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How to Beat the Odds with Indie Distributors

How to Beat the Odds with Indie Distributors

Articles - Directing

Ian McKellen in Lion’s Gate’s Gods
and Monsters.

You make the movie and then you roll the dice," said
veteran independent director Abel Ferrara just prior to the world
premiere of his latest feature, New Rose Hotel at the Venice International
Film Festival. "That’s what being independent is all about."

Ferrara’s statement is an eloquent and succinct reminder
that for most independents, that’s really what everything comes
down to-gambling. And gambling that an acquisition deal will be
made once the movie is in the can is the indie moviemaker’s biggest
gamble of all. Years of intense focus, reckless hustle and unyielding
artistic integrity can be squandered without the right deal. And
the "right" deal is a rarity.

How does it happen? How do you improve your odds?
It used to be that distributors rolled their own dice to snatch
the next winner among the yearly crop of indie output. And the
old adage may still be true for some-that distributors live and
die on instincts. But lately, moviemakers do most of the gambling,
and much of the distributors’ living is now being made with studio
backing. Sporting hefty budgets from their studio parent companies,
the major indie distributors are fast moving into production, and
taking total control away from directors and producers. First-look
deals with suppliers, product and talent are often replacing straightforward
finished-product acquisitions. And with a reverse effect, under
the strictures of new regimes, even financing doesn’t guarantee
distribution, as in the case of Good Machine’s Happiness, originally
financed by October. Niche acquisitions are increasingly limited
to semi-to-high-profile product – i.e. Sundance winners-or projects
with stars attached.

Nick Nolte in Lion’s Gate’s Affliction.

All is not lost, however. A new crop of distributors
is rapidly making strong statements with exciting, unorthodox product.
Among the 40-odd Sundance deals that were closed last year, Artisan
walked away from the table with a no-stars, black-and-white psychological
thriller deemed unmarketable by the competition. Pi became, by means
of a guerrilla marketing campaign, a summer sensation that launched
newcomer Darren Aronofsky’s directorial career.

"I remember walking around Sundance after we
had acquired Pi and a lot of my friends in the distribution business
in other companies were basically saying, ‘Good luck,’ " says
Amir Malin, Artisan President. "They didn’t think we were
going to do more than $50 thousand at the box office. Pi is still
playing in a few theaters right now, and it’s pulled over $3.5
million at the box-office. Compared to High Art, Slam and all the
other acquisitions, it’s the most successful one at its level.
People are calling up saying, ‘That’s a film I thought would only
play midnights. You guys did a fabulous job.’ "

Sean Gullette in Artisan’s Pi.

Backed by private equity investors that include
Bain Capital and Allen & Co., Artisan Entertainment recently
acquired Live Entertainment and currently manages one of the world’s
largest property libraries. Malin, former co-president of October,
is in charge of all distribution operations, which includes theatrical,
home video, television and international markets. Artisan develops,
produces and distributes motion pictures domestically and through
distributors internationally. It plans to release 10-12 films per
year, half in-house productions and half acquisitions-with focus
on edgy, indie work and quality genre films.

Buffalo 66, another Sundance hit, marked Vincent
Gallo’s much-hailed directorial debut and went on to gross more
than $2 million at the box office. More significantly, it put Lion’s
Gate officially in the distribution race. Toronto-based Lion’s
Gate is a production and distribution company encompassing several
operating divisions, from domestic to international distribution,
production and home entertainment. It started in ’98 by acquiring
CPF, Buffalo 66’s producer, and closed it with four Golden Globe
nominations for two brilliantly marketed post-Sundance acquisitions,
Bill Condon’s Gods and Monsters and Paul Schrader’s Affliction.

To say this new company is feisty would be an understatement. "We
can take a small film and make it a medium film. We can take a
bland film and make it interesting. We can take an interesting
film and make it a cultural obligation," says Mark Urman,
Lion’s Gate’s bold releasing president.

Penelope Cruz in Artisan’s Open Your Eyes.

