Cable and satellite companies continue to play a key role in getting indie films made, whether it’s providing a chunk of financing with a pre-licensing deal or fully funding a pic.
On the doc side, broadcasters and cablers have long supported nonfiction programming but they’re also seeing the advantages of supporting feature docs from inception. Not only do they share in the backend but it can help them avoid an expensive Sundance bidding war while providing their viewers with buzz-worthy product.
For overseas companies, this type of film financing is old hat. But these days it’s more likely that pay- or satellite TV providers will co-fund projects rather than the free-to-air channels.
Here’s a sampling of the companies actively involved in the indie film space:
Indie cred: Discovery Docs scored big this year by partnering with Lions Gate Docs on Werner Herzog’s “Grizzly Man.” It’s only the second title for Discovery Docs, a company built on encouraging risk-taking from its filmmakers. “We’re really interested in having very strong individual voices,” says EVP Jane Root. Further, because Discovery operates 14 channels, Root says they’re not beholden to a specific quota or budget: “If we could get four films of the quality and impact of ‘Grizzly Man’ a year, I’d be very happy”
Financed: “Grizzly Man,” “With All Deliberate Speed”
Pickups: “Russian Brides”
Indie cred: Followed “American Splendor” with Cannes winner “Elephant” and found critical, BO and kudo success with “Maria Full of Grace.” Premium cabler looks to make seven to 10 fiction films per year, most in the $5 million-$10 million range. Not all receive theatrical runs but those that do will be through Picturehouse. HBO has also blurred the line between made-fors and theatricals; Kirby Dick’s doc “Twist of Faith” bowed on HBO’s America Undercover days before it dropped in theatres. Particular attention is paid to diversity.
Financed: “Last Days,” “Inside Deep Throat,” “Sometimes in April”
Pickups: “Children of Beslan,” “Paper Clips”
Indie cred: Employing the ‘day-and-date’ strategy HDNet tested with “Enron,” Steven Soderbergh’s “Bubble” — a Toronto and Venice entry — is produced by HDNet Films, distributed by Magnolia, exhibited (non-exclusively) at Landmark Theatres and will be offered on PPV via HDNet Movies. Mark Cuban, who co-owns all four entities, says all companies are “involved in the selection, production and distribution process,” but he insists he’s not the indie equivalent of AOL Time Warner or Fox: “They have product for everyone. (Whereas) we can pick the movies we love and not have to worry about hitting Wall Street expectations.”
Financed: “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room,” “All Fall Down”
Pickups: “Ong Bak,” Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s “Pulse”
Indie cred: This year, IFC Prods. scored with “The Ballad of Jack and Rose” and “Me and You and Everyone We Know” and its distribution arm picked up “The Edukators” off the fest circuit. Doc division focuses on nonfiction with theatrical and fest potential (“Z Channel”) and on original content for the channel (Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini’s “Wanderlust.”) Meanwhile, Toronto preemer “Sorry Haters” comes from IFC’s digital initiative InDigEnt.
Financed: “Sorry, Haters,” “Me and You and Everyone We Know,” “Lonesome Jim”
Pickups: “Turtles Can Fly,” “Sideways”
Indie cred: Via Showtime Independent and Sho Exposure (docs), cabler looks to fully finance low budget features (around $1 million) with an eye toward theatrical. This paid off with last year’s “Baadasssss!” and current New Yorker doc release “After Innocence.” Others, like 2004 Sundance entry “Speak” wind up preeming on the net, while 2005 Sundance fave “Reefer Madness” was a Showtime made-for.
Financed: “Rikers High,” “In the Wee Small Hours”
Pickups: “Sarah Silverman: Jesus Is Magic,” “When Will I Be Loved”
Indie cred: The Sundance Channel’s commitment to docs is as strong as its film fest sister’s, and the cabler has aggressively moved toward doc deals at pitch stage, like Toronto preemer “Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man,” (with Lions Gate docs) “We’re never the sole financier,” says exec VP of programming and marketing Laura Michalchyshyn. But the channel will pony up “as low as 10%-20% and up to 40%” of a doc’s budget (they’re not focusing on fiction features). They’re also very active on the acquisitions front for both the cable channel and DVD label.
Financed: “Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man,” “An Ordinary Family”
Pickups: “Tarnation,” “Forty Shades of Blue”
Indie cred: Toronto-based CHUM owns 33 stations, two-thirds of which are cablers. Since Canadian indies need a broadcast license to cop government funding and tax credits, many rely heavily on CHUM coin. CHUM is involved in 15-20 films per year — as co-producer via pre-licensing deals — and looks for films that are “a little off-mainstream,” says senior VP Roma Khanna. Particular emphasis is on first-time filmmakers, as evidenced by CHUM’s sponsorship of the Canada First! program at the Toronto Fest; “Six Figures” is among those receiving CHUM coin.
Financed: “Mambo Italiano,” “Childstar,” “Go Further”
Pickups: “Where the Truth Lies,” “Water”
Canal Plus (France)
Indie cred: As Europe’s No. 1 film producer, Canal Plus’ production and sales arm, Studio Canal, has consistently supported French cinema and arty English-lingo product. At Cannes this year, it pumped upcoming pics such as David Lynch’s “Inland Empire” and Wong Kar Wai’s “Lady From Shanghai.” Most films are co-prods — like Venice entries “The Constant Gardener” and Patrice Chereau’s “Gabrielle.”
Financed: “Inland Empire,” “Russian Dolls”
i-Cable (Hong Kong)
Indie cred: Hong Kong pay-TV player i-Cable jumped into film production with both feet when, last March, it launched Sundream Motion Pictures with $38 million. Aim is to produce 15 or so Chinese-lingo films which will bow theatrically and feed i-Cable’s three movie channels. First up is a crime pic from “PTU” scripter Yau Nai-Hoi and producer Johnnie To (“Fulltime Killer,” “Election”). Also in the pipeline is historical epic “Cao Cao” to be directed by Sundream topper Tsui Siu Ming.
Financed: “Untitled Johnnie To/Yau Nai-Hoi Project”
Indie cred: Since the early ’90s, Sogecable’s film production arm has helped finance many of Spain’s major exports including “Sex & Lucia,” “Mondays in the Sun” and last year’s Oscar winner, “The Sea Inside.” Sogecable reps Spain’s biggest player in the sat TV world with Canal Plus and Digital Plus, while distribution arm Sogepaq focuses on third-party pickups for its stations. Co-production on English-lingo product is rare, though it did pony up for “The Others” and John Turturro’s directorial debut “Illuminata.”
Financed: “The Sea Inside,” “Crimen Ferpecto”
Indie cred: Japan’s oldest satcaster is best known for producing TV and cutting-edge anime series but in the world of modern J-cinema — where directors like Takashi Miike jockey between theatrical, straight-to-DVD and TV work — Wowow has consistently supported vanguard filmmakers. They produced Miike’s TV mini “MPD: Psycho” as well as his theatrical film “Zebraman.” Berlin entry, “Riyuu” (The Motive), meanwhile, was a B.O. success after its Wowow TV premiere.
Financed: “The Motive,” Sogo Ishii’s “Gojoe,” “M” (Other)