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by Indiewire
November 6, 2013 11:25 AM
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Attention, Ted Sarandos: Indie Distributors Have Something to Say To You

Ted Sarandos

Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos has recently riled the industry with talk of day-and-date releasing films on the streaming service and accusations that theater owners will "kill movies" if they continue to resist multi-platform distribution.

Yesterday, Ted Sarandos backtracked saying that he wasn't calling for day and date on Netflix, but was just "calling to move all the windows up to get closer to what the consumer wants."

Whatever it is that he is calling for, it's clear that day-and-date continues to be a hot-button issue for the industry.

Of course, we know what the consumer wants: to have as many options as possible and to see movies when and where they want to as soon as they become available. But does that make financial sense for distributors and theater owners?

John Fithian, president/CEO of the National Association of Theater Owners told Deadline that, in fact, Netflix was imperiling the future of movies. But where do independent distributors fit into the equation? Surely, they want their films to be seen by the greatest number of people, but they need to make sure that revenue is generated.

We asked independent film distributors for their response to Sarandos' keynote and his suggestion that theater owners are killing film by quashing day-and-date releases on Netflix and their thoughts on the future of movie theaters and how we watch movies. Below are their unedited responses:

Mark Urman, Paladin:

God save us from keynote addresses.  Full of absolutes that become obsolete before you know it. Nothing and no one can kill the movies, certainly not the theater owners, many of whom have already adapted quite successfully to the changing tides.  True, the large commercial chains have yet to, and treat digital like it's the Antichrist, but they have their reasons.

Ultimately, the audience decides what it wants to see -- when, where, and how.  Theaters must cater to audiences, as do digital distributors. For that matter, filmmakers must as well.  So, it's all up to them, or should I say us?

So much change, so much confusion, but a few good movies are all we need to make things right.  And, does it really matter how people see them as long as revenue is generated? 

Sorry, but I have no BIG IDEA; just a lot of small ones, every day, most of them about movies and how to get them out into the world.

Ultimately, the audience decides what it wants to see -- when, where, and how.

Emily Russo, Zeitgeist Films:

That's not a surprising perspective to have from Ted. From my point of view, if that's his position then Netflix will also have to change their model for how they acquire product and in general be a more reliable partner.

Because the theatrical model, for all its risks, is still where we generate potentially, the greatest rewards for our titles.  Lots of sea changes going in in our industry, we're also trying to figure out the next 25 years (to follow the 25 we've successfully navigated).

Dylan Marchetti, Variance:

I understand why Mr. Sarandos wants every film to be on Netflix day and date. I want every (good) film to be a Variance release.  But he knows that any resistance here isn’t to day-and-date releasing, it's to "day-and-date and also free for Netflix subscribers."  Windows are important, and they are a science, and Sarandos knows that too… if they weren't, we'd see House of Cards
running on NBC at the same time it showed up on Netflix.  After all, everyone with a TV gets NBC, so aren't access to all those eyeballs what's best for the show?  Not necessarily -- because this isn't checkers, it's chess.

But since gauntlets are being thrown down, how about this one: If Netflix is serious about day and date movies on their platform, why don't they do what they did with television and put their money where their mouths are, go for original content?

If I were them, I'd give a million or so dollars to fifteen of the most exciting filmmakers out there (Manohla Dargis smartly suggested something similar to this last year).  No strings attached and no interference...make your dream project and it'll debut on Netflix, with an appropriate marketing push.

Give it to new school folks like Terence Nance, Eliza Hittman, Mike Ott, Ava DuVernay, Panos Cosmatos, Alex Ross Perry, Dee Rees. Give it to old pros like Lynn Ramsay, Sayles, Araki, Anders, Jarmusch, Linklater.  And don't forget foreign filmmakers like Sono, Lanthimos, To, Breillat, Cristian Mungiu… it's a global culture now, subtitles aren’t scary.  Don't get me started on the possibilities for docs.

Right there, for less than the price of half a season of House of Cards

, they'll have instantly developed the most interesting slate a distributor could hope for, and the films are theirs to do with as they please.  That's something I could do a roadshow or traveling festival with, going out the same day it was on Netflix (or even after), and people would show up for it in droves.  It'd bring more film fans to Netflix, and would provide proof to the bigger distributors as to whether or not the Netflix-centric model works.  
" I'm open to any model that is beneficial to filmmakers."

