I was initiated into the film distribution business starting in foreign sales, and then launched a domestic home video label for the same company. In this work, I noticed something disconcerting: the business of film distribution was predicated on being in the know of some basic information, and then trading on it.
The value of the knowledgeable middlemen was in knowing who to sell to, for how much, and how to go about it. Actual rights to one’s intellectual property and content were seized, and the money made from "exploiting" it went to the middleman. Much of the time, one did not receive one’s due share. All sorts of money was being spent by those middlemen going from place to place to sell and resell rights.
There’s got to be a better way to do business that works for the actual investors in the product being sold. Do producers of food products go through the same experience? No. They just sell items through a wholesaler who takes a fee for doing the work and yes, for knowing the names of whom to sell to.
People ask me, "Doesn’t The Film Collaborative want to make money?" To this I almost always answer the following: "We monetize transparency, not secrecy." We rely on filmmakers to pay us, not the other way around. Our sales contracts are between buyer and filmmaker, and filmmakers are told everything about every offer, every deal, know all the contact info and all the details every step of the way. It’s their contract. We don’t take any rights and they can cancel working with us at any time.
We are not martyrs, and we are not pursuing poverty. I have a mortgage, love to travel, would die of starvation without restaurants, and my cat named Kitten eats only the finest feline food available. But The Film Collaborative will sustain itself financially by monetizing transparency. We’re the first non-profit to focus on distribution for art house / independent cinema, first through distribution education and next by facilitating sustainable and filmmaker-friendly distribution needs. We are happy to provide direct services if desired, but we also happily refer filmmakers to our distribution "partners." We don’t take extra fees for the referral, and some services or aggregators offer our members a discount. We refer filmmakers to companies such as New Video because they do what they do well, their fees are reasonable, and they don’t have a reputation for screwing over filmmakers.
We recognize that we cannot be all things to all people all at once. Even when filmmakers want us to handle everything because they trust us, we gladly refer out if we believe a certain partner or buyer will do a better job than we can at that time. We’re not competitive and we’d rather not do everything if we cannot do it well. Digital distribution is not just getting films onto platforms. It’s about making sure there are audiences for them and thus connecting these audience members to each other. We focus on helping a filmmaker build her/his own brand, develop a community around the films and filmmaking, distribute directly and work with the best services available to get the best conditions on key platforms. For all filmmakers who work with us, we strive to find and resolve the best and safest distribution possible for them at the time.
To achieve these goals, we created The Collaborators, a sort of “Facebook-for-Filmmakers,” that allows filmmakers to share information and contacts. Ideally, The Collaborators will help filmmakers form a global, vertically-integrated studio network on the worldwide web. We started the Distributors Report Card™ (DRC), a Yelp of sorts for film distribution, which will eventually include buyers, sales companies, and distribution services everywhere. It’s a work-in-progress, and we are working on more funding to develop it further. We have the Digital Distribution Guide (DDG), also meant to be an all-encompassing resource covering all platforms and aggregators. Both the DRC and the DDG along with our distribution blog can be found on our Distripedia™ page.
Since our launch we’ve worked with over 75 films and filmmakers. Most recently we’re proud of helping We Were Here get distributed by working with 6 different companies in the US alone (Red Flag will theatrically release the film this Fall). We financed and executed Undertow’s theatrical release by handling festival distribution and using those revenues to cover theatrical costs. We are working with Revenge of the Electric Car (which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival) on a multi-faceted hybrid strategy involving every kind of media and revenue stream imaginable. We even worked on a hybrid distribution strategy for a cool, stylized art house horror film called Midnight Son that we are protecting from bad deals. We have several niche distribution initiatives in the works and an LGBT shorts collection coming out next month via our partner First Run Features.
We work in collaboration with other organizations or distribution companies and always in a transparent and filmmaker-friendly fashion. We lend over 12 years of distribution experience and 7 years of grassroots marketing for other distributors and film festivals. The Film Collaborative analyzes one’s distribution potential, then we help put the pieces together. Sometimes we are one of those pieces and sometimes we are not. We are committed to do what’s right for the film even if that means we’ll make less money. Ultimately, what we are is truly transparent. We chose to make the distribution of independent films more service-oriented than acquisition-oriented. The Film Collaborative gets paid for our time and experience in a way that is sustainable for filmmakers. We pride ourselves on providing education, consultation (even on contracts), and facilitation for truly reasonable fees. And above all, we recognize that with the collapse or conflation of traditional revenue streams and the growth of new media as the key concern in distribution, filmmakers can market and monetize their own films directly with audiences. Helping filmmakers do this is part of our mission.
I recently heard about a foreign sales company (I don’t know which one) that is willing to function the way we do, and I say hats off to them! If more of them offered transparent, fair, and filmmaker-friendly solutions to distribution and sales, we’d love nothing more than to be the obsolete being that helped facilitate the change in the way business is done.