TIFF12: Geddes on genre films’ strong market potential

The Midnight Madness programmer says that genre filmmakers should tap into grassroots level buzz generated by fans and audiences.

During the Toronto International Film Festival, Playback will feature a series of Q&As with festival programmers and insiders on trends in the films they program and the buzz they’re hearing from distributors.

In this installment, Midnight Madness programmer Colin Geddes talks about the market potential of genre films.

What new buyers have you seen for the films in this particular genre/niche?

Several distributors have set up genre wings specializing in the type of film that’s found in the Midnight Madness program. Examples include Magnolia’s Magnet and the IFC Midnight label. There aren’t necessarily a lot of new players, but the larger players have gotten wise to the fact that these films can be a great investment.

Is the demographic for this niche changing?

I no longer think that it’s valid to call this audience a niche, because horror films and thrillers have existed in the mainstream for the last two decades. You wouldn’t call The Exorcist niche, would you? At the end of the day, if you did a tally of all the films over the past ten years of Midnight Madness, the batting average of those which have picked up distribution and made it to big screens is much higher than it is in many other sections of the festival.

What challenges do genre/niche films face (such as: audience segmentation? Reach?) and how can filmmakers overcome those challenges?

Often, these films are looking for a big deal with a major studio, not being aware that the type of release that would benefit the film is a slow and small roll-out allowing word of mouth to build audiences. Waiting for a major deal from Studio X is often a waste of time and a pipe dream – and besides that, it’s not necessarily what the film needs! Genre fans and audiences are loyal and interact with each other a lot, especially online. This allows buzz to generate organically at a grassroots level. Too often, filmmakers don’t realize this or don’t know how to tap into it.

Are there countries and markets that are looking more closely at these films, that weren’t previously?

Genre films travel farther than an English-language romantic comedy about 20-somethings. You’ll find films from the Midnight Madness program available in a surprising number of countries, ranging from India, Mexico, Thailand to Russia.

What are some of the trends in this year’s lineup?

Like last year, we see a continuation of independent films making it into the lineup. While Dredd 3D and Seven Psychopaths are coming from major U.S. distributors (Lionsgate, CBS Films) and have major stars attached, both came into the market as independent productions without those distributors. And honestly, when it comes to genre productions, it’s in the independent world where you always find the most interesting and challenging ideas being brought to life. The other trend that I’ve noticed this year is that English language films are making a strong showing once again. In past years, I’ve had many lineups that were predominantly Asian and/or European. This year, indies from the U.S. are making a bit of a comeback. I think that’s a very good thing for the health of the industry.

Have you heard anything about the state of the industry that surprised you?

I’m surprised often by the films I see, but I rarely think about it in terms of the state of the industry. Actually, I am constantly surprised by distributors who buy incredible films with great buzz and decide to sit on them instead of giving them a proper release. It seems to be an especially big problem in Canada. The history of Midnight Madness has a few such orphans.