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David Poland

By David Poland

The Blur Of Indie Sales: TIFF ’11 Edition

Did You Know… there are only 20 distributors who have grossed $5 million or more this year domestically?

That’s not for one film. That’s for their entire slates (which are, sometimes, just one film).

6 majors, followed by Weinstein, Lionsgate, and Relativity, followed by Focus, Searchlight, Film District, and Sony Classics. Then Summit, CBS, Roadside, IFC, and Goldwyn. That takes us to 18. EROS and Rocky Mountain Pictures – home of, respectively, Bollywood and Atlas Shrugged – fill out the 20. Magnolia hovers at $4.4m so far.

Now… with all the chatter about the 30+ sales at TIFF this year, there were a total of 6 buys by companies in those 20 that generate major dollars. Searchlight bought Shame, CBS bought Salmon Fishing in The Yemen (which seems to be the high sale of the year at $4 million), Lionsgate bought two films, one with Roadside (Friends With Kids) and the other on their own, You’re Next, The Hunter, and IFC grabbed Your Sister’s Sister and for their new IFC Midnight division, The Incident. (It’s also been misreported that Abel Ferrara’s 4:44 Last Day on Earth and Free Men were bought at TIFF. Both were bought before TIFF and announced during the fest.)

Just under that distribution level is Magnolia, which picked up The Hunter and two films for its Magnet division, God Bless America and Goon.

Those nine buys probably represent about $9 million spent… or about the bill for Sony’s 3 junkets at the Ritz Carlton. (I kid!)

I count about 20 other verifiable domestic buys. (TIFF seems to have counted, for instance, picking up a major sales agent as a sale.)

The oddball of the group is Sundance Selects, which has distributed some of its titles through sister company IFC, most notably Herzog’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams, easily the biggest doc of the year so far not released by a stunting major studio. They picked up Herzog’s new doc, Into The Abyss (not in 3D), as well as Winterbottom’s Trishna, and French-Canadian superstar-French-chick-flick Beloved.

That puts us at $9.2 million.

Amongst the rest, there are distributors I adore… like Oscilloscope, which picked up Andrea Arnold’s Wuthering Heights… which is exactly the right place for the film.

There are veteran distributors like Freestyle Releasing, now six years old… with just 9 releases of over 500 screens. They picked up Nick Broomfield’s Sarah Palin –You Betcha!. I’m not sure they’ve ever released a doc before.

Music Box, which had great success with the Girl With… films. Tell No One, and Potiche this year, will try to score big with what seems to be their first English-language release, Terrence Davies’ Rachel Weisz-starrer Deep Blue Sea,

Millennium bought Oren Moverman’s Rampart. Sigh.

Since Avi Lerner took over First Look four years ago, they have released 14 movies, 2 of which cracked $1m. One was the Werner Herzog Nic Cage-starrer Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans ($1.7m) and the other was Transsiberian ($2.2m). Now they are going to take another run at distribution with Mark Gill. Great. The one shot this movie really has is Cyntia Swartz getting Oscar heat around Woody Harrelson.

Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisition aka SPWA, nee’ SPWAG, picked up Midnight Movie hit, The Raid. That could mean a variety of things in terms of eventual domestic distribution. But there is also a chance that it will never get domestic distribution because Screen Gems is already planning a remake.

After that, things get blurry, as the distributors are aspiring more than established as theatrical distributors.

Cohen Media Group picked up The Lady and The Awakening. They also have a film in distribution now… their first film. But they have it in a nice theater in LA and another in NY, so… who knows?

Liddell Entertainment picked up Killer Joe. Liddell has distributed six movies… but none of them themselves. One – a horror/thriller – went out through Freestyle, and three have gone out or are coming out via Roadside (including Albert Nobbs). The sixth is a sequel to the horror film, but has no release date or distribution deal that I can find. As a production company, Liddell has done deals with The Weinstein Company and Open Road as well, so look for the company to set up this film somewhere else for distribution.

ATO Pictures picked up two films… which fits, as they have only ever released two films before. They were unable to get traction for Kevin Spacey in Casino Jack and grossed just over $1 million. They got $665k out of the John C. Reilly-starrer, Terri. So now they have The Oranges, a Hugh-Laurie-led celebrity fest comedy and the environmental doc, Last Call At The Oasis.

