Saturday, October 24, 2009
So I only got slightly lost finding the 6 subway line this morning and made it in time for the seminar- Topic: The Truth About Distribution. The audience was completely made up of the filmmakers with films showing in this festival, and yours truly.
The discussion was lead by the festival's Executive Director and Founder, Stuart Alson. Alson is also the Publisher of Independent Film Quarterly and President of ITN Distribution which acts as an agent for filmmakers, packaging and selling films to distributors such as LionsGate and overseas markets.
Alson puts me in mind of Skye Masterson from Guys and Dolls, a "gangster" with a romantic soul. I love his jump in figure it out later, giving it to you straight attitude. He had ambitions of becoming a stand-up comedian, then found out you've got to "kiss ass" to get a chance on stage, so he started putting together showcases of his own. When he tried his hand at filmmaking and couldn't get his film into a festival, he started his own festival. When a film magazine criticized his film festival, he started his own film magazine.
I told him how I admired his intrepid spirit and he told me he doesn't feel as adventurous as he once did. Personally he has not been hit by the down economy, but it would seem our present mentality of lack and scarcity which permeates the very air we breath, can start to affect even the most assured and optimistic of us.
Here's some highlights from the discussion:
Licensing products -
You can only license your film to one buyer within the same territory. There are about 30 different territories. US & Canada, Japan, China, Latin America, Middle East etc...
The Markets - start in January with NATPE (National Association Television Producers Executives), held in Las Vegas then onto European Film Market, Cannes TV Market (spring and fall), Hong Kong Film Market, Cannes Film Fest & American Film Market in Santa Monica. For each event ITN rents a booth and holds a lavish party for the buyers, so the expense is great. For that reason, they like to represent films that come packaged with a great trailer and artwork, to catch the attention of the buyers. Particularly with Independent films that don't come with a big name attached. Filmmakers can also pay ITN to create this packaging for their film. To sell to the foreign markets the films needs a digital beta master with separate music and effects track and dialogue sheet in order for the film to be dubbed.
The Money -
The difficulties of digital pirating and the eventuality of an industry without tangible DVD's was touched on, but these filmmakers only concern was "show me the money". From what I was able to gather, most distributors create a contract with the filmmaker for a certain figure, only the filmmaker never sees that figure cause the distributor will deduct for expenses before cutting the check. ITN asks the filmmaker to pay expenses up front before they take the film to market. ITN then receives 25% of the sale and the filmmaker receives 75% of the sale, no additional fees. Plus, the filmmaker is not tied to ITN with that contract, if the filmmaker comes across a distribution deal on their own, then ITN is not paid. Some distributors will be fair and if the film does well and they recoup their initial investment and make a profit, they will then pay the filmmaker an additional 20%, of which, an additional percentage will go to ITN, if they brokered the original deal. However, Alston recommends getting paid up front from the distributor, as they are rarely generous enough to share the profits.
That's why becoming a Quentin Tarrantino (although Grindhouse made 0 profit) is so coveted; as the director, you are just paid a couple million dollars to direct the film up front. You don't wait to get paid by distributors or need a middle man, you don't care who else is investing, you just take your check to the bank!