Upstart Stratosphere also continues to make its
presence known in the indie world. After Paul Cohen’s recent resignation,
Richard Abramowitz takes the lead of the distribution company, which
gets its backing from Wall Street raider Carl Icahn. The company
showed a strong presence in the foreign acquisitions arena in the
past year with the distribution of the Russian Oscar nominee The
Thief (with a gross of $1.2 million as of this writing) and Stefan
Ruzowitzky’s The Inheritors. The coming year promises to be equally
exciting for Stratosphere, with many dynamic releases-including Hideous
Kinky, with Kate Winslett, and Joan Chen’s stunning directorial debut,
Xiu-Xiu.

With the landscape obviously changing in the frenetic
world of indie distribution, and 1999’s Sundance Film Festival/Park
City Follies upon us, representatives of four companies on the
proverbial cutting edge-Artisan, Miramax, Lion’s Gate and Stratosphere-talked
with MovieMaker about acquisition, strategizing, marketing, talent
relations, and much more.

Mark Gill
LA President, Miramax Films
Staying Aggressive and Going with Their Gut

MM: Miramax has a history for being trendsetters
and pacesetters, especially at Sundance. Last year, forcasters
prior to Sundance speculated that acquisitions execs would keep
a relatively low profile. You proved them wrong with Next Stop
Wonderland. What are your plans for this year?

Mark Gill: Well, we’ve had the good fortune
to have several movies that we already own be selected to play
at Sundance, from very modestly-budgeted films to mid-size budgeted
independents-some with stars, some without. We’ll have our usual
selection of lots of Miramax films play. In the area of acquisition
we’ll be pretty aggressive.

MM: What elements do you consider when you
think about picking up a movie for distribution?

MG: The single most important reason-and the
thing that everybody who works at Miramax likes about the place-is,
‘Did we love the movie?’ Not speculations about whether or not
you can make money with the film. The second question will be,
‘How much do we love it, and how much is it going to cost?’ If
these two things are in the same neighborhood, then it starts to
get interesting and appealing. Then I suppose there’s another category
which is, ‘How promotable is the movie?’ That’s well down the list.
We have a history of being able to promote things that are not
categorically easy to promote.

MM: What is an example of a budget for the
promotion of a movie?

MG: Well, it depends. It could be anywhere
from $300,000, to several million dollars. These are the hardest
decisions we make.

MM : What are they based on?

MG: They’re based on how we can maximize the
value of the movie. There are companies that do their budgets based
on a percentage of the budget of the movie, or a percentage of
the sales they expect. We do it more based on gut and past experience.
It’s usually Bob and Harvey (Weinstein) and myself and a couple
of people in the room.

MM: So you don’t base it on how much money
you expect to make from the film?

MG: Not necessarily. Each case is totally
different.

MM: How much do you stand behind a film if
it doesn’t do as well as you initially expected at the box-office?

MG: Well, there’re different ways of releasing
movies. Obviously there’s a platform version of a release, starting
with a couple of cities and then working your way out. And then
there are movies that open on a lot of screens at once. Most of
the movies at Sundance, obviously, are platform releases-though
we have the famous case, of course, with Sling Blade, which also
did very well. It’s another one of those case-by-case things.

MM: In general, though, are you willing to
stand behind the film until it finds its audience?

MG: Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work
that way. There are plenty of situations where movies just don’t
find their audience, they go nowhere and they lose their theaters.
The biggest problem we’re facing right now is that there are too
many movies fighting for theaters. So if you don’t start pretty
strong, you have maybe a week or two to recover from that. If you
don’t recover pretty quickly, the owners won’t sit around; they’ll
boot you out.

MM: Do you think the new art screens that
are being added in several cities will change the situation?

MG: It’s not nearly enough. There are just
so many more choices for movies than we had even three years ago.
But it won’t last. Too many of these movies just aren’t making
money. There will inevitably be cutbacks where you will be reducing
the releases. Our parent company is already doing it. It’ll be
another couple of years before you see the shake-out in independent
films. The pie isn’t getting bigger, everybody is just getting
thinner slices.

