Determining another definition: Towards a transparent and subversive distribution system (2023)

Determining another definition: Towards a transparent and subversive distribution system (1)“Right now, the system, this is the sad part of this collapsing system, is basically taking advantage of the fact that there are so many clueless filmmakers,” Carlos A. Gutiérrez, co-founder of Cinema Tropical, shares out loud what everyone knows about distribution and display. The system is broken and opaque, and market consolidation is on the rise. Broadcasting giants are calling the shots, one true crime show after another, becoming de facto studios, distributors, and broadcasters all at once: monopolies that decide what everyone watches. However, they also finance much of the system, with the larger distributors relying heavily on production deals with such transmitters.

As much as we'd love to tell an inspiring David vs. Goliath story about startups standing out and winning over big corporations, the reality is much darker. “After the top five streamers, the other 130 are only fighting for the leftovers,” academic Patricia Aufderheide.he wrotetheyDocumentary filmabout the Amazon-MGM merger. However, facing this reality is the first step towards reinvention.

First, "To be distributed does not mean to be seen," wrote Brian Newman, former executive director of the Tribeca Film Institute, in thesubgenreFrom the Newsletter. Even movies that get a major festival premiere or streaming deal may not find their audience. Behind closed doors, even major distributors have been known to buy up theaters on opening day to survive the dreaded opening weekend box office. Meanwhile, most filmmakers aren't anointed by industry gatekeepers and may not land any distribution deals as openings are limited, even at boutique companies that are more willing to gamble. Filmmakers need to become more imaginative and disjointed to get a slice of the crumbling attention pie that leaves out people who don't have the resources or time to market their work. How the “coalition in formation”distribution advocatesis urgent, we need sustainable, collective and systemic solutions. We have to radically reinvent a broken system. But how?

There is no silver bullet, there is no one size fits all, and every attempt involves some kind of commitment. As Gutiérrez, also a co-founder of Distribution Advocates, says, we need “new and different forms of distribution and exhibition”.

Models based on cooperation and transparency are few and far between. One of the biggest problems filmmakers face is the lack of access to,a streaming platform dedicated to documentary filmmaking, launched by a coalition of independent distributors, offers a model based on revenue sharing, where transparency is key. Joining forces allows them to offer more films -1,600 titles- without paying high acquisition costs and providing greater marketing resources. Industry-wide cooperation is crucial, as they also have 46 content partners and their relationships with other distributors. “We share the data at a very granular level so [distribution partners] can see how their share was calculated,” explains Jonathan Miller, who manages the platform. "Another reason for transparency is that they need to trust us." While plays an important role in diversifying the type of movies audiences have access to, including works that are "more esoteric or idiosyncratic," according to Miller, the highest amount paid in the last quarter (May 2022) to a licensor for a movie cost $450. But the platform isn't exclusive. The challenge for filmmakers remains to find smart ways to split rights and exploit all distribution channels to maximize revenue if they can negotiate that flexibility with the largest distributors, which is not always easy to do, making filmmaking difficult. need to share information even more crucial. to better negotiate contracts.

Transparency is also needed to share how the system works.Film Collaborative Distributor Report, Dear ProducersInformative Sheet two Distributors,and now Distribution Advocates aims to help fill the information gap to empower filmmakers.

Cooperation-based models have also been experimented with by worker cooperatives New Day Films and micro-broadcasting platform Tënk in France. New Day was released in 1971; members today pool resources for production and distribution, sharing coveted educator mailing lists. Launched in 2016 in the small French town of Lussas by a group of professional documentarians, Tënk has grown from a crowdfunded project to a network of 10,000 subscribers. However, it is heavily subsidized and therefore able to support the film ecosystem and the movies it shows on its platform, including those in production.

But most microstreamers admit they don't know how to survive with the number of subscriptions they currently have.

Key mitigating factors include a lack of regulation, monopolies gaining ground with the repeal of antitrust laws, and how film production is supported in places like Latin America or France, regardless of box office success.

Determining another definition: Towards a transparent and subversive distribution system (2)In America, which is largely market driven, how can smaller companies survive and help filmmakers make a living? Revenue diversification has worked for the nonprofit organization Cinema Tropical, which distributes Latin American and Latin American films and offers programming, distribution and advertising services, as well as relying on a mix of public and private financing. “We managed to build a very flexible format and we operate in different capacities,” says Gutiérrez. "For example, we sometimes package programming and then try to package it to universities, combining programming with educational distribution." This hybrid model allowed Cinema Tropical to stay in the market for 21 years. Almost half of its budget comes from advertising services.

More importantly, Gutierrez is creating a model of industry "enablers," as he calls them, rather than intermediaries. These are entities that invest throughout the life cycle of a film, not just incentivized to get the lion's share. “It's such a fragmented world, and basically every film profession has its own agendas,” he notes. "And the fact that we can work as programmers, publishers, distributors, it gives us a little bit of space to navigate and act."

The non-profit solar-powered mobile Sunshine Cinema in South Africa has also been experimenting with revenue diversification by providing impact training and exhibition services across the continent.

More opportunities are developing for filmmakers to take advantage of multiple sources of income. The Film Collaborative has long tapped into film festivals as de facto exhibitors, lobbying for screening fees that can turn into solid revenue for filmmakers.

