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TOPIC: A new angle on Film Distribution

A new angle on Film Distribution 17 Feb 2004 19:16 #7493

Hello Everyone!
My name is Tom and I'm am brand new to bigscreenbiz.com. (sounds like a 12 step intro)

While I own a Marketing firm and an Advertising agency, my heart belongs to the movie biz. I have several friends in the production end of the movie business both with established production companies and independent ventures alike. I started thinking about the whole distribution and release process and how limiting it can be for independent filmmakers so I came up with an idea. The prod cos like the idea so I came here to bounce it off of you guys to see if it has merit. I am ignorant to the workings of theater operation so please forgive me if I sound like an idiot, but here goes...

If a truely good independent film was available for your theater and it was going to be advertised via television in your market AND the competition zones were enlarged (depending on market size) AND the house percentage was significantly more generous than normal (even larger if you have digital projection) AND you (or your booker)had the opportunity to screen the film prior to making a commitment; would you have any interest?

I can make the money work with the producers and media buying is my business, but I need to know if it has a chance with theater owners.

Thank you and I eagerly await your responses.


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Re: A new angle on Film Distribution 17 Feb 2004 19:31 #7494

  • CharlieBo
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Your idea is not new,and has worked occasionally.
The success of most(not all)independent films are review-driven,and NY Times,Ebert,etc reviews are important,so opening in NY,Chicago,LA is crucial.

However,some indie product has played successfully in regional markets,backed by a heavy TV and grass-roots campaign.Religious themes can be particularly successful,and going back to the "old days",the family-type adventures like WILDERNESS FAMILY and GRIZZLY ADAMS worked well,usually on a "four wall " basis.Your idea is good,and I think many exhibitors in smaller markets would be receptive.
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Re: A new angle on Film Distribution 17 Feb 2004 20:10 #7495

  • outaframe
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Ditto to what CHARLIEBO has told you... BUT you MUST present consistantly quality films for it to work... 4 walling died as a result of hard selling too many turkeys: the ticket buyers became gun shy after being stung by a lineup of poor pictures... I was a small part in a grass roots distribution plan dreamed up by old time promoter Kroger Babb back in the early 1970s, but it never got off the ground because exhibitors were skeptical that the pictures wouldn't live up to his extravagent promotion ideas... IF your idea goes foreward I would certainly be interested in participating... I still have Krog's plan lying around somewhere, and will be happy to share it with you... Some of it is quite clever, and would work today just as well as it could have, then... I doubt that you'll have a problem finding takers IF the pictures are quality stuff...
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Re: A new angle on Film Distribution 18 Feb 2004 01:10 #7496

  • RoxyVaudeville
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CharlieBo and outaframe, and myself were in this biz back when Pacific International and Sun Classic, and others, did just what you are talking about, only as they said, those films were for the most part "four walled". Most of those here never experienced them. Those of us that did know that it can work, but as outaframe mentioned, poor quality product doomed what started out as a good thing.

I agree with the others, that if a good quality product can be produced and properly promoted it can work and would receive the support of most independent exhibitors.
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Re: A new angle on Film Distribution 18 Feb 2004 10:29 #7497

Thank you for the rapid responses everyone.
I know I glossed over the details of the plan, but that was some very valuable feedback.

I agree completely about the quality factor for the films. That is why I prefer the prescreening for the theater owners. Because I have no emotional or financial ties to the films themselves, I was hoping to take a more clinical approach to what I choose to release. If I was able to develop a relationship with regional groups of theater owners they could help me determine the viability of a film in their house and/or market. I also have contacts at some major newspapers and magazines to get the reviews the films would need.

As for "four walling", I assume that basicaly means to rent the screen for "x" amount of time at a fixed price and taking 100% of the gate. I can live with that depending on what the fixed price is. Does anyone know a ballpark on what to expect a theater owner would ask in that situation?

OUTAFRAME- I would love to see Kroger Babb's marketing plan if you have it handy.

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Re: A new angle on Film Distribution 18 Feb 2004 12:45 #7498

  • Large
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Also your plan might have worked when there were too few films chasing too many theatres.

Right now there are too many films chasing too few theatres. Our problem isn't getting film, our problem is not enough screens.
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Re: A new angle on Film Distribution 18 Feb 2004 13:34 #7499

Hello Large~
Are you saying that my idea is foolish in your opinion?

When you say too many films and too few screens do you mean any type of film in any market or just certain demographic draws in select markets?

I really want to hear all sides before I blow a wad of cash diving in to this thing.
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Re: A new angle on Film Distribution 18 Feb 2004 19:52 #7500

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Ok, so I am an independent exhibitor of Art Film. You would think was free of the distributor pressure and was free to show anything I wish. Since I have such a good reputation in town people would come and see anything I played. Not true....

I am as beholden to the big distributors as the large stadium plex down the street. All of our film booking is done through distributors, granted they distribute specialty film. But Disney owns Miramax. Fox Searchlight is owned my Fox. Sony Classics is owned by Sony.