MM: What should a filmmaker expect once you
start working with them?

MG: The most important thing is the conversation
about how to market the movie, the advertising, the publicity,
and if the director has a good story to tell. Then, it’s not just
about promoting the cast, but also promoting the director. Robert
Rodriguez had a great story in making El Mariachi. The third element
is the movie itself, and are there adjustments that need to be
made? A lot of the filmmakers get to Sundance and they run out
of money, or time, to do all the things they wanted to do. We have
a conversation with them about the things they would like to do,
or things we can suggest to make the movie more successful either
artistically or commercially.

Amir Malin
President, Artisan Films
A Strategy of Creating the "Event" Film

MM: Pi was a risky proposition-this small,
esoteric, black-and-white film, with no names or stars-and you
turned it into a big success. How?

AM: Nothing comes easy. What we saw in Pi
was first, a very talented director and second, a film that we
thought hit a certain segment of the audience. When we bought Live,
which became Artisan, we wanted to have a very strong identity
out there that skewed younger. We wanted to bring to the arthouse
medium a younger audience, which I think has been lost. In selecting
and acquiring Pi, there were a lot of things going on for us. We
wanted to be in the Darren Aronofsky business, and we did that
through the acquisition of Pi and a deal that included involvement
in his next two projects. We also felt that as a film it was not
going to be per se "review sensitive." Most art film
distributors today have a reliance on review, to allow the critics
to do the work for you-in other words to have consumers out there
read the reviews and let that be the major factor they use to come
in and see a film. Our feeling was you can’t do that anymore. So
what we saw in Pi, and what we wanted to create was, paradoxically-because
it was made for $50 thousand-an event film. People in certain demographics,
people who live in large urban centers, who love film, would go
see and enjoy and make Pi compete with what the studios were doing
in the summer, which was basically Godzilla. The results show we
were very successful in doing that.

MM: You said something about wanting to establish
a very strong identity in the distribution arena. How do you pick
your movies, the ones that you acquire and the ones you produce?

AM: The process of either acquiring a film
or producing a film is no different for us than any of the other
companies out there. We have a strong acquisitions staff here at
the company; I am responsible for the acquisitions department,
and we have a very strong production staff as well, which is overseen
by my partner, Bill Block. We solicit scripts; scripts are sent
to us. Producers come in, they make pitches. We develop projects,
we go to film festivals, we go to markets, and we are invited to
screenings. Basically, along with Miramax and Fineline, Gramercy,
October and the others, we tend to see the films when they’re ready
to be screened by the producers, or by the filmmakers. We make
our own individual decisions based on a lot of different criteria.
There are films that have been picked up by Fineline, or October
and Miramax, that we have passed on. You look at some of the films
that have been touted as big acquisitions in the marketplace, like
HurlyBurly. The competition for HurlyBurly was not that great.
Fineline internally made a decision this was a film they wanted
to acquire and there was a price they were willing to pay. It’s
simply that for us that movie didn’t fit in, and maybe it was the
same for a lot of other companies. There haven’t been too many
times in the past 15 months, which is how long we’ve been around
as Artisan, where we’ve had to say we know that we’re looking at
this project and so is the competition. There have been no major
bidding wars. It doesn’t really happen anymore, which may be good,
because we’re all trying to create a different identity in the
marketplace.

MM: But what films appeal to you as a company?

AM: What we’re trying to do with the company
is to be in the business of what one would consider specialized
product, arthouse product, but also inherently commercial product.
We’re making a thriller with Roman Planks right now which is in
post production, a $30 million film called Ninth Gate, that stars
Johnny Depp. That, unlike Pi, is inherently a commercial film.
We’re making a film in Chicago called Stir of Echoes, which is
being directed by David Kebb, one of the top writers in Los Angeles,
starring Kevin Bacon, and it is more on the horror/thriller side.
Unlike a Fineline or October or Sony Classics, which tend to be
only involved in art film, and unlike Newline, which tends to be
only involved in more commercially oriented films, Artisan is going
to be mixing it up between specialized product and more inherently
commercial product. Our films’ common denominator will be that
they will skew young, and the marketing for all of them will be
very aggressive.

