Thursday, December 16, 2010

DIY Distribution


Industry Focus: Irish Distribution... Doing it Alone

The struggles of the independent filmmaker are endless and varied. The discipline required to write a script; the patience required to pull together a cast and crew; the earnestness required to raise funding and see a film through all the way to post-production ensures that making a film is guaranteed months or years of stress and challenges. But now that the masterpiece is complete, what next? In many ways the battle is just beginning. The quality of work is of little consequence if nobody watches it.

Catching the eye of professional distribution companies can be difficult and first-time filmmakers are often wary of being caught up in bad deals which will prevent them from ever making money from their film. With internet technology providing so many new, free platforms for films, self-distribution is becoming an increasingly popular option for filmmakers.

But how good a deal is self-distribution? It might be a more inviting option but without the resources available to professional distribution companies, can it be more of a curse than a gift?

Patrick O’Neill of the Irish Film Board has been observing the trend of filmmakers experimenting with various forms of distribution and has noted the positive and the negative aspects of each. He believes that one of the most appealing aspects of self-distribution is the flexibility it affords a producer and the fact that the filmmakers themselves are in charge of the film’s destiny since they know the limits of their own funding. He also believes that an enticing aspect is the fact that you can be creative about how you wish to market the film. The aesthetic of the campaign and the means used to raise awareness is at the discretion of the producer.

Some of the negative points of self-distribution are that producers may have a lack of expertise in the area of marketing and publicity. A professional distribution company will bring a fresh perspective, years of expert experience and most importantly, exhibitor relationships. A distribution company will have the key contacts in the area of DVD rental/retail and will have good relationships with cinemas.

Another key danger, as Patrick points out, is that “a producer can often have too biased an opinion of their own film and think it is actually better than it is, therefore inflating expectations which results in higher expenditure incurred in the distribution that is not recouped – a distributor can provide a balanced opinion and provide realistic expectations.” Thinking realistically about your films appeal is key to successfully marketing it. The more you can zone in on your demographic, the more focused your campaign can be.

Patrick advises that “when self-distributing you first need to look at your film and see what “hooks” there are that can be effective in your marketing campaign, i.e. is there an obvious theme, a cast member with a public profile, etc.? From here free marketing tools such as Facebook and Twitter can be exploited, directing your output at specific groups.

A recent example of a self-distributed film is Risteard O’Domhnaill’s The Pipe, a documentary about the Shell to Sea campaign in Corrib which is being self-distributed by Scannáin Inbhear. Rachel Lysaght, producer of The Pipe has found that taking on the distribution themselves has proved to be highly successful. Though it is too early to know if the film will be a financial success, Rachel has found that the film’s socially relevant subject matter has allowed them to use social media to create a bona fide community around the film.
At the moment the film is being screened in a number of cinemas all around Ireland and they are also utilizing Access Cinema and Cinemobile. The screenings, often accompanied by Q&A’s, have been enormously successful. The company has maintained the film rights for the U.K. and Ireland but has sales agents abroad after a successful run in the film festival circuit culminating in a standing ovation at their screening in the Toronto International Film Festival in September.
The only drawback that Rachel found was that staying on top of social media and community-building can be extremely time-consuming. It is a full time job engaging with the various platforms The Pipe has been using to promote itself.

A word of advice from Rachel is that filmmakers should be aware of who their potential demographic is from the first day. They should know in the pre-production stage and consider the demographic all the way through the production and to the marketing phase. Knowing your audience is the key factor in strategically advertising your film. TG4 will screen The Pipe in Febuary 2011 and a DVD release is tentatively scheduled for Spring 2011.

Another recent Irish documentary, Pyjama Girls has been successfully self-distributed by Still Films. Pyjama Girls examines the phenomenon of inner city Dublin teenage girls who wear brightly coloured pyjamas on a day-to-day basis. This observant and sensitive documentary was certainly suited to engaging with an online community because of its subject matter. The film’s director Maya Derrington believes that documentaries might be more suited to self-distribution because it's easier to track networks and target groups who have direct interest in the subject matter.  You can direct market to those groups either online, virally or physically by phone or in person.” She also thinks that films can potentially get a much better financial deal by distributing theatrically without the aid of a separate company. “The venues take 65% and distributors would on average get about 35%, of which they retain 65%.  So in the traditional set-up, the filmmaker comes away with 35% of 65%.” Bearing in mind how difficult and rare it is for an independent Irish film to make a profit from their film, every little helps and the money the company decides to budget for distribution will most likely be much smaller than the cost of outsourcing. Because Pyjamas Girls has already broken even (with the aid of some funding from the IFB), Maya wouldn’t hesitate to self-distribute on their next project, though she would give the marketing campaign more time if she were to do it again.