In order to keep being able to get quality product from these guys, I need to keep them happy. I need to show good grosses from their previous films in order to get their next release. If I ignore one of their releases to play something else from a distributor that has very little weight in the industry, they will remember next time. It's a vicious circle, but we all play the game.

Right now there is more specialty product in the pipeline than there are screens to play it. So I must choose the best possible titles that will make the theatre the most profit. I expect it, the distributors expect it, my landlord expects it, my staff expects it and the public expects it from us. As a result the specialty exhibitors are playing much less foreign and independent films than they ever have.

We need the buzz that a well-connected distributor can generate. Film is a perishable product; I can only sell tickets for it if my public is hungry for it. And they are only hungry for it if they read about it, see it on television and their friends are talking about it.

So if you get Entertainment Weekly to do an article about it, E! Television to do a program about it, The New York Times to review it, Roger Ebert to love it, then I will hear about it and want to book it.

P.S. Movie Theatres run 35mm film. Some very large cinema chains have installed experimental digital cinema projectors, which are exclusively fed product from major distributors like Disney. Some of us have video projectors that can run some product from video for special occasions but most of our video systems are not "Digital Cinema" quality. Digital Cinema and the ability to run video are not widespread yet.
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Re: A new angle on Film Distribution 18 Feb 2004 20:13 #7501

  • outaframe
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A few comments/observations/opinions regarding what has been stated so far...

LARGE <> I agree that there are too many pictures, but disagree about the number of screens: I feel that there are ALSO too many screens... The reason that so many pictures never are shown in MANY areas is that everyone wants the hot property on their screen, and the smaller pictures are lost in shuffle... The window to video/cable is so short now, that if you pass a picture with the thought of a later playdate, it will be on the shelf at Blockbuster before you get to it... The thing lacking in MOST current films is a good storyline... Formula pictures dominate the marketplace, and are so forgettable it's no wonder that so many go unplayed... AND if a picture doesn't set the wheels spinning the first weekend, it gets little or no more promotion by the studio... It goes right to video, and the NEXT one goes into theatrical release...

TOM <> You asked about 4 walling: it's been nearly 30 years since it died out... This was just before HBO (and clones) started the cable boom... Cable systems THEN were essentially CATV (community antenna systems) which supplied the subscribers with (usually) better reception of what was BROADCAST by the networks, a few independents, and PBS stations... Even the largest markets seldom had more than a dozen channels available... Today, the blitzkrieg TV campaigns, which 4 walling exploited, would require placing ads on more than 100 channels, in some areas... AND that wouldn't include dish systems... I don't think you could afford that kind of saturation, now... And newspaper ad costs have soared, while readership continues to decline... It's a tough nut to create an instant market in an ad bank this diverse...
The theater rental terms were negotiated on a case-by-case basis... For a $ rental figure, I'm sure that most theater owners approached this as I did: after determining the play days & number of showings the distributor expected, I totalled up my costs, added a profit, and haggled with them... The grosses were substantial (on the better earlier ones) & I usually ended up with about 35% of the gross... I also played SOME on a % of boxoffice, and this too, was usually 35%... Newspaper ads were mutually agreed upon, and I placed the ads at my local contract rates, for them... Prints were delivered by their rep who was also their checker, kept an eye on things, signed off on all BO reports, and banked their money... I was paid in cash for the theater rental, newspaper ads, and any other agreed upon expenses, out of the initial boxoffice receipts: after that, all the remaining boxoffice receipts were theirs...

Kroger Babb's Plan: I'll need to do some serious digging to find this, and will probably have to photocopy and mail it to you, if it goes that far, but here's what I remember of it, at the moment... His plan dates back to 1970, even before 4 walling, and an era FAR different than today... I don't know the WHOLE story about who Krog was, but here's what I do know: He was an independent distributor and exploition picture promoter based in Hollywood in the 1940's and 1950's, who took some small indie pictures and sold the hell out of 'em... I suspect you are probably familiar with "Reefer Madness," a cheapo exploitation film made in the late 1930's or early 1940's... As I understand it, he picked this up after it had a very limp initial showing, dreamed up a razzle-dazzle ad campaign, and put it on a lot of screens at a huge profit... It's now a cult favorite on par with "Rocky Horror."... He did similar things with a number of other less-than-successful pictures, and seemed to have a large following of secondary showbiz performers and small town Bible Belt theater owners... In late 1970, he started a teaser campaign in Boxoffice magazine to recruit members for his proposed production/distribution/exploitation "club"... Without knowing the details, but with some (reserved) faith in his ability to produce results, he was able to recruit nearly 1,000 small independent exhibitors who were interested enough to invest a few bucks, and hear him out about what he had in mind... I joined, and traveled to the Tri-State Theater Owners convention in Memphis (1971) to support the plan, and secure a foothold in the deal... Here is the idea he had in mind:

