Thursday, October 27, 2005

Can You Deliver? - D2DVD Film School

C. Powell recently emailed me while I was on vacation, regarding the numbers behind the D2DVD game. I take it to mean how much money he thinks he can make if he releases his movie. So, in between beers I thought about what I should reply.

The short answer is no, I'm not going to get into a numbers game because, quite frankly, they change too often. Not only from genre to genre, but from company to company. Every deal is different. Every deal is new.

What I am going to do is give you an idea of the things that occur behind-the-scenes at a distribution company once they purchase your film, and prepare to release it. I'm hopefully going to give you a real clue as to how much hard work goes into making your film look sellable. In this way, you'll be better prepared for a) the realities of filmmaking and b) how to make a better deal that ensures you get paid more quickly.

*** Disclaimer: these notes I'm giving you are based on my personal experience, and as such don't reflect all experiences within the industry. Different companies have different procedures, strategies and tactics. These are all not hard-and-fast rules. Also, I am not a lawyer, nor am I qualified to act as one. Before negotiating any distribution contract, engage the services of a lawyer and understand you are always signing a legally-binding document ***
Special Delivery:

When you sell a film to a distributor you're not only selling them the physical film, you're selling them the right to replicate and re-license the film. What that entails is a little thing called "Delivery" - the legal documents and materials that allow them to distribute your film. This includes things like:

1. A master tape of the film with the sound configured properly, and a quality control report from a lab identifying any and all defects in the master.
2. A dialogue list.
3. A copy of the trailer with a like qc report and proper sound configuration.
4. A proper chain-of-title documentation including (but not limited to): a writer's agreement, copyright documents from the Library of Congress showing the writer's copyright assignment of the script to the producer, a copyright form on the film itself, any and all producer agreements with the financing entity as to who owns the copyright of the picture, any director's agreements with the producer, any composer agreements with the producer and any actors' agreements with the producer regarding using their likenesses.
5. A complete timecoded and ASCAP approved music cue sheet.
6. A set of at least 50 color slides or jpeg format photos of high resolution.
7. A one-paragraph synopsis of the picture.
8. A credit block
9. An original insurance certificate covering errors and omissions for a period of three years.
10. Five 1/2-inch vhs copies of the movie.
11. A lab access letter so that the distributor has access to the lab. This must be signed by all three parties - distributor, producer and lab.
12. A license agreement for the film.
13. An MPAA rating certificate.
14. A digital copy of the key art of the film.
15. Any and all behind-the-scenes material on the film including (but not limited to) : audio commentary, features, stills and interviews.

A lot of this will be unfamiliar to some of you, and I will go into more detail later on in this series. What I'm trying to impress upon you is the fact that you won't get paid until you deliver all of the above to the satisfaction of the distributor. If you don't do your job - you don't get paid. That's why it pays to have all of this stuff ready to go before you shop for a distributor. It will mean you get paid that much more quickly.
Filmmaking is a job, and as such it includes paperwork. Once you deliver all of this material and paperwork and it's approved - that's when the distributor can get to work...
And that's when the business gets really crazy.


writebrother said...

Thanks a lot for replying to my e-mail Mr. Cunningham. I really appreciate you taking the time to divulge this type of info for folks like myself who are not in the know.

Bill Cunningham said...

Mr. Cunningham is my father, but I appreciate the respect you're paying me. Thanks. Just call me Mr. Bill (It's a southern thing).

I will be dissecting the list in several posts, letting folks in on what this list means and how to work it to your advantage - saving money, time and effort. All of which are extremely important to the new filmmaker who rarely has time or money.