Category Archives: distribution
Our very own Clinton Lee Pontes, who plays Murray the drunken scientist in A Brand New You, pitched the hell out of ABNY at last night’s Raindance pitching contest. I won’t spoil the fun by telling you how awesome his pitch was, you can check it out yourself. I will only say that we made some awesome contacts with industry people who are interested in seeing a cut of the film and having a discussion about distribution and helping out with finishing funds.
Stay tuned tomorrow for video of ABNY co-director/writer Shawn Whitney pitching the next project in our pipeline.
by SHAWN WHITNEY
It’s funny: Just last night I was engaging in that favourite past time of Canadian filmmakers – complaining about the Canadian film industry. Complaining about the lack of government financing and the difficulty of breaking into a distribution market that is locked down by the studios and mini-majors and, here in Canada, where there is now “1.5 distributors” to choose from (as my co-conversationalist described it).
We didn’t even get on to the lack of women and minorities in the Canadian film and TV industry. But it’s true also. For an industry that is widely reputed to be liberal and progressive it is one of the most segregated and exclusionary industries in the country. Just check out this report in Playback Online.
“…out of the 130 Telefilm-funded films made in 2011, only 17% were directed by women, with only two directors being minority women.
Women were only slightly better represented among screenwriters, with 21% of 175 being female, but still only 3 minority women.”
If we were to extend our research into the area of the kind of work that actors get, we would find a similar pattern. I recently attended an online seminar about pre-sales in the film industry and the speaker was upfront: if you want to pre-sell your movie the most important cast to attach are white males of a certain age. (Pre-selling to distributors – ie. before the film is made – is a key way to finance a film and reduce the risk to your investors). As for the rest (you know, the majority of the world population), they get the leftover roles, usually stereotypes whose job is to provide support or target practice to the white, male protagonist. Manuel Rodriguez-Saenz, our lead actor in A Brand New You, is regularly cast as a drug dealer, dishwasher, occasionally a taxi driver. It’s a bit of a joke amongst us – literally every time he gets an audition for a TV series it is as a criminal. Apparently that’s the price of being brown and having an accent. It’s the reason that our mandate at Dangerous Dust is to make films with the kind of cast that don’t get seen in lead roles, even in indie films, by and large.
But, of course, we are a puny company with one film in post-production and just beginning development on our next project. The problem is systemic and massive. But just as one little indie company can’t solve the problem of “under-representation” (the polite way to say racism and sexism when we don’t want to offend sensitive ears), nor can the timid solution of the important study that I quoted above.
“[Women in View executive director, Rina Fraticelli] says it’s vital that we begin rethinking the way we mentor women in the industry, and find ways to sponsor them as well.
“In addition to being well trained, disciplined and having the talent to do something, to really get to the highest levels of work, what you really need is somebody championing you,” she explains.”
To be fair Fraticelli does point towards a tax credit system to promote the advancement of women. But the idea that mentoring is a way to solve under-representation is a non-starter. For one it guarantees that those with the connections to industry players are the ones who will advance. At best that means upper class (usually white) women, at worst it means relying on the people who have benefited from nepotism in the past breaking with the patterns that have helped them advance. Unlikely.
No, it will continue to be difficult for people who aren’t white men until there is an affirmative action program with clear, quantifiable measures. Telefilm financing, instead of being obsessed with market measures that are mostly phoney baloney and reinforce the kind of same-old, same-old that leads to the Hollywood organ-grinder of remakes, retreads and sequels (in both casting and content), ought to be tied to innovation, including in personnel. Films with female and “non-white” directors, producers and/or writers ought to get incentives to foster those projects. It’s only with quantifiable goals that the natural tendency towards nepotism can be broken and the industry opened up to new voices that accurately reflect the character of our changing country and world.
BY SHAWN WHITNEY
I’ve started reading a book on distribution by Film Specific website founder Stacey Parks as part of my self-education in film marketing and distribution. This is in addition to my reading of Jon Reiss, an established documentary filmmaker, who runs seminars and has a well received book called Think Outside The Box Office. I highly recommend checking them out but my only real point in mentioning them is what they both elude to: getting your indie film distributed is hard. Really hard. Gone are the halcyon days when an indie filmmaker could pre-sell their film before even a frame had been shot and thus recoup their costs. That was before the great democratization of filmmaking technology – of which I’ve written more than once. When filmmaking got cheaper, more films got made and prices dropped. The big struggle now is to get anyone to watch your film beyond your friends and begrudging but obligated family members (“No, Grandma, really, it gets better after this next gruesome killing.”).
