NOTES ON THE DISTRIBUTION PANEL
I posted below a response to Sujewa in the comments section, but I thought I’d repost it here along with a few notes coming out of the panel I moderated last night sponsored by the IFP entitled “Distribution Now! Distribution How?” Prompted by IFC’s opening of Caveh Zahedi’s I am a Sex Addict this week, the panel brought Zahedi together with two other filmmakers – Susan Leber, producer of Down to the Bone, and Jay Duplass, writer/director of the upcoming The Puffy Chair, whose films took the long road to getting their features in theaters. (Down to the Bone opened last year from Laemmle/Zellner distribution, and The Puffy Chair shows up in June from Roadside Attractions in partnership with Netflix.)
My response to Sujewa: “The panel went really well, I thought, although maybe someone in the audience would be a better person to answer that question. I thought the panelists were all smart, articulate, candid and funny (the latter of which is important to keep people’s attention). I think the audience was surprised and perhaps a tiny bit bummed out the financial bleakness of it all — there were some folks there who are putting together their own films and seeking investors, and the makers of both Puffy Chair and Down to the Bone both said that they forgoed some sure revenue in the ancillary markets in order to gamble on the theatrical releases. There was some good demystification going on too in terms of the role of festivals and prestigious sales agents — they are all key parts of the process, but at the same time, they are no guarantees as the filmmakers explained.
At the end of the day, I hope people took away from it that one’s passion for making a film has to also drive the distribution as well.”
And some notes from the panel:
1. Two of the three filmmakers used a producer’s rep – in both cases, Cinetic Media – to sell their films at their festival premieres. Leber premiered at Sundance without a rep and picked up Stephen Raphael after the festival.
2. Two of the filmmakers premiered in Sundance. Down to the Bone premiered in Competition; The Puffy Chair premiered late in the festival in the Spectrum section. Zahedi was rejected by Sundance and world premiered in Rotterdam. He then played Tribeca, which is where he hoped to make a U.S. sale.
3. All three filmmakers accepted essentially “no advance” deals to get their films in the theaters. In Leber’s case, she had to raise some prints and advertising money to support the release.
4. All three films were financed through private investment. Duplass used personal funds and money from his parents to make The Puffy Chair. The director’s husband became an executive producer of Down to the Bone and raised the financing. Zahedi used grants (which did not require payback) and a private investor to finance I am a Sex Addict. The investors in all cases acquiesed to these deal structures even though there was no immediate payback. Zahedi said his financier had a natural distrust of distributors but that he was able to discuss other films IFC had successfully distributed and that this convinced him.
5. Most importantly, all three filmmakers refused to give up and committed their time, energy, and in some cases resources to getting their films out there. In the case of Duplass and Leber, money that would have been received from a no-theatrical video or cable deal was forgone for the guarantee of a theatrical release.
6. An audience member asked what the value of an A-tier festival (Sundance) and a top flight producer’s rep (Cinetic) is as all three of the films here took a long time to strike not immediately lucrative deals. My answer was that all three of these filmmakers were on stage with me discussing how their films made it into the theaters. There are literally hundreds of other movies that vanish and never see the light of day. In these three cases, the immediate festival exposure, the expertise of the reps and, most importantly, the determination of the filmmakers got their films leveraged into the marketplace.