Distribution: The Key To Success

This is a three-part series concerning independents
and their relationship with distributors. Part-I is DISTRIBUTION
PATTERNS: How To Release, Part-II is the DISTRIBUTION DEAL: Negotiating
Successfully and Part-III is DISTRIBUTION COMPANIES: Securing
A Distributor).

PART-I: DISTRIBUTION PATTERNS
How To Release

You’ve secured the GREAT SCRIPT, shot it on budget,
have the final answer print and it’s great. Your job is still not
done. You have one more step. Get it to the consumer. To do this
you either self-distribute or get a distributor. Let’s talk about
distribution patterns.

The distribution game is complicated. It is contract
driven and every phrase in the contract depends on the previous
phrase’s interpretation. Thus, an experienced entertainment attorney
(i.e. Mark Litwak, esq 310-859-9595, Nigel Sinclair, esq 310- 777-7777,
Robert Siegel, esq. 212-307-7533) is needed to assist in your exhibition
agreement with theater owners (if self distributing) or distribution
agreement with distributors (if securing a distribution deal).

Whichever way you choose, there are some basic phrases
(release patterns) that you should understand:

  • SATURATION RELEASE

  • PLATFORM RELEASE

  • LIMITED RELEASE

  • see url MARKET-BY-MARKET

  • ART HOUSE RELEASE

  • FOUR-WALLING

  • go here NON-THEATRICAL

SATURATION RELEASE: This is solely done by
the major studios who have the massive P&A (Prints and Advertising)
money to book a screen in at least 1 out of 2 multiplexes in each
city. This results in print release of anywhere from 1,500-2,500.
Only expect this to be done with a big budget feature that has
the potential of grossing over $100 million with a $10-$15 million
release cost. Distributors: Warner Bros., Paramount, MCA/Universal,
Disney, etc.

PLATFORM RELEASE: Also a major studio release
pattern with big budget films with the feature being released in
3 stages. The first stage, for 1-2 weeks, is 10-20 prints each
being released in a single large theater in one of the top 10-20
(NY, LA, Boston, Chicago, etc.) markets in America. Stage 2 has
the film opening wide a week later, an additional 15-30 prints
(150-600) in each of those 10-20 major markets. Stage 3 has the
film opening wide on all the smaller cities (markets #21-200 with
the same 150-600 prints) around America during the next 4-6 weeks.
Distributors: Miramax, New Line, MGM/UA, etc.

follow site LIMITED RELEASE: This is when a film opens
in just a select few theaters in the major markets of New York,
Los Angeles, Chicago and thenif it is well received at the box
officeit makes its way into a smaller scale of a platform release.
Recent examples would be The Crying Game or Slingblade from Miramax
or New Line. This release pattern also applies for medium to big
budget films that the distributor has discovered, upon completion,
that it is not as good as it hoped. However, the distributor, due
to contractual relationships with Pay-Cable (HBO/Showtime) and
Home-Video buyers, is forced to open in major cities, a minimum
of one week each, in order to guarantee the eventual sales to these
ancillary markets. Distributors: Regency, Polygram, Savoy, Gramercy,
etc.

MARKET-BY-MARKET RELEASE: Usually it’s a good-to-excellent
small film that a mid-size distributor has picked up the rights
to but does not have the capital for a Saturation Release of 1,500-2,500
prints. This distributor will make 20-40 prints and play it in
one region after another over 12 months until North America (USA/
Canada) is eventually saturated. Distributors: Samuel Goldwyn,
Fox Searchlight, Trimark, Mandalay, etc.

ART HOUSE RELEASE: Foreign films, small film
noirs or anything made by Merchant-Ivory are in the classification
distributed via art houses. The point is that in every large city
there is 1-2 art houses (small old cinemas) seating 100-200 rather
than Multi-plexes seating 1,200-2,000. The Laemmle, Lumiere and
Landmark are examples of these theater circuits. Thus, you need
only 7-10 prints to get exposure and then, depending upon boxoffice
acceptance, go on a small market-by-market (order 10-15 additional
prints) campaign sometimes called a "roadshow" with 15-25
prints. Distributors: Strand Releasing, Fine Line, Mandalay, etc.

FOUR WALLING: For the total film entrepreneur. This
occurs when you circumvent a distributor and go from town-to-town
renting, literally, the 4 walls of the theater direct from the
theater owner, bringing your own print, placing your own ads, and
sitting in the box office collecting every penny (if any) for yourself.
You cut out the middlemen. In the ’70s this was done with the famed
Billy Jack series and in the ’90s this is being done by Warren
Miller with skiing and surfing movies.

NON-THEATRICAL: For films that go directly to the
video, foreign sale, cable, hotel/motel, pay-per-view, broadcasting
(TV), foreign television, multi media, web and net markets for
revenues. (note: this will be a detailed article in my MovieMaker
column two issues from now.)

Bottom line is you’ll need a distributor, unless
you’re either four-walling or trying an art house release, and
the more you know about the way distributors release films, the
better you can be when it comes time to negotiate your distribution
deal. Happy filmmaking!