MM: So when you go to a festival like Sundance,
where there are a lot of first-time directors and young directors,
what makes you want to create a relationship with them?

AM: You’re always looking for the new team
that’s coming in. That being said, there are always risks attached
to being involved with first-time directors. They may have shown
a great deal of raw talent in their film, but there may still be
a lot to be desired. So we’re always going back and looking, not
only at the product that the filmmaker has done, but what he or
she has going on inside. I would say we spent hours and hours and
hours with Darren, talking about his idea, not only for Pi, but
more importantly what he had in mind for down the road. That convinced
us that he really has the goods.

MM: You sound very filmmaker-friendly as a
company.

AM: We are filmmaker friendly; we have a heavy
commitment to the filmmaker and the filmmaking process. On the
other hand, we are a company-a very large company with over $200
million in revenue. We have a library of more than 6,000 titles,
one of the largest in the world. Our library alone generates about
$150 million for us every year, giving us the ability to deal with
the vagaries of the theatrical business.

MM: So as a filmmaker, what’s fair to expect,
and what do you expect from filmmakers you’re working with?

AM: We don’t think the process of making a
film begins and ends with the delivery of a print. If you talk
to the filmmakers that we have been involved with, that process
continues throughout the marketing campaign. We explore their ideas
of what they think is best for the release of their film. We try
to collectively cultivate a marketing plan for the film that makes
sense both for the film and for us as a company.

MM: What if the film doesn’t perform?

AM: Many years ago someone told me there’s
no such thing as a bad book, just a bad book publisher. There’s
no such thing as a bad record, just a bad record distributor. And
there’s no such thing as a bad movie, just a bad movie distributor.
As a company we are trying to really handle only a certain amount
of films per year. We don’t want to release any more than 10 films,
but we want to roll up our sleeves and do the best job possible
for each film. That doesn’t guarantee that a film will succeed.
This fall we released Permanent Midnight, starring Ben Stiller.
It was a project we liked very much, even though it was already
shooting when we got involved. We were very satisfied with the
finished product. Ben Stiller did a phenomenal job acting in the
film and David Kebb did a terrific job writing the script and directing
it. We spent a good deal of money and time in promoting and releasing
the film and it didn’t click. It had very limited success, and
we take that to heart. What we do constantly is go back and make
judgments about what we did and what we didn’t do on any given
film. The reality for all of us is that there are films that are
going to succeed in the marketplace and films that won’t. As glamorous
as this business is, it’s a very difficult business. Luck is very
much a factor in the success of a film. But at the end of the day,
there is a tendency for the director to always blame the distributor
for films that don’t work-and for the distributor to blame the
product that just didn’t have an appeal on the marketplace.

MM: What are your plans for Sundance this
year?

AM: Last year we picked up two films. One
was Pi, the other was Open Your Eyes, by Alejandro Amenabar, which
we will open in the spring. He is one of the foremost directors
working in Europe today, and has a great feel not only for working
with actors and actresses but a great visual style and a great
sense of story. So if we end up with another Amenabar and Aronofsky
we’re in great shape, but if we end up with 50 percent of what
we got last year, we’ll also be very happy.

Mark Urman
President, Lion’s Gate Releasing
Brilliant Marketers Prudently Seek Fresh Faces

MM: Are you still a moviegoer?

LG: Very much so. I like trash, I like art,
I like everything in between, as long as it’s good-or good of its
kind. So when I go as a fan, I’m just looking to see that my time
is well spent. I want to be entertained and to be moved just like
anybody else.

MM: What about when you go as a distribution
executive?

MU: Well, there’s a second review happening
simultaneously. I obviously have to concern myself with the commercial
potential of a film I might distribute. My partner, Tom Ortenberg,
and I are moviegoers; we are discerning, but not too obscure in
our orientation. We’ll decide, ‘Did I like it, did he like it?’
If we both liked the film, this is already an indication that two
rather different people responded favorably. And once you’ve thought
of these three things-did we like it, will it satisfy other people,
and can we sell it-you’ve really thought of absolutely everything
except its cost. And it doesn’t even make sense to think of cost
until you’ve analyzed the first three things.