The introduction to Ireland of digital cinema has made the physical distribution of films much cheaper and easier. Films no longer require huge reels. A small hard drive, simply packaged is all that needs to be delivered to the cinema now. One of the first Irish filmmakers to take advantage of this was Liam O Mocháin whose company Siar a Rachas Muid Productions released his film W.C. theatrically by means of digital hard drive in 2009.W.C. was the first film to be released theatrically in Ireland via digital hard drive. It played at Movies@Dundrum, SGC Dungarvan, and Eye Galway. Liam believes that it is distribution rather than getting the film made that can be the real hurdle for many indie films.

Nonetheless, Liam sees plenty of opportunity for filmmakers who aren’t afraid to think outside of the box; “However much it costs to make or how it’s out there, it’s what is on the screen that counts for the audience…Digital distribution from VOD, streaming, downloads are all part of the new world of distribution. You can now split your film rights giving digital to one company, TV and home video to another and sell the film on your own website.”Being savvy about the possibilities of the digital world has given Liam an edge as an indie filmmaker. Although it is always difficult for a self-funded, indie film to become a financial success (W.C. still hasn’t quite recouped its initial investment) Liam believes the only important thing is that your film gets made and gets seen and the advice he offers to fledgling filmmakers is Get your film out there, but remember as well as getting the glory you also get the bills!

Last summer saw the nationwide release of recession-themed comedy drama Situations Vacant, produced by Anne Marie Naughton for Park Films who took another route entirely. The film was distributed by the company itself but she asked Brendan McCaul (formerly of Buena Vista) for his expertise in Marketing and Distribution. Because of his knowledge in the field and his contacts in the industry, Situations Vacant avoided some of the pitfalls of non-professional distribution. The film screened in eighteen cinemas nationwide from a digital hard drive. Anne Marie believes the most important thing about self-distribution is to give attention to detail and not to presume that publicity work is being done; “It is important on a national release to make friends with the cinema managers and projectionists and pop in to check that the posters are being displayed correctly and that your trailer is being run as often as possible.”

Anne Marie hired a PR company to deal with the release and in the end believed that the company, though highly professional didn’t really aim the film in the right direction. One of her regrets is that they film wasn’t directed more towards its young demographic. The film was marketed in a rather non-specific manner and when asked what she would do differently next time she said she would “choose PR to match the film. It is important to understand the movie and its audience and then to create awareness through the target audience”. Another aspect that Anne Marie was lucky to be able to exploit was high-profile cast member Mikey Graham, a singer with Boyzone, who proved to be a major selling point despite only having a small role in the film. Situations Vacant is now finished a theatrical run and Park Films are looking into an Xtra-Vision Exclusive deal for the DVD rights.

Each of the above filmmakers seem to have a common tip for budding distributors; know your audience, find a hook and be aware of what your film is. Some films are better suited to self distribution due to particular social relevance, having a marketable name attached, or subject matter that can easily find a community on the web. Before you decide how you will distribute your film, look at your film, look at your demographic and figure out a strategy. Above all, it seems, you need to be creative in your approach to marketing outside of traditional means.
The world of transmedia is constantly evolving and creative, tech-savvy people are coming up with new, inventive, non-traditional ways of distributing art. With new VOD websites launching all the time it is important for filmmakers to keep an online presence and to make it their business to keep up to date with the changes in the technology.

Filmmakers must also think, from the pre-production stage about who their target audience is and how they can exploit aspects of the film in order to reach out to their potential audience. With technology moving so fast, DVD rentals plummeting and piracy soaring it is difficult to predict where the market is going so the most important thing for anyone embarking on a filmmaking venture is to know the market and the various resources available. Keep abreast of how other filmmakers are getting creative and always try to think outside the box.

By Charlene Lydon

Monday, December 13, 2010

Film Ireland Interview - Sé Merry Doyle on "Dreaming The Quiet Man

John Ford's 1952 classic The Quiet Man is often a controversial issue with Irish people. Though we may be proud of Ireland's involvement in the classic Hollywood film, the exaggerated cultural stereotypes it portrays can sometimes offend. The film has become the subject of acclaimed filmmaker Se Merry Doyle's (Jimmy Murakami: Non-Alien, Alive Alive O -A Requiem for Dublin) latest documentary. I sat down with Sé as he put the finishing touches on his new film Dreaming The Quiet Man.

