Neon’s Elissa Federoff Talks Business at Toronto

Neon’s distribution topper Elissa Federoff hits Toronto with some high-profile titles: Bong Joon-ho’s Palme d’Or-winner “Parasite,” Alfre Woodard-starrer “Clemency” and Celine Sciamma’s Cannes prize-winner “Portrait of a Lady on Fire.” Neon has seen success in a subdued specialty pic B.O. climate with docs such as “Three Identical Strangers” and recently with “Luce,” “Honeyland” and “Wild Rose.”

The specialty film market is especially crowded in the fourth quarter, so how do you get your films in front of the public? What out of the box thinking comes with this territory now?

Neon is positioned as a significant 2020 awards season player, having picked up some of the hottest acquisitions out of Sundance and Cannes. … Each one of our films is unique and will get its own specialized campaign. A tailor-made campaign for each of these films will allow them to rise above the noise, and garner the attention they deserve, but it starts with choosing films that are unparalleled in their cinematic craft, and willing to go places that typical studio specialty fare isn’t willing to go. That’s how we stand out and appeal to audiences who might be bored with generic biopics and stuff they can see at home. From there, it’s about being bold with our marketing and letting exhibitors, voters and the audience know that we’re serious about these films even though we’re not the norm.

What about the number of screens available? Are bigger chains opening up more screens for specialty pics? 

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There has always been a place for niche and specialty films in the marketplace, and that hasn’t changed.  However, with some of the jaw-dropping success stories we’ve seen in the past few years, from films like “Three Identical Strangers,” the commitment from our theatrical partners has grown.  “Apollo 11” is a great example of a specialty release that launched in Imax in the major commercial circuits and continued to thrive in the marketplace for months, both in art houses and the commercial multiplexes.

How do you use festivals for marketing?

Festivals offer a great way to position and launch our films.  Neon is committed to the moviegoing experience and the excitement we see from festival audiences builds the film’s awareness and the buzz. Toronto is an excellent launch pad for a theatrical release; where we gauge the audience response and our campaign takes off from there. “Portait of a Lady on Fire,” Clemency” and Parasite” will all show at Toronto; we’re looking forward to the critical response and we’re excited to debut our films the way they’re meant to be seen, on the big screen.

Two of your TIFF films have Cannes heat — how do you turn that into box office and awards?

“Parasite” and “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” had amazing receptions in Cannes.  Critical response has been through the roof and both films are 100% on Rotten Tomatoes.  “Parasite” won the Palme d’Or and “Portrait” won best screenplay, so the premieres alone have pushed these films into the public eye and have made them some of those most anticipated this fall. There’s an upward progression that keeps building, and the release should only drive it further.

“Clemency” is heavy material but topical. Can you talk about why that film is important to Neon?

“Clemency,” which won the Grand Jury Prize out of Sundance, made a big impression on all of us at Neon. It’s a wonderful film with a career best performance by Alfre Woodard and a fresh new voice in Chinonye Chukwu, who wrote and directed the film. It’s an important film, but it’s also an extraordinarily emotional and cathartic experience that Chinonye manages to achieve without milking or manipulating emotions, but rather through a beautifully honest, restrained touch that gradually builds until you don’t even realize you’re in a puddle of tears. So this is both the celebration of one of America’s very best actresses and the discovery of a major director.

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