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Directors Guild Of America Independent Distribution Panel’s Best Quotes

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I miss driving through the Sunset strip over to the DGA theater to enjoy candid conversations with directors opening up in a way that felt less like press and more like a conversation among regular people. This most recent event that took place Wednesday evening had that same feeling, but even more relaxed because it was over zoom. This medium is an equalizer for energy, technological comfort, and audio/visual presentation. You wouldn’t know it upon first moment who was a director and who was an exec.

I attended this virtual event alongside my DGA director Marc Hampson on the couch in my living room while my kids played video games in their bedroom, it was a very casual experience. Marc and I are independent filmmakers and distributors with our company Little Sister Entertainment. I had my notebook out for extremely relevant, timely, and academic conversational moments on independent distribution. But I found the experience to be surface level, non-transparent, and non-actionable. No one walked us through ‘getting’ distribution at different outlets or ‘choosing between distributors and why.’ No one talked about how the deals are structured in different ways and how the deals have evolved on paper. Or even how most of these deals were brokered. They just accounted their experience having done it, not if it was the right distributor or why. But I thought their feelings on how the landscape is changing was valuable.

This is the event I was looking forward to-

Titled: The Future of Independent Film – Finding the Right Distributor

Please join us for a spirited discussion of what distribution executives are looking for when selecting independent features for potential acquisition. We’ll hear from Directors faced with difficult decisions in a rapidly evolving environment who’ve made the decision between choosing a traditional exhibition strategy, securing a streaming deal or a hybrid of the two.

Scheduled participants include: (I added bios for clarity)

  • Director David Lowery (The Green Knight, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, Pete’s Dragon, and A Ghost Story). Lowery had his breakthrough with his first feature film, St. Nick (2009). After teaming on the 2017 drama A Ghost Story, which starred Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara, director David Lowery and A24 partnered for Green Knight, a fantasy epic retelling of the medieval tale of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.

“Every distributor has its own particular flavor, that’s suited to that film, tailored to each movie.” Disney releases don’t need the filmmaker to sell the movie, they have an advertising campaign and open in every theater in the country, but with an independent movie “I spent a year on the circuit.” And being more involved is a preferred release experience, depending on the filmmaker.

…”Some of the relief from going with a streamer is performance anxiety.” As in, your film’s metrics won’t be released.

…”All of the films find more of the audience online.” – citing, more people saw Pete’s Dragon on Disney Plus than when it was in theaters.

  • Director Patrick Brice, (There’s Someone Inside Your House), Brice co-wrote and directed his debut film, Creep, which was acquired by Netflix and produced by Duplass Brothers Productions and Blumhouse Productions. Brice and Mark Duplass also star in the movie. Brice also co-wrote and directed the sequel, Creep 2. Brice’s most recent movie, Corporate Animals, starring Demi Moore, Jessica Williams and Ed Helms, made its world premiere at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival and was picked up by Screen Media Films. His comedy feature, The Overnight, also premiered at the 2015 Sundance fest in competition and was released in June of that year (source: Deadline)

Patrick went over how Creep came out on Netflix the same quarter as his first theatrical release, going over the differences in the experience and how “Creep was seen by more people.”

  • Director Geeta Malik (India Sweets and Spices). Her accolades include the inaugural Academy Gold Fellowship for Women, the Academy Nicholl Fellowship in Screenwriting, and the Austin Film Festival Comedy Screenplay Award. She received her MFA from UCLA’s graduate film program. She grew up in Aurora, Colorado.

“I got into filmmaking to see faces like mine on the screen.” Geena was up front about her feature being the first wide release experience with her current theatrical distributor. She has domestic in the works, but still hasn’t settled on the foreign rights and brought up the concerns about previous films not doing well in the territory addressed in the feature. “India is a huge market.” But The Farewell didn’t have a huge success in China and her film is “specifically about an Indian American experience.”

  • President Tilane Jones from ARRAY. Tilane Jones has worked with award-winning filmmaker Ava DuVernay for ten years. Beginning with public relations and promotional company the The DuVernay Agency as well as production entity Forward Movement and most recently leading ARRAY as Executive Director.

From streamers, “We get no metrics, no feedback.” At most, “You get a broad conversation of where you are for the most part.”

