Archives News

Vudu Among Six New EMA Members


Walmart’s Vudu streaming service has joined the Entertainment Merchants Association (EMA), along with other new members ANG Digital, City National Bank, Cognizant, Gravitas Ventures and MarkMonitor, according to an April 11 announcement from the trade group.

ANG Digital (www.angdigital.com) helps media and entertainment companies navigate the digital and mobile shift by easing transitions from legacy systems to newer platforms. Customers can use ANG’s proprietary Generat.IO platform to conform to industry standards for Avails, and unlock consumer value by simplifying workflow for digital extras.

With $45.1 billion in assets, City National Bank provides banking, investment and trust services through 72 offices, including 16 full-service regional centers, in Southern California, the San Francisco Bay Area, Nevada, New York City, Nashville and Atlanta. In addition, the company and its investment affiliates manage or administer $55.5 billion in client investment assets. City National has provided financial services to the entertainment industry for more than 60 years.

Cognizant (www.cognizant.com) uses an industry-based consultative approach to help clients envision, build and run more-innovative and efficient businesses.

Gravitas Ventures (www.gravitasventures.com) is a leading all-rights distributor of independent cinema. Founded in 2006, Gravitas connects independent filmmakers and producers with distribution opportunities across the globe. Working with more than 500 content partners, Gravitas Ventures has distributed thousands of films into more than 100 million homes. Recent releases include Katie Holmes’ feature directorial debut, All We Had, and For the Love of Spock, directed by Adam Nimoy, son of “Star Trek” icon Leonard Nimoy.

MarkMonitor (markmonitor.com) provides advanced technology and expertise to protect the revenue and reputations of the world's leading brands.

Vudu (www.vudu.com) offers more than 100,000 film and TV titles for streaming or download, including 4K Ultra HD, Dolby Vision HDR and Dolby Atmos Cinema Sound.


‘The Reagan Show’ Docu Picked Up By Gravitas Ventures & CNN Films – Tribeca


The Reagan Show

The pic will hit theaters June 30, with a July 4 VOD bow to follow. CNN will air the docu after those windows.

The Reagan Show centers on how Reagan redefined the look and feel of what it meant to be the President of the United States in the late 20th century. Using archival video and filmed footage, the movie demonstrates how he governed and used his Hollywood-powered, public-image savvy as film crews trailed him in a constant state of self-documentation — all while global threats loomed during what would be the turbulent, final years of the Cold War. Some pundits accused Reagan of majoring in public relations more so than serious presidential affairs.

“In The Reagan Show, these talented filmmakers present a fascinating look at what set Reagan apart and made his time in office iconic, no matter which side of the fence you fall on,” Gravitas CEO Nolan Gallagher said. “He knew better than most what the true power of the press is.”

Pettengill produced from a script by Velez, Josh Alexander and Francisco Bello. Dan Cogan, Amy Entelis of CNN Films, and Houston King are the executive producers. Gallagher negotiated the deal for Gravitas with Ben Braun and Josh Braun of Submarine for the filmmakers.

‘Elian’ Documentary Acquired By Gravitas Ventures Before Tribeca Film Festival Premiere


EXCLUSIVE: Prior to its April 21 premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival, Elian, the documentary about the five-year old boy who became embroiled in a United States-Cuban immigration controversy and custody battle 17 years ago, has been picked up by Gravitas Ventures for U.S. theatrical, digital, and video distribution. Pic will roll out in New York and Los Angeles on May 19.

While the pic recounts the remarkable survival story of Elian Gonzalez, directors Ross McDonnell and Tim Golden gained unprecedented access to a now articulate 23-year-old Gonzalez, who lives in a post-Castro era Cuba.

Elian is co-produced by Fine Point Films and Jigsaw Productions and previously was acquired by CNN Films, which will be the worldwide broadcast and mobile premiere presenter, is the exclusive presenter for U.S. television and also holds rights to broadcast the film in Canada. Amazon Prime Video will be the exclusive streaming video home for the doc in the U.S.

