Tuesday’s Tools of the Trade panel brought a fine cross section of industry players together to discuss alternative distribution models and marketing. David Fenkel of Oscilloscope and Ryan Werner of IFC spoke offered the distributors point of view. Cynthia Swartz of 42West and Sara Pollack of YouTube contributed publicity and marketing perspectives. Jon Reiss (Bomb It!) was on hand as a filmmaker. Geoff Gilmore, Chief Creative Officer of Tribeca Enterprises completed the panel, which was moderated by Steven Zeitchik from The Hollywood Reporter.
The panel leapt right into a complex and spirited discussion of the problems facing independent filmmakers. The old model—theatrical distribution followed by pay cable and DVD sales—is collapsing. Gilmore put the problem in context: “Those two ancillaries became the safety net. It’s gone. All of these different avenues that have been ruling what we’re doing are in flux.” He joked that the good news is the same as the bad news: more and more films are being made. In a cutthroat market, theatrical distribution works for fewer movies.
“What is theatrical?” Reiss asked, arguing that we should be expanding our definitions. “There’s a whole world of non theatrical that is actually really theatrical,” pointing to options such as museums, galleries, clubs, wall projections. One-day events, he adds, can be especially lucrative because the audience feels an urgency to see the film.
Pollack stressed the importance of innovation and experimentation. “I don’t think there is a silver bullet for monetization online. I think it’s going to come from a lot of different places.” She talked about a recent enormous spike in DVD sales for Monty Python once they put their clips online with "click to buy" options. “Money isn’t always going to come directly tied to that video on YouTube but there’s a lot that goes on in ancillary marketing.” Pollack also urged more rethinking of our definitions. YouTube’s “content creators” aren’t traditionally thought of as filmmakers but some of them have become financially successful making short-form narratives.
“Filmmakers have to be open to change,” Werner advised. He credits distribution experiments for filmmakers as high profile as Stephen Soderbergh and Gus Van Sant with helping the industry to relax a little about new models like Day & Date and Video on Demand. Festival Direct, for instance, evolved from the frustration of seeing so many great movies at festivals that IFC loved but was nervous to purchase: “We developed this VOD as insurance. As a result we’ve been able to take a lot of risky chances.” He noted, pointing to the success of the Romanian film 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days that everyone thought they were crazy to buy.
Other distributors like Oscilloscope have what Fenkel called a “curatorial take on programming” while they wait out the technology and revenue streams. “In the meantime we’re just building our catalogue so when we take on a film it means something.”
The panel agreed that it was an exciting time for the industry with so many new avenues opening up and that the revenue issue would sort itself out. “It’s hard right now to monetize” Reiss admits, “but you can get your film out there.”
Swartz had similar advice for filmmakers. She suggested raising P & A funds right along with their initial production funds. She urged filmmakers to get a “name” somewhere in your movie, as “it makes a huge difference in a company like ours and our ability to promote a film.” She offered the audience other suggestions, too, including becoming an expert in the niches their film might appeal to and concentrating on building an audience and staying in touch with them, following the model of authors and filmmakers like Kevin Smith. She finished, “You should have a back up plan from very beginning. It’s not the end of the world if you don’t get an offer.”