Speaking for Variance, I'm open to any model that is beneficial to filmmakers -- both in terms of visibility and finance-- and there's certainly a model (for the right film) where Netflix at the same time as theaters is a workable, positive thing... but there’s going to have to be some creativity in the design of it.  When I talk to musicians about how putting everything on Spotify has worked out for them, almost without exception most of them are not happy campers... so I can see why people are leery about the "all the movies you can eat for $9" model.  It's up to Netflix to prove that it's viable.

Richard Lorber, Kino Lorber, Inc.:

(Ted Sarandos) certainly has earned the authority to make credible comments that may shake up our industry...but it's a distortion to apply his comments across the entire exhibition spectrum...those of us in the so called "specialty" film world live in a largely different universe than the studios ...our relationship with exhibition venues and theater owners is more collaborative, even collegial, and occasionally, happily, mutually opportunistic...for the most part "our" theater owners are a different breed than the studios' guys and have a very different set of gauntlets--no less challenging but maybe not as a board member of a leading non profit theater, i see the changes from a certain kind of exhibitor's perspective too...there's no doubt that it's not a pretty picture for exhibitors in my realm.

But we are encouraged by many creative initiatives and strategies that the small, smart and nimble art house guerrillas are pursuing, beyond lazy boy seats and a bar. Whether you see day and date as half empty or half full -- as cannibalization or cross-promotion -- It's going to take a lot more than protectionism against ancillary overlap to keep folks going to the movies. I'm rooting for our team, with distributors and exhibitors on the same side, to keep our mission alive--our company's tagline is "experience cinema."


  • Jon | November 8, 2013 3:40 AMReply

    So if he wants to help indie filmmakers, why does Netflix offer only a flat rate of $1500 to distribute their films. Any other platform offers usage based rates. Netfilx is the last place for indie filmmakers to see any profit.

  • Emile Meyer | November 6, 2013 2:59 AMReply

    I've been reading this topic ever since it was announced.

    My two cents, if I may:

    I'm from South Africa. Now, culturally, South Africa is a TV-oriented market, so that means that the majority of the people over here will more like than not watch TV than go see a movie. Don't get me wrong: people still go to theatres in droves to go watch the biggest blockbusters and support them, so there is a market here for theatres.

    However, over here, we normally get a movie two, three months LATER than most, except for films (read blockbusters) that carry a worldwide release date.

    Add to that, we only have two huge distributors who carry the monopoly and a large satellite TV network (read conglomerate) that gets to show movies and TV first. Lately, they've been airing new seasons of shows concurrent to their US release dates; their way of TRYING to curb piracy. In essence, we don't have much choice here, as Netflix and any other online streaming service cannot be accessed from our location. We also don't have smaller theatres run by independent distributors that has the ability to show us the more arty films. Well, we do have an arthouse cinema chain (only 3 of them left in the country, run by one of the two major distributors), but that's it. So, for South Africans, we don't have a lot of options, because if you don't have the money for satellite, you have to resort to going to the movies, renting/buying DVDs and TV shows, or downloading illegally, with the latter not being cool at all.

    My point with all this?

    It's great to have all of the options (and I'm not judging or envious of this), but what about the little guy who doesn't have these options, at all? It's a great debate to have about making films/content available on all platforms the day it releases, as it gives greater accessibility to all. It won't kill the industry at all as Mr. Sarandos suggested in his first keynote; it'll grow it more and give more people the chance to see and experience films and content that would go unnoticed between everything else that's more mainstream. I mean, in all fairness, every filmmaker wants his/her work to be seen by as many people as possible. As a filmmaker myself, I'd want that, too, however, my debate about this comes from a perspective where I live in a country that has options and isn't necessarily backwards in terms of culture (apart from other, more political things that still are), but who won't be able to benefit from this.

    Just my two cents... if I missed the plot (I tend to get overly passionate about things, film being one of them), then that's my piece. :)

  • Milan Matejka | November 6, 2013 9:09 PM

    I concur with this comment.