So, if it’s so hard to make (it’s still hard, just not AS hard) and hard to distribute your indie film, why bother? Well, Shane Smith the founder of VICE provided a few good reasons for doing so when he spoke on a recent panel. The short answer is because “online TV could be revolutionary but it’s crap.” The longer answer is because we live in times of crisis, revolution, war and tectonic shifts in the relationship between an “old” empire (the USA) and a new, rising one (China). This should be a period of rich cultural production, it should be a moment in which we grapple with deep themes and unique stories that reflect in some way the turbulence of our times. Hollywood – and the Canadian film industry, by and large – hasn’t demonstrated the ability to do this. The emphasis is on safe, derivative themes, settings and stories. It’s up to indie filmmakers – and indie content producers of web programs, trans media, books, blogs, etc. – to fill that vacuum. That doesn’t meant that every story must be a political drama. It means being bold in our work and not trying to make just another “romcom” or police procedural or slasher film (oh, go ahead, make a slasher film if you want – the slasher fan base can’t get enough of ’em). But enough of me, here’s some of Shane Smith’s thoughts:
“Basically young people all over the world are pissed off. They’re fucking angry. And I don’t know about you but there is nothing that’s scarier than young people who have no future. If you take away someone’s future, they have nothing to lose. Historically, if we look at what young men do, especially, when they have no future, is they go out there and they fuck shit up.”…“As I was flying back from Pakistan, and we saw some serious shit there… where’s the media that covers this? We’re just not doing it.”
“The news is gonna be, Two and a Half Men is moving from Tuesday to Thursday fuckin’ night.”…
“TV is shit. Everyone has their four favorite shows but it’s shit. The Internet is derivative of that shit. TV is derivative of itself. What’s the No. 1 show? The Voice. What’s The Voice?It’s American Idol 2.0. American Idol was shit and now The Voice is shittier. TV never takes any chances, they never do anything different.”
Go, Shane, go! And go, indie filmmakers, go!
BY SHAWN WHITNEY
Our director of photography, Alex Lisman, shared this excerpted conversation with the great director Francis Ford Coppola on the Facebook wall of myself and my co-director, Kathryn Palmateer. I think he meant to inspire us (as opposed to intimidating us by reminding us that we’re trying to do the same thing as the dude who directed The Godfather, Apocalypse Now, et al). The whole conversation is worth reading but there were a few little tidbits, brilliant insights and controversial comments that I thought were worth sharing for those who don’t have the time to read the whole thing. What do you think about these, especially his thoughts on the freedom of art and the need for risk?
On art, risk and commerce:
Even in the early days of the movies, they didn’t know how to make movies. They had an image and it moved and the audience loved it. You saw a train coming into the station, and just to see motion was beautiful.
The cinema language happened by experimentation – by people not knowing what to do. But unfortunately, after 15-20 years, it became a commercial industry. People made money in the cinema, and then they began to say to the pioneers, “Don’t experiment. We want to make money. We don’t want to take chances.”
An essential element of any art is risk. If you don’t take a risk then how are you going to make something really beautiful, that hasn’t been seen before? I always like to say that cinema without risk is like having no sex and expecting to have a baby. You have to take a risk.
On the freedom of art and film piracy:
This idea of Metallica or some rock n’ roll singer being rich, that’s not necessarily going to happen anymore. Because, as we enter into a new age, maybe art will be free. Maybe the students are right. They should be able to download music and movies. I’m going to be shot for saying this. But who said art has to cost money? And therefore, who says artists have to make money?
You must never be the kind of director, I think maybe I was when I was 18, “No, no, no, I know best.” That’s not good. You can make the decision that you feel is best, but listen to everyone, because cinema is collaboration. I always like to say that collaboration is the sex of art because you take from everyone you’re working with.
On theme as the basis for making those directing decisions:
When you make a movie, always try to discover what the theme of the movie is in one or two words. Every time I made a film, I always knew what I thought the theme was, the core, in one word. In “The Godfather,” it was succession. In “The Conversation,” it was privacy. In “Apocalypse,” it was morality.
