The Buying Game; indieWIRE's Guide to Acquisitions (Updated)
by Brian Brooks
Last September, prior to the opening of the Toronto International Film Festival, indieWIRE published a list of film company buyers, the people who attend festivals (in addition to other events) scouting for projects that will fit their respective companies' distribution goals. The list is designed, we hope, to give insight to indieWIRE readers, especially emerging filmmakers and producers, who may not be familiar with some of the people behind this fundamental aspect of the film business. Additionally, this buyers guide should give some knowledge on the acquisitions process and also many of the people who play a large part in determining what eventually appears in theaters.
The following profiles are a somewhat updated version reflecting some of the changes that have taken place since the list first appeared in iW. Artisan Entertainment, for instance, was removed because the company merged with Lions Gate, and TLA Releasing as well as Roadside Attractions were added to the roster. Also, some individual buyers changed positions, so those changes were also reflected in the list. This is not meant to be a comprehensive overhaul of the profiles; that will happen again before Toronto.
There are a couple of caveats to keep in mind when reading the profiles. The most obvious is that the majority of the responses are specifically timed to when the questions were originally sent late last summer. Profiles were not changed for individuals who are still in the same position, so the film titles they refer to may not be the "latest releases." Still, they should reflect a 'philosophy' that is relevant. Additionally, it should be noted that although this is a list of buyers from various companies, that DOES NOT mean the individual(s) represented for each company constitutes the entire acquisitions team. Indeed, in the case of Miramax, Sony Classics, and Paramount Classics (and others), there are more people who do the work of buying etc. Essentially, the list profiles one or two people each company gave indieWIRE to participate in this roster.
Also of note, many of the people profiled are "acquisitions executives" and not heads of companies, except in the case of some more specialized outfits and in the case of Paramount Classics which chose to have their co-chiefs in the profile.
[Eugene Hernandez, Wendy Mitchell, Chaya Kornreich, and Claiborne Smith contributed to this feature]
"It is tough in the independent world and will stay so for a long while."
"Although Focus is best known for auteur-driven films, we look for all genres and are currently looking for a good horror film or thriller."
"Film distribution is more expensive and high-risk than ever. Don't be averse to creative offers from buyers."
"A film does not have to fit into a neat, easy-to-fit pre-determined category."
"Do something with a truthful point of view. Don't be afraid to be blunt."
"We'll be paying special attention to documentaries as there have been a number of them that have done well this year."
"Keep to your vision of the film and don't over-analyze the acquisition part of the equation."
"We are very director-driven in our choices and a very artist driven company because of Chris Blackwell's philosophy and approach to film and music."
"(We are looking for) a varied slate that we feel will receive critical attention and will tap into art-house audiences."
"We are acquiring and releasing more films theatrically and on videogram in North America now than ever before."
"Filmmakers can get too caught up in the business of film before they've really accomplished their first goal, which should be making the film."
"The ceiling for the success of specialized English-language and foreign-language films has never been higher, but the films that don't work can be a bust."
"Filmmakers should think ahead, to demonstrate to us who their market is for their films."
"I'm always open and available and receptive to the feelings, ideas, and songs of any and all filmmakers."
"As a filmmaker, be realistic to who your audience will be for your film. Don't be shy but don't be too aggressive either. And maintain a sense of humor, that always helps."
"With all the competition for a share of the arthouse/exclusive market, it is essential for any distributor these days to be looking for something that will break out on the merits of the filmmaking as well as the story."
"We are going to be looking for all types of great films; the high end of every genre as well as foreign-language films."
"We seek films with a strong auteur voice and which will very likely be strongly supported by the critics."
"It's important to keep some perspective when going through the process of trying to find the right distributor."