Hi everyone! Welcome to the 110th edition of “Going Bionic.” For those of you who are fathers, happy belated Father’s Day! I just experienced my first and I must say it was nothing short of memorable. Yes, I got the obligatory golf shirt (damn, am I old enough to wear golf shirts?). I also received a framed picture of my twin daughters, a bottle of overpriced shampoo to help my little bald spot (I’m not kidding) and killer concert tickets to one of my favorite bands, Barenaked Ladies. I also got to sleep ‘til noon, then wake only to plant myself on the sofa and spend the next four hours listening to my favorite music as I stared out at the ocean. To wrap up my beautifully unproductive day, I watched the NBA Finals on TV. As a long-time Lakers season ticket holder, I really don’t care who wins the NBA Finals, but it was a nice way to waste time on a lazy Sunday afternoon. In any case, my first Father’s Day was fun, and I hope all of you fathers out there had a good one as well. As for this column, today we’re going to take a glimpse into three more conflicts filmmakers and distributors are infamous for disagreeing on. So without further ado, here we go!
Importance of a Film Festival Run
What Filmmakers Think: “A long, multi-city festival run is the best way to get me and my film noticed by the powers-that-be.”
Filmmakers usually think a long festival run will get the word out about their film and increase their chances of getting distribution. That’s just not true. All a long run does is lessen the value of your film, because it’s getting older by the minute.
What Distributors Think: “Don’t these filmmakers know that having an 18-month festival run is just making their film older and driving its value down day by day?”
Distributors are obsessed with acquiring films that are perceived to be “fresh and new.” Obviously, if your film has already been on a six to 18-month festival run before you send it to a distributor, it will not seem fresh or new. They will immediately view your film as being “old product.”
Furthermore, distributors could care less what festivals your film has played, unless it thrived at one of the biggest festivals in the world. Mind you, I said unless your film “thrived” at a world-class film festival, not just got into one. Hence, just getting into Sundance, for example, won’t change your life. You have to get in, win, catch media attention, go viral, have a bidding war created over your film, and then sell it for millions to a major studio. Only then will your festivals played matter.
Distributors also worry that if you play too many film festivals, especially small ones, you’ll saturate all of the markets where they would be trying to sell your film. It’s simple: People won’t pay for your film if they’ve already seen it at a local festival.
Where the Truth Lies: Advantage: Distributors
It’s better for you to go directly to distributors with your film. I know this route is not as fun as partying at wild festivals around the globe, but it is far better for your film.
Importance of the Awards Your Film Has Won
What Filmmakers Think: “They all want me. I’m an award-winning filmmaker.”
Not so fast. It depends on the festival and award. In most cases, winning awards only guarantees that somebody from the distribution company will take a look at your film.
What Distributors Think: “Awards earned outside of the world’s most coveted film festivals simply don’t matter.”
Yes, distributors will take a look at your film if it has won multiple awards at several smaller festivals, but winning those lesser festivals does not increase the value of your film. In fact, many times it actually lessens the value because your film would no longer be “fresh out of the box.”
The other element that dilutes your film’s value to distributors is giving yourself awards that aren’t actual awards.
For example, one film that I was involved in years ago finished in third place at a film festival’s audience award. So, the director added laurels on his film poster that said, “Third Place Winner, Audience Award.” Are you kidding me? That’s like having the losing team of the Super Bowl put up a banner at their stadium that reads, “Second Place Super Bowl Champions.” My point is, don’t try to fake something to make your film look better.
Where the Truth Lies: Advantage: Distributors
Stop trying to gain an angle on how to hook a distributor. Your angle should be that you made a sellable film in a sellable genre. Remember, fake awards will only attract fake distributors.
Importance of the Copyright Year on Your Film
What Filmmakers Think: “I need to copyright my film ASAP so nobody steals it. Besides, it’ll still be considered ‘new’ when it gets distributed after its festival run.”
Many filmmakers constantly worry about having somebody steal their idea. Sure, scripts are stolen on occasion, but a finished film? How would it be stolen if you have the master? Furthermore, who would want to steal a film the filmmaker is having trouble-finding distributor for in the first place? The answers to the tree questions stated above are “no,” “nobody” and again, “nobody,” so don’t worry about it!
Secondly, your film’s birthday is not the day it gets distributed, it’s the day it was copyrighted or had its first public screening. Thus, it makes no sense to copyright your film before you get your first screening or long before it’s distributed. Doing so just makes your film unnecessarily older.
Side Note: If you finish your film early in the year, copyright it right away, because you have a year to find it a home before it gets old. But, if your film is being finished in the last part of the year, hold off on copyrighting it until January 1 of the next year, so that it will be seen as being “brand-new.”
For example, if you copyright a film on December 20, in less than two weeks, it will be considered as being one year old.
What Distributors Think: “I can’t sell a year old film for the same price as a new film, just like a car dealer can’t sell a year old car for the same price as a new car.”
As stated earlier, distributors are only interested in new product, because like ghosts, the “unseen” is far more interesting than the “seen many times before.”
Where the Truth Lies: Advantage: Filmmakers and Distributors
Filmmakers should copyright every single script they write and film they make. I am by no means discounting that activity. I’m just trying to give filmmakers a bit of strategy on how to keep their films looking new and enticing to distributors. Remember, distributors are only concerned about selling your film, and that is a concern that all filmmakers should share.
Okay friends. That is what I have for you today. Thanks once again for lending me your eyes and I look forward to borrowing them again next Tuesday. Have a great week!
I can be followed on Twitter @Lonelyseal.