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Category Archives: Independent Film
For those of us who follow the politics of theatrical distribution in the United States, the recent controversy about Disney’s required terms for showing “The Avengers” struck a chord. The dynamics between exhibitors and distributors have always been fraught, and this is only the most recent example. John Fithian, the head of the National Association of Theater Owners (NATO), has publicly pushed back at Disney’s latest demands, but as Tori Baker of the Salt Lake Film Society points out, this is an issue that affects all exhibitors, not just the big chains. Her open letter to the art house community on this subject is reprinted (with her permission) below.
I have just returned from CinemaCon a few weeks ago and I am astounded by the volume and “billions” talked about at every corner of that event, from studios, from executives, and from those operating the larger chain for-profit cinemas. At one point someone used a great classic film as an example of something “lame” and proudly touted an action super-hero movie as “awesome.”
While the mission driven art house cinemas are not exactly playing on the same playing field, the issue of price fixing, as pointed out by John Fithian in his response to Disney, is a valid concern for us as well. Unfortunately for all exhibitors, the reality is that if ANY studio changes their terms or makes other demands, the entire food chain of studios, mini-majors and indies end up following their lead. It reaches the independent film world very quickly.
Here is the full text of the kickoff remarks I made this morning at the Minority Independent Producers Summit, a three day conference that has going on since Tuesday night in New York City. This morning’s topic was marketing and distribution and consisted of panel discussions and case studies. The full schedule of events can be found at mipsummit.com. The intention of my remarks was to set the stage for the discussion that followed, and to throw out a few provocations to wake people up.
Before I start, I want to thank the Founding Members of MIPS for organizing this conference. I want to particularly thank Damian Bender for co-curating this morning’s Distribution and Marketing Pod as we’ve taken to calling it. I’m listed as the co-curator, but Damian is the one who did the heavy lifting, so I want to give him a big shout out.
When I was first approached about being on advisory board for a conference about underrepresented/minority producers of movies and television, I had a series of immediate responses swirling around in my head. (more…)
The following are the remarks I made earlier today at the Memorial for Richard Brick, which was held at Columbia University.
I would like to share a few words about my colleague, my mentor and my friend, Richard Brick.
Some people are born with the exact personality traits for a specific vocation. Richard Brick was born a Producer. His long-time course at Columbia was titled “Pre-Production.” The central pedagogy was that the only way to avoid disasters was to anticipate them, and to have a Plan B, a plan C and so on. In other words, plan for the worst. It was not just a class to him, it was a philosophy of life. He lived his entire life in a constant state of Pre-Production.
My first encounter with Richard was in 1987, when I received a cold call from him, asking me if I would like to teach a course at Columbia. He was the newly installed Chair of the Film Program at the time, and he was sitting in on every class that was offered in the program to evaluate its effectiveness. He determined that the class in Marketing & Distribution wasn’t working and he wanted a quick fix. It was a perfect Richard Brick moment. See a problem, fix it. Never having taught before, I said yes, and thus, in one stroke, Richard had set me on the road to a teaching career that I never anticipated. (more…)
For those of you who are interested in the intersection between technology and storytelling, the Digimart 2006 videos, which were MIA for awhile, are back. Here is one of the panels on the “Future of Theatrical Exhibition,” in which I make an appearance. To see the rest of the videos from the 2006 conference, check out the Digimart Site. And you can check out my previous post about Digimart 2005.
Comments after the break… (more…)
Here’s a cool video put together by the good folks at NOVAC in New Orleans. This is from a conference to years ago that they called “Watch My Movie,” and featured such notables as Gianna Chachere of the Hamptons International Film Festival, Andrew Mer of SnagFilms, Janine Saunders of the Workbook Project, Todd Sklar of Range Life Entertainment, Jolene Pinder of the New Orleans Film Society and Film Festival. Oh and yours truly.
Comments after the break… (more…)
Just finished my kickoff speech at the 2014 Edition of the Art House Convergence. I’ve been asked to share the text, so here it is:
Is everybody ready to converge? Alright!