MM: What are some elements that make a movie
stand out?

MU: Well, I always think in terms of media.
Our films are media and editorial driven, they’re largely well-reviewed
films, and if they’re not, they’re seriously crippled at the box-office.
They get a lot of publicity and are driven more by that than by
advertising, which is a cash transaction. When we advertise our
films we spend a lot of time and money creating the ads and buying
the ads. But since they cannot compete with Hollywood films in
respect to visibility or advertising push, it’s the acclaim that
drives our films. So I look at every film in the sense of: ‘Will
it get good reviews, and is there something to write here, an interesting
emerging personality, or a theme that taps into some elements of
the subculture?’

MM: How do you decide on the acquisition of
a movie?

MU: It’s taste, but it’s also judgment and
experience. I mean you can’t have worked in a business for 20 some
odd years and not have learned something, and you can’t have been
involved in the distribution and marketing of independent films
for a decade and not have a kind of inventory of precedents. But
it’s never a sure thing. So it’s taste and trend, and competition,
and God knows what else. We can control a lot of that. You can
shape peoples’ perception of a movie; you can get them to like
a movie more than they might. If you prepare them properly you
can, by simply choosing the right date of release, guarantee that
it will be more or less visible and more or less threatened by
competition.

MM: Lion’s Gate got a lot of attention at
Sundance last year with Vincent Gallo’s Buffalo 66, or maybe the
company was able to bring a lot of attention to the film and to
the director. What’s your company’s orientation when it comes to
dealing with new directors?

MU: It’s often more productive in selling
a film to have a fresh face than a known face. The media and audiences
are more and more are focused on the young. Once upon a time nobody
had ever heard of Quentin Tarantino. When I hooked up with Quentin,
he’d never been to a festival. He’d never seen snow. I took this
boy to Sundance-and he kind of exploded. All of a sudden, seven
or eight major magazines were doing features devoted to him. So
it’s no more risky working with him than Sidney Pollack, who has
been around for about three decades doing fine work, but there
isn’t necessarily that much to say.

MM: What is more important to you as a company,
to buy a good film or to start working with a hot new talent?

MU: I think that everything begins with a
good film. And then, hopefully, it was made by somebody you like
hanging out with for eight or nine months-because it takes that
long in the way of partnership and collaboration to bring a film
to the marketplace. You do need somebody who is user-friendly.
It’s very difficult to do your job correctly if you don’t have
the support and input of filmmakers who, in a way, know their film
better than anybody. They know what they’ve tried to communicate
and can help you find the equivalents in your advertising and your
publicity and your whole marketing efforts. We like to work closely
with our filmmakers. But as a company, I don’t think that we’re
particularly interested in picking up a film simply to forge a
relationship with a hot new talent. It’s got to be film by film.

MM: What’s an example of a deal you’d possibly
offer a filmmaker when you want their film?

MU: Well, it depends on who else is interested.
Before you even sit down with these people and express your interest
in the film, and your enthusiasm, you decide among yourselves what
its earning potential is. And then you just do your math. If you
think you might lose money, you go in thinking: ‘All right, I like
the movie, I’m willing to gamble, but I’m not willing to pay anything
for it.’ That’s the worst possible deal for a filmmaker; but it’s
fabulous if there’s no other deal. If the film doesn’t work, you’re
not taking a big loss and they at least had the benefit of exposure.
People do make films to have them seen. A lot of them don’t make
money. It’s a rare independent film that breaks $2 million-which
doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t make a profit. A film can go
through an uninteresting box-office performance, but still have
a profitable arrangement on the output deal and on the ancillary
value.

MM: What do you do when a film doesn’t perform.
Do you give it a chance to find its audience?

