So I thought I would take a few moments to look at this more closely and add my pithy prose to the mix and discuss the slow drip of change:
Acquisitions are driven by marketability, and marketability alone. Art has no value. Sure a film has to be "good" to be picked up, but what does a distributor truly look for when it acquires a film? Uniqueness of vision? Independent spirit? Discipline? A controlled or unique aesthetic? Try again. Like their Hollywood counterparts, the first item on their menu is a marketable concept, one they already know how to package.
Here's the problem with this statement - As an audience member, I don't care how unique the vision of the film is, or the person's indie spirit, their discipline or unique aesthetic. I want to be entertained. I want to connect to the story in some way and be asking myself, "What happens next?"
Marketability means how easy it is for an audience to connect to and immerse themselves into the movie. If you can't connect to the audience in some way - then why do it?
The major specialty distributors only seek films they believe can gross $2 million at the US box office. There is no small acquisition anymore. When a distributor offers a minimum guarantee of $300,000, they are essentially stating that they believe the film will gross over $2 million at the box office (the MG is nothing more than an advance against future profits – the size of the advance is in direct correlation to a distributor’s conservative estimate of the film’s future revenues).
They know it's a lot of work to distribute a film theatrically. Especially in 1995 when you didn't have digital cinemas. They have to have a reasonable cut off point where they know their efforts are going to be worthwhile monetarily.
There are too many pictures out there that received a theatrical release that did not deserve it. It was the wrong move marketing-wise and choked too many theaters and distributors. The audience simply wasn't there to support it.
The "Big Little" distributors have a surplus of films; they don’t want yours (particularly if it’s an art film). Miramax doesn’t even try to hide the fact that they have over 40 films on the shelf – they promote it. If one of the larger specialty distribs were to pick your film up today, you’d be waiting a year for your premiere.
What's true then is true today...if you're using a "Theatrical release first system." Having a library of content and moving it around so you always have some sort of income flowing in is the model that allowed Trimark to become Artisan to become Lionsgate. No distributor wants to release a movie just to release it. They want to position it so it does its best.
I urge all of you to read the rest of Ted's article and his postscript. Then I want you to start rethinking how to release a movie - and think about what a movie actually is to your business plan - by watching this:
(courtesy of Jill Golick)
Your movie in today's marketplace is simply the tip of the iceberg. Hollywood is The Titannic. We all know how that story ended.
Turn it around. Build the audience first: through email, through the content, through interaction. Then sell the containers: the DVD, the merchandise, and finally the screening event in a theater.