's gonna come from a lot of different places. We've clearly been experimenting with ad supported viewing and sharing ad revenue in the launch of shows and movies. But I think the money isn't always going to necessarily come directly tied to that video on YouTube, but there's a lot that goes on in ancilliary markets to help drive that revenue." - Sara Pollack

3. Be More Open To Working In Different Ways

"As filmmakers, you need to be more open to working in a different way. I think when we launched our day-and-date program [in which films are released simutaneously in theaters and on IFC's Festival Direct on cable on demand], a lot of people didn't understand it, and it took a lot of convincing. But I think as we worked with Steven Soderbergh [on 'Che'] and Gus Vant Sant [on 'Paranoid Park'], and a lot of major filmmakers, and also a lot of young, first time filmmakers... I think people have become a lot more open." - Ryan Werner

4. Change The Philosophy of the Theatrically Driven

"You know, I think the DVD market place is only part of the whole market place. I mean, in some ways, it doesn't matter to me whether a film comes to me downloaded, through a DVD, a network... You know, however it is. The real question is how do you market it? The real question is how is the audience going to find out about it? That's what [IFC's] Festival Direct was about. That was the whole thing. I mean, use a platform that gives you visibilty that allows you to then build off of that platform, by - in fact - changing the philosophy that everything has to be theatrically driven. That everything does not have to come out theatrically, be market-driven out of that theatrical exposure, and everything follows from that." - Geoff Gilmore

5. Believe In The Power of Some Sort of Theatrical

"Just about all of [Oscilloscope's] films are theatrically released. A lot of them are platform released out of New York, but we also do West-come-East, and some of our films can go more directly to non-theatrical... We do a lot of work at museums, and try to figure out the most cost-effective - yet productive - way to get the film out there. But we do believe in the power of some sort of theatrical, hopefully as big as possible." - David Fenkel

6. Expand The Notion Of Theatrical

"There's a whole world of "non-theatrical," which is actually very theatrical. You have to think about how whenever you're seeing a film with a group of people in a dark room, that's theatrical. It can be in a museum, it can be in a theater, it can be in a parking lot, it can be in a gallery... I think a lot of filmmakers now - before jettisoning theatrical completely - need to consider this. Because I agree, theatrical is really expensive, you do lose money if you're in an independent, it's very hard to break even at all. But if you expand the notion of what theatrical is... I think this notion that theatrical is 'in theaters for a week-long run' [is problematic]. I have to say our most profitable screenings for [my film] 'Bomb It' were one-day, two-day events, because people have to get down there - it's an event... There are ways to do it that are much less expensive." - Jon Reiss

7. Be More Involved as a Filmmaker

"The filmmakers need to be more involved. [We at IFC are] actually working on a movie right now called 'How To Be." It stars Robert Pattinson, and its not going to be theatrically released. But the filmmakers have taken the film on a tour around the country, booking different venues in major cities. And basically selling out thousand-seat theaters to screaming teeange girls. We just did it in New York over the weekend, and it totally sold out, with no advertising. And not really any publicity - it's all primarily through their Facebook page and their website. The movie is going to premiere on demand this week, and we're expecting it to do really, really well." - Ryan Werner

8. There's No One Right Way To Publicize Your Film

"The good news is there's all these different options [for publicity], the bad news is no one can really tell you which is the right one for your movie. You're going to have to make that decision yourself. It's hard. People come to us and ask 'what do you think we should do with our movie?' And I can tell you some options, but it's often so early that I can't tell you which is the right one. I don't think anybody up here [on this panel] could tell you which is the right one for sure. So it means a filmmaker has to take a lot more responsibility for his or her own film than they have in the past. You need to start thinking about who the audience for your movie is when you start making the movie." - Cynthia Swartz

9. Generating Audiences Is Your Responsibility

"Filmmakers need to realize that it's not just about making films, but it's about generating audience for our films. That's your responsibility, and frankly, it always has been in the independent world... Yes, it's a lot of work to do self-distribution or hybrid distribution. It's pretty much a year of your life... But you have to work and get your audience. The only person that's going to be the most passionate about your film is you." - Jon Reiss

10. Make a Film With The Right Scale In Mind

"When [in 1989], 'sex, lies and videotape,' was made and bought, they would have been very happy if they had gotten to $2 million, $3 million. Success was measured by $1 million gross. By the end of [the 1990s], it was $10 million. Now it's $25 million. People talk about breaking out beyond that. Everyone wants to be 'Slumdog,' or everyone wants to be 'Juno'... Unfortunately, it's misguiding people. It's giving you a sense that these are the real numbers you should be thinking about. When in fact, what we should be really talking about is going back to making a film with a different scale in mind. And having films be made for a price in which the audience that is available for going to a film can actually bring the revenue to the work, so that it actually breaks even... Unfortunately, too many people in this business have a hit-driven mentality." - Geoff Gilmore

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4 Comments

  • SeymourB | May 4, 2009 5:46 AMReply

    Independent filmmakers who are interested in selling digital downloads of their films online should check out http://www.bigstar.tv - they have a non-exclusive contract, and you set your own prices.

    Their whole site is dedicated to independent film.. It's the best one I've found so far.

  • pegu | May 4, 2009 2:27 AMReply

    @BigStar, I'm all for new distribution opportunities. Maybe I'm a little prudish in not wanting my film next to the other indie films like "Never Been Touched" or "Desperately Horny Housewives". Granted, the adult industry has always been a technology innovator/energizer (VHS, CDROM, online subscriptions), but I'd prefer to have completely different distrib platforms in cases like this.

  • ben77 | April 30, 2009 12:22 PMReply

    That's a great link, raveboy. Though I do have to say I found the statements here also quite helpful. Occasionally a little broad, sure, but this is a 1000 word article, not a book on how to make films. The last five statements in particular - which don't discuss the "old theatrical, DVD and television markets" at all but instead speak - broadly, but insightfully - to the evolution of publicity and marketing that, at least for me as a fairly new filmmaker that doesn't get a chance to attend film festivals very regularly, was very helpful.

  • thraveboy | April 30, 2009 9:40 AMReply

    Honestly, these just sounds like empty broad statements talking about the old theatrical, DVD, and television markets that don't give any direction of specifics to start even thinking about.

    There was a online roundtable a few weeks ago that I found a lot more insightful and the contributors seemed to have more specific and interesting ideas, or at least not as much "more of the same" that these points seem to make. Here's the link to that roundtable: http://bit.ly/UVDd3