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Tuesday, December 04, 2007

The New Filmmaker/Festival Partnership

Just got through moderating a really interesting panel on how film festivals can get more involved in distribution...interesting in that it exposed some truths and opportunities that I think are important for filmmakers and festivals.

Here at the International Film Festival Summit, the oft-repeated wisdom is that acquisitions executives only attend a few select festivals (Berlin, Cannes, Sundance, etc.) And the majority of films that play at second- and third-tier festivals will never get theatrical or home video distribution deals.

So what of the worthy movies that play at these festivals, but don't get picked up?

Some entrepreneurial filmmakers will self-distribute, pressing their own DVDs, or working with services like Amazon's CreateSpace to make DVDs or digital downloads available. (Here's a starting point for filmmakers that choose to go that route.) They'll book their own limited theatrical engagements. Two people I spoke to here (Gary Meyer and Adrian Belic) used the same word in describing this process: in, "you've got to get out there and hustle the movie."

But a lot of filmmakers won't. They'll leave the last movie behind, and start working on another (and some will get frustrated and become accountants.)

That's where I think there's an opportunity for festivals to create relationships with companies like CreateSpace, B Side Entertainment, or IndiePix, helping create a clear path for films that don't get picked up. That relieves the filmmaker of having to evaluate all of these new distribution avenues on their own. (To be clear, I'm not in favor of forcing any filmmakers into a one-size-fits-all deal. This needs to be voluntary.) And for the festival's audience, it does them the service of making it obvious where to find movies that played at the festival in prior years.

In my perfect world, every festival Web site would maintain a permanent page for every film that had played the festival in previous years, along with information and a link about where the film is available. Some will be picked up by big distributors, and be available for purchase at Amazon or rental at Netflix. (And incidentally, referring new people to Amazon and Netflix can be a nice little source of income for festivals, thanks to those companies' referral programs, which pay a small fee whenever anyone makes a purchase or signs up for a subscription.) Some films may be available for download at iTunes. And others will be available through other outlets, where the festival has made a deal with a firm like IndiePix. (IndiePix, in such deals, splits the revenue evenly among the festival, the filmmaker, and itself.)

Am I being too unrealistic to imagine a world where every movie good enough to play a festival is available in some form, after the festival has ended?

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