By Brian Brooks | Indiewire August 23, 2010 at 4:30AM
For veterans, knowing the basics about film festivals and film distributors may seem like Filmmaking 101. Yet, consistently indieWIRE's editors have heard that directors and producers must familiarize themselves with the particulars of the full array of distribution in order to maximize the potential success of their work.
indieWIRE's Filmmaker Toolkit aims to be one source for information in this realm with today's launch of Distributor Profiles. This is a work-in-progress, with a dozen North American distributors spotlighted. This initial group represents an array of indie/specialty outfits, including Magnolia Pictures, which typically releases a very eclectic range of indie features, docs, genre and other work both theatrically and on VOD to Gravitas Ventures, which opens a large number of films specifically via VOD. There are also a number of other companies that fall somewhere in between.
More companies will be added in the coming weeks and the information offered by each distributor (links below go to each distributor's profile) offering insight on the approaches to distribution. indieWIRE sent a half dozen questions to each distributor inquiring about the crux of their operation and history. Questions include each company's focus, types of film on their slate, advice for filmmakers, names of people who handle their acquisitions (if applicable), distribution platforms they handle, the percentage of their slate that's acquired via film festivals and the specific festivals that they target.
Not surprisingly, there were parallels in a number of their responses. Magnolia (founded in 2001) advised filmmakers to "know your distributor inside and out." Strand said, "do your research" and "ask the prospective distributor questions about their release." In fact, nearly all responses appealed to filmmakers to make educated choices. This might seem unsurprising, but many a project and its hardworking filmmmakers/crew may find the allure of finding a distribution home - no matter what - tempting even if that company may not be the right home. Being educated about distribution is key for any director or producer.
Another general parallel in this first group falls with respect to film festivals. Again perhaps not surprisingly, Sundance, Cannes and Toronto were cited as festivals where companies focus their acquisition efforts. But a number of companies have also had a number of pick ups at SXSW, Tribeca, Los Angeles Film Festival (LAFF), Berlin as well as Fantastic Fest, the American Film Market (AFM) and AFI.
In fact, most companies profiled in this first group have assembled their year's slates through festival acquisitions. Los Angeles-based Roadside Attractions, which currently has enjoyed success with their pick up of Sundance winner, "Winter's Bone," picks up the majority of their films at such events. Fellow L.A.-area distributor, Strand Releasing, finds most of its lineup on the fest circuit.
Most of those profiled here were founded on theatrical distribution, but as the industry has evolved (or as some may agree, abruptly transformed) VOD and other distribution outlets have been adopted by companies that once only focused on the traditional theater run. While some continue on that route, others have diversified into both areas. Others still, such as Gravitas focus specifically outside theatrical. While most filmmakers say they want a theatrical component to their film's public life, it would appear - at least as it stands now - that non-traditional distribution is not only here to stay but may very well be a holy grail (even if that is still an elusive one). However, its exact place is still yet to be determined.
Finally, this is an unfinished list. There are more distribution profiles currently in the works and iW hopes to re-visit distributors down the road with more questions.
In the meantime, check out the ones here and check out other areas of iW's Filmmaker Toolkit including the recent profile of the Sundance Film Festival programmers. Additional festival profiles, by the way, is another area of the Toolkit that will be coming online soon.
All information in the individual profiles are provided by the companies themselves.
[Bryce Renninger and Micah Sachs contributed to these profiles]