Questions for Mr. Hollywood

Dear Mr. Hollywood,
I’ve just completed a movie we shot in S and HI8. I think it’s
commercially viable but I’m not sure how to shop it. All my
friends think it’s brilliant and don’t think it needs any changes.
What I want is to get a distributor who will cover the costs
to convert it to 35 and make the prints. Got any good leads?
-Ready to go in Toronto

Dear Ready To Go,
Congratulations. Another Doer, not a talker. I like you. You had
very little money and combined it with a dream and shot it on
whatever was available, in this case HI-8 or S and now it’s done
and tells an excellent story for 90-120 minutes. You’ve done
a Hoop Dreams. Here’s what you do to get a distributor. Make
like it’s not shot and you’re starting from scratch. Call the
film production chart editors at Daily Variety (Friday’s issue)
and Hollywood Reporter (Tuesday’s issue) and get your film listed
as if hasn’t gone into production yet. The Acquisition Executives
from all the studios (Miramax, New Line, Samuel Goldwyn, Fox
Searchlight, etc.) will call you. When they call you and literally
beg to see a rough cut tell them to set up a screening and to
expedite matters you’ll get them something to see on tape. Got
the point? Instead of you calling them, if you do a little proper
publicity (film production charts) they’ll call you and you’re
in a much better position. To get a list of distributors you
should either purchase the Money*Power Directory, The Hollywood
Creative Directories or the Blu-Book. Remember, when they call,
get arrogant. Arrogance works in Hollywood. Ask them, "Why
should I let you distribute my film?"

Dear Mr. Hollywood,
Over the past six years I’ve done a documentary, three music videos,
two shorts and two indie features. I’ve compiled a good reel
and am now putting together my first larger budget. I’ve got
a solid script in mind and I’m wondering how to go about attaching
a star to the project. I’m not really connected, primarily
because the projects I’ve done have been shot in rural areas.
-Somewhat Remote in Wyoming

Dear Somewhere Remote,
God bless, another Doer. If you want to talk with agents who control
big name talent about hiring them, then they only will talk to
you if you can handle play-or-pay contracts. That means if you
call an agent who handles Tom Sellek or Martin Sheen and you
want them to commit their actor to your shoot for a specific
period of time (1-5 weeks) for 6-8 months from now, then you
must be able to pay their client a minimum of 10%-50% down on
what you say you’re promising to pay. If you shop their names
with your package to the studios and don’t get money to go into
production, the agent and the actor don’t care. They want the
other 50-90% of the salary at the commencement of principal photography.
Hollywood’s an expensive game to play. Your best route for attracting
name talent without paying big pay-or-play contract checks is
to hire a big casting agent (who has access to name actors) for
a fee and a smaller percentage of the actors’ salaries if the
film goes into production. Casting Directors are excellent ways
to initially get around non-cooperative agents. Good luck.

Dear Mr. Hollywood,
I just finished my first feature and am looking for an editor.
Several people are sending me their reels, but as I’m not able
to afford the going rates for professional editors, I haven’t
seen much in the way of feature experience. How would you suggest
I qualify the editors I’m considering? -Stumped in Post in
Boston

Dear Stumped,
First off, in looking for an editor you stated you couldn’t afford
the "Going rates for editors in Boston." That’s not
true. I know for a fact that there were only 3 independently
financed feature films shot in Massachusetts in the past 18 months.
So in all of Massachusetts there are only 3 Opening Title Credit
of FILM EDITOR given out in Mass. The point is that you are in
the driver’s seat in selecting editors and you can pay whatever
you can afford, not what they ask, because you are one of those
feature credits that will be made available to the 200-300 editors
in Massachusetts. I recommend paying $500-$700/week while paying
their assistant $250-$300/week. The total with equipment rental
is about $9000-$12,000 for 6 cuts in an 8 week period. Be sure
that when you hire the editor you see their demo reel on film,
not tape, and make sure that they know how to edit for the movie
theater (different splice rhythm) rather than the TV set and
are comfortable with the old moviola and flatbed equipment as
well as the newer electronic non-linear. If using an Avid or
non-linear make sure that they know how to keep it in sync for
theatrical throw and not TV throw and that they are super sure
how to get an electronic edit list that the negative cutter at
the lab can conform the negative with. Bottom line: Don’t pay
a lot. And be sure to get an old-time film editor and not some
kid who just took a 2-week class on Avid and is called an operator.

Dear Mr. Hollywood,
I have a feature under my belt that won some minor festival prizes.
I wrote a new script that I’m trying to get off the ground
and I’ve been talking to producers to try to raise the financing.
The problem is this has been going on for almost three years.
I can’t tell you how many "producers" have flaked
on me. I’ve wined and dined many of these people, I’ve flown
around the country, I’ve ruined my immune system by staying
up all hours at smoky bars.. They call me a genius and string
me along for months. Some of these people have impressive credentials.
I’m ready to give all this up and become a novelist. I don’t
even have a question, I just wanted to vent. Thanks for your
straight-on advice, just the same. -My Trust Fund is Waning
in Sacramento

Dear Trust Fund,
No producer flaked on youin my opinion you’re the flake. If these
are real producers with real feature credits and you have the
script and it’s a GREAT script, they would have optioned it from
you already. It appears that if you have been wining and dining
real producers and they have read your script then the bottom
line is they don’t like your script. Thus, I think you should
forget about the project and go on to a new one. If, however,
these producers that you have been wining and dining are only
bullshit (no real credit) producers, then start taking steps
to secure the monies by yourself. Here’s how to do it. I’ll say
it in one wordDENTISTS! Do your proper legal work. Pick up the
Yellow Pages. Turn to the section called Dentists and call. State
that you’re an "Award Winning Filmmaker with an investment
opportunity for them." If they are interested, send the
script. Then call them back. If they like the script, (remember,
they’re dentists and they don’t know how to read scripts) then
rent a local theater or screening room and bring them in where
you screen your allegedly Award-Winning Film and ask them for
the money. Now let’s get on with it before your trust fund disappears
and you have to get a real job. MM

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