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Market Veteran Doug Block Goes “Home” in New Doc

Market Veteran Doug Block Goes "Home" in New Doc

Market Veteran Doug Block Goes "Home" in New Doc

Anthony Kaufman

If you’re lost at this year’s IFFM, find Doug Block. He’s been
navigating these avenues since 1987. He even made a documentary about
independent filmmaking and the IFFM in 1992, called “The Heck with
” If any filmmaker is an expert at the machinations of the
IFFM, it’s Block, a self-described “wizened veteran of the market wars.”

Although Block is ready to dole out some advice to novice marketeers,
he’s busy taking his own best knowledge to task. “The first piece of
advice I’d give is too late, which is work really hard on your catalogue
description. Because in the end, that’s what’s going to sell your film
the best.” Block has been busily working for the past few weeks on his
own description for “Home Page,” which he calls “a parallel
coming-of-age story” that follows the growth of himself, a few Internet
gurus and the World Wide Web itself.

Two years ago, he went to market with “Home Page,” participating in the
inaugural year of the No Borders section where one-on-one meetings are
arranged between financiers and works-in-progress. Block spent a lot of
time on a 15-minute sample version, which paid off with attention from
the Village Voice’s Amy Taubin and those at indieWIRE, but more
importantly, Cinemax, with whom he started negotiations immediately
after the market. It also lead to the participation of Jane Weiner,
Block’s producing partner, who took the film to her contacts at German
TV broadcaster ZDF. Pre-sales to both ZDF/Arte and Cinemax were
eventually finalized and Block finished the 115-minute version “Home
Page” just a few weeks before this year’s IFFM.

Block now wants theatrical distribution. As a non-fiction filmmaker,
Block contends, “I’m looking for the same distributors that a fictional
film would look for. I don’t think there’s any difference. It tells a
story. It’s got a narrative that evolves. It’s a coming-of-age story,
so there’s no reason why a distributor of fiction films would market it
any differently.”

But the pre-sales to ZDF and Cinemax create some complications in
attaining that much coveted domestic theatrical release. Block’s 3-year
deal with ZDF/Arte is a relatively small licensing period compared to
the usual 7 year term, but Block knows that U.S. distributors don’t make
much money in a US theatrical release. Therefore, notes Block, “they
want the rights to the film in all the other territories. My fear is
that if we’ve pre-sold too many European television markets, that [US
distribs] will be less inclined to pick it up here, if they’re on the
fence. We also have US pay-cable pre-sold [from Cinemax] so that’s yet
another territory.”

Block’s answer to weary distribs is two-fold, the first
business-related, the second personal. 1.) Copacetic Pictures, Block’s
company, is temporarily holding on their overseas sales offers until
they have a domestic distributor to include in on these sales. And 2.)
He says, “I feel like this is a film that can make money on its US
theatrical distribution, from the interest we’ve gotten so far, from the
few screenings that we’ve had so far, it’s really clear there is an
audience excited about the subject.”

Still, the veteran Block remains realistic about the odds at the IFFM.
Offering some perspective on the lack of sales at the market, he says,
“I haven’t heard of many films that have come out of the market with a
deal. It’s coming right after Toronto where a lot of deal-making goes
on. And it’s well before Sundance where more deal-making goes on. So,
I don’t think buyers or the bigger distributors look at the IFFM as a
place where they can pick up these hot, commercial prospects. I think
they look at it more as a place where there’s some diamonds in the
rough. It’s their job to discover diamonds in the rough or not let them
slip through the cracks. They don’t want to be the ones to let the next
‘Brother’s McMullen’ slip through their hands.”

Clearly, Block hopes that “Home Page” will be this year’s diamond. And
the fact that it is a documentary only makes Block more optimistic. “I
think it’s a really exciting time for documentaries. The audiences are
starting to catch up with it,” he says. “It seems like now it’s gone to
another level. You read more about them now. I am certainly more aware
of them now. For films like ‘The Cruise‘ and ‘Hands on a Hardbody‘ to
get out there the way they have is great. I certainly hope ‘Home Page’
can take advantage of that.”

“But it’s also a progression of the other films I’ve worked on,” adds
Block. Producer on the highly acclaimed Sundance winner, “Silverlake
” which Block says “may be the first film shot on a camcorder to get
a theatrical wide release” and “Jupiter’s Wife” which “was the first
small, format video movie released on 35,” Block certainly has a good
track record going for him.

“Home Page,” like the other docs mentioned, was produced for relatively
little cash. Shot on a high end consumer Hi-8 Sony VX-3 camcorder for a
few thousand dollars, Block considers the way he made his film “the
equivalent of using a laptop computer.” He continues, “I can shoot as a
one man band. I don’t have the added expense of hiring a crew or even a
sound person. So, it’s as flexible as can be. I know I got scenes I
would never get, even with just one other person on the crew.”

The strongest moments in “Home Page” come from the closeness provided by
Block’s one man crew. For instance, when Block’s wife is seen in
close-up yearning for him return to the family. Or a man is confronted
about his feelings towards a wife who committed adultery and wrote about
it on her webpage. Or a web designer speaks about the love of his life
who was killed in a car crash. These are the kinds of intimate
instances that a large film crew could never capture. Block explains,
“You’re constantly working as a documentary filmmaker to make people
feel comfortable with a camera pointed at them. And if they have a big
camera and some extra people around, you can’t help but be
self-conscious. But if you’re just one guy with a camcorder, just
hanging around, it just puts everything in a different context and you
get far more interesting stuff.”

Block edited “Home Page” for over a year and a half and wrote much of it
while in the editing room, weaving together a narrative out of the many
stories. The film is a labor of love. And every frame appears to mean
something to him and his story. When asked what he would do if a
distributor told him to cut more out of the film, Block answered
emphatically, “The one thing you get as an independent is you get to
make your movie. You don’t make money. It takes forever. It’s hell on
your home life. The one thing you’re left with is your film. So,” Block
warns, “don’t sell out your vision of the film.”

[“Home Page” plays on Wed, 23rd at 11 am, at the Angelika Film Center. A
second screening, open to the public, will be on Fri, 25th at 2:15pm at
the Tribeca Screening Room.]

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