There is money to be made from gay and lesbian pics, says Wieland Speck, head of Berlin’s Panorama section.
“The kind of deals that are being made here are usually not huge, but there are lots of them. It’s a vibrant marketplace, and the number of small companies has mushroomed. But this is not headline-grabbing stuff, because the amounts of money we’re talking about here are relatively small.”
Panorama has been one of the strongholds of gay and lesbian cinema on the international festival circuit since 1986. Its founder, the late Manfred Salzgeber, and Speck, who took over as program director in 1992, have made sure that pics tackling alternative lifestyles, including the works of Pedro Almodovar and Gus Van Sant, had a place among the unorthodox and politicized films unspooled at Panorama. The section also stages the Teddy Awards to honor the best gay and lesbian films and talent across the Berlinale.
Speck says it has always been important for him that all Panorama films have a life in the marketplace once the festival is over. Although the intention is to release the pics theatrically, Speck acknowledges that in Europe, at least, the DVD market is becoming increasingly important and thus an increasingly viable alternative for gay and lesbian filmmaking.
“The market has changed dramatically. Theatrical audience numbers are dwindling, and home entertainment is now the core of our business,” confirms Guido Fischer of Edition Salzgeber, Germany’s leading distributor of gay and lesbian film, which was also founded by Manfred Salzgeber.
A theatrical release is still important, however, if only for marketing reasons.
“We usually invest in a small theatrical release with as few as five copies per title in order to raise awareness and have the film written about in the press.
“It’s much harder to generate publicity for a DVD release, and we don’t have any money for marketing campaigns,” says Fischer.
The picture is different in the U.S. where, according to Marcus Hu of Strand Releasing, the theatrical market is just as viable as home entertainment: “If a title performs really strong theatrically, it’s huge on DVD. If it does OK in the cinemas, the DVD release will also be OK.”
An energetic theatrical release pays dividends for some pics, such as Gregg Araki’s HIV drama “The Living End,” which Strand also produced. It generated U.S. box office of $692,585.
The budgets for gay and lesbian films tend to be low — according to Hu no more than
$2 million. But while in Europe gay and lesbian filmmakers tend to rely on subsidies, the market in the U.S. is big enough to raise finance through private investors.
That market may improve further if Paramount’s release of Ang Lee’s cowboy love story “Brokeback Mountain,” starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger, takes off.
According to Hu, the pic can be seen as a test case as to whether films with a gay theme can break into the mainstream. If it succeeds, the commercial stakes for gay and lesbian movies will be raised.