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rich movie star finds he only needs fame 13 Jan 2012 15:14 #37750

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Wall Street Journal
JANUARY 12, 2012, 12:30 PM ET
From Arthouse to Our House

By Edward Burns

Several years ago, I had just completed a screenplay which I planned to direct, so I headed out to LA for a series of meetings with a number of financiers, hoping to get the funding needed to get the film off the ground.

As I went, hat in hand, practically begging these guys to finance my movie, I was becoming increasingly frustrated as the terms of the agreement were relayed to me. In exchange for providing the cash, the financier could make all final decisions about the casting, title, music, and even editing, and they would ultimately own the movie. And we weren’t looking for $50 million or even $10 million. We were looking for $2 million. But that’s the nature of the business, the minute someone cuts you a check, you surrender creative control. And I get it, if I was going to give someone $2 million, I would want some say in those decisions as well.

I also knew there was another reality to think about. Once the film was finished, we would be facing an ever-shrinking theatrical marketplace for independent film. Art houses were closing around the country and a number of the great indie distribution companies like Warner Independent, Picturehouse, and ThinkFilm had gone under as well. Everyone wondered where the specialized film audience had gone – had the customer simply disappeared? We thought we had a pretty good idea where this audience went… They were sitting very comfortably in their living rooms watching excellent programming on cable television and with On Demand available, when they wanted it.

So with these two realities facing us, my producing partner and I left these meetings and decided to try something different from both a production and distribution standpoint. The digital revolution was upon us and we decided to embrace it.

Technological advances have made it so much easier to create high-quality films without using incredibly expensive equipment. HD digital cameras are getting exponentially better and more affordable. Case in point, we shot my latest feature, “Newlyweds,” on a consumer model SLR camera, the Canon 5D. Add an Apple computer and Final Cut Pro software, and now you’re editing your film at a relatively reasonable cost. Using this technology, a trusted three-man crew, who all worked for a piece of the film, locations we were able to access for free, actors who were willing to do their own hair and make-up and wear their own clothes, we were able to get the film in the can for $9,000. And most importantly, maintain full creative control.

Once the film was done we knew we had an even greater challenge. How do we find that elusive indie film audience? Our thinking was, if they are already at home sitting in front of their flat screens, why ask them to schlep out to the art house theater, which may have closed its doors years ago just like my home town theater did in Valley Stream, Long Island. Why not bring the film to the audience instead?

So we turned to digital distribution. Instead of following the traditional route of opening the movie on one screen in New York and one screen in Los Angeles, we opened the movie in 45 million homes via Video on Demand, iTunes and other digital platforms. This offers a great opportunity for indie filmmakers to bypass the traditional and expensive studio model and distribute their moves on a national scale for very little cost. Even the distribution companies will agree – the economics of a theatrical release for most indie films just don’t add up. These companies regard the theatrical release as a loss leader, a way to market the film for ancillary revenue streams like DVD and pay cable. But without the studio (or financiers) as a partner, we are not giving a majority of profits away and are able to reap the financial rewards – and maintain creative control – by going straight to these platforms.

With these digital formats, film fans are able to access the film whenever and wherever they want. Let’s say you’ve read this piece and you’d like to check out my film Newlyweds. You can go straight to your On Demand service from your cable provider, or to iTunes, and for just $6.99, you can watch the movie now, in the comfort of your own home, or wherever you may be. There’s no need to call a babysitter to watch the kids, fill the car up with gas and drive miles to the nearest art house, or wait weeks for the film to come to your town. The art house is your big screen television, your tablet or your smartphone. Not to mention, the seats are more comfortable and the snacks are free.

We first experimented with digital distribution in 2007 with the release of my film “Purple Violets” – the first film to be released exclusively through iTunes. At that point, audiences were buying music on iTunes but the thought that movie fans would watch a film on a computer, was mostly dismissed. Despite that reaction, the film debuted to surprisingly strong numbers, indicating a real appetite to watch movies this way. In 2010, we did it again and released “Nice Guy Johnny” on iTunes but also adding VOD to our release plan. The audience response was astounding. The movie made money and in turn, our crew made money, a welcome windfall for our labor of love.

For us indie filmmakers, I truly believe digital distribution is where the greatest opportunity lies. Just two weeks ago, “Newlyweds” was released digitally and has been producing incredibly robust numbers. Even more important, the digital distribution method will help to broaden the audience base for indie films and in turn, increase the demand for these films. There will be more opportunity for the many up-and-coming indie filmmakers out there. The future of independent film is here, and I am excited to say it’s in your living room.

Read the blog here and leave your comments there as well..... other theatre owners have.... blogs.wsj.com/speakeasy/2012/01/12/the-r...om/?KEYWORDS=digital
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Re: rich movie star finds he only needs fame 13 Jan 2012 15:14 #37751

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would anyone know who Ed Burns was if it wasn't for movie theatres?
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Re: rich movie star finds he only needs fame 14 Jan 2012 15:04 #37755

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True Mike, but he is not responsible for the way the studios want to release his movies. He is just dealing with the cards that the studios have dealt him.

Can't blame him at all. Give him credit for making the current environment work for him. Just another reason that has me questioning the future of movie theaters.

(Fair warning to others, I do very little biz, so my opinions really do not matter much)
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