Congratulations to our client, actor Noah Gray- Cabey, on his role as Micah in NBC’s hit show Heroes. Heroes airs at 9 pm on Monday nights on NBC and has recently been called “the breakout new hit of the season” in The Hollywood Reporter and winner of Favorite New TV Drama at The 33rd Annual People’s Choice Awards.
Archive for January, 2007
Mychal: Geno, we started out in this business at Ken Lerner’s acting studio, progressing to our 1996 Sundance hit short film “The Spartans”, then our HBO feature film “The Gristle” and now our entertainment own companies. What is the biggest change on the Independent film scene that you have encountered over the past eleven years?
Geno: Primarily, the biggest change is the number of movies that are available and the number of movies that can get distribution. But, due to technological advances, there are also numerous “B” movies produced by inexperienced filmmakers that are not getting distribution. From a technical standpoint, the quality of these movies are just Bad!
Mychal: Now, as a distributor, what is your best advice to other filmmakers when negotiating a deal? What is a deal breaker?
Geno: I would say that filmmakers should understand the kind of deal they want and be practical about the value of their film. Ask the distributor for projections and understand that a distributor’s MGs (Minimum Guarantees) reflects the distributor’s true perceived value of the film. Today’s filmmakers are transacting business in a very crowded market place. Remember, with us and “The Gristle”, our writer/director learned the technical elements of filmmaking. So, he was able to deliver a good movie on a low budget. Let’s see…two deal breakers are a filmmaker’s unreasonable demand for monies and a filmmaker’s arrogant attitude…it’s like a marriage and you realize that this person just isn’t worth the troubles.
Mychal: OK, now flip the question. From a filmmaker’s perspective, what is your best advice to other distributors when negotiating a deal?
Geno: (laughing) Strike that question…those are “Trade Secrets!”
Mychal: Speaking of Sundance, it is festival time. Any advice to Sundance filmmakers from your own experiences as both the filmmaker and the distributor? What about to the Black filmmaker at Sundance?
Geno: Understand the business side of filmmaking and get the deal done! Do not wait for the bigger fish to come along after the festival. Also, do not get in the trap of creating a festival movie. Ultimately, ask yourself whether or not you want to be on the festival circuit or in the retail stores? For the Black filmmakers, understand that if you have a well made urban film, then it’s a hot product! So, get the deal done!
Mychal: Ok, let’s change gears. I always tell filmmakers to remember that this industry is called “Show Business” for a good reason. As a distributor, what factors enable you determine if a theatrical release will enhance the overall revenues for a film? Barring an anomaly, what budget range would you advise straight to video rather than theatrical?
Geno: Well…there are several factors. First, does the film warrant more monies for a theatrical release. And if so, then can it generate real box office revenue of at least $2-$3 million dollars? If not, then there is not a significant impact on home video/dvd revenues. So, don’t do it because you are creating additional costs against your back-end participation. Realistically, it’s all in the marketing handles of the film. We look at the production value, story, and actors. It’s a matter of who and what you are selling as well. Is it the genre or the named actors? We rarely make choices on the budget because production values widely vary. I have seen movies made for $100 thousand dollars that look like $1 million dollars and movies made for $10 million that look like they were made for pennies. And with that kind of money, there is no excuse for bringing in a bad movie. It’s a waste of your investors’ money.
Mychal: Film or Digital?
Geno: With the growth in technology, they both look good if the crew is savvy enough. I must say that for the Indie filmmaker shooting on a low budget, I would say digital is the best rout. You can save money and digital is easy to blow up to 35mm.
Mychal: What has impeded the growth of the Video-On-Demand (“VOD”) market? Were expectations set too high?
