Selling your film without selling your soul
12 July 2011
A Discussion With Orly Ravid From The Film Collaborative- What Chance An Indie Filmmaker Has These Days?
Orly Ravid and her partner Jeffrey Winter have formed The Film Collaborative (TFC), a non profit organization which offers a full range of affordable distribution, educational and marketing services to independent filmmakers looking to reach out to traditionally underserved audiences. TFC is the first non-profit, full-service provider dedicated to the distribution of independent film, including narrative features, documentaries and shorts
What lessons filmmakers need to learn in order to stand out?
Filmmakers can look for a free digital book that we are producing – SELLING YOUR FILM WITHOUT SELLING YOUR SOUL. It's a case study of filmmakers who half or all gone through distribution DIY. Mostly it's a combination of hybrid traditional and DIY. At the end of the day you're talking about different stores so if your film is very known, if it's available on iTunes it will do some business, if your film is not know being on itunes isn't going to do better for you than distributing on your website. And if your film is already known and they have fans, they are not going to be unhappy buying from your website. Under Our Skin, a documentary about lyme diseases sold 25,000 units a month.The topic was not covered before.
The key is that your film does not sell itself unless it has big names or something very commercial and popular. If your film is a small film it's going to speak to some people and not all people, and I think that's a lesson people will have to learn which that they have to be engaging their community, the people who are interested in their film, while they are making their film and once it's finished for the whole time. So that when they make their film available on their own site and on their own Facebook page, which they can do now, people will actually care and choose to rent it or buy it. The one thing you can always do is make your film available, if you done your job, people will be happy to watch it from your website.
"The question is do I do digital distribution with the festivals? and with Sundance, I have to admit the money was terrible, but you know what? Had they tried it with their bigger films, of course it would have worked better"
What do you think about the window system that is now changing?
Well, it's the most common question and the most common dilemma, I'm experiencing it now with revenge of the electric car, and I'm experiencing it a lot with films that have just enough commercial potential to activate more traditional deals but also have potential to engage audience directly. And I think the window thing has to be a custom solution per film, because at the end of the day more films make more money from TV potential sells.
In each country we analyze who are the players and where the money is going to come from, exclusive deals can generate a lot of income. Is there an all rights deal that is worth it? Usually the answer is no, even for a big indie film. Than the question is do I do digital distribution with the festivals? and with Sundance I have to admit the money was terrible. And this is something I'm addressing at the book, see Sundance only tried it with a few smaller films and it didn't work very well, but you know what? Had they tried it with their bigger films of course it would have worked better. And have they tried it with all of their films, instead of it being confusing for the audience, they tried it with Youtube rental window during the festival in 2010 and they just didn't do no money, but at the same time those films also didn't lose any money because those films had limited potential anyways.
So it's also a question of perspective. If you tried it once and you expected it to succeed it's not fair, no business expect that. It's an unfair standard to apply to a business. I strongly believe in that model, I've been talking to Sundace since 2009 about distributing films directly. So if a filmmaker decides going VOD during film festivals, and they are giving up film festival potential, that means giving up a lot of money. That's true to the state but if you are doing that elsewhere in world and you're doing it at the hype of film festivals, what harm can it do? It can do quite the opposite. So it depends on the market, in America it's still a potential risk problem that you have to analyze based on your film.
"At the end of the day you're talking about different stores so if your film is very known, if it's available on iTunes, it will do some business. If your film is not know, being on itunes isn't going to do better for you than distributing on your website"
What do you think about Tribeca's online film festival?
Well they limited it to 1000 viewers, that's not really enough for a test. The real test is make it available to the entire world to see these films, but of course the producers are afraid of that, so that's the catch 22. Now the thing to remember is that Tribeca is a for profit distributor now, so certain films they control the rights completely, and that means that's not the same risk, they can make a choice how to distribute their films with other platforms, so they can choose to violate windows. So I can see how they can make windows choices because they own each part. It's a question of who's controlling each gate.
From a distributor point of viewm how do you balance filmmakers who are looking to keep their rights, and maintain a successful business?
I'm so happy you are asking me that question, you are the first one to ask me that. I have done so many interviews and so many panels and it's so interesting that nobody asked me that. We have the rights to represents the rights. A deal is between the buyer and the film's owner, that's why we don't take rights because we don't need them. So we have a good faith understanding, I'm working for you, and you can get out of it, you can terminate. In some digital platforms the money isn't coming straight to the filmmakers, it comes through a third person, so you have to let it go through us. We're handling your film for this platform, so if we are getting you for VOD on cables, which we do that with our partners not on our own, we don't take extra commissions, we simply take a registration fee, we do all the contract, delivery support, so all I can do is tell filmmakers if you are going on a cable VOD you can not put your film for free on the Internet. We do have a dilemma because the more we will do directly the more powerful we will be, but than we have to spend a lot of time and energy advocating content, and I won't be powerful if I'll not have some of the best films. And we have to decide what role do we play, do we distribute with our partners, or should I do it directly. So that's the question we are now debating.
"Consumers have more options, so more filmmakers are getting in and more films are being distributed, so that puts a burden on the individual, because they are competing against so many, and that's never going to change"
How do you see the future of the industry?
Filmmakers defiantly have more options to sell their films. The digital thing is here to stay. The real question, how internet and TV will combine? I think the question is which category of digital is the strongest? Is it Cable VOD? is it going to be rental? Download to own? Which I don't think so, I think it's going to be subscription and rentals. And DIY will only grow. Consumers have more options, so more filmmakers are getting in and more films are being distributed, so that puts a burden on the individual, because they are competing against so many, and that's never going to change, if anything will just get worst. What it does do, is giving the most powerful aggregators, the middle man, that's where the real money is made, and than the question is who will dominate? Will it be Apple? Google? is it Verizon? so which of companies will stay on top?