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Racking Focus: Oscilloscope & The Art Of The Pre-Buy

Oscilloscope has made two interesting pre-buys lately. Will other distributors follow suit?

There's something exciting and inspiring about distributors that show some chutzpah and aggressiveness in a moment where film distribution is largely considered to be a buyers' market, with many distribution deals being struck long after an indie premieres and does the rounds on the festival circuit.

Oscilloscope is that inspiring company - just before SXSW they announced that they had made a pre-fest purchase of Joel Potroykus's Buzzard, a darkly comic renegade head trip, and now they've announced that they've bought The Past Is A Grotesque Animal, a Kickstarter-funded doc about seminal indie rockers Of Monreal, which apparently is still in post, and thus has yet to even make its festival premiere. 

I hope we see more companies following Oscilloscope's example in the future, making aggressive and passionate pre-premiere buys.

In a moment in time where the indie distribution market sees many companies playing a slower game, the prospect of some distributors becoming aggressive is one that should hold out some hope for independent filmmakers. Certainly there are plenty of benefits to holding out for some time before trying to buy a film, but for Oscilloscope and other similarly-sized companies, a certain tactical advantage is gained by making an early move on a film, before its fest premiere - the prospect of an early offer - and significant enthusiasm for the film on behalf of the distributor - can give a smaller company a better shot at landing an exciting film, whereas waiting til after its premiere means smaller companies are at something of a disadvantage compared to buyers with deeper pockets.

Personally, I hope we see more companies following Oscilloscope's example in the future, making aggressive and passionate pre-premiere buys. It shakes up the market a bit, forces all the distributors to stay on their toes, and reminds filmmakers - and film fans - that film distribution is about passion for a project, not simply a matter of finances. It's a smart move for smaller distributors, and if it's the sort of tactic that catches on, it could be a real boon for independent filmmakers themselves as larger companies too begin to get in on the action, wanting to defend their turf. 

Kickstarter, in particular, raises some interesting possibilities. The Of Montreal doc was Kickstarter-funded, and while I don't know how it came onto Oscilloscope's radar, I imagine the success of the Kickstarter, and the trailer and images contained within, was all helpful in terms of displaying a mock-template for how the film could be marketed. Indeed, the sort of materials indie filmmakers put together for their Kickstarter pages double nicely as a teaser for distributors of what a marketing campaign could look like, which leads me to wonder if Kickstarter could double, at some point in the future, as a market for film buying in addition to a site for crowdfunding. Could festivals be bypassed (as markets, anyway) and could buying move a bit more to a world where distributors become involved in projects in a much earlier phase? We'll find out, but the possibility is certainly exciting.


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