MU: You don’t always have that luxury. If
the film opens in New York and doesn’t perform, it becomes kind
of difficult to credibly place it in other cities. But we do not
withdraw our support from our movies that quickly. We are prudent
in our expenditures and we always spend in proportion to what we
think the films can earn. If we believe in a film and think that
it can catch on, we’ll continue to support it. The problem is that
the theater can throw you out after a week.

MM: Do you see the company going more in the
direction of production vs. distribution or vice versa?

MU: Well, we have a separate production division;
it’s up the hall. We work very closely together but it was never
meant to be an exclusive relationship. We want to have the freedom
to go to a film festival and pick up a Norwegian film or a French
film or something that was made in somebody’s garage for $60,000,
like Daytrippers, which earned millions of dollars for us. And
you can’t make Daytrippers, you have to find Daytrippers. A film
like that spontaneously combusts. By the same token, a company
should have freedom to produce something that can be an ideal commodity
for cable, or that will be sold to a studio.

MM: What are your plans for Sundance this
year?

MU: What is good for our company is not necessarily
good for another company. We are a company that I think does a
wonderful job and I think our films are marketed brilliantly-but
we don’t have high overhead. It is not so old; we are populated
largely by young people who work very hard. So, for me, a film
that performs at a certain level can pay the bills, whereas for
a company like Miramax that same film would be small potatoes.
Last year we picked up two films that were shown at Sundance, but
we picked them up after Sundance, Affliction and Gods and Monsters.
I think those films will do very well for us, but it is important
to know that we picked them up after Sundance. We were interested
in Affliction before, and we certainly became very interested in
Gods and Monsters at Sundance, but it seemed more prudent to wait.
As one waited, the price came down to a level that enabled us to
pay no more than made sense.

MM: So what’s realistic for a filmmaker to
expect from you specifically?

MU: Well, if we go after a film-which is not
the same thing as if the film comes after us-I think the filmmakers
should be prepared to encounter distributors of rare and unique
intelligence. Within minutes of seeing a movie that excites us,
my partner and I have sat with filmmakers and really coherently
mapped out the campaign, and often without a dress rehearsal. If
the movie has the potential to attract an audience, we create a
brilliant trailer, brilliant ads, we get attention for movies like
nobody gets attention for their movies. You can shape peoples’
perception of a movie, get them to like it more than they might.
It’s amazing how much we can control. Even in instances where we
haven’t gotten a film because people threw a lot more money at
them, it was with a heavy heart that they kissed us good-bye-because
they somehow felt that we’d do a better job and care more.

MM: And, since you’ve made the distinction,
what if the filmmaker comes after you?

MU: It’s a question of whether we like the
movie. A lot of these filmmakers do their homework, which doesn’t
mean that every company will like their movie. But I would like
to think that a well-prepared producer, a well-prepared team of
filmmakers, would go to Sundance and have a clear sense of what
it is that Miramax does, of what October does, Fineline, Fox Searchlight,
and yes of what it is that Lion’s Gate does. And I would like to
think that we are on a list of five to seven preferred distributors
who could take a Sundance type film and turn it into an audience
success.

TC Rice
VP of Distribution and Marketing, Stratosphere
The Pitbulls of Marketing and Distribution

MM: What brought about Paul Cohen’s resignation?

TCR: Corny as it may sound, it was creative
differences between him and Carl Icahn.

MM: How will it affect Stratosphere?

TCR: We’ll be going full-steam ahead. Heading
more toward production, though we will remain very much into acquisitions.
We currently have six films slated for release in 1999 and we are
looking for finished product and films.

MM: Do you expect you will go to Sundance
for some acquisitions?

TCR: Absolutely. Our film, Hideous Kinky,
with Kate Winslett, is going to have its North American premiere
at Sundance this year. And depending on what’s there, if the films
have the body and substance that we feel warrants distribution
and if there’s the possibility they’ll do business at the box-office,
certainly we will be right in there elbowing everybody out of the
way trying to get them.

MM: Is there a possibility that you might
find a film very saleable, but you hate it and you still go with
it?

