BY AUSTIN BURBRIDGE. 2009 AMERICAN FILM MARKET, SANTA MONICA, CALIFORNIA (CINEMA MINIMA) — House of Film — a new film distributor headed by veteran distribution executive Ava B. — offers a bold and comprehensive strategy to address the new challenges faced by independent filmmakers in a volatile market.
The formation of this firm, and its new, “fusion distribution” strategy, throws light on the dramatic changes in the market for independent films.
The 2009 American Film Market was a laboratory for producers and distributors (and a few filmmakers) to discover precisely how the market has changed; to experiment with new ways to get films before audiences; and to devise new methods to recoup investments and to realize profits from their productions.
The new market for independent films
In 2009 the market for independent movies is smaller, and heterogeneous. A producer cannot depend on a single big sale to Hollywood to recoup her costs or make profits; nor can she afford to “leave money on the table,” in smaller markets, new media, or new venues for exhibition.
Now, a filmmaker must begin early — in preproduction — to think about how she will sell her movie, get it distributed, and market it to an audience. Putting off those questions until after a film would have been completed is no longer a practical option.
With so very many different kinds of entertainment competing for time, attention, and dollars, a
movie audience is no longer a given. Nowadays, a movie does not
find its audience, nor does an audience
discover a movie; instead, an independent movie production must develop an audience.
Independent filmmakers must start to do what Hollywood has been doing for decades — start to work early with media, advertisers, and sponsors to develop audiences using coherent combinations of publicity, promotion, and co-branding. These relationships would not only provide financing; they would also leverage partnerships with established brands to seize public awareness — and amplify a film’s marketing message far beyond the reach of publicity and advertising.
House of Film’s new strategy for a new market
In an exclusive interview with Cinema Minima, founder Ava B. — previously, Vice President of Sales and Acquisitions at LongTale, a foreign sales and intellectual property asset management company — explained her firm’s “Fusion Distribution” strategy.
“House of Film connects independent movies with both traditional and non-traditional distribution. We can reach the widest possible global audience and maximize producers’ revenue in a new ‘fusion distribution’ model.
“This new business model underscores our ability to incorporate product placement and integration, as well as sponsorships, into the production of quality independent films.
“Watching what’s happening to distribution these days — traditional distribution does not work any longer, but new distribution does not work yet,” she averred. This refers to the fact that — although the number of persons who go to the movies continues to decrease, and DVD sales are declining — the number of persons getting movies online has not increased so much as to make up the difference. In short, the total audience for motion picture entertainment is shrinking. As Ava B. puts it, “Filmmakers are independent, but filmmakers are lost: There is no good solution to make enough money from their content.
“So, putting together my experiences — and learning from the mistakes of other companies — I thought, all right, let’s put this together: What can work? The business model of this company, is basically, optimizing profits from any content; to look at the content and see how much it can carry:
- Find the optimum distribution strategy.
- Combine digital technologies with the best of the traditional methods, for both USA domestic and international distribution.
- Negotiate contracts that provide the most lucrative return.
“First, start at the top with the best options of traditional distribution, then go one level lower, one level lower, like television, then DVD … and go through all the levels of traditional distribution. We have something like eight thousand buyers in our database — we are rather well-connected, especially with Academy Award-worthy content [i. e., SUNRISE/SUNSET] that brings in the important buyers.
“Once we have finished with the traditional distribution, we monetize the content as much as possible across all media. We switch over to non-traditional distribution for the content,” she said, “and we are trying to find other ways to monetize the content, for example, sponsorships, or cover-mount deals.
Product Integration and product placement
“And, we are looking at movies in development, where we could do product integration or product placement. That is why it is important for the company to pick up quality movies, so that it would be well-positioned to be attractive to high-end brands, so that — the Chanels, the Diors, and the Pradas of the world would not mind being associated with our company. That’s the vision. That’s what we are aiming for. …
Worldwide distribution under the House of Film brand
“… And we pick up the content accordingly. House of Film offers worldwide distribution to films — of any genre — that meet the highest standards in aesthetics, with a special focus on movies that relate to design, fashion, or the arts. Visually, quality has to be ‘A-plus’; or, a picture must be innovative in its presentation. We can pick up high-art movies, or a horror movie — if it is quality — or even an action movie, or a documentary.”
House of Film’s current lineup reflects its openness to different kinds of films — as well as its insistence on superlative visual quality. “These are all pearls here,” Ava B. remarks.