He intended to put together a package of 12 "family oriented" pictures (per year) with various indie producers, various storylines and types of themes, and starring a number of the lesser known showbiz people he was friendly with... These pictures would NEVER be shown on TV, and you were to join the "club," and play the package, one picture per month (for a week) as they were released in your area...
Contrary to the normal distibution pattern, the pictures would be released to the smallest theaters first, then work their way up to the largest... There was to be a sliding scale rental system based on grosses, ranging from 25% up to 60%... Each picture would have a unique grass roots ad campaign in newspaper and on radio (NO TV) which Krog was to put together... Prints were to be circuited to the next theater, with a week of transit time between one closing and next opening (less prints and no exchange costs)... There were to be prizes (savigs bonds, etc) going to ticket buyers during the showings, and a once-a-year grand prize winner of $1 million (spread over 20 years?) financed by the interest on a trust fund, funded with a one cent per ticket (as I recall) slush fund, which would paid by the exhibitor, in addition to the film rental... Another item stressed was to keep the ticket prices reasonable!... There were a lot of other lesser innovations (which have dimmed after all this time), but this is the major portion of the idea... Krog WAS a magnetic 'ol fart, and somewhat a cross between a sideshow barker and a snake oil salesman, but there are some good ideas here, even if they are a bit dated and small townish... I'm sure he is long since gone, but would be tickled pink to see his ideas finally put to use, and they might help put some fannies in our empty seats, at a profit!...
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Re: A new angle on Film Distribution 19 Feb 2004 07:41 #7502

  • outaframe
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A little update on Kroger Babb... Just for the hell of it, I went to Google and typed in "Kroger Babb" to see if anything came up... WOW, did it ever!... If you're interested in movie history and film lore, give it a try... NOW I understand why exhibitors were so gun shy about his plan... I remember his mentioning "Mom and Dad," but never knew the whole story... It's all there, and when I have some extra time, I'm going to go back and do some serious reading... I also learned that he died in 1983, which comes as no surprize... > UPDATE < Two other sources say it was 1980: so much for online accuracy!...



[This message has been edited by outaframe (edited February 19, 2004).]
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Re: A new angle on Film Distribution 19 Feb 2004 20:53 #7503

WOW! A bunch of info to decifer and good points.

LARGE - I understand the pressure you guys face in regard to distributors. It is very similar to many other vendor and reseller situations. Sometimes you have to take the bad in order to get the good. My thought was that maybe some of you guys get the short end of the stick no matter how well you "play the game" and maybe an alternative would be beneficial. Even if you are "in good" with the distributors, I'm guessing there are certain situations or times of the year that fresh, "quality", well promoted films just aren't available to you. If I am guessing incorrectly, please let me know.

As for "buzz"; distributors themselves don't create buzz, their marketing departments in conjunction with their Ad agencies do. Remember I own an Advertising agency and Marketing firm. It's no different than putting together a campaign for soap, cars, or anything else. It's my job to create a demand , or "buzz", for the product no matter what it is. That being said, I can take "Joe Dirt 2" and polish it up to get people there the first weekend, but after that the movie has to stand on it's own. In that case I would lose my butt because YES, I know most independent theaters project 35mm and those prints are very expensive. That is why I'm only interested in "quality" independent films that have staying power so I can recoup my film print and advertising costs in EVERY market so at he end of the day I can show a profit.

New Market is the master of doing this without spending big marketing dough. They have an uncanny knack for picking the right films. "Whale Rider" got ZERO ink while it was swimming around the festival circuit for 15 months winning almost every festival it was entered in. None of the big distributors thought it had commercial potential. Finally New Market picked it up for US distribution on a shoe string deal. Few people knew the film existed until it was in theaters for a month and a word of mouth "buzz" started. New Market didn't do squat for that film until they realized it had legs. How much pub did you see for "Monster" before it was released? New Market is also distributing "Passion of Christ", but that buzz happened long before they got involved. The only reason they wanted it was because it already had the buzz and the only reason they got it was because nobody wanted to fade the heat.

Neither Whale Rider nor Monster were huge grossing films, but they did very respectable numbers for sub 5 mil. indies that had very little pre release buzz. My aim is to release the good ones WITH the the marketing push.

OUTAFRAME - I checked out Kroger Babb myself online today and wow! That guy was out there. My plan is far more mainstream industry. You were right. That guy was more Barnum & Bailey than distributor.

Thanks for clarifying your definition of 4 walling for me. I was told the theater owner had a different definition of it. I'm familiar with the term from the ad biz. It used to mean marketing a product that was so bad that you had to advertise it on all four walls of the store it was in just to get someone to look at it.

The media buying would be a concern. The way it works today I can make it pay off if I did a cable blitz in medium size markets. That way I can cover cable and local in one buy at a very reasonable rate. By medium I mean TV markets #15-80. It needs to be "medium" so that I can get enough screens to make it profitable. I plan to go regional at first in order to maximize the coverage of a limited number of prints in a rolling limited release strategy. Most large markets are too costly and they are generally lacking in a sufficient number of independent theaters other than arthouses. These films are mainstream with solid commercial potential so I'm afraid the arthouses would frown. Very small and rural markets won't work because I'll never recoup the cost.

Thank you very much for your input guys. I'm all ears (or eyes) if you want to offer any more advice or warnings.
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Re: A new angle on Film Distribution 20 Feb 2004 02:40 #7504

  • Ken Layton
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Don't forget the Warren Miller ski movies are 4 walled.
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