    Adding to the South African aspect, South Africa is improving in the sense that in the intervening years (give or take the fact I'm an ex-pat in the UK). Johannesburg has gained an independent cinema called The Bioscope and The Labia in Cape Town has been established for a while, there has not been a vast development in film culture. Is it the funding that is available? Is it audience interest? What may need to be attempted is to find a way to break through from the traditional system, but unlike the US or other Netflix countries, internet is still an issue with availability of fast systems and access to streaming options in the first place (hence the rise of Mobi, which only seems to exist in SA). The fact is that many of the cinemas in South Africa play the same thing, and in Joburg, it seems like they're all in malls very close by to each other (particularly it seems like if you're in the Northern Suburbs)

    I believe we will see a change when the infrastructure becomes more flexible and open to many, but then that might be a long road ahead for South Africa (though very achievable). Cheaper technology, future development, the sky is the limit if the politics doesn't get in the way of it all. We have to convince the South African public though, according to Box Office Mojo, only two South African film in the top fifty: Spud 2 and Klein Karoo.

  • Gary Meyer | November 6, 2013 2:29 AMReply

    OK Ted...can we do some marathons of HOUSE OF CARDS, ORANGE IS THE NEW and ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT in our theaters day and date with their Netflix releases?

    Interesting that they bought SQUARE but it won't go on Netflix until next year so it can play in theaters first and establish its Oscar worthiness.

    Will the Academy change their rules to allow simultaneous theatrical and VOD formats?

  • marie therese guirgis | November 6, 2013 1:39 AMReply

    There are plenty independent distribs not quoted here. IFC, A 24, Radius, Phase 4, Cinedigm, Strand, Music Box, Gokdwyn, Cinema Guild, to name some...

    I am not suggesting that the NYT review all digital/VOD only releases for the reason you state, too many. I am pointing out that theatrical is still the only way to get publicity, for the most part, and theatrical is expensive. Many films are being released theatrically only to secure VOD deals. Theatrical isn't going anywhere.

  • Robert Maier | November 5, 2013 9:11 PMReply

    As someone who recently experimented with opening a new art film theater specializing in indies and docs, I'm disappointed in seeing all the movies that go so quickly to VOD. Once with Netflix, they have years available. A small theater has just a tiny window-- maybe a week or so to promote a film and attract patrons who are so immensely distracted. It hurts when you book a new film, and your patrons say they'll skip it because they just saw it VOD. Small art houses may be the real victim who cannot compete, so except for maybe the 10 largest cities, no one in this country, at least, will never see a film on a large screen, with great sound, and the magic communication that goes on between a group of people watching a movie in a theater. And people do like the theatrical experience, let's just hope enough of them will postpone their desire to see a film, so smaller market art houses can stay afloat. Sorry folks, Netflix is a killer of a great art form of movie theaters. I wonder what percentage art film producers receive? Are they getting killed too?

  • Nice | November 5, 2013 8:02 PMReply

    I don't know Dylan Marchetti, but I love Dylan Marchetti. Definitely an astute observer.

  • Dylan Marchetti | November 5, 2013 10:49 PM

    Awww, thanks Mom!

  • marie therese guirgis | November 5, 2013 5:34 PMReply

    the most interesting aspect of this article is the great number of key independent distributors who would not be interviewed or quoted and why. it is just too tough to write a piece like this when no one wants to potentially alienate such a vital, successful and important business partner. Netflix is in some cases singlehandedly making it possible for distributors to continue to acquire and release movies.

    i always say that the 15 years i have worked in distribution, and now production, represent the biggest sea change in the movie industry since the birth of VHS. one of the biggest changes is that independent distributors can no longer afford to lose money on theatrical releases with the promise of making it back in ancillary. theatrical releasing has not gotten any less expensive really, even with the advent of digital projection.

    the biggest challenge we face is that the traditional media has not kept up with this massive sea change in how films are consumed. The NYT, for example, only reviews, as a rule, theatrical releases. They aren't reviewing on demand or digital premieres on a regular basis. In order to generate the kind of publicity that companies like Netflix benefit from and that VOD channels value, and in turn to generate consumer interest and eyeballs, the film, for the greatest part, has to be released theatrically, horror films and major cast driven films aside.

  • And | November 5, 2013 6:03 PM

    Any monkey with a computer mouse can release a film could any paper review the thousands of films put out like that? Sooner or later there would have to be some sort of curation...that is what we have now from major festivals...and it is largely those films getting the limited theatricals and reviews...makes perfect sense....unless you have a better way. How exactly would you select which films get reviewed in NYT if there were 500 digital releases each month?

  • ed harken | November 5, 2013 5:59 PM

    not sure that there are many independent distributors left to comment - eamonn is pretty key - surprised john sloss didn't comment