“Tim League’s Mega-Awesome Distribution Strategies”: Four Progressive Ideas from Film Independent Forum 2014

Each year, L.A.-based organization Film Independent hosts the Film Independent Forum, a three-day conference for independent moviemakers. This year’s line-up included a Nightcrawler screening and discussion with director Dan Gilroy, panels on financing and navigating California’s new tax credits, and in-depth case studies on the year’s most successful independent projects. The highlight, though, was the Sunday morning keynote address by Tim League, founder and CEO of the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, Drafthouse Films, and Fantastic Fest.

League’s address can be heard in full in the following video – best viewed in conjunction with his accompanying slideshow – but we’ve highlighted some of his best ideas and provided links to explore them further.

1. Savvy Casting: “To increase your odds of financial success, convince a name actor/actress to be in your film… or make a solid horror or science fiction film.”

League identified three types of actors filmmakers should be looking for. Two of his ideas are standard:

  • Find a rising star, “like Taron Egerton,” and get them right before they go mainstream.
  • Alternatively, rescue a great actor who has recently fallen out of the spotlight. “Maybe it’s time for the old Robert Forester treatment on Danny Glover… because he is ripe for a career resurgence project.”  League submitted 2011 clunker Age of the Dragons as reason to give Glover good work again.

But the third is something new:

  • Find a veteran actor who is starting to break out and really understands the social media space. He gives Pat Healy, who has assembled a major following on Instagram, Twitter, and Tumblr, as a perfect example.

Healy not only delivers a great performance, but extends his creative collaboration with the filmmaker outside of the screen, to help make League’s second point:

2. Social Media Branding: “You are a brand. Work hard and work constantly to develop your brand and build your community.”

Social media branding is something that the Drafthouse franchises have excelled at over the years. League cited the Tumblr Drafthouse created to promote A Band Called Death, as well as the social media campaign called “Share to Dare” that Pat Healy participated in for the film Cheap Thrills.

Healy (center) in the Drafthouse-distributed thriller Cheap Thrills

Healy (center) in the Drafthouse-distributed thriller Cheap Thrills

Twitter is League’s platform of choice, he said, because they don’t filter your feed and because it enables you can have more local interactions. Each of the 15 Drafthouse locations handles social media on a per-theater basis, because “it’s a one-way conversation if you do it nationally, a two-way conversation if you do it locally.” He then invited the audience at the Film Independent Forum to follow Drafthouse’s Twitter in return for an invitation to the grand opening of Alamo Drafthouse’s new location in downtown L.A. “Do some kind of pandering, cheap tactic like that whenever you have a captive audience.”

3. Equity Crowdfunding: “Move to New Zealand.”

For the cutting edge of film finance, that is (not because of the breathtaking scenery). Why? Because while equity crowdfunding is on its way to the rest of the world, New Zealand got there first. The New Zealand-based company Snowball Effect, said League, “offers a dollar per share in investment, with a minimum investment of $100.”

League further explained: “If a film is successful, preferential equity investors, alongside pre-committed investors who have put $1.15 million forward, will recoup their investment, as well as a 20 percent premium on income before other investors.” Snowball Effect “cuts through the red tape” that has prohibited sites like Kickstarter or Indiegogo from being more reliable gateways to funding.

4. BitTorrent Bundling: “Experiment and be open to new concepts.”

Perhaps League’s most forward-thinking move as a distributor is partnering Drafthouse with BitTorrent, the famous developer of peer-to-peer protocol. With the company’s announcement this year of a new model for downloading and selling On Demand content, BitTorrent “position[s] themselves as the software client that allows for bundle downloads.” In the light of recent debate (some of which took place at Fantastic Fest itself) on the merits of this new system, League came down strongly in favor of BitTorrent bundling, which he believes will “distance [the platform] from the vast 99.99 percent use of BitTorrent, which is to steal creative work. They’re trying to reinvent and re-brand themselves from the Pirate Bays.”

BitTorrent’s rebranding seems to have had a substantial effect, with Drafthouse’s 2013 release The Act of Killing being an early adopter of bundling: “The bundle had 3.5 million downloads and we did feel a blip after that went out.” Those downloads resulted in “51,000 iTunes impressions, 45,000 impressions in Indonesia (very noteworthy), and 52,000 email addresses.” Seems like independent moviemakers might do well to consider bundling as a workable VOD strategy for their film. MM

The 2014 Film Independent Forum ran from October 24 – 26, 2014 at the Directors Guild of America in Los Angeles. Read our coverage of the 2013 Forum here. Tim League’s keynote address was delivered on October 26, preceded by an address by writer/director Jill Soloway (Transparent, Afternoon Delight, Six Feet Under).

Featured image courtesy of Getty Images.

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