Virtual cinema initiatives have expanded during the pandemic. Kinema was founded in 2020 as a marketplace to connect filmmakers and audiences for virtual and in-person semi-theater screenings, which can be a great source of income for filmmakers. The newly launched Non-Profit Theme aims to provide support at this pivotal time of editing-based film distribution and screening, while providing matching grants to non-profits addressing prominent causes.

There is also a vital need to rethink the scarcity mentality and schedule movies together instead of competing. Gutierrez calls for themed “sidebars,” which rarely happens at film festivals. “It might be easier to sell them as a package of 10 movies and generate more excitement, more press coverage and more attention for those 10 movies than each one on its own,” he says. “But again, this has to do with rethinking our notions of programming or marketing. I think that the experience for the public, for everyone and for the filmmakers themselves is much more enriching”. In fact, it also allows for a plurality of voices on issues that are often viewed through a colonial lens. However, all this cannot happen if we do not address theRuined working conditions of the entire ecosystem., from festival programmers to film critics.

“How do you determine another definition of success?” asks film distribution strategist Mia Bruno. “Sometimes it looks like the emperor's new clothes; We're all looking at the king with nothing on and thinking, Oh, that looks great. Success?" Malikkah Rollins' curated panel at the DOC NYC 2021 Pro Conference resonated with many because she dared to ask these tough questions. "It's not meritocracy. That's why community is so important," explained filmmaker Michèle Stephenson. "We've experimented in silos, we need to collectively reimagine it with different partners at the table and with intentional support to support this labour-intensive distribution ecosystem and also support engagement public”, he explains in a telephone call.

Can we imagine an ecosystem where sharing numbers is mandatory? Or can the filmmakers collectively demand radical transparency from all actors and guardians?

One solution is to find niche audiences instead of the mainstream. Trusting and empowering local communities has proven successful for Just Vision and Aflamuna in the Middle East; Sunshine Cinema, and many others. Karin Chien, founder of dGenerate Films and co-founding member of Distribution Advocates, defended the need to revisit regional circuits such as Circuito Sul.

Stephano Mendelek explains how the free micro-streaming platform Aflamuna, for Arab audiences by Arab filmmakers, was successfully launched from the non-profit organization Beirut DC, supported mainly by philanthropic funds: “Many people in our world now do not have cards credit in Lebanon; the banking sector collapsed. So things like Netflix and Amazon can be extremely inaccessible in the region. Accessibility in general, for the Arab public, has always been a problem. Local exhibitors are not necessarily going to take a risk with independent auteur cinema”. As the renaissance of the labor movement in the United States shows, collective action is the future. In the field of nonfiction, the collective advocacy of better labor standards and practices led to the birth of the Documentary Producers Alliance (DPA) in 2016 and, a few years later, the Documentary Publishers Alliance (ADE) and its Editors. of BIPOC Documents. database. , Documentary Cinematographers Alliance (DCA) and Documentary Workers United, a union of the International Documentary Association. Organizations like the Brown Girls Doc Mafia, A-Doc, Undocumented Filmmakers Collective, Firelight Media, Color Congress, and others are expanding opportunities for filmmakers of color who have been denied access and power for too long.

Many in the industry have spoken about the need to go beyond a single hit release. "Withamerican promise, we built a distribution ecosystem, but it cost a lot of money,” says Stephenson. "How [do you] sustain this beyond just one film so that other films can explore this ecosystem that has been built?" As more money flows into making a movie rather than distributing it, some are also calling for a global movement to educate the public and harness the collective power of filmmakers.

"If you want an alternative to the big, big media companies, then you have to go out there and support them."'s Miller explains. “When we started, we thought, well, we need to start a movement. But this is not realistic. Everyone has their own agenda. We don't have the resources, we're not the right people, it's not our movement."

Filmmaker Naomi McDougall Jones calls for the equivalent of a farm-to-table move. “Can we get people out of the psychology that this is a commodity and into the psychology that invests them and makes them tip the filmmaker?” she asks. “We are at the height of the fast food media era. We need a slow media movement, like a conscious media movement.” McDougall Jones and Liz Manashil are also teaming up with fellow filmmakers Elishia K. Constantine and Courtney Hope Thérond to develop a "filmmaker's capsule", STORYMADE, which aims to be the new frontier of independent filmmaking: replicable, scalable, ethical and sustainable. The four film crews will pool resources to make and distribute movies together.

Karin Chien asked in aDashboard Gets Real NOW in 2020, “Could 500 filmmakers get together, invest $1,000 each, and create a distribution company with year-round employees?” She hopes such a move will lighten the filmmaker's marketing load. “If everyone puts in a little bit of money, it creates a sufficient annual operating budget where you can hire people so that you don't have to spend two years of your life or more learning how to do this,” she explains on a Zoom call. . And if we were to raise money, Stephenson thinks that “we still have to reimagine distribution, which is subversive; Who are we serving? He draws inspiration from underground hip-hop creativity that directly engages communities and collectively builds more assets around the main film to attract more audiences, such as the VR monument he is currently building for his new film along with a local collective.

It is up to all of us to bring our collective creativity, share knowledge globally and imagine the world anew.

Nora Poggi is a writer, impact producer and filmmaker, co-director of the award-winning documentaryShe started, and producer ofCreative Distribution 101podcast.

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