Blog: Decoding the new distribution, talking transmedia at Rotterdam

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Anita K. Sharma is a Toronto-based entertainment lawyer and producer, blogging from the Producer’s Lab at the International Film Festival Rotterdam.

The frenetic pace of the Producer’s Lab continued on Day 3 at Rotterdam.

The morning kicked off with a lively panel that explored sales agents vs. DIY distribution, with Frédéric Corvez of France-based Urban Distribution, Aranka Matits of France’s Pretty Pictures and Orly Ravid of L.A.’s The Film Collaborative.

Ravid, who heads up the feisty non-profit alternative to the traditional distribution model (this is clear from the title of their publication, available on their website for free, entitled, “Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul,” challenged filmmakers and producers to ask themselves “What is the sales agent or distribution company that is taking [up to] 50% [share] doing to earn the 50%?”

A heated debate ensued as Matits and Corvez emphasized that no film their companies take on is guaranteed success and as a result, their fees are justified by the risks and upfront costs borne in order to get films exposure on the festival circuit along with a theatrical release. Additionally, a major benefit of using a sales agent is that they handle all physical movement and production of materials.

Corvez went on to explain that the landscape for film sales has changed dramatically, noting as an example that a Camera D’Or-winning film that Urban picked up that would have sold for one million Euros 10 years ago, sold worldwide for 400,000 Euros.

The question on the mind of every producer in the room was, obviously, what do Frederic and Matits look for when acquiring films?

In this case, both sales agent and distributor are focused on art house films. Matits emphasized that festival exposure at A-list festivals (especially films in competition) such as Cannes, Venice and Berlin are very important as it gains the film exposure and press. Corvez also mentioned that “feel-good” movies seem to be trending today.

There was also discussion of the wide gap between North America and Europe when it comes to VOD and digital rights. In North America, VOD and digital are taking over the lucrative position once held by DVD sales, and in many cases are now more lucrative windows than TV sales. The opposite is true in Europe, where TV sales still drive distribution deals.

The bottom line was summed up by Ravid, who advised us to “think about your audience and strategy for distribution before you make the film, not after it’s done.” Every film is unique and niche films may well benefit more from DIY distribution although that is not always the case.

The afternoon Transmedia Europe Network Panel didn’t disappoint with yet another lively panel that addressed the present and future state of transmedia.

The panel included Michael Gubbins, former Screen International editor, now a transmedia consultant, Aneta LeSnikovska from mediaZoo and Liz Rosenthal, founder and CEO of Power to the Pixel.

Alok Nandi, moderator and transmedia content creator, opened the panel by acknowledging producers’ and filmmakers’ skepticism when it comes to transmedia. Producers are resistant because they have enough on their plate as it is, and filmmakers worry about losing control over their projects by allowing audience participation.

The first order of business was to define what the hell transmedia is. Although there are several definitions floating around, there seemed to be consensus that transmedia is telling a story over multiple platforms with the participation of the audience. For example, the audience may be able to send a tweet to a character in a film.

Robert Pratton, a transmedia storyteller, countered the skepticism by pointing out that the first question filmmakers should ask is, “what is the most appropriate platform to allow the audience in?”

He pointed to the success of Canadian indie filmmaker Christian Veil’s award-winning transmedia web series, Heroes of the North, about Canadian superheroes, which has a large following and allows the audience to participate through live events and a novella. Eventually it may turn into a film. This type of creativity is based on the idea of looking at a feature film as a journey. It’s a concrete and successful example of storytelling as a way to attract and retain audiences.

Ultimately Pratton’s challenge to filmmakers and producers alike is to put the audience at the center, not the entertainment property. This is not an easy feat, but something worth considering.

When discussing the financing conundrum that transmedia creators and producers face, in that TV, film and online funding all exist in separate silos, Liz Rosenthal cited Canada’s own National Film Board for its cutting edge innovation in the world of transmedia.

After a day of listening and participating in some incredibly interesting and challenging discussions, Day 3 of the Lab wrapped up with the (much appreciated) late afternoon Cinemart cocktail hour.

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