Report: The Wild Hesitation of Movie Distributors

published 28 February 2010
written by Karo
originally published on Grintastic

To most of us, the words “distributor“ makes us think of Cherrybomb and our campaign.

At the European Film Market, an Industrial Debate on independent distributors and their role in film financing (and marketing) took place, so here is what was mentioned and discussed that might be of interest for us, especially in regards to Cherrybomb. 😉

When it comes to selling independent films nowadays, two things are said to be relevant: the quality of the film, and the discipline and continuity behind the marketing.
Earlier on, the name of the people attached to the film (actors, directors, scriptwriters etc.) had a big influence, but due to the amount of people working in film and the long- (or rather short-) levity of an actor’s success, the importance of names has been reduced. Just think of big names like Tom Cruise, Jim Carrey and Keavu Reeves, whose names are well-know, yet in recent years, none of them had a major hit.

Nowadays, buyers are interesting in the appeal to the future audience, and how many people might consider watching the film. Currently, there are stories of vampires coming up everywhere, about ten years ago it was the time of family-fantasy films (Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Lemony Snicket, Golden Compass, Narnia, …). Stories about the cruel reality of teenage life are somewhat rare at the moment. Unless of course a bunch of people start campaigning and collecting signatures to prove that there is an interested audience…

Also, there are far less distributors for independent films than a few years ago. This entails that less films are being sold, and only the best films are being released in theaters.

Many films already have a distributor prior to the start of production. Since these distributors often take part in funding the film, they have a bigger interest in eventually releasing the film to regain their money, hence distribution is more likely for these films. Harry Potter, for example, is being funded AND (in most countries) distributed by Warner Bros.
On the other hand, those distributors like to have a say during the production, and stop the directors from taking films into territory that might not appeal to the audience they have in mind. The story of Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow and Disney’s initial reaction is well known.

This also means that directors and actors cannot always do what they want if they have a financing distributor. If they do, the films might be incredibly great, but not see the light of theatres if no distributor finds it marketable enough. These films have to rely on distributors believing in the film as it is – or in the future audience.
Cherrybomb did not have any distributors among the funding companies.

Additionally, foreign distributors prefer buying films that already have other distributors, in particular, US films. For one, the costs for promotion are incredibly high (especially in the US), and (since word goes around), can be less for European distributors if a film has already been released in the states, and second, they have a reference if a film might be successful. As an example: A few films of Jim Carrey‘s were flops in the US and never made it across the Atlantic, because nobody wanted to buy them. In contrast to that, they even had problems finding international distributors for Dr. Parnassus before they were able to show the box office numbers from the UK (and with a cast of Heath Ledger, Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell and Jude Law, one would think it would be easy…).

So hopefully, with the UK release in the near future, some other distributors might gain confidence in Cherrybomb as well…

Also, the costs for promotion are immense. Posters, interviews, premieres, trailers, TV spots, online promotion,… all needs to be paid. Particularly promotion in the US is very expensive, as to buy up a film that has other distributors and, by the time it will be released, has already had media coverage from other releases, is popular. Also, Twitter has become a very interesting tool to reach the audience and keep them up to date.

Nowadays, online marketing can take up up to 20% of marketing costs. So, you might have an idea of what we’ve been working on… And Cherrybomb does have a Twitter, and Facebook, AND Myspace… 😉

The financial crisis has also left its mark on the film industry, in addition to other difficulties:
The US market is “in tatters” when it comes to independent film, and many European productions do not make it to the US because the art divisions of distributors are cut down due to financial issues.

The European market has been less affected, e.g. France and Germany (along with the UK, the biggest markets in film business after the US): In France, about 50% of all distributions are local (= French), and “only” 50% are imported. Germany has about 26-27% of local distributions. Those market have been able to be at least somewhat steady as well.

In comparison, Japan’s local productions are pretty close to non-existent, and almost all films are imported.
While the UK is much less patriotical than France or Germany, they are struggling less than the US. However, the UK has the difficulty of having the same language, and audiences are more interested in US films unless they have a typical British appeal (set in London, British accent, well-known British actors, British humor…)

Russian distributors are hesitant to buy independent films because they have a huge piracy problem, which of course, reduces the number of sold tickets.

Difficulties for deals in China include that there is a restricted number of international films that can be sold, and that particularly films with drug usage, violence and political themes are hard to sell.

So, what’s the outlook for Cherrybomb? UK: check. Germany: check. US: fingers crossed/looking good. China: possibly difficult due to the amount of drugs and swearing and violence. The others?
Let’s just keep our fingers crossed and hope for the best.

*Karo was very lucky to have seen Wild Target at the EFM! For more info, check out her Review, get tons of info about Wild Target on the Filmography pages, and lots of spoiler-y goodies in the forums!

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