- SUNRISE/SUNSET: DALAI LAMA XIV follows the iconic Tibetan leader for one day for an intimate — and revealing — portrait.
- BELLADONNA is a feature which uses time travel to examine the moment of a wedding to contrast the evanescence of courtship with the permanence of love.
- FOR THE NEXT 7 GENERATIONS presents 900 years of wisdom and prophecy from the 13 most-powerful female elders on the planet.
- TATTOOS is a gripping documentary enlivened by celebrity cameos.
- MILAREPA is the epic story of Tibet’s greatest yogi and saint.
- THE RAIN is a wordless, all-dancing sequence of ravishing tableaux of love and passion.
Fashion + Design + Filmmaking
In this new environment, a distributor must be more than an efficient business opertion. To be a nexus for buyers and sellers, a market-maker must have a recognizable identity, a theme, a focus.
“Since we are aiming at establishing relationships with advertisers and sponsors,” Ava B. explains, “I thought: There is something no one is doing yet — and there is such an obvious need for it. To connect the three big businesses — fashion, design, and filmmaking/film distribution — under one umbrella. I would like this company to be the connecting point.
“Buyers would know that — when they come to House of Film — whatever they find here will be beautiful. It can be the beauty of the soul; it can be the beauty of the form, or the design, the fashion; or it can be via the participation of an artist. … Sooner or later, we will be identified as the meeting point. There’s no company that does that. It is an interesting niche; a new concept.”
A return to quality
“These days, everyone is going for quantity over quality — they’re aggregating bigger and bigger,” she observes. “If everone is going one way, there is room for someone who is doing exactly the opposite — quality over quantity.”
A focus on quality is a welcome development. The recent glut of undistinguished motion picture entertainments — created by financial, not business, considerations — has damaged the “brand” of cinema. Audiences no longer trust the movies to reliably deliver the high-quality confections of spectacle, drama, meaning, and pleasure which had made the cinema the unrivaled form of popular entertainment throughout the twentieth century. This has been especially destructive of the interests of independent filmmakers and distributors. At the Independent Film & Television Alliance’s 2009 Production Conference, independent producer (and former studio head) Bill Mechanic complained that the principal challenges to independent films are neither finance nor distribution nor piracy, but poor quality and lack of originality.
If cinema is to retrieve its privileged place in the popular imagination, and to resume its stature as a business which attracts the best and the brightest, it must again invest in the fundamental mythic and visual qualities which are meaningful to its customers. Also, it must promote business practices which foster its long-term prospects, and deprecate decisions which are motivated by short-term, financial considerations.
House of Film comes to market with a powerful strategy, singular films, and savvy, experienced management. Navigating by the pole star of æsthetic quality, it is well-positioned to prosper in this new and challenging market.
Services offered by House of Film
Distribution under the House of Film label
- Worldwide, U.S. domestic, or international distribution for feature-length motion pictures — of any genre — that relate to fashion, design, or the arts; or that meet the highest æsthetic standards; or whose approaches are innovative or groundbreaking.
U.S. Domestic distribution
- Submission of films to more than 20 of the best Internet/DVD distribution companies
- Transfer of film to digital format to meet submission requirements
- Completion of all paperwork
- Marketing in concert with Internet/DVD distributors
- Insertion of search-engine-friendly metadata
- Transfer into appropriate formats of artwork and supporting materials
- Negotiation of all deals to ensure the best possible terms for the filmmaker
- Client approval of every deal
- Quarterly progress reports
- Submission of movies to multiple distribution platforms — U.S. domestic, and international
- Contract negotiation
- Consulting on all things distribution
- Consideration for international sales representation by high-end distribution companies
- Devising the optimum distribution strategy for clients’ films
- Monetization of content by creation multiple revenue streams
- Product placement/product integration and sponsorships for movies with majority financing secured but still in development or post-production
- Cover mount deals
- Public Relations
- Alternative marketing
- Consultation on marketing strategy, including viral marketing and festival strategy
- Editing (or re-editing) of trailers or movies
- Format conversion
Production and creative development
- House of Film evaluates projects for their commercial viability. In addition, it facilitates creative process with screenplay coverage, cast, and project evaluation.
- House of Film will find — and introduce its clients to — synergistic partners within the design or fashion communities. Clients’ films benefit from creative, non-traditional advertising via sponsorships or product integration.