TCR: Absolutely. Whether you love them or
hate them, if you see a film that is sellable you must take it
on and you must sell it-you’d be crazy not to. Because it’s those
films that enable you to take on the films that might be more questionable.

MM: A large part of the success of a movie
is dictated by odds, unforeseeable elements. From your end, how
much of it is a gamble and how much of it is science?

TCR: Ultimately, it’s about 50-50. If you
have a film with a name director and a name cast that is a specific
genre, you will be able to fairly well predict the minimum it will
do at the box office. On the other hand-and this is true for basically
all the independent distributors-a good portion of what you pick
up and what you take out there is gut instinct of knowing what
will work in the marketplace and what won’t. Just having that feeling
at the back of your neck. If you take

Inheritors, for example, and you look at it from
a purely business standpoint, you figure we had to be out of our
minds. It’s a foreign film, has no names, but it’s a good movie.
It won at Rotterdam. It’s had wonderful success at film festivals,
and we have filmmakers’ awards to know that it’s not just our instincts
telling us that this film is going to make it. We were extremely
lucky with The Thief because it had the same problem, but with
an Oscar nomination behind it, and audiences responded to it.

MM: What’s more important in the acquisition
process: to form a relationship with a hot new filmmaker or just
to acquire that single film and make the most out of it?

TCR: I would say it’s most important for us
to acquire a given film, and if we’re able to establish a relationship
with that filmmaker, that’s wonderful.

MM: And when you deal with a filmmaker, what
kind of deal do you offer them in terms of advance P&A and
final cut?

TCR: We are willing to negotiate on virtually
any level if it’s a film that we believe in. We are in the enviable
position, I think, of being able to compete for a film at the same
level that our biggest competitor can-whether that’s Miramax or
October or Sony-without it being necessarily a huge strain. That
being said, we’re very cautious. We’re a start-up company. On acquisitions,
we don’t exercise the right of final cut, but we might need to
change some minor things here and there to comply with network
requirements or censorship problems like swear words and the likes.
That’s always done with the filmmaker, though. And P&A is normally
figured out according to the type of release and the expected returns.

MM: Once you’ve acquired a film, how much
are you willing to put behind it? You could be lucky to have an
overnight hit, but it could be a sleeper hit, a film that needs
time to find its audience.

TCR: There’s any number of small distribution
companies that are out there in the marketplace that open a movie
in New York and Los Angeles or Chicago, or wherever. Get great
reviews, great box-office grosses, but they don’t have the ability
to maximize the potential of the film because they’re not financially
equipped to do that. They don’t have the money to make 20 prints
by the end of the following week, to really take it out there and
kick out a number. We have the ability to get behind the film when
it opens and really maximize its potential.

MM: Tell me a little more about the logistics
of opening a film. What determines the kind of opening a film can
get, what kinds of agreements with the exhibitors?

TCR: The decision about how to market a film
really boils down to the film itself. Certainly if you have the
stars and the director, then you know you have the chance of getting
magazine covers and TV shows and newspaper coverage, which automatically
upgrades the level of the film. If you don’t have those elements
and you have a film that is quirky and very focused on its audience,
then you have to focus on that audience. It’s pointless to go to
a commercial level if that’s just not in the inherent make-up of
the film. What you need to do to maximize the film’s potential
is to maximize the awareness of its audience-whether that audience
is two people or two million people-and you have to determine with
each film where that audience is and how to reach them. All this
has to happen before you open.

MM: What is reasonable for a filmmaker to
expect from Stratosphere?

TCR: That we will compete from a purely ideal
standpoint, and that we will compete with any of our competitors.
We are very dedicated not only to our films, but to the filmmakers.
We don’t buy something if we don’t believe in it. We are the pitbulls
of marketing and distribution because we won’t let go. We will
give the filmmaker 100 percent of our ability and our energies
and our effort, regardless of what it cost us to acquire that film.

MM: What do you expect from the filmmaker?

TCR: I expect the filmmaker to be out there
supporting his film too. There’s nothing more irritating than a
filmmaker who complains about having to be out there to promote
his own movie. MM

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