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October 19, 2005


Joe Swanberg

Cuban and Wagner only care about making money. I'm really skeptical of Truly Indie. They basically get your $40K up front, and then you have to hope they do a good job promoting the film. I think filmmakers have a better shot going city to city and four-walling (because you can tell right away whether it's working or not) than dumping a huge amount of money up front, only to be met with empty theatres for a week. What incentive do they have to accept good films? They get their cut no matter what, so they might as well show crap films that aren't going to take up much of their time and that only hang around for a week.

AJ Schnack

I have to disagree with you on this one. Let's say that there are 10 Truly Indie releases per year, averaging 90K per film. That's 900 grand, a lot of money to you or me, but hardly worth Cuban and Wagner's time and energy if this was a money-making scheme. The rich just don't care about that kind of profit margin. Moreover, they're still paying a staff and losing moneys at the box office on the films they aren't screening. And the filmmakers don't "have to hope they do a good job promoting" - the filmmakers themselves have to do a good job promoting (not unlike when you have a distributor). And if you think your film is gonna play to empty theaters then you shouldn't be looking for a theatrical release anyway. But there are plenty of titles that have done well at festivals, have gotten great reviews but can't get a traditional distributor like Think or Magnolia or Palm to pull the trigger. For these filmmakers, the chance to have a semi-wide DVD release, which may be their only chance of seeing any return - or getting an audience to see the film in any widespread way - may well depend on a theatrical.

With self-distribution, the filmmakers will have to negotiate with the theaters, schedule booking times, find out who the local press is, arrange press screenings, self-fund their own travel and publicity, arrange print traffic and collect receipts. I can't tell you what a Herculean effort this is - and it's one thing to do it in your own city, much less a city that you are unfamiliar with. On Gigantic, both Shirley, my producer, and I worked full-time on the release, plus we had three people at Cowboy who basically did nothing but work on our film for more than six months. And we constantly relied on our Cowboy compatriots to have insight into a market, the press, the theater, etc.

As for what is their incentive to accept good films - they're trying to build a reputation for being innovative, approachable (hell, you can email Cuban directly) and filmmaker friendly. If they say to audiences (and the industry), "Here are some films that we think have been overlooked, that traditional distributors are missing out on," and all the films are crap, they're gonna look foolish. And that could reflect badly on their other endeavors - both at Landmark and at 2929 and HDNet.

Did you have some bad run in with 2929? I can't understand why you're taking such a knee-jerk, cynical view of this effort.

Joe Swanberg

Part of my cynicism comes from the fact that CAVITE is actually doing some joint thing with Magnolia and Truly Indie, which makes their first release not actually "Truly Indie." I'm not sure what's happening with the other two films.

Joe Swanberg

Damn, I just wrote a lot more on that post and it looks like it got lost in space. Anyway, what I was basically saying is that I've known about Truly Indie for a while now, and a lot of filmmakers doing the circuit with KOTM have talked to them, and it seems like you get the least desirable Landmark locations, and there are other factors going against you.

Also, if I'm doing my math right, $40K for a week on 5 screens means you have to average $8K per screen just to break even (and that's if you don't invest additional money in travel and other costs). Taking a look at IndieWIREs specialty box office report suggests that not many films are making that much per screen.

AJ Schnack

I'm very interested in what you've heard from other filmmakers as far as least desirable locations. For instance, what are the Landmark theaters in Chicago and what would be considered less desirable. I'm not even sure what all the Landmark theaters are in Los Angeles...

As for the 8K per screen, yeah, that's not an easy thing to do. However, it's not just for the weekend - which is what the Indiewire speicialty box office tracks. But let's say that in a week you could get $4,000. Would it be worth $20,000 to have a limited theatrical (which may get you the ability to sell to a Sundance Channel or get a small DVD deal?)

The assumption is that you will make SOME of the $40,000 back, the question is how much...

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