Geno: There are numerous factors and technology being a major one. First, expectations in VOD annual revenue were really high. In 2005, VOD generated about $757 million dollars. As of October 2006, VOD was close to generating $800 million dollars in revenue. In the future, digital downloads, IPODS and other portable devices will affect the VOD and DVD market share. But, part of the blame falls on the VOD carriers. They have not sold to their customers very well and it has all been word of mouth. VOD is available in over 35 million homes, but my gut feeling is that less than 50% of those homes know they have VOD capabilities. Another factor that has impeded VOD growth is that the carriers are limited to the number of movies they can distribute because of technological issues. However, this will change in the very near future. Despite certain technological issues, Warner Brothers has done a great job with both the Digital and VOD markets.
Mychal: There seems to be somewhat of a maturation of the Urban market over the last ten years, what advice would you give producers to differentiate their films in the market place?
Geno: I would say get back to the basics and to start making good movies. Develop your story, its characters, hire a really good cinematographer, buy a good lighting package and hire some experienced actors. Especially, for inexperienced filmmakers, you must prepare, surround yourself with talent, and execute your game plan.
Mychal: (laughing) When we shot “The Gristle” we prepared for two years while we were trying to obtain financing.
Geno: (laughing) Yeah…but remember, we built a really good team around us. We hired experienced personnel and empowered them to do their job both below and above the line. Nowadays, I see 1st time filmmakers do the exact opposite and I hate to say it…but it is “the blind leading the blind”.
Mychal: By the way (and ironically), several distributors have told me they find the term “Urban” as degrading? What is your opinion? Do you have a better name?
Geno: I would not really say it’s degrading because “Urban” means several things. It can mean Black, Latino, White or Asian. But, the one through-line is a street/hip-hop vibe.
Mychal: So, what about our film “The Gristle”? Is that an urban movie even though we went against the grain of the stereotypical hip-hop urban movie?
Geno: Well, with “The Gristle” we ran away from ourselves and it really confused people. It should have been marketed as an urban movie. It played great on HBO, Cinemax and Starz! Chalk it up as an expensive and valuable marketing lesson learned.
Mychal: OK…two minute drill for our filmmakers: In or out? Dramas?
Geno: Not out, but sloooow! Get some named actors.
Mychal: Romantic Comedies?
Geno: Ditto…it’s a female driven audience and they like certain characters such as the ones John Cusack play. So, get some characters that make them feel sooooo gooood! (laughing)
Geno: In…and very strong. Especially musical docs.
Geno: Saturated, but still good consumption for the well made ones.
Geno: Lukewarm and must be written well.
Mychal: Urban Black?
Mychal: Urban Latino?
Geno: Potentially hot, but the market is still being figured out.
Mychal: Urban Black Latino? (Laughing) Any genres to add?
Geno: No. (laughing)
Mychal: OK…Last Question. What separates Polychrome Pictures from other distributors? Why should a filmmaker choose Polychrome?
Geno: We are an Independent distribution company with major league distribution through Warner Home Video. We are Indie filmmakers at heart, but we decided to take the time to understand and learn the business. So, we really take our filmmakers and their work to the heart. Our slogan is “With us, everyday is Independents day!”
The “Right of Accounting” Provision In A Film Distribution Contract Article by Paul Battista. accounting.pdf
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Crooks, produced and directed by Paul Battista, is released on DVD by Warner Home Video on January 14, 2007.
Mychal Wilson moderates a panel at the Hollywood Black Film Festival’s Film Finance & Distribution Summit taking place at UCLA on February 3, 2007.
The day-long Hollywood Black Film Festival (HBFF) Film Finance & Distribution Summit will focus on recent trends and developments in film financing and distribution, including understanding a film financing transaction from start to finish, how a film makes money, local incentives and opportunities, understanding what film buyers are looking for, and a look at new and old distribution channels and how independent filmmakers can take advantage of those outlets.The Summit will include four information-filled sessions and a luncheon session featuring a powerful roster of leading film industry experts. This is the most comprehensive and accessible summit on film financing and distribution for black films. It is the ideal environment to explore new trends and business opportunities, gather information and gain insights from a wide array of leading film financing and distribution professionals.