Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Gigantic Service Deals = Hollywood level self-distribution, another article on the topic

With Date Number One, at the moment, I am dealing with one venue and one newspaper (for an ad) at a time, per city. What if I want to get my movie out on 1500 venues simultaneously & I need to advertise in 6,000 newspapers around the country to promote the release? Then I can go to (provided I have the money - $40K - hundreds of thousands of dollars to start off with) a company that does service deals (Artistic License, Freestyle Releasing, IFC, Newmarket, Landmark's Truly Indie to mention a few) & hire it to do the bookings & coordinate the promotions & I can also control how much money is being spent on what, when & design the advertising, etc. This would remove the chances of their being distributor dishonesty regarding $s spent & collected at theaters (most indie filmmakers who sign their films over to a distributor do not see any money beyond the advance for a long, long time, if ever, so I hear) & I would get to present the movie to the public in my exact preferred manner.

Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ was distributed this way - self-distribution on a major Hollywood release scale using a service deal w/ Newmarket (George Lucas' recent Star Wars movies were distributed the same way - except he used Fox, as far as I recall).

Here's a relevant paragraph from a Film Journal article on the subject:

" Beyond the service-deal companies, a number of traditional distributors (IFC, Magnolia, Newmarket, etc.) have gotten involved in service deals. Their successes include such hits as Capturing the Friedmans, My Big Fat Greek Wedding and even The Passion of the Christ. In these cases, the filmmakers had considerable capital at their disposal."

- Sujewa

9 comments:

David Lowery said...

The difference between the film I mentioned below (An American Haunting) and the ones quoted in the article you've linked to here is that: An American Haunting was turned down by other distributors, and thus self distribution became the only option. Mel Gibson, George Lucas and, presumably, HBO (producer of Capturing The Friedmans), Tom Hanks (producer of My Big Fat Greek Wedding), etc. didn't have to go with a service deal, but they chose to do so in order to retain creative control and/or make more money. So yes, a service deal may be a common mean in the self distribution game, but I'd still say it's far from an equalizing factor.

Sujewa [Blog Admin] said...

Hey David,

Equalizing factor was not the question. You were unaware of the fact that Gibson & Lucas self-distributed (by means of hiring existant distribution companies to do the work for them).

But re: equalizing factors, yeah, the self-distibution option does tilt the game in favor of the filmmaker(if not completely then at least partially, since signing the film over to a distributor who may pay little or no money for the priviledge of attempting to make money off the film is not the only option any more).

And like the conclusion reached many moons ago when a few of us discussed self-distro in our blogs,
self-distro being the ideal path for a project depends on the project & the filmmaker. But if it turns out that self-distributing indie filmmakers (or Hollywood level filmmakers) consistently make more $s than indie filmmakers that sign their project over to a distributor, then self-distribution will become the new norm in getting films out.

- Sujewa

Sujewa [Blog Admin] said...

Btw, the belief that distribution is difficult is a myth (probably one that is kept alive by distributors themselves in order to discourage new competition). It is a lot of work, but if you plan accordingly & hire enough people for the work, it is not very difficult. Distributing is not as difficult as directing. The decisions that have to be made are simpler (how much $s do we have for this opening?, which theaters are available for this show? VS is extra # 14 doing something in this shot that is going to be a problem for me in editing?/what are we going to do about the sun going down?/my lead actor is sick & this is the last day of shooting & the cast/crew/locations are not available for another 4 months!!!!etc. :)

- Sujewa

David Lowery said...

By not being an equalizing factor, I mean that I don't consider those films to be self distributed, service deal or not.

Sujewa [Blog Admin] said...

Hey David,

Thanks for the clarification. For me service deals are another form of self-distribution. Since even at my basic level of self-distribution on Date Number One right now I rely on part time help from 2-3 other people on a regular basis & I hire/or will be hiring various experts (graphic designers, attorney, accountant) to take care of specialized tasks associated w/ distribution. And when you move beyond my level of distro - or when you go to multiple theaters, multiple ads & media outlets, simultaneous play in several theaters (which I am calling Phase 2 of self-distro) you will need to hire a full time staff to carry out the work. All that filmmakers who go w/ service deals are doing is hiring that full time staff. Since the work is totally paid for & directed by the filmmaker, it is still self-distribution, but on a larger scale. It is mostly impossible for one person alone to even set up & play 1 film in 1 theater for 1 show, even at that basic level you need assistance from others (local press, workers @ the theater, event staff,etc.), so, when you take self-distribution to the Hollywood level/scale (Passion, Star Wars), you need a team of people to help you do the work. That's how I see it. Even Robot Stories & The Debut had a team of people working on distribution, I believe most of the time.

