Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Hollywood Babble On & On #577: Distribution Blues

Welcome to the show folks...

I'd like to open with a simple statement of fact.

Any idiot can make a movie if they have the money and the time.

It's no guarantee that the movie will be any good, but it can be done.

However, not everyone can distribute a film.

That's the point of this little screed.

An illustration of this point can be seen in sitcom star Josh Radnor's feature directing debut, the pretentiously lower-cased
happythankyoumoreplease. The film had a great opening at Sundance, got all sorts of good buzz going for it, they signed a deal with the relatively new indie distributor Hannover House, and everything was supposed to be all sunshine and unicorns.

But it didn't work out that way, and the filmmakers have now severed all ties with Hannover House and moved it over to indie home-video/theatrical distributor Anchor Bay.

What went wrong?

Well, I could go the sarcastic route and say that Hannover got a hangover, but I won't, because I'm not into making bad jokes. Instead I'll just slip the bad joke into a statement about how I'm not going to make a bad joke, and go all meta on you.

But seriously....

The filmmakers pulled their film because they didn't think Hannover House could release their film in any proper way. Possibly fearing that the company will lack the resources to do it, especially after Hannover House got on the possible litigation shit-list of the owners of The Terminator franchise.

This isn't the first time this has happened recently, it's getting to be a trend. The producers of I Love You Phillip Morris starring Jim Carrey & Ewan McGregor have pulled their film from it's original distributor Consolidated Pictures Group, and Metropolitan Pictures lost the Kevin Spacey film Casino Jack. Both were because the start-up upstarts were believed lacking the money for the required prints and advertising (P&A) needed for those films.

Which brings me to the point of my... um.... point...

If you don't have the money, know-how, and clout to get a movie into theaters and store shelves, then you are not really a distributor. You're just some guy with the rights to a movie that know one is going to see.

Here's why:

1. MONEY: Most people think that making the film is the most expensive part of the movie business. Close, but no cigar that is just a cigar, my muchachos. In fact, the costs of P&A can often match, or even exceed the cost of making a movie. Prints for theaters are very expensive to make, and if you're planning any sort of release beyond a few festivals, you are going to need hundreds, if not thousands of prints made, at $1,000-$2,000 a pop. Advertising is also key, because what's the point of releasing a movie if your target audience doesn't know that it's playing. That means buying space in print publications, internet ads, TV commercials, Radio spots, and bribing critics for good blurbs with free food & booze at press junkets (which also cost money).

2. KNOW-HOW: Let's say you have the money to release the film. Then the question is do you have the knowledge to deliver it to your target audience? It's not as easy as you may think. You can't just dump a movie into as many theaters as you can and hope for the best. You have to know the film's target audience, what kind of theaters would attract that audience, the locations of those theaters. Then you have to create and structure your advertising and marketing plan. That takes a lot of brain power, experience, and sheer gut instinct. Not everyone has that combination, and you really need it when you can't afford to do the sort of carpet bombing releases of the major studios.

3. CLOUT: Theater chains don't want your indie film. What they want is the latest Hollywood blockbuster with the cast on the cover of every magazine. An indie distributor needs to have a certain amount of clout to bully convince theater chains into showing your movie.

It's not easy to be a distributor, and being an indie distributor is even harder. Which is one of the reasons why the indie film business is in such a mess these days.


  1. So, whatever happened to the whole "Digital Film Will Eliminate the Need for Prints" thing? I seem to recall hearing that a lot back when Lucas shot his prequels digitally.

    Did I miss a memo?

  2. Jake Was Here17/8/10 3:11 pm

    Fuloydo: There's not enough theaters switching over to digital format, partially because of security issues (digital movies would be easier to pirate if you could just get your hands on them) and partially because the theaters haven't yet figured out a halfway convincing "rational" excuse for using it to fuck us over at the box office again.

  3. For every digital theater in existence there are hundreds that have yet to be converted. This is even more prevalent in foreign markets.

    Hence the continuing existence of expensive prints.

  4. Where's Harvey Weinstein when you need him?