Multiple platforms make IFC the pick-up king

Distrib shuffles indie pics across VOD platforms

IFC Films walked away from Cannes this year with eight pics, each of which is likely to see release sometime next year.

While juggling limited theatrical releases with a near-simultaneous VOD launch can help tailor each film’s release strategy, getting the word out to the biggest potential audience is an evolving challenge.

In a tight market for indie fare, with distribs penny-pinching to maximize impact and paying bare-minimum upfront advances, IFC has what it hopes is a unique calling card: the ability to customize release plans across three separately branded distribution models: IFC in Theaters, IFC Midnight and Sundance Selects.

Consider “Certified Copy.” The Cannes pickup seems a natural fit for IFC in Theaters, the theatrical-VOD combo that likely would see the film benefit from a more traditional theatrical run and the press attention attracted by the movie’s high-profile creative team of Iranian helmer Abbas Kiarostami and French thesp Juliette Binoche.

But another acquisition from the Croisette, Gregg Araki’s sex-drenched conspiracy thriller “Kaboom,” looks like a good possibility for new genre label IFC Midnight, a platform that can include buzz-magnet midnight screenings as well as VOD release. Taken together with Sundance Selects, a third arm focusing on docs and world cinema, the three platforms — along with IFC’s willingness to experiment with release windows — allow the company the kind of dexterity needed to navigate the uncertainty of the current indie scene, execs say. This year, Italian pic “Vincere” is IFC’s top theatrical grosser with $619,162, but VOD revenues augment modest theatrical returns.

“We try and tailor our distribution for each film to maximize the audience it reaches, and our revenue,” says IFC topper Jonathan Sehring.

So far it’s working, at least according to the IFC team.

Exec veep of distribution, operations and business development Lisa Schwartz estimates that 70%-80% of IFC pics return overages both to the company and to filmmakers.

The team adds that over the 4 1/2 years of the company’s existence, filmmakers and others in the industry have grown more comfortable with IFC’s signature approach of simultaneous day-and-date release via theatrical and VOD.

The company is often seen as one of the few distribs still standing for certain types of movies, including foreign films. That can result in occasional pressure from sales agents, says the team.

Besides, the org still faces obstacles in the marketplace, not least of which is its rep for paying little to no advance to filmmakers.

“I would say that we have done every kind of deal under the sun, all the way up to seven figures in advances,” says acquisitions and productions veep Arianna C. Bocco. “It’s really determined by the film and the competition within the marketplace. We can be very competitive and very aggressive.”

Although there’s a massive potential aud for films on VOD, the top revenue that can currently be expected from most pics is usually in the low seven figures, according to the IFC team. Execs argue that many in the industry fail to realize that the cost efficiency of the org’s promotion and release strategies means most pics still make money, even if the numbers — just like all the figures generated these days by the indie film scene — look like small potatoes next to old-school Hollywood models.

In addition, IFC faces the challenge of forging ahead with new distribution ideas while maintaining the delicate balance of business pressures felt by the company’s theatrical and VOD partners. For instance, you won’t find VOD platforms for IFC in Theaters pics touted in newspaper ads and in-theater movie trailers, as a nod to the company’s exhibition colleagues. That tightrope walk will need to be maintained as the company looks to a future that seems certain to include digital distribution, although it’s not yet clear in what way.

“Digital is something I think everybody’s keeping an eye on,” Sehring says. “But I also think VOD is still in the early phase of how valuable and important it is.”

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