One of the most intriguing aspects of the documentary is the inclusion of an interview with Maureen O'Hara, who has broken her silence about her time working on The Quiet Man for a very candid and, indeed, delightful interview. Now ninety years old, O'Hara often avoids discussing the film as, Sé explains, 'she doesn't like anyone taking on The Quiet Man because she doesn't think they [filmmakers] can get it.' Despite her reported misgivings she talks animatedly, honesty and fondly about her time working on the film, her rather complex relationship with John Ford and her admiration of the The Quiet Man. Se was pleased with how the interview brings the documentary together. 'She just gave the most wonderful interview. You can feel the energy. She has some extraordinary insight into the film.' Her insight into John Ford himself was invaluable to the documentary. Se adds, 'She knew ail the nuances and she knew what a bastard he was. As she would say, he was the greatest son of a bitch, but he was the greatest director as weil, For me, as a director, it was a proud moment. I just thought, somehow, as the last person who could throw light on John Ford as a friend, talking to her would give us something really powerful. If I hadn't had it in the film I would always have been thinking, "oh man, I wonder what Maureen O'Hara would have said."
The genesis of the documentary is a rocky one, as Sé tells me. It started out as sort of an argument against the film's detractors. 'When I hear someone say it's a piece of tosh, I say, "how could you say that? This film was made by John Ford!" He's regarded as one of the greatest filrnmakers in the world ever. How could he make a piece of tosh about the country his parents were born in? And that was really enough to get me going on it.'

Sé attended the anniversary celebration of the The Quiet Man in the IFI with all the Quiet Man 'maniacs' who were also in attendance. After shooting some footage of that event Sé then travelled to Cong in Co Mayo where the film was shot to take a look at the lasting effect the film has had on the town. This trip was made before any funding had been secured, and the team consisted of just himself and a cameraman. 'We iust hung around and I met Nancy and Jack Murphy who own Cohan's hardware store, which, in the film, was Cohan's Bar, and they were just incredibly ordinary but very exciting people. The reason I went to Cong was because everybody involved was very old and I was afraid that they were going to die. It's what you call time-dependent material.'
With this renewed sense of urgency, Se, armed with a pilot made from the footage from Cong and the anniversary screening, began to seek financing but found it more difficult than anticipated. There was no interest from any of the institutions that we went to. They were all so prejudiced against the film... People at RTE felt it was too local, that it was a silly Irish film. They just didn't get it.'
It was with Alan Maher (of the Irish Film Board) that Sé finally got the penny to drop with someone, 'Alan immediately got what the argument was, what my hope was. I wanred to shoot a lot of stuff, do a lot of interviews. It was a chance encounter with him - maybe it's like chat with a lor of films. There 's always somebody who gets it and you hope that it lands, and it landed on him.' With IFB on board, Sé secured further funding from the BAI and TG4. The documentary then began to take shape and a host of John Ford admirers were interested in coming on board to discuss why The Quiet Man is indeed more than just a bit of blarney!
Upon assembling die first strands of the documentary Se realised that the documentary he really wanted to make was not a defence of the film, but rather a film about John Ford and his Obsession' with Maurice Walsh's story. In demonstrating the passion Ford felt for making The Quiet Man, the reputation it has for being a scourge on the Irish international identity could perhaps be waylaid and replaced with the respect that Sé feels it deserves. With the title changed from The Quiet Man: Millstone or Milestone to the less contentious Dreaming The Quiet Man.-the documentary had found its focus, and instead of a debate, it had become a celebration of the film itself and the cinematic master and enigmatic figure, John Ford.
Central to the documentary is the notion that The Quiet Man is really a masked biography of the director himself, who was born in America Co Irish parents who raised him wich songs and stories from their homeland and whose mother idealised Ireland. Sé explains, 'What I'm propagating is that he turns this film into his own biography.' Sé goes on to point out some of the similarities between the central character Sean Thornton (played by John Wayne), and John Ford himself. 'Ford was a very cantankerous man and his/outsider spirit is explored in the film. And Sean's obsession with Maty-Kate - Ford was having an affair with Katherine Hepburn at the time, whose name was Kate and his wife's name was Mary.' Sean Thornton's yearning for Ireland, the idealism surrounding it and the feeling of being an outsider in the place you considered 'home' are all aspects that Ford could relate to and are important in understanding the intentions of the film.
The segment screened for me spoke volumes about the central discussion in the documentary. The segment included a typically colourful and impassioned interview with Martin Scorsese, in which he discusses the scene where Sean Thornton (Wayne) first arrives on the train in Castletown. Sean walks through the train station to find die horse and cart that will bring him to lnnisfree and Scorsese makes the point that Sean is literally walking from the real world to the fantasy/mythological world that is lnnisfree. Sé points out, 'Innisfree is not Ireland. Castletown is, but lnnisfree is an imaginary place that goes back to pre-Ireland, pre-Christian ritual and all that sort of thing. So he's playing with all these rituals. But at the same time, Sean Thornton is an American. Ford knows the central character is an American who has a dewy-eyed vision of Ireland and the Irish people are playing up to the Americans stereotype of us. So he's playing with that.'
One of the more common criticisms of the film by its detractors is that Ford has created a damaging mockery of Irish cultural identity. This point is effectively countered by Se by proposing chat Ford is celebrating the mythological elements of Irish culture and playing with the idealism that is often attached to the 'homeland' of so many Americans, Ford included.
The documentary takes a look at many areas of interest for Quiet Man fans, but is also historically interesting for any cinephile or indeed any Irish person, The effect the Film has had on Cong is remarkable and the archive footage that is included in the documentary from the making of ihe film is an invaluable look at Ireland in the 'sos. Interviews with Cong locals Jack and Nancy Murphy are insightful and endearing, and contrasted with the archive footage, which shows the glamour and excitement in the air at the time of shooting. Ir was unlike anything rural Mayo had seen before and the impression the film made on the local economy is still evident some sixty years later.
Now putting the finishing touches on what he describes as 'the most difficult piece of work I've ever done, the film Sé has created is unlike any other documentary about The Quiet Man. Neither a defence nor a detraction, the documentary attempts to reconcile the cultural hyperbole with the knowingly playful use of stereotype and idealism that Ford perpetrates within the film. Sé concludes, I suppose all I can say about The Quiet Man is that I'm trying to open a door. Obviously anyone who loves the film will enjoy it, but itwill open a whole new perspective on whatthey were saying. There was a genius at work here, and Ford did spend the guts of twenty years getting it to happen'.

