“Logan Lucky” is way more than just the return of Steven Soderbergh after a four-year hiatus from the big screen. If all goes according to the director’s plan, the indie could prove to be a game-changer and set a new standard for how filmmakers distribute their movies.
“After years of shooting my mouth off about absolute creative control, we’re going to attempt to do it,” Soderbergh recently told The New York Times about the movie. “Logan Lucky” is a film about West Virginian siblings who set out to rob the Charlotte Motor Speedway, but it’s also an experiment in distribution and a test run to see if filmmakers can cut out studios in order to have creative control and make money directly from the film itself.
When Soderbergh “retired” from feature filmmaking four years ago, it was because studios were no longer allowing him the freedom to make mid-budget movies for adults. Now that he’s returning, he wants to make sure he’s able to do this without any studio interference. Through his production banner Fingerprint Releasing, Soderbergh devised a relatively simple two-step plan to achieve this goal:
1. Raise your budget by selling off foreign distribution rights (Soderbergh raised $29 million from overseas pre-sales for “Logan Lucky”)
2. Sell “everything except the movie showing up in a movie theater” (as Soderbergh told GQ) in order to pay for advertising and prints of the movie. This means selling post-theatrical rights to the likes of HBO, Netflix, VOD, television, and airplanes.
By following these two steps, Soderbergh was able to sidestep a Hollywood studio. “There’s no intermediary,” he said to GQ. “The money is not passing through anybody’s hands.”
Most Hollywood studios will cover the marketing bill and take control of advertising materials like trailers and posters, leaving the director completely excluded from selling his or her own movie. According to The New York Times, Soderbergh believes most studios overspend on marketing since they believe more awareness yields higher box office. The studio then collects approximately 15% of total ticket sales and covers its expenses, leaving the remaining profit for the film’s owners.
“You’re way too far away from your money,” Soderbergh said bluntly about the studio distribution model.
Making “Logan Lucky” following his own model allowed Soderbergh to have creative control the entire time. The trailers that dropped earlier this summer were by his design, as was the poster and the entire marketing plan. Whereas most studios would be heavily marketing “Logan Lucky” at this point, Soderbergh has intentionally only spent 15% of his advertising budget so far. He plans to rev up promotion right before the movie’s release, which to him is the most effective strategy for getting the word out.
Soderbergh ended up securing a theatrical release by teaming up with indie upstart Bleecker Street, although their deal was built entirely on keeping control of the film with the director. Bleecker is receiving less than a $1 million fee for allowing Soderbergh to market the film under their banner. They’ll receive a percentage of ticket sales if the movie meets certain standards at the box office. The company will also benefit from DVD and streaming sales.
When Soderbergh wanted to make his Liberace biopic “Behind the Candelabra,” he was forced to do so on HBO because no studio wanted to risk funding it. When he wanted to shoot “The Knick” Season 3 using anamorphic black-and-white lenses, Cinemax reportedly denied him the budget to do so and the show was cancelled. By using Fingerprint’s new model for distribution, Soderbergh is guaranteeing a future where he no longer has to rely on approval from studio executives. He’s finally gotten the control he’s always wanted.
But now the question remains: Will the movie succeed? If “Logan Lucky” proves to be a hit, it’ll bring money directly to Soderbergh and the actors and perhaps lure filmmakers into working with Fingerprint in the future. Soderbergh has already gone on record saying he hopes Sofia Coppola considers using Fingerprint on a project. All industry eyes will be watching “Logan Lucky” very closely to see if Soderbergh really can change the game.