- Sujewa

David Lowery said...

I see where you're coming from, too, and it's definitely a grey area. But here's how I see it: Newmarket, IFC, Fox, etc. are all established, incorporated distributors. Whereas someone like you, when you hire people, or even form a company (as the American Haunting guy did), are creating for yourself the same sort of entity that those established companies provide for a share of the profit. You're still able to take the credit for the distribution, because it's your company (or, if you don't have one, just you, period).

Essentially, I don't think that paying someone to distribute your film for you counts as self distribution, in the same way that paying a DP to light your film doesn't give you the right to the cinematography credit. You might be making a lot of the choices, and you might have creative control, but you're foregoing the right to take the credit for it in exchange for letting someone else (who generally is more equipped to do the job) handle the nuts and bolts.

Sujewa [Blog Admin] said...

Hey David,

Yeah, there is a difference between the two methods, even though the filmmaker is paying for both & the filmmker is making the final decisions in both. Let's call the Lucas/Gibson/American Haunting (like the other two cats, AH guy is using a well established & experienced distributor - Freestyle - to do the actual work) method: HOLLYWOOD/INDIEWOOD SELF-DISTRIBUTION & the other kind, what I am doing & what Kelley Baker & Liz Nord does: DIY SELF-DISTRIBUTION.

However, at some point, if a DIY Self-Distributor wants to show her film in several theaters at once then she will either have to build up a distribution team w/ necessary resources like ones available at other, bigger distribution companies or hire another distribution company/service deal to do the work. There is a limit to what one person, volunteers & some PT people & an ultra-low budget can do distribution wise.

In the end, as long as the film gets out well & the appropriate amount of money comes back to the filmmaker, it is all good.

- Sujewa

Blake Calhoun said...

Hey Sujewa,

Nice work on your premiere screening. Read on your other blog about how it went with no music, etc. I know the feeling... for my premiere I had half the music done and the rest was temp. Not enough time! It's almost done now though. Anyway, glad to hear it went well.

One thing I wanted to bring up concerning self-distro and you and David's commments is that most filmmakers, again most not all (you are one of the exceptions), look at self distribution as a last resort.

Very few filmmakers go into a project with the idea that they want to distribute their film. And usually for good reason. They are FILMmakers, not distributors.

I've found most don't want to deal with that part of the business (but a lot have to because they have NO other choice). They want to concentrate on making films. And truth be told, a lot of filmmakers are really lousy business people.

I admire you for getting out there and doing the DIY approach, but have you not even considered trying to sell your film?

I think successful distribution is considerbly harder than making a film. But I guess of course it depends on what your definition of "successful" is...

-Blake

Sujewa [Blog Admin] said...

Hey Mr. Blake,

Yeah, there's never enough time, but I am never going to book a screening before having at least a really good rough cut again. But last night's shows went very well.
Now I have no reservations about going all out w/ distro & promotions 'cause the work is solid/peeps dug the show.

Re:
"I admire you for getting out there and doing the DIY approach, but have you not even considered trying to sell your film?"

Thanks for the positive words. No, I will not be selling the film to another distributor (except if it is like Romania or cable TV or something, since I have very little interest in doing theatrical distro in some parts of the world or starting up my own cable station). I will be the distributor on Date Number One. I want to help popularize the idea of filmmaker/distributors (the filmmaking version of musicians/distributors found in the indie rock world - K Records, Dischord, etc.). I think that will be very useful for a lot of creative people in this world. Waiting for Hollywood or big money or the gov't to make it possible for u to make & distribute a movie is a waste of time (for me at least). Also, changing global paradigms aside, DIY distro allows me to be very creative & come very close to making my movie in the exact way that I want it made - very satisfying thing for an artist.

I'll mail ya a screener DVD of DNO this coming week.

Talk to ya soon. Hope all is well w/ Killing Down.

- Sujewa