TOPIC: new film distribution plan
new film distribution plan 01 Apr 2004 15:20 #7848
Films: Have Hard Drive, Will Travel
>> April 1, 2004
>> By SHARON WAXMAN
>> LOS ANGELES, March 31 - For years independent cinema has
>> been a big-city phenomenon, the non-Hollywood movies
>> available only in major urban centers and - perhaps - on
>> Now a New York-based company is trying to take art-house
>> movies to small cities around the country by relying on
>> digital projection. The company, Emerging Pictures, has
>> sent computer hard drives to theaters in five cities to
>> coincide with the opening on April 1 of the Full Frame
>> Documentary Film Festival in Durham, N.C.
>> The hard drives, which can be connected to inexpensive
>> digital projectors, contain 10 digital films from the
>> documentary festival. The movies will be shown
>> simultaneously in theaters in Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo,
>> Mich.; Lincoln, Neb.; Charleston, W.Va.; and Sarasota,
>> Fla., in addition to Durham.
>> The theaters are at museums, science centers and
>> universities that not only have underused spaces but also
>> built-in audiences through their membership lists.
>> The idea is to show high-quality movies to people who
>> usually cannot see them because of the huge cost of movie
>> prints and marketing budgets, explained Ira Deutchman, a
>> partner in Emerging Pictures.
>> "A lot of really quality films can never get mainstream
>> distribution," he said in a telephone interview. "Those
>> films left on the table can't find a way to reach
>> theatrical audiences with the current economic model. We're
>> trying to bust through this problem of how much you have to
>> spend on prints and advertising to get your film out
>> Distribution has been a persistent problem in independent
>> film. Independent producers and filmmakers have long
>> believed that audiences in the American heartland were
>> willing to pay to see small, interesting movies like last
>> year's "Thirteen" or the unusually animated "Triplets of
>> Belleville," which were both nominated for Oscars.
>> But only major art-house distributors like Miramax or Focus
>> Features have had the cash to release such movies, and even
>> those that are released often do not earn enough to justify
>> the costs.
>> "I'm a big believer that the audience does exist," Mr.
>> Deutchman said. "It may not exist in numbers necessary to
>> make it a business to attract a big studio, but that
>> doesn't mean there isn't an audience."
>> With digital technology each package of 10 films for this
>> year's festival arrived on a single hard drive in a compact
>> box. The cost of the hard drive, owned by Emerging
>> Pictures, is about $10,000.
>> "Projecting is as simple as working a P.C.," explained
>> Barry Rebo, another partner in the company and a technology
>> expert. "They double-click on a film, and it starts." After
>> the festival the hard drives will be sent back to the
>> company to be reprogrammed with other films and then sent
>> out again. "This is a prototype," Mr. Rebo said. "Clearly
>> we want to grow this as big as we can."
>> The documentaries at the Full Frame Festival, which is
>> co-sponsored by TheNew York Times, include movies like
>> "Farmingville," about immigrant workers on Long Island;
>> "Home of the Brave," about a civil rights worker who was
>> murdered in the 1960's; and "Dirty Work," about the unsung
>> lives of a septic tank cleaner, a bull-semen collector and
>> an embalmer.
>> In the past independent filmmakers seeking broader
>> audiences have taken their one or two prints on the road,
>> driving from one regional art-house theater to another.
>> With digital replication, which costs a tiny fraction of
>> the amount necessary for striking a print, the travel is no
>> longer necessary.
>> Directors of regional art-house theaters say they are eager
>> for sophisticated content, and this is an economic model
>> that makes it possible to get such films more often.
>> "My whole idea is that eventually this is going to be very
>> important for low-budget independent films we show here
>> regularly," said Dan Ladely, director of the Mary Riepma
>> Ross Media Center in Lincoln, Neb., one of the festival's
>> regional participants. "It will enable filmmakers who do
>> documentary films, for example, to distribute films without
>> spending money on 35-millimeter prints."
>> Emerging Pictures will share profits from the box office
>> receipts with the theater owners.
>> Distributors of art-house films in Hollywood say they like
>> the Emerging Pictures concept. "I think it's a noble idea,"
>> said Ruth Vitale, co-president of Paramount Classics. "I go
>> to Cannes and Venice and see amazing small films, and we
>> rack our brains - how can we take these on and make money?
>> At the end of the day we don't, because we have to make a
>> financial decision."
>> If the syndication of the Full Frame festival is a success,
>> Mr. Deutchman and his partners say they will branch out to
>> a few dozen cities in the coming year, though that plan
>> will require advertising funds to attract new audiences.
>> "Our goal is to have as many as 400 outlets, and we would
>> call it a network rather than a theater chain," he said.
>> "We want to show the world it can work, with the hope that
>> by next year it will be all over the United States."
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