Talking Distribution in Florida; Tribeca Preview; Hawke Added to Texas Tribute & More
by Wendy Mitchell
A PANEL OF DISTRIBUTORS: Film lovers and up-and-coming filmmakers crowded into Orlando's Enzian Theater on Thursday morning for the Florida Film Festival's distribution panel featuring top names in the indie world -- including that latest box-office messiah, Bob Berney of Newmarket Films. Local legend Dick Morris (Sarasota Film Society, Morris Projects), who has been one of the leading indie bookers in the Southeast for decades, moderated the panel, which also included Tom Prassis of Sony Pictures Classics; TC Rice of Manhattan Pictures, and Richard Shamban of Fox Searchlight. Hot topics included Berney's success with "The Passion of Christ," "Monster," "Whale Rider," and "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" (the latter while he was still at IFC Films), the challenge and strategy of platform releasing, the power of word of mouth, foreign-language film marketing, deal negotiations, home video and other ancillary rights, and the recent popularity of service deals.
Of special interest to the filmmakers in the packed house were what distributors look for in an acquisition. Berney explained that he and his Newmarket cohorts cover major festivals and select regional ones and look at "audience response, critical buzz, and the gut instinct with our personal feelings." He continued, "Ususally, we're looking for something under the radar. We can't bid against someone like Miramax for the obvious films." Rice of smaller indie distributor Manhattan Pictures noted that his company can afford to take less risks than larger indie distributors. "It's tough because what I don't have is the staff or the financial resources [that a larger indie has]. If I have three bad pictures in a row, I'll be at another job," Rice said. "While we're a small company, our investors expect our films to have a certain profile. We need name directors, if possible, with something of a known cast." Rice said that he, like Berney, had loved "Whale Rider," but Manhattan Pictures' investors might not be as willing to take on a family film from New Zealand with no stars.
Speaking of another foreign film without household names, Shamban shared his experience with the sleeper hit "Bend it Like Beckham." "We thought it was best to start out with our core art-house audience and then grow it out. We did an extensive word of mouth screening program... we did as many as eight word of mouth screenings in certain cities." He noted that Orlando had been a test market for Fox Searchlight to see if they could get "Beckham" out of art-houses like the Enzian to try and attract teenage girls to commercial theaters (that plan didn't work as well as planned, although "Beckham" certainly went on to become a crossover hit).
The panel also spent several minutes on service deals, and Berney was quick to criticize a recent Variety column that criticized such deals. "That article was ill-informed and snarky" a very candid Berney said. "I think the trades don't understand the current business models, at least the ones we've done. If you structure [a service deal] right, it's a win-win."
Prassis offered his predictions for the future: "Within five to 10 years all films will be shown digitally," he offered. "35mm prints will be a thing of the past, which saves us shipping costs." Rice agreed, "At $1,200 a print, it will change the economics vastly once digital becomes the standard." After taking some audience questions, including a particularly cringe-worthy moment when one desperate director asked what was the best kind of film to make so that it would sell (Prassis smartly answered that filmmakers should be following their passions), moderator Morris ended the panel with a quip about Berney that drew laughs from panelists and attendees alike. "Anyone who can get a blurb from the Pope and not Rex Reed amazes me," he said.
HAWKE HONORS: The Austin Film Society has added former Texan Ethan Hawke as one of the honorees at the fourth-annual Texas Film Hall of Fame Awards, tonight in Austin. Hawke will attend the awards with Richard Linklater, Austin's hometown hero who most recently directed Hawke in "Before Sunset," which will play at SXSW. Previously announced honoree Dennis Quaid has a schedule conflict and won't be able to attend the event.
TRIBECA TIDBITS: The Tribeca Film Festival announced a few highlights of the 2004 fest, in the wake of announcing a recent $3 million grant, including the unveiling of selected scenes from DreamWorks' animated "Shark Tale," "Cavedweller" directed by Lisa Cholodenko and starring Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick, the New York unveiling of indie hero Jim Jarmusch's "Coffee & Cigarettes," Tony Piccirillo's thriller, "The 24th Day," panel participants including Martin Scorsese and composer Howard Shore, jurors including Ellen Barkin, Chris Noth, Mary Louise Parker, Eddie Izzard, and Bingham Ray. Special programming this year will include a celebration in honor of the 10th anniversary of democracy in South Africa, a spotlight on Latin American filmmakers, and a tribute to the late Elia Kazan.
SPARKLING SOFIA: Although BUZZ is still plenty upset about Bill Murray's Oscar snub, we can still celebrate Sofia Coppola's screenplay win in style... with a bubbly made just for her. Proud papa -- filmmaker and winemaker Francis Ford Coppola -- created a wine especially for his daughter, Sofia Blanc de Blancs, which was recently unveiled in on-the-go mini size. The perfect bubbly for guzzling in your Marc Jacobs gown.
CELEBRATE CANADA: Filmmakers and friends from Canada gathered in Manhattan last week to toast the latest crop of movies from up north. Films by such filmmakers as John Greyson, Allan King, Robert Lepage, and Guy Maddin were included in the first "Canadian Front" series that unspooled at MoMA from March 4-8. The films and filmmakers were toasted last week with a special party at the National Arts Club in Gramercy Park, preceded by a screening of Guy Maddin's IFC release, "The Saddest Music in the World."
AS LONG AS GEORGE W. WON'T BE IN CANNES: California Governor and former "Pumping Iron" pin-up Arnold Schwarzenegger was in San Jose earlier this week to pick up the festival's Maverick Spirit award. In a statement, the festival said the award honors "many of the world's most accomplished directors, producers, actors, cinematographers, editors, and composers." And now an accomplished bodybuilder, Terminator, and politician. Cinequest continues through Sunday.
PRESERVING PRINTS: The National Film Preservation Foundation is helping archives, libraries, and museums to better preserve their films by publishing two new guides for collection professionals. "The Film Preservation Guide: The Basics for Archives, Libraries, and Museums" and "The IPI Media Storage Quick Reference," for mixed-media collections, are both available for free download at www.filmpreservation.org and at www.rit.edu/ipi, respectively.
UN-"FORGET"-ABLE: Aging icons Burt Reynolds and Raquel Welch are appearing in the comedy "Forget About It," now in production in Mesa, Arizona. The film follows a wise-guy who goes into the Witness Protection Program in a trailer park in Arizona. Reynolds plays a troublesome buddy and Welch plays a former Vegas showgirl. Michael Paloma, Robert Loggia, and Charles Durning also star. Beverly Hills Film Studio's John Schofield, BJ Davis, and Kimberley Kate are producing.
SPUDS AND SCREENS: Mark your calendars for some high-carb fun August 3-7 -- that's the inaugural Spudfest in Driggs, Idaho (yes, the Idaho Potato Commission is one of the sponsors). The fest touts itself as "a celebration of independent family films and music." festivities will be held at an old wooden drive-in and at the Grand Targhee Resort. Stars including Kevin Bacon, Dennis Quaid, and Steve Martin have already joined as supporters of the festival. And you won't find a potato mascot named Spuddy Buddy at Cannes, now will you? For details on the fest, or entry info, visit www.spudfest.org.