  • EVP Acquisitions & Production Jeff Deutchman from NEON, previously held senior positions at IFC Films and Paramount Pictures. Throughout his career, he has championed and acquired culturally indelible films including Parasite, Portrait of a Lady on Fire, The Lobster, Blue Is the Warmest Color, Three Identical Strangers, and Amazing Grace.

“Streamers put the titles into the cultural conversation” but the problem is volume, “Are you going to be one of the films that they pay attention to?”

  • President at IFC Films Arianna C. Bocco, As President of IFC Films, Arianna Bocco oversees acquisitions, production, marketing and publicity, as well as theatrical film distribution and the fast-growing IFC Films Unlimited subscription streaming service.

Streaming isn’t sharing their numbers to the detriment of the filmmaker. No solid metrics makes it difficult to fund the next feature, “How do you go to a financier and say this film was successful?”

  • Moderated by IDC Chair Kyle Patrick Alvarez, His film work includes two features that premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, The Stanford Prison Experiment, premiered at the 2015 festival where it won the Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize and the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award. His other Sundance feature, C.O.G., starring Jonathan Groff, was the first and only film to be made from the work of noted humorist and author David Sedaris, premiered at Sundance in 2013 (source: Deadline)

Here are a few of the discussion items I enjoyed, which we all expertly examined with our moderator Kyle Patrick Alvarez:

Passivity

Theatrical releases sent directly to your home TV allows the movie to be lost to passivity, to distractions, to poor film watching environments. Theaters are the best way to enjoy a movie because it will be more memorable, audiences are more engaged in the viewing.

Windowing strategies

That 90 day barrier between theater chains and home video was impossible to skip in the past, but normalizing a breakaway from that mold, having the option to tailor a shorter window or even a day-and-date release can allow films to flourish. Making choices per film is better for the whole team and the audience. No need for a uniform strategy. The same goes for releasing in TVOD, SVOD, or AVOD in the order and timing that works best for the film.

Almighty Theatrical

Kyle closes our DGA event with the casual thankfulness to the panel team for “Keeping theatrical alive” and thus we are back to thinking about what we’re keeping alive. Are independent filmmakers and distributors with a heart for stories really keeping the theatrical experience alive? Everyone agrees that home viewing was a more successful means of garnering audience. But there hasn’t been an emphasis on making cinema great for the small screen. Kyle opened this event with a quote from Patty Jenkins:

“All of the films that streaming services are putting out, I’m sorry, they look like fake movies to me. I don’t hear about them, I don’t read about them. It’s not working as a model for establishing legendary greatness.”

Credit: Insider, ‘Wonder Woman’ director Patty Jenkins says …”

Although our panel discussed what they thought of her meaning, they missed a big part of it: Marketing. Jenkins is referring to having never heard of movies and nothing is put on a pedestal. Keeping theatrical alive has a lot to do with the hefty cost of theatrical. Keeping theatrical outlets working relies heavily on the decisions of the studios as theater chains are contracted with studios for a certain amount of screens.

Keeping the theatrical dream alive for independent filmmakers has a lot to do with what distributors are willing to bet on and bank on with marketing spend. This panel addressed their feelings around the moment we are in, but shied away from action-items.

But keeping the discussion open is the point of events like this.

Jennica Schwartzman, Managing Partner at Purpose Pictures Productions, Co-Founder of Little Sister Entertainment, and a member of The Producers Guild of America, SAG/AFTRA, and Moms-In-Film LA, loves tackling a project from idea to distribution as a multi-hyphenate actress-writer-producer. Jennica has been published in the Producers Guild Magazine "Produced By," Legacy Arts Magazine, Paragon Road, Bustle, and she is a guest writer for the acclaimed entertainment industry websites MsInTheBiz.com, FilmmakingStuff.com, Artemis Motion Pictures' #WomenKickAss Forum, and WomenandHollywood.com. She has been invited to speak on film festival panels and is a workshop teacher for The International Family Film Festival's Road Scholars intergenerational filmmaking camp. Jennica has produced ten feature film releases. Jennica and her husband /producing partner /writing partner Ryan have two kiddos and reside in Hollywood.

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