Distributors work to maximize returns

Indie companies overcome tentpole multiplex

It’s easy to lament the state of the art film in today’s marketplace. What’s hard: finding a way to bring provocative films to U.S. audiences without disregarding the bottom line. These three distributors are proving that overcoming the tentpole multiplex roadblock is indeed possible — as long as the filmmakers aren’t hoping for “Little Miss Sunshine” numbers.

2 Days in Paris

Distrib partners: Samuel Goldwyn Films, Red Envelope Entertainment

The brainchild of Netflix chief content officer Ted Serandos, Red Envelope Entertainment offers filmmakers and theatrical distributors low-risk, non-exclusive partnerships geared toward enhancing a film’s theatrical profile before it becomes available to Netflix’s 6.8 million subscriber base. Most deals involve Red Envelope sharing P&A costs on the theatrical release with the distrib/filmmaker, then splitting both theatrical and rental profits.

The directorial debut of thesp Julie Delpy, “2 Days in Paris,” premiered at the 2007 Berlin Film Festival. Months later, REE and Goldwyn — which had long expressed mutual interest in working together — decided to partner on a release. Along with splitting the theatrical costs (which were handled by Goldwyn’s IDP distribution arm), REE promoted the film with 1 million ads on Netflix rental envelopes and e-blasts to its subscribers. The result: an opening weekend of $150,000 on eight screens, and the top per-screen average in Gotham.

“There is no question that the Red Envelope partnership is a major reason we’ve been doing so well,” Goldwyn topper Meyer Gottlieb says. Adds Delpy, “What attracted me (about the deal) was the guarantee that it would have true visibility in both the theaters and on video. Obviously, it’s working.”

51 Birch Street

Distrib: Truly Indie

The latest venture from Mark Cuban and Todd Wagner’s 2929 Entertainment, Truly Indie is a service-deal outfit for indie filmmakers. Rather than charge an exorbitant fee for a New York/Los Angeles release, Truly Indie not only offers a comparatively inexpensive package, it also offers access to 2929’s extensive holdings, specifically Magnolia Pictures and the Landmark Theater chain. Cost depends on number of markets (the average fee is $50,000 to $70,000 range for five to seven cities), with the filmmakers receiving 100% of all gross revenue.

“When people come to us, they are looking to retain the rights of the films that they’ve made but also release it into the marketplace with a strong, experienced team,” says Truly Indie exec Kelly Sanders. “We’re able to provide marketing and strategy advice, as well as all of the resources that we have available.”

Despite getting raves during its fest run in 2005-06, Doug Block’s personal doc “51 Birch Street”

wasn’t able to score an acceptable theatrical deal. He rolled the dice with Truly Indie, and the gamble paid off. Pic was released in seven cities; then Block and producer Lori Cheatle self-distributed in more than 50 other markets. Box office gross topped out a respectable $150,000 and turned a profit for the film’s investors.

“Truly Indie is a great midpoint between a regular distributor and old-fashioned self-distribution,” Block says. “Working with them made it much easier for us to do our own DIY distribution in other cities.”

The Wind the Shakes the Barley

Distrib: IFC First Take

Since kicking off the mockumentary “CSA: Confederate States of America” in March 2006, IFC’s day-and-date label has distribbed an array of offbeat critical faves, including “I Am a Sex Addict,” “American Gun” and “Sorry, Haters.”

Business model combines a traditional theatrical rollout with a simultaneous video-on-demand broadcast, with less of a marketing budget than the flagship IFC Films banner.

“The whole idea of First Take was to support great films that weren’t getting proper releases,” says IFC Films marketing topper Ryan Werner. “We’re in 40 million homes right now, which provides all the films a giant potential viewership.”

“Barley,” a tale of feuding brothers in early 20th-century Ireland, is without a doubt the biggest catch in First Take’s short history. Directed by Ken Loach and starring Cillian Murphy, the pic took home the Palme d’Or at Cannes last year and scored with critics in Toronto.

Despite a “lean” P&A budget, theatrical numbers were strong, topping out in Julky at $1.8 million after a five-month run — the highest U.S. numbers ever earned for a Loach release.

Werner says VOD numbers were also strong. “The experience has certainly been good for us,” says ”

Barley” producer Rebecca O’Brien. “We certainly felt that the film has had a far better opportunity to reach its audience than we’ve experienced on other releases that have been confined to small arthouse markets.”

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