Monday morning started off with meeting a distributor for the United Kingdom. We sat down and talked in the crowded movie theater restaurant for about 40 minutes. I told him what is happening with some of the US distributors in my genre (the lawsuits, the exceedingly late royalty payments). He told me what is happening with his competitors in London. We talked business, basically, and spiced it up with speculative rumor.
(An important note by the way: The US distributor who has released my four previous features is in excellent financial condition and has always paid like clock work. Though I haven’t been doing business with the largest distributor in my genre, it turns out I’ve been with the best. Every day I am thankful for this. And yes, they may well be reading this blog, but no, I’m not blowing smoke. From all the distribution discussions with every filmmaker I’ve ever met, I have the best relationship with a distribution company imaginable.)
This UK distributor told me that occasionally he releases films that are also released by the French company that will be releasing ABRUPT DECISION, and by one of the German distributors I’ve been chatting with. When this happens the three companies merge resources and it saves them all a bit of expense. I’m hoping the sale to the French company (Optimale) will help assure the UK distributor and German distributor to jump on board.
Within my genre each distribution company has a reputation for the kinds of films they carry; some companies are known for their light, fluffy entertainment, some for art house films, some for soft-core erotic material. When distributors decide whether to carry a film they are really determining if a particular movie fits the style of the distribution company. As good as a movie may be, if it won’t appeal to the distributor’s audience base the company will almost always decline releasing the film.
In many ways this determines which companies will distribute ABRUPT DECISION. If the movie isn’t fluffy enough for one company and not gritty enough for another then it will fall into a distribution demilitarized zone and waste away. It’s at this time that the only remaining option is self-distribution. That’s not an undertaking I wish to pursue in a foreign country.
As an example I watched a movie last night that was well made and the distributors in the gay-themed genre are considering whether to release it in the US. But it’s not really a good fit for any of the companies. The film is a documentary about gay men, but it’s not sensual or erotic so that eliminates one distribution company. It’s not campy fun, so that eliminates another distribution company. It’s not an art film, that knocks out a third distributor. And so forth.
In addition documentaries don’t sell in the United States. Sure, lots of people watch documentaries, but very few people buy the dvds to keep in their library. I really enjoyed the movie, but I would never buy a copy because I’d never be inclined to watch it again.
I screened several movies in other genres that interested me on Monday, including a French film about a low cost airline trip that goes hysterically wrong, a tribute to Elia Kazan from Martin Scorsese, and a documentary on happiness. The airplane movie starts out great and I was loudly cackling during the first 20 minutes. Unfortunately the plot thins out and the film can’t sustain its running time. The tribute to Elia Kazan felt more like a vanity project from Scorsese about himself than a tribute to someone he admired. The happiness documentary was well made, but not commercially viable in the US except maybe on cable. The sales reps asked me for advice about US distribution. I suggested they call Oprah. The woman has got a ton of time to fill, maybe she’d program 90 minutes for their feature.
Though it’s Monday night in the US, Tuesday morning is arriving here in Berlin and the premiere of ABRUPT DECISION is today. I intended to go to bed early last night so I would roll through today rested and composed. Instead I woke nearly every hour twisted in the bed sheets. I’m not as anxious as I was three years ago when I brought another film here, but today’s screening is the first time anyone (except a few distributors and programmers) has seen the movie. The cast hasn’t even seen the film, nor the crew.
Today’s screening will be the first indicator of how an audience receives this film.
There is a disclaimer to that statement however: This audience is not my audience. These are not people who have seen my previous films, who have been emailing and messaging me all month in a shower of love and support. No one in today’s audience are Facebook friends or members of the ABRUPT DECISION fan page. I know my audience will love the movie when they see it at regional festivals or when it releases this fall. Today will tell me if the film connects with people who previously knew nothing about my work.
ABRUPT DECISION will be released in North America by Water Bearer Films. The owner of the company counseled me yesterday to plan to take today off. Do the screening, but otherwise stay away from Berlinale today. He’s worked with many other filmmakers through the years and knows the importance of keeping perspective, especially when so much expectation is placed on a single exhibition.
So I’m jumping in the shower, heading to breakfast, and plan to spend some time simply enjoying Berlin.
I’ll tell you about everything tomorrow.
One final note: In the documentary on happiness, they concluded that people are most happy when they are doing the work they love. Financial wealth increases happiness a bit, but only marginally. The true source of contentment is the satisfaction from doing work that you feel you do well, that you feel helps others, and that you enjoy the process of doing.
Despite all the anxieties and uncertainties, these filmmaking years have been the happiest of my life.