A recent interview from Sundance 2015.
CEO of Kaleidoscope Film Distribution Spencer Pollard started his career as a tax advisor in media and film. He worked for the world’s biggest independent record producer with a team that managed and recorded acts like Beyoncé. He then entered television and film distribution, and went on to start an international division for a US sales and distribution company where he setup finance for the TV series “Wolverine and the X-Men”. He went on to acquire the Marvel library for distribution in the UK and Western Europe.
Pollard shares the start, the success and slate of Kaleidoscope, and also gives some good business advice for filmmakers.
Please talk about how Kaleidoscope started.
I started Kaleidoscope with four titles. After nearly seven years, we are now the 15th biggest distributor in the UK, handling fifteen theatrical movies a year and 40-50 home entertainment titles. We sell, market, and distribute for third party labels, and release about 100 films a year. We handle rights for home entertainment, TV, digital, and have years of experience in sales and distribution.
We started Kaleidoscope’s International Sales and Distribution arm in Toronto back in 2010. We did this because we wanted to be involved in projects during their earlier stages, and wanted to be in control of sales and distribution rights on a major level.
As the market has diversified and changed, both in the UK and internationally, our business now focuses on two things — mainstream commercial genre films with great casts and larger budgets, and festival films that can play at festivals like Sundance, Toronto, or Berlin. We were very active in Sundance last year, where we picked up four films.
Kaleidoscope covers all genres?
We cover most genres, but we don’t do focus on foreign language art-house films. There are companies that are far better and dedicated with these specialty films. If we focused on art-house, it would take away from what we do well.
In terms of our upcoming slate, “Glassland” had its premiere at Sundance, and we are screening it in Berlin as well.
We have a genre film called “Digging Up The Marrow” by Adam Green, who has a great fan base because of his film “Frozen” and the “Hatchet” trilogy.
We are also selling “I Am Big Bird”, a documentary that has made it into many of the US film festivals. It’s an intimate portrayal of the last living Sesame Street puppeteer. He has played Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch since day one, and is now 81. It’s a lot of fun, and Sesame Street resonates with many people.
We have a rap film in production called “Hustler’s Convention” which we hope to premiere in Tribeca. It will also screen at Cannes. It’s about the first ever rap album that sold a million copies through airplay alone, with talking heads from people like Chuck D, Melle Mel and KRS One.
We have a sports documentary that we hope to premiere in Toronto later this year. It’s the story of the thirteen founding women of the LPGA Tour. It goes into the sexual discrimination and country club mentality that these women had to break through to become female professional golfers. Last year, Stacey Lewis from the LPGA donated 1,000 dollars for every birdie she got, which has resulted in her donating over 120 thousand dollars to this production.
We have two animated films that will launch in Cannes. Both are British productions with A List casts and, by the time Cannes comes around, there will be fully finished scripts, animation scenes to show, and confirmation of A list voice talent.
Why are you passionate about your work?
I think film distribution can be a lot of fun, but ultimately it’s a business. It’s still predominantly my company and my money, so we take a very sensible but aggressive risk approach.
We try to give creative producers, directors and talent as much free range as possible. We love to work with producers and talent who’ve made things before, but we’ve also financed and distributed more independent British films than any other UK distributor over the last five years. We’re very keen on productions with an international market value. Many British films just get made for a British audience — we don’t sell those films. We carry films with a strong international base. It’s a great position to work from.
We want to keep our focus on a focused slate of film sales. We don’t have 300 films per year, and so our smaller slate allows us to give the best return to the filmmakers we work with. We like to work on high quality projects with filmmakers who are passionate and want to make films with us into the future. Long-term partnerships help us grow as a business.
What is it that you wish a lot of filmmakers could understand before they even come to you?
If you’re a first time producer or director, and you feel you’ve got something special, my advice is to find an experienced person to attach to the project. That’s the first hurdle. You need someone who understands film financing, sales and distribution to get a film made.
If you’ve just got a script and nothing else – no money, no cast, or you’re a first time director – you’re going to be at the back of the line. It’s just impossible to consider when we’ve got 1,000 scripts to read. We get excited when there’s a great script with a cast attached.
Filmmakers need to find sales and distribution people that like the project and feel that there is a place for their films in the marketplace. For every 5,000 films that get made, only 300 of them find distribution. It’s a scary statistic!
I truly believe that creative people should be given the freedom to make what they want, but they need feedback and guidance from people in sales and distribution and a real understanding of the business and numbers.
Established production teams will send us films and say, “If we make 10 million dollars in the box office numbers, it will go back to the production and be profitable.” They completely forget about the publicity and advertising (P&A) that the distributor puts into the film and the shares the distributor takes by risking this investment. Business wise, it’s never as attractive as they think, so we hope we can help the financing, production and sales, and distribution life cycle of a film and genuinely return to the investors and producers enough money for the film to go ahead…