Doing Distribution Right

Despite battling the pressures of a fast-paced society that demands attention and decision at a superficial glance, Randolph Kret, Shaun Hill and the rest of the six-person staff of Indican Pictures watch every submitted film that passes through the up-and-coming distribution company’s door–not once, mind you, but in the spirit of the old adage: three times is their charm. “To be honest,” admits Kret, an Indican Pictures co-founder along with his wife, Hill, “sometimes we are a little slow in responding to a submission, but that is only because we have each film watched by multiple people.”

With an eye toward promoting independent voices and visions, Indican Pictures distributes an eclectic mix of genre films, animations and documentaries among which are Troy Duffy’s The Boondock Saints, a cult favorite for its vigilante flare, Monteith McCollum’s Independent Spirit-awarded Hybrid and Rosario Roverto Jr.’s social comment comedy, A Wake in Providence. Taking a break from the hustle of running Indican Pictures, Kret and Hill shared time with MM to sketch a view of the distribution scene and explain why it’s so important for companies to maintain independent roots.

Indican Pictures

Noralil Ryan Fores (MM): As a husband-wife business team, an obvious question immediately comes to mind: How do you guys work together and then at the end of the day live together?

Randolph Kret (RK): Very carefully.

Shaun Hill (SH): We handle different sections of the business and we have other partners so it’s not quite as intense. But sometimes it can pour into our home life which is difficult. Just ask our neighbors!

MM: In part the formation of Indican Pictures responded directly to the studio acquisitions of formerly independent distribution companies such as Miramax, Good Machine and New Line. In setting up Indican, why was it so important to fill the market gap those companies left behind after their buy-outs?

RK: Those companies redefined the indie landscape in terms of the theatrical world by making U.S. independent films a viable world that could make money. Then as each company turned profits they were bought out by the studios who also realized that independent films could be profitable. Remember these are the companies that broke Clerks, Reservoir Dogs, Brothers McMullen, The Living End. Without those companies taking chances, many of today’s current top filmmakers wouldn’t have careers.

SH: Plus those were the films we liked. Now the indie film business has become star driven again in a way that today’s business feels like it’s regressed to the late 80’s/early 90’s again when films are about the stars. We like to bring new voices to the world and watch them grow.

MM: From Christine Fugate’s documentary The Girl Next Door to Veit Helmer’s Tuvalu, there¹s a notable mark of thematic and stylistic diversity in the company¹s movie selection. What’s the draw of this diversity when so many distribution companies nowadays cater to a particular genre?

SH: When we founded our company we did so with the intention that we would release interesting films, sometimes flawed, sometimes incredible gems, but films that we felt were unique and should be seen. This can range from a silent film like Tuvalu to a star driven comedy like Wasabi Tuna. We have adapted our mindset over the years to realize that in addition to edgy, risky films that it is okay to also acquire and release films that are fun and made for everyone.

RK: When we acquire a film, we listen to everyone’s opinion equally whether it’s the receptionist or the owner. In doing this we found that our company is similar to a mirror of society; the world likes a diverse slate of films and so do we.

MM: How do you go about selecting the movies that you want to distribute?

SH: It’s two pronged. We have an acquisitions person, Dan Schneider, who does what most of our competitors do by talking with various festivals throughout the world and with producer’s reps that we buy from, but in the past two years we’ve had a lot of our previous films’ producers bring us their new films. Little Wing films gave us Two Men Went to War which is a great film that should have had a studio release, and we worked really hard on getting that film into theaters. Because of the job we had done, Little Wing brought us Pure which stars Keira Knightley and Molly Parker. That is a film that everyone wanted, but we were rewarded for doing a good job on the first film. Acquiring films from happy producers is a great way for us to do business.

MM: In October, the company plans to release Susan Kraker and Pi Ware¹s 2002 Solitude and Marshall E. Uzzle’s 2002 A Light in the Darkness on DVD. What attracted you both to working toward a wider release for these projects?

RK: Solitude is a perfect example of our company. The characters are unpleasant and the situation is tough. It screams AMERICAN INDIE from the top of its’ lungs, but the performances are exceptional…The directors will get more work but only if their film sees the light of day. To be frank, this film is a breakeven film for us,…but if we didn’t put the movie out, then (the directors’) careers might not get the traction they deserve, and audiences would miss out.

SH: A Light in the Darkness–It’s a horror film that has so much going on so it’s not easily identifiable. Today’s kids seem to like hack-and-slash films whereas this film is a throwback to The Shining. It’s more eerie and feels like watching someone go crazy, but it has really solid performances and is a very polished piece. We had a previous film The Boondock Saints that we distributed and which started out as a small underground action movie. As the film public discovered the movie, they turned it into a phenomenon which keeps selling DVDS to this day. A Light in the Darkness has the chance to become a word-of-mouth film that grows its audience like Boondock and Tuvalu.

MM: Beyond working on the distribution side of the industry, as moviemakers yourselves you are both involved on the creative side as well. What is it like to switch from one state of mind to the other?

RK: I’ve actually done both my entire career. When I came to LA, I shot music videos and commercials and wrote scripts before I segued way into studio development and then distribution. I left distribution to pursue my creative side and literally bounced back and forth between 1996-2002. What solidified my journey into distribution was when one of our films, Pariah was too hard-edged for the studios to distribute. We had a friend that offered to finance the theatrical release for us with one caveat: we couldn’t just distribute our film–too much risk–and had to distribute at least three films. So I took my knowledge from distribution, and the three of us jumped into indie distribution by signing The Boondock Saints (the editor of Pariah edited the film), Cleopatra’s Second Husband and The Girl Next Door. Pariah was actually our fourth film. That was the start and we never looked back.

SH: I produced different projects but never liked the production side of the business. I came from a business background and was more than happy to jump into distribution and get out of production. There are still projects I’d like get made, but I have found a solid niche in distribution which I enjoy. For me the biggest difference is similar to clothing. Being involved in production is like a designer; you start with a blank pad and create something from nothing. Being involved in distribution is like being a store; we have the dress, film already done, but it’s our job to find an audience. I am more in tune with selling and marketing a film than I am with creating something from scratch.

MM: Unlike many other distribution companies, Indican Pictures bypasses the studio system in order to work directly with retailers for sales. What are the benefits of this structure? What major pitfalls does this pose?

RK: Benefits…we can acquire any film we want. As our competitors sign on with studios they feel the push to get more star-driven films and easily identifiable genre product to meet the studios needs. We don’t.

SH: We benefit by being able to give filmmakers a better chance of seeing backend profits from their films by eliminating middlemen. When you sign on with a company underneath a studio–I don’t mean (a company) like Fox Searchlight which is 20th Century Fox under a different name, but companies that have deals with a studio–then they take their percentage profit, followed by the studio taking its percent, then the wholesalers they sell to take their percent, then retailers rebates, etcetera take their percent, and by the time the money comes back in the filmmaker won’t see any.

RK: Pitfalls…There is only so much shelf space in stores, and it’s tough to get oddball product into the marketplace.

MM: In an ideal world, how do you hope to see Indican Pictures grow in the future?

RK: I would like to see us do some production and continue to expand further into the DVD stores.

SH: We’re easing into foreign sales and new media which is exciting, plus continuing to strengthen our brand in the DVD world.

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