DGA: New Trends in Distribution of Independent Films

On tuesday night, Jon and I went to an event at The Directors Guild of America that was focused on new trends in distribution of independent films. Obviously, given that How We Got Away With It is almost finished, this is a very pertinent topic for Jon and I.

The panel consisted of Jeff Smith, influential film publicist, Eamon Bowles, of Magnolia Pictures, and Jed Alpert, former film publicist turned mobil marketing guru. It was moderated by filmmaker Alex Gibney, a brilliant filmmaker in his own right, and the event was introduced by Steven Soderberg. Needless to say, there were some heavy hitters in the room.

This was my first event at the DGA. Jon is a member and we were lucky enough to receive a full waiver from the DGA for Jon to direct How We Got Away With It. Though they were sticklers at first, as we went through the process of securing Jon’s contract, they were thorough, organized and timely. None of which I could say about our dealings with SAG, of which I am a member, as was the rest of our cast.

I digress. Back to the DGA. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the evening would be an intimate gathering of about 20 guests sitting in on the discussion. The DGA has a beautiful space on 57th street and the evening was catered with an open wine and beer bar. The event was really well set up and run.

It was interesting to me that indie staple directors such as Mary Harron and Tom DiCillo were at such a simple event. But as Jon pointed out, the DGA is tight knit and every indie director is basically in the same boat, with the exception of a small few who cross over to the studios from time to time. ie. Soderberg. I was also very impressed that Eamonn Bowles was sitting in on the panel. Eamonn is a heavy hitter in the indie world and Magnolia is at the forefront of indie distribution. Especially given that their parent company owns Landmark Cinemas. They have pioneered the VOD pre-theatrical release to great success. Which is something other theaters have prevented studios from attempting.

Jon heading in for post-discussion discussion.

Overall I found the discussion to be very interesting. Especially given that Jed, who represents technology and a very forward thinking, was at odds with Jeff and Eamonn on a number of topics. That said, I agreed and sided with Jed every time. Overall I found the event to be a bit behind what the filmmakers in the room needed. Every filmmaker that I spoke to in the room had a film in postproduction that was made, like ours, for well under a million dollars. Yet, in his remarks, Eamonn Bowles noted that Magnolia rarely looks to films under a million dollars for acquisition and theatrical distribution because “they rarely have the traits we think our necessary for a theatrical run.” ie. star power and production value.

In a sense, Jeff Smith and Eamon Bowles, though they are at the forefront of indie theatrical distribution are still behind the eight ball. This is something that I have been doing a lot of research into of late, given that both How We Got Away With It and BRIDESBURG were made on micro budgets.

If a company like Magnolia won’t even look at our films, given our budget, how do we get people to see it? That is where I found Jed Alpert’s comments to be spot on. He spoke to filmmakers building a core audience that they can use to bost their awaremenss and distribution. His comments were very much in line with the book I read Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul. This book and what Alpert had to say are exactly what most of the filmmakers in the room needed. As well as what most indie filmmakers I know need.

If technology has helped us indie filmmakers create content with very high production values, but on a lower budget than indie labels are willing to look at, how do we overcome this? Or better yet, circumvent it?

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2 Responses to DGA: New Trends in Distribution of Independent Films

  1. thanks for the shout out on our book, Jeff. I spoke at the DGA last month and Mary Harron was the moderator of that panel entitled Marketing the Director. As I speak a lot on building an online presence and using online tools to reach audiences, I was surprised to find the DGA as an organization doesn’t use any of these tools yet.

    The basic gist of the night came from a Gersh Agency agent who said unless you are already on “the list” or have some “heat,” he can’t really help you get work. It is now up to filmmakers to get their own heat and it is possible to do it, there just aren’t enough voices being recognized by these organizations to teach people how. Everyone wants to attend panels with “heavy hitters” as you point out as a reason to attend, but when you sit through it, you realize their advice doesn’t pertain to your situation. Still, I hope more discussions and more research on the part of the members will lead to sharing information. The info is out there, it just isn’t coming from the legacy players.

    • Hey Sheri,

      Thank you for your informative comment and for taking the time to take a look at my post.

      It is very surprising that the DGA seems so far behind the eight ball on this. But, then again, the independent side of the guild probably makes them very little money comparatively. But that is also why young filmmakers are reluctnat to join until they have to.

      Now that my first film is nearing completions I am taking steps to develop my list and put into play many of the ideas you, THe Collective, have outlined in the book. I’ll keep you updated!

      Thanks, again, for making all of this very valuable information available to the independent community!

      Best
      Jeff Barry

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