Last night I was asked by a number of you if today’s presentation would be a continuation of what I did last year, and the answer is no. One trip down memory lane is enough, and I feel like I got that out of my system.
But I am going to start out with a look backwards.
When I first started out in the Film Business, I learned a couple of very quick lessons that were in no way related to film, but were in every way related to business.
First, I learned that Business is dominated by people who are driven, sometimes myopic, and willing to do almost anything to succeed.
The second thing I learned is that the Film Business, specifically, is driven more by ego than by profit. After all, it has never been a predictable, scalable business in the traditional sense that allows for believable projections and charts with any sort of certainty. So who is drawn to such a business when far more money, far more predictably can be made elsewhere? The answer would be those people who somehow convince themselves that they know better than everyone else, or that they’ve come up with some kind of system to beat the odds. (more…)
I just stumbled across an old document on my computer, in which I was responding to a request from Filmmaker Magazine for a list of the “Top 10 American Indies.” The timestamp indicates that I wrote this in July of 1996, and I have no recollection of whether it actually ran in the magazine. However, I thought I would throw it up here and see if I can get a rise out of anyone.
I think the list holds up well, and the only film I would be tempted to add is “Pulp Fiction,” which I would characterize as the film that started the decline and eventual end to what we used to call American Independent Cinema.
For what it’s worth, here is the list. Feel free to comment with your own ideas.
These, in order, would be my choices for the top 10 most important (as in influential or breakthrough) American Independent Films:
1. “A Woman Under the Influence” While there are earlier, and arguably better Cassavetes films, this one is particularly significant in that Cassavetes mounted an ambitious and successful self-distribution effort, setting the stage for much of the independent distribution movement. (more…)
In 2005, I was invited to a conference in Montreal called Digimart, organized by Daniel Langlois and his team at Ex-Centris. It was a very early attempt to deal with the coming convergence of entertainment technologies, and they invited a star-studded array of speakers that represented the cutting edge of that time. I met many incredible people at the event, and even more the following year, when they invited many of us back for a second time. Some of the folks I met are now good friends and collaborators.
Recently it was pointed out to me that the videos of the conference sessions were no longer on line, so I contacted the good folks at La fondation Daniel Langlois, who are now trying to restore access to those videos. They’ve put back the sessions from the 2005 event, and are trying to locate the ones from 2006. Watching these videos, it’s incredible how far ahead of the curve many of the speakers were, and equally incredible how much has changed. You can find all the 2005 videos at the Digimart site. For a quick taste, below is the panel I was on, which was called, “More Digital Cinema Networks – Alternative & Independent Spaces.” I’ll post again if and when the 2006 videos reappear.
Comments after the break… (more…)
Those of you who have watched my Keynote at the Art House Convergence may not have have realized that in the interest of time, I ended up cutting out five pages of the planned speech–an entire decade of my experience founding and running Fine Line Features. Coincidentally, several months later I was asked to speak at the University of Michigan in a class entitled “New Line and New Hollywood Cinema,” taught by Professor Dan Herbert. Here is a video of my guest lecture, which fills in the missing piece of my Art House talk. Thanks to Professor Herbert for providing the tape, and to his class for what was a great session.
There is some interesting information in here about the politics of theatrical exhibition, and how that relates to the success of Sony Classics. Please comment and let us know your thoughts… (more…)
The folks at the Toronto Film Festival have just posted my keynote from their annual Filmmaker Boot Camp, a sort of retreat where they prepare filmmakers for their experience at TIFF. This is the second time they’ve asked me to do this, and given that Toronto is one of my favorite festivals, I’m glad to be of service.
The information I presented is a summary of some presentations I’ve made in my classes at Columbia, and at various other events. It’s a quick overview of the current marketplace, followed by some specific strategies one might use to navigate a festival like Toronto, and to make the best of the experience. I hope those of you who couldn’t be there will find something useful in it.
Feel free to chime in with your thoughts. (more…)