As far as I can tell, Kino Lorber has never released anything on as many as 20 screens in the US themselves, but did pick up Elles.

Here are the rest of sort out… they all seem to be holding companies or library acquisitions companies that aren’t likely to do theatrical releases unless they can find someone else to invest their efforts and cash OR they have no history at all.

Indomina Group – Life Without Principle
MPI – Americano
Palisades Tartan- This is not a film
Shoreline – Generation P, Always Brando
TLA – Beauty
WWE Studios – The Day

So… make of this what you will. I would bet that some of the bigger distirbutors will pick up some stragglers before the next months pass. Sarah Polley’s film is sure to find a home. Dark Horse will land. The Eye of The Storm, Chicken With Plums, Violet & Daisy, Intruders, etc, etc. They will all find homes of some kind.

Even just focusing at the top tier, kinda light. Two big sales… one because it was $4 million and one because Searchlight picked up a great, but tough movie. IFC, Roadside, and Magnolia are – and I don’t think they’d be offended – in a somewhat different business. And after that, it’s a battle, even if you closed a deal.

Some sales are better than no sales or no 7-figure deals at all. But the market has spread out and most of the deals being touted are just not what those of us who love some of these films would like to see a healthy distribution atmosphere delivering.

4 Responses to “The Blur Of Indie Sales: TIFF ’11 Edition”

  1. krazyeyes says:

    If that 4.4 million figure for Magnolia/Magnet is correct they should be embarrassed considering the general quality and potential marketability of the films they’re distributing.

    I’m sure I’m missing some and/or attributing a few to an earlier year but considering Centurion, Black Death, REC2, The Last Circus, 13 Assassins, Hobo with a Shotgun, I Saw the Devil, Monsters they’ve got to be considered one of the most inept distributors in the business?

    What’s the upside for them? Can the same-day PPV really be taking such a big bite out of their box office? Does Cuban have more money than sense?

  2. JKill says:

    krazyeyes, according to an article from Deadline, the VOD returns are pretty substantial. But I agree anyway that a lot of their films would seem to have much more theatrical potential. (I finally watched I SAW THE DEVIL last week, and it was kind of incredible.)

  3. David Poland says:

    IFC and Magnolia are both pretty happy with the business they are now in. VOD is often multiples of the theatrical.

    The problem with theatrical potential is that it’s expensive to find out. Marketing costs changed the game. Sony Classics is holding out, but VOD – and maximizing VOD – is a necessity for a lot of films, like I Saw The Devil, which might otherwise just be direct-to-DVD.

  4. sam c says:

    “French-Canadian superstar-French-chick-flick Beloved” this is wholly inaccurate description of this film just FYI

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“Ten years ago at Telluride, I said on a panel that theatrical distribution was dying. It seemed obvious to me. I was surprised how many in the audience violently objected: ‘People will always want to go to the movies!’ That’s true, but it’s also true that theatrical cinema as we once knew it has died. Theatrical cinema is now Event Cinema, just as theatrical plays and musical performances are Events. No one just goes to a movie. It’s a planned occasion. Four types of Event Cinema remain.
1. Spectacle (IMAX-style blockbusters)
2. Family (cartoon like features)
3. Horror (teen-driven), and
4. Film Club (formerly arthouse but now anything serious).

There are isolated pockets like black cinema, romcom, girl’s-night-out, seniors, teen gross-outs, but it’s primarily those four. Everything else is TV. Now I have to go back to episode five of ‘Looming Tower.'”
~ Paul Schrader

“Because of my relative candor on Twitter regarding why I quit my day job, my DMs have overflowed with similar stories from colleagues around the globe. These peeks behind the curtains of film festivals, venues, distributors and funding bodies weren’t pretty. Certain dismal patterns recurred (and resonated): Boards who don’t engage with or even understand their organization’s artistic mission and are insensitive to the diverse neighborhood in which their organization’s venue is located; incompetent founders and/or presidents who create only obstacles, never solutions; unduly empowered, Trumpian bean counters who chip away at the taste and experiences that make organizations’ cultural offerings special; expensive PR teams that don’t bring to the table a bare-minimum familiarity with the rich subcultural art form they’re half-heartedly peddling as “product”; nonprofit arts organizations for whom art now ranks as a distant-second goal behind profit.”
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