Friday, December 10, 2010


Directed By: Steve Antin

Cast: Christina Aguilera, Cher, Cam Gigandet, Stanley Tucci

Rating: 5/10

It is rare that a pop singer will rise from the stage to shine on the silver screen. Arguably the most dazzling of these popstars/actresses has been Cher, who lit up the screen in such gems as Witness, Moonstruck and The Witches of Eastwick. She even went on to win an Oscar for her rich performance in Moonstruck. Past pop sirens have tried and failed to replicate Cher’s success; Britney (Crossroads), Mariah Carey (Glitter, Precious), Miley Cyrus (The Last Song) and now it’s Christina Aguilera’s turn. We know she’s got the pipes but does she have the chops for acting?

Burlesque is an easy film to slag. It’s a bit too easy a target and from the guffaws of the audience it’s easy to imagine we have another Glitter on our hands. It isn’t quite a disaster of those proportions and is possibly a future guilty pleasure for a lot of people due to some fun set pieces, truly remarkable costumes and just the general camp aesthetic of it all.

Ali (Xtina) is a small-town waitress with no family, a mean boss and a depressing job. So one day she closes the restaurant, sings on the table-tops, then heads off on a bus to L.A. She is down on her luck, wide-eyed, naive and penniless. That is until she encounters The Burlesque Lounge, a crumbling burlesque theatre with no money but lots of heart. Ali is smitten and is determined to earn her place on their stage. She blags her way into a waitressing job and befriends the kindly barman Jack (Twilight’s Cam Gigandet), whilst both infuriating and charming Cher’s fading star Tess along the way.

Jack is happily engaged to Natalie, played by Glee’s resident naughty catholic schoolgirl, Dianna Agron, but things are rocky, a fact which isn’t helped by Ali sleeping on their couch while Natalie is away. It isn’t long before Jack and Ali’s friendship deepens but you’d be surprised how long the writers tease the audience before giving them some of the most bizarre foreplay ever committed to celluloid.

Needless to say, Ali is soon revealed to be the club’s greatest asset and might just save the joint before the bank forces them to sell to slimy investor, and Ali’s potential love interest, Marcus (Eric Dane). But can she come out of her shell enough to get the crowds in? Can she defeat resident bitch, Kristen Bell? And can she realise before it’s too late that Marcus is a sleazy capitalist who is only interested in her for her moneymaking potential?

Burlesque is a truly ridiculous affair. All dazzle, no edge but nonetheless a guilty pleasure of sorts. The script was originally written by Juno’s Diablo Cody who knows a thing or two about burlesque given her background as an exotic dancer. However, it is clear the script has been tinkered with beyond all recognition. I found myself longing to feel Cody’s presence in the film, despite my usual nonchalance about her work, but this feels like her territory and her draft was probably a lot edgier than this.

If you have any tolerance for this kind of nonsense and you are expecting the worst then you might buy into the stylistic opulence it serves up. The costumes are glorious, the Rob Marshall-lite performances are great fun and of course Christina’s vocals are incredible. Cher is unfortunately less successful musically. She still has the voice but her diction is somewhat garbled due to her stiff, botoxed face. The role of Tess is great fun for her I’m sure but the film is just so saccharine that she doesn’t get a chance to get down and dirty with the role. Christina’s acting is nothing to get excited about unfortunately. She isn’t terrible, but the character of Ali is just so ridiculously doe-eyed that it’s impossible to take her seriously.

Be prepared for a silly plot, some hammy performances, a lot of skin (but no bare breasts, don’t get too excited) and visual candy. If you know what you’re in for you might just enjoy this mess of glitter and tassles! Oh and it earns a whole extra star for Stanley Tucci’s marvellous presence!

 - Charlene Lydon