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IFC Films President Jonathan Sehring Wants You to Know a Few Things

Photo of Jay A. Fernandez By Jay A. Fernandez | Indiewire August 28, 2012 at 1:22PM

IFC Films is like the smart, upstanding, stable older brother whose younger siblings tend to get credit and praise for things he has long ago made a habit of. Or at least that’s how Sundance Selects/IFC Films president Jonathan Sehring is seeing things lately. With Mike Birbiglia’s “Sleepwalk With Me” opening to a record-setting $65,000 on two screens at the IFC Center in New York this past weekend — and the recent press attention received by Roadside Attractions’ “Margin Call” and RADiUS-TWC’s “Bachelorette” as VOD successes — Sehring is finally in a mood to beat the IFC drums.
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OK — so why not? Why not, if you have a particular success in any medium, put it out?

I don’t think you guys would be writing about it six-to-eight times a year from us, and six-to-eight times a year from Magnolia. It stops becoming news when the same company’s doing the same thing over again. It’s news when a new entry does it.

"About Cherry"
"About Cherry"

True. And they have a right to try to point out that they’re moving into this space and did well with their first film.

We look at the success of a movie not just based on a theatrical gross, not just based on VOD, you have to look at all revenue streams and how a movie’s going to perform. We’re well above the industry standard by double — we send out participation checks to producers on somewhere between 70-80% of all the movies we’ve distributed. Believe me, that’s my greatest frustration. We’re primarily a film distribution company that’s part of a cable television network business, so our company’s core business is not theatrical film distribution, or film distribution in general. But the fact that we’re still here I think points towards how successful we are in the number of movies we distribute.

We went off on this whole tangent because we were talking about profitability, and you said, “We don’t crow about our successes,” and I think, Well, I asked you what you spent on it, you won’t tell me that, I’m sure you won’t tell me what you spent to market it, and you’re not going to tell me how many sales you had, so how would I know that you’re doing great?

OK, so, if I said something like, “About Cherry” did over a half a million dollars in this first week on VOD — that’s across all VOD platforms — which is what “Bachelorette” reported as well, that gives you an indication of how “About Cherry” is doing.

READ MORE: Here Are the 6 Reasons Why You Don't Know More About VOD Numbers

Well, that’s something. But I don’t know what you spent to get the movie.

Do you know what they spent to get “Bachelorette?”

I do, yes.

I can tell you we spent less than half of that.

So you spent under $1 million?

All I said is we spent less than half of what they spent to get “Bachelorette.”

The information I got from sources at the time was that they spent a little more than $2 million for it. So are you telling me that you spent “less than a million” or would you like to be more precise?

Yes, yes. I’ll tell you we spent less than that.

In the Loop
"In the Loop."
Obviously, its titillation factor aside, which is a huge selling point, what makes it a great fit for VOD? Is there something else that you think is driving it?

Cast and cast support. We’re fairly unique in the VOD landscape in that we have folders for all three of our labels — from Sundance Selects, IFC Films and our genre label IFC Midnight — on the cable VOD platform. That’s pretty unique, you don’t see most companies have that, so they’re destination places for us. That has really differentiated us. When people go to those folders, they know the type of movie they’re going to get. What works aside from the brand, as I said before, is support, be it directors, producers, cast support. We were the first people to bring cast in to promote a movie on the VOD platform. I read someplace that “Bachelorette” was doing it. We’ve been doing it for five years, and I think Magnolia’s been doing it for almost as long, as well. So that’s nothing new, but it’s really critical for independent movies and for specialized movies, cast support and producer-director support. All hands on deck. Probably the toughest thing for everybody to acknowledge is getting the talent managers to get their talent to support day-and-date and to support VOD. That’s changed a lot over the past five years. But there are still some talent managers that say, “What? You’re not doing a major theatrical release? I’m not going to let my talent support it.” And that’s crazy.

READ MORE: WATCH: Franco-Filled Porn-Industry Flick 'About Cherry' Reveals Four New Provocative Clips

I imagine for them there is still a stigma attached to it, though that’s clearly changing, especially with films that come out of the festival environment.

Yeah, especially out of that. You look at a movie like “In the Loop.” [Co-writer-director] Armando [Iannucci] then went to work on “Veep” for HBO, and he got nominated for an Oscar for his screenplay. That was a day-and-date movie that got an Oscar nomination. Between that and Lena Dunham’s “Tiny Furniture,” they both got huge series on HBO, so to have talent managers not embrace this, I don’t know what they’re managing. The whole industry keeps changing under our feet. We continually are evolving our model, and we’re continuingly enjoying successes because of that. There’s definitely not just one way to release a movie.

"On The Road"
"On The Road"
You don’t release “On the Road” until late December. What does a Toronto presence do for you? What do you hope to get from screening there?

We bought the movie before Cannes, and we loved the film. For us it’s a step up. We normally haven’t done a movie like this. We just never found the right movie or had the right opportunity. We’ve definitely bid on movies of this pedigree and not gotten them. The response at Cannes was that some people loved it and some people were respectful of it, like some people loved the book. And Walter took a lot of that to heart. He’s gone back, and we’re unveiling a new cut in Toronto, which is about 15 minutes shorter. It’s a little over two hours now. He’s added certain things that weren’t in the cut that was in Cannes. He has been in New York and Rio and L.A. working on it the past couple of months, and it’s going to be very wet when it gets to Toronto. We’re locked, but they’re finishing the mix up right now. We’re very, very excited about it.

Given the history of the project, the cultural weight of the source material and the prestige of the filmmakers and actors, you could argue that this is one of IFC Films’ biggest movies. What does its reception and success at theaters mean for IFC moving forward? Do you hope to do bigger movies?

We thought this was an opportunity we couldn’t pass up. When we were afforded the opportunity to make the deal for it, we jumped at that opportunity. That’s just the type of company we are. Will we do big films? If they’re the right movies, if it was the right movie for us that we feel that we could do a great job on: Love the movie, big fans of the book, big fans of the cast, and they’re all great in it. Everybody here just wanted to work on it. We’re very much a team approach. That novel and that whole Beat thing, people take it so personally. Either they passionately love it or they passionately hate it, and that’s one of the things that really attracted us across the board, everyone in the company.

Email: jay@indiewire.com

Twitter: @writer730

This article is related to: IFC Films, Jonathan Sehring, VOD, On The Road, About Cherry, Sleepwalk With Me, Toronto International Film Festival, Sundance Selects, IFC Midnight