The reason it’s important to have this is because most of the time what a director really does is make decisions. All day long: Do you want it to be long hair or short hair? Do you want a dress or pants? Do you want a beard or no beard? There are many times when you don’t know the answer. Knowing what the theme is always helps you.
BY SHAWN WHITNEY
Not everything that I write will be about this but the revolution in film production capabilities – as a result not only of high quality and cheap digital video recording, (in particular HDSLRs but also everything from the RED camera to smartphones) but also cheap peripheral and support gear, available directly online from China and India, things like shoulder rigs, follow focus units, lighting kits, video monitors, etc etc – is so profound to filmmaking in general and to us in particular, that it occupies a lot of my brain space.
However, even with the technical barriers falling quickly, film is still not a cheap medium because it is a collaborative art form and, whether you pay people or not, labour/time is expensive (the only question is who pays for it, the filmmaker/producer or the people who donate it). But, then, art was never cheap in those terms, not really. The 120-year old opera La Boheme tells a story of starving artists that still resonates today (minus the TB, of course, at least in most of the industrialized world). It’s one thing to get a few friends and colleagues together to shoot a short over a weekend with some pizza and beers as reward at the end of the day. It’s quite another to try and use professional actors and crew and/or to shoot your film over a period of two or three or four weeks. It can be done and done (financially) cheaply. Mumblecore films did it, shooting for under $20k (I believe that Humpday, which really launched Lyn Shelton’s career, was shot for around $25k). But it is a sacrifice no less valuable for those making it than the sacrifice of giving money for the (unlikely) opportunity of a return on investment. Still, the decline in technical costs and the relatively more available resource of time amongst filmmakers, has led to an explosion in indie film productions from the ubiquitous YouTube videos of LOL cats to professional and semi-pro feature films.
The “trade-off” is that the glut in productions – between 15,000 – 45,000 indie features globally per year – has to fight to find an audience. More film is being made than ever before but the audience isn’t expanding at the same rate. This is partly offset by the relative cheapness of the films, permitting them to survive with a smaller audience share. Ridley Scott’s Prometheus will need a few more eyeballs to recoup its costs than will A Brand New You, made for less than the cost of the coffee budget on Prometheus (that’s just a guess, depending on brand of coffee, of course). That doesn’t mean that it’s not still a challenge – in fact, the biggest challenge – and it will be one that we will be encountering and exploring as we approach post-production.
It’s a Wild West out there in digital streaming and distribution land. There are the big fish, like Netflix or iTunes at the broadcast end of the foodchain or big “content aggregators” (distributors) who sell to broadcasters, such as Gravitas. But there are also the more DIY models, like distrify – in which you encourage friends and supporters to place a button on their websites and blogs to sell your streamed movie and they get a 10% commission in return. There’s also the more grassroots content aggregator Distribber (recently purchased by IndieGoGo, which deserves its own article on crowdfunding!), which doesn’t take any commissions or buy rights (like traditional distributors) but instead provides a service, for which you pay a flat fee, of submitting your material to broadcasters. Tunecore, which started out with just musicians but now provides the service to filmmakers and is a bit cheaper than Distribber. Other models like advertising embedded streaming (Hulu, YouTube) vs pay streaming vs P2P – the list is long and that’s only in the area of streaming video. Then there are sites like Topspin, similar to Distribber, that allow you to market your DVDs and merch online, providing a platform, in return for a subscription fee. For the full list of 27 (!!) platforms for direct distribution, check out this article. The labyrinth of opportunities – all new (as in less than a decade old), some more effective than others – is navigated with a guide. You could do worse than to read Jon Reiss’ book Think Outside The Box Office. It has become something of a bible for indie filmmakers and he is a much in-demand speaker, describing what indie filmmakers need to do to build a relationship with an audience who will buy and watch your movie after you’ve gone to all the trouble of making it.
What is clear is that the digital revolution has changed the indie filmmaking world. There are enormous opportunities and new challenges in what is still largely uncharted territory, especially for first time filmmakers. We – the Brand New You production team – are also experiencing this for the first time and, thus, sharing our journey with you. But, please, if you have been along this path, we encourage you to share your experience. How has the digital revolution – in production and distribution – changed your filmmaking experience? What have you learned from your experience that could be usefully shared with others? Believe me when I say that we really want to know.