Thursday, March 5, 2009

WOWING THE BUYERS: Positioning films in a competitive marketplace

Held at The Film Archive on Taranaki Street in Wellington. It was... enlightening.

"Chaired by NZFC's Tim O'Brien this lunchtime panel discussion will include the following guest speakers: James Brown from UK distribution company Metrodome; Carl Hampe an independent producer and film consultant from LA, formerly Director of Acquisitions at Warner Independent, and Ray Strache, also from Los Angeles, Vice President of Acquisitions at Twentieth Century Fox."

Big Cheeses all of them. Very exciting. As I have such an incredibly appauling memory, I always take notes. If I ever have to remember more than three things, I need a list. That's the rule.

So, here are my crib notes (all VERY Paraphrased! And just the bits I caught or found particualrly interesting) from the panel discussion yesterday. It was an eye opener for me!

Tim: How do you deal with the volume of films that you guys get?

James: I watch everything I get sent. I have no life other than movies.

Ray: We use a lot of filters. People we trust, film festivals... Just to get an idea of the volume, out of 428 films, we bought 4. (I forget the context of this, if it was from a film festival or something else. ops. Told you I had a horrible memory.)

Carl: It's important to raise the profile of your film, so it doesn't get lost in the volume.

Tim: Not lost in the shuffle.

Ray: It's Art vs commerce. There are aprox 600 films at Cannes. We try to think of how much money can this film make?

Tim: What kind of films are you looking for?

James: Our company takes on anything that will make them money. I have a lot of leway, but I can't pick up anything that will loose money. There was a film I loved. A spanish, 2.5 hour film about a little girl who dies of cancer. I loved it, but it won't sell. So I can't buy it.

Ray: There are two kind of releases in the US. A wide release, or a platform release. Platform releases are work of mouth films. Napoleon Dynamite was a platform relelase. Now there were 540 free screenings of that movie to generate word of mouth. We look at a film and say, can I do something with this? Expose it to critiques.

Tim: What about critiques?

Carl: Get your film into festivals. Get critiques to see your movie. He mentioned press kits that he got at festivals to entise him to go see movies. Press kits that included one liners of people who's seen the film and loved it. People who are known in the business. Get a publicist. Get people talking.

James: that doesn't work for us. We are a small company. We need to get films before they reach the critiques and get good reviews, or else we won't be able to afford them. I have to watch a film, and know within a half hour if we should buy it. That way we can get them cheaper, and we're not competing with the bigger distributors.

NOTE TO SELF: Maybe wait for reviews before selling. Don't jump on the first offer. yikes!

(my notes jump a bit here, seems like a segway, but it's just a gap in my notes. But I think the topic turned to what kind of movie are they looking for?)

Ray: People want to be entertained. Times are tough. People want to have fun! Dramas are hard to make work. Comedies are easy to make work, but hard to make! Movies are not for everyone. If someone comes into my office and I ask them who is their target audience and they say everyone, I tell them to get out. You need to get specific with your target market analysis. And you need to make the audience CARE - focus on what you want to make the audience take away with them. Make them "in it" from beginning to end.

Carl: Well, Fox Searchlight focuses on the "Populace" movies. Warners were kind of like the drunken sailors. When they read "Slumdog" it made you feel a little smarter at the end of reading it. Originaly SDM was not happy in the end. He either got the $ or the girl, not both. They made it more "populace" (I think that was the word he was using?)

Ray: ya, it was a hard sell. It was foreign looking (even though it was english) and expensive, so we passed on it.

Carl: We were the drunken sailors and loved it so we made it. We focused on supporting filmmakers.

Ray: We also focus on relationships with filmakers, but it was in the high teens to pick up. As much as we love Danny Boyle.

Carl/Ray: It was in the high teen Millions to pick up. Like closer to 20 Million.

Ray: We like to keep a family of directors. Move them along in their career.

Tim: From a script level, not a finished film. How do small distributors get involved vs studio involvement?

Jamie: We look at anything that comes in. We have only just gotten into pre-bought films. But it's better to go to them when already in production, with a star. It makes it less expensive to buy, as there's already money being used to make it. They don't have to fund the whole thing.

Carl: Hopefully, there will be a new wave of distributors over the next year.

NOTE TO SELF: Christ! Wouldn't that be nice!!

Carl: Meddling comes from trying to make the movie work. Smaller distributors can't afford to re-do movies.

Ray: Well, Fox meddles.

(here I almost fall off my chair from laugher!!! No shit!!)

Ray: But they do it because they want to make the film work better. They do it based on feedback from previews and screenings. They don't do it because they want to be the creative guy. They are too busy. And I think (pauses) that we've never cut out the opinion of the creative people, the director, etc. We have to ask, when suggesting a change, is the change a big enough deal that it is worth doing. Will it make up the $ spent on it.

(At this point I stopped writing. I've worked on too many Fox shows I guess. )

Ray: Big placed don't really pre-buy.

Tim: What about digital Projection?

Carl: Film now is problematic. It's $2000/print. It's expensive. If festivals are digital, that saves a lot of $. And there's more choises available with digital.

At this point there were questions from the audience.

Q: (sorry, didn't really hear this one, but it was about the govenrment supported film industry I think, maybe?)

Jamie: I was a filmmaker in Australia before becoming a distributor. In Australia, the government film world, and the real film industry are very seperate. My advise is to be in an international head space.

(He talked more about how Aussie films funded by the government don't really get exposure, no one sees them. At least this was my take on what he said.)

Q: was something about "Waitress" being a soft movie... was good, but surprising that it got picked up.

Ray: Waitress was a soft movie. But it had a target audience, one that they could tap into for marketing. They found an angle that worked. Find a way in. Get your target market interested. Who's the movie for? Figure this out.

Jamie: But DO NOT send me your marketing material. Don't tell me how to market your film. It's insulting.

Ray: Absolutely! It should be obvious that you've thought about who your target market is by the material.

Q: What do you think of the internet for marketing?

Ray: Focus on proper marketing. The internet is very tricky. Sometimes it works, sometimes not. But only put clips on there, not the whole movie.

James: DO NOT put the whole movie in it's entirety on the internet, or it won't get picked up.

Carl: Everything is shifting. The internet is untapped. Distribution won't touch you if you put the whole movie on there, but there are other places, Magnolia, IFC, that are starting to experiment. At this point, it's an unknown.

And that concluded a facinating hour.

If you were there, and I've gotten things horribly wrong, PLEASE correct me. I did have one question that I'd hoped they would touch on... perhaps you lot can help me...

Q: I keep hearing about "front end" vs "back end" and that low budget filmmakers don't make their money on the front end, they make it all in the back end. Do distributors really give out percentages of the profit? Or is it usually a one shot deal? Do they arrange different deals with different players (ie, writers, producers, directors) or is it a group deal, sort it out for yourselves?


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