At an IFP Film Week panel, distribution executives weighed in on advice, challenges and tips for navigating the distribution marketplace. Panelists included Dylan Marchetti, Chief Creative Officer at Amplify Releasing; Camille Bertrand, Manager of Acquisitions at Bleecker Street; Asher Goldstein, VP of Development & Co-Productions at Broad Green Pictures; Aranka Matits, Founder of the boutique agency Featurette; Aaron Katz, Director of Acquisitions at Oscilloscope Laboratories; and Dan Truong, Director of Strategy and Finance at The Orchard.
Theatrical or digital release?
"Most of our focus is on theatrical releases," said Katz. "Older audiences are attending theaters, but younger audiences aren't as much, unless there's a big social marketing campaign behind it." For that reason, Katz and his colleagues at Oscilloscope skew their acquisitions to the adult demographic. "That kind of content is making more at the box office for us," said Katz. He added that he was decidedly anti-day-and-date. "We're staying away from this day-and-date release structure. It weakens the [extent] of what a movie can do theatrically and how long your movie can last in the digital space."
Bertrand said her company, Bleecker Street, was on a similar page. "We're only looking for films that can sustain theatrical releases," she said. "We're looking for content that will encourage people to get out of their house instead of watching a TV show or going to Netflix." What differentiates their content, she said, was "a strong cast, a great story, a niche idea.... Something original."
"Theatrical's still a very viable model," echoed Truong. But his company, The Orchard, is open to day-and-date releases, too. "A few years ago everybody was chasing the unicorn of what worked on both [theatrical and digital], but we're finding that it's either one or the other," he said. "We're still looking for that film that has both the older theatrical audience and the audience that comes out for VOD, but those are rare."
When Goldstein weighed in, a clear consensus emerged: Distributors privilege theatrical releases. "By and large, what we’re looking for are projects that can perform in a really significant way theatrically," he said. "Even if that's in a limited space; instead of 2,000 screens, it could be 200 screens." He added, though, that his company, Broad Green Pictures, acts opportunistically and considers each film on a case-by-case basis. "We'll look at each project in its own ecosystem," he said.
What can I do to increase the chances of selling my film?
"For international distributors, it's important at which festival the film premieres," said Matits. "Think about where it could be launched, and what implications it could have beyond the domestic market." According to Matits, international distributors rank the festivals as follows: "The most important for the international market is the Cannes competition. Nothing compares to that. After that, Venice, Toronto, Berlin, maybe Sundance. Then, at the B-level, it's Locarno, San Sebastian and Rotterdam."
Goldstein, who had a previous career as a sales representative, emphasized the importance of hiring a rep prior to a festival premiere. "It's a common mistake not to hire a sales rep early enough," he said. "If you can get a sales agent on earlier, then once you get accepted into festivals, they'll help you with strategy. They'll help you find the right premiere. No one can get your film into a festival, but they can certainly help position it. Programmers use sales agents as filters; they're getting so much stuff sent to them, and if there's a sales rep that they feel has a great reputation for having great taste [championing] the film, it'll give you a little gold star."
"Get a publicist on ASAP," Goldstein continued. "Once you do get into a festival—once there's an announcement—there will be a lot of press happening around these movies. Your sales agent is going to use press to sell the movie every step of the way. You want that ASAP."
What shouldn't I do? What will hurt my chances at a sale?
"The biggest 'don't' is simple," said Goldstein. "When I see you at your festival and love your movie and love what you guys are doing, you need to have your next project in mind." If you don't have a project on deck, you're missing out on an opportunity to capitalize on very fleeting attention. "You have a certain kind of momentum to use to lock in the excitement to launch into next thing," Goldstein continued, "and you want to capture that."
How do you get our attention?
"Put together a sizzle reel," advised Goldstein. "We are always trying to get involved at an early stage. I look at projects as early as a kernel of an idea. We've picked up pitches based on a sentence."
"The earlier, the better," Bertrand agreed. "At Bleecker, we don't produce or finance. But a lot of distributors do this so we can pre-buy films. It's called a back stop. It's a letter of intent from a distributor saying, 'Hey, we're interested, granted the script stays the same, the cast stays the same.' Then you can go to other financing sources and international pre-sales with this. It reassures everyone down the line."