Elian is narrated by Tony Award-nominee Raúl Esparza. Pic was executive-produced by Oscar-winner Alex Gibney and his Jigsaw Productions. Amy Entelis of CNN Films also serves as EP and Courtney Sexton is the supervising producer. Elian was conceived and produced by Trevor Birney of Fine Point Films Ltd. The deal was negotiated by Nolan Gallagher for Gravitas Ventures, and by Jonathan Ford with Content Media Corporation on behalf of the filmmakers.


‘California Typewriter’: Documentary Featuring Tom Hanks, John Mayer Gets Late Summer Release



Gravitas Ventures has bought U.S. rights to the documentary “California Typewriter,” which will open the 41st Cleveland International Film Festival on Wednesday.

“California Typewriter,” which premiered at the 2016 Telluride Film Festival, will open theatrically in Los Angeles, New York and a dozen additional markets in the late summer.

The title is derived from one of the last remaining typewriter shops, located in Berkeley, Calif., which plays a major role in the film. Run by Herbert Permillion III and his family, the business is shown attempting to balance financial security with its decades-long passion for selling and restoring typewriters.

Director Doug Nichol made the self-funded film over a period of five years. “The film was a real labor of love for everyone involved and we couldn’t be more thrilled to be working with Gravitas and their team,” he said.

The film includes interviews with artist Jeremy Mayer, who makes “typewriter assemblage sculpture”; Martin Howard, who’s collected typewriters for nearly 30 years and is on a quest to add a rare Sholes and Glidden machine his collection; Tom Hanks, who has over 250 machines in his collection; musician John Mayer; playwright Sam Shepard and author David McCullough.

“In exploring the history and fondness people still carry for the typewriter, we are forced to confront an even larger question of how technology factors into our lives and what it’s pushing away,” stated Gravitas Founder and CEO Nolan Gallagher. “It is timely in this age of growth in tech to bring these thought provoking stories to the big screen.”

Nichol photographed with John Benet. Executive producers are Charlotte Chatton, James Redford and Dana Schwartz. The deal was negotiated by Gallagher for Gravitas and Kevin Iwashina and Zac Bright from Preferred Content on behalf of the filmmakers.




‘Mission Control: The Unsung Heroes of Apollo’ Bought by Gravitas


Gravitas Ventures has acquired worldwide rights from Haviland Digital to the documentary “Mission Control: The Unsung Heroes of Apollo” ahead of its world premiere at the South by Southwest Film Festival.

Gravitas is planning an April 14 day-and-date release in theaters across the U.S. and VOD.

The film includes archival footage and stories from the creator of Mission Control, Dr. Chris Kraft, retired NASA Flight Directors Gene Kranz (portrayed by Ed Harris in “Apollo 13”), Glynn Lunney and Gerry Griffin. Also appearing are Flight Dynamics Officer Jerry Bostick, Flight Controller John Aaron, astronaut Captain James Lovell (played by Tom Hanks in “Apollo 13”), and moonwalkers Charlie Duke and the late Captain Gene Cernan.

“Mission Control” explores the faltering start of the program to the Mercury and Gemini missions, the tragic Apollo 1 fire and the Moon landings.

“Mission Control” was directed by David Fairhead and produced by Keith Haviland and Gareth Dodds. The three men came to the story of “Mission Control” after their work on “The Last Man on the Moon,” which debuted at SXSW in 2015 and told the tale of Cernan, who flew three times in space and twice to the Moon.

“It’s a real privilege to tell this epic story of a remarkable decade. It shows what vision and teamwork can achieve,” said Haviland.

“Flights into space capture the imagination as much today as they did 50 years ago,” said Gravitas Ventures’ CEO Nolan Gallagher. “From Space X to ‘Hidden Figures’ to ‘The Martian,’ the dreams of millions are carried out by hundreds of heroes both in the air and on the ground at Mission Control. We are thrilled to be working with Gareth and Keith to share this remarkable piece of history with audiences everywhere.”

Fox’s “Hidden Figures,” which centers on the role of female African-American scientists in the early days of the space program, has been a critical and commercial success with three Oscar nominations and $145 million in domestic grosses.

The deal for “Mission Control” was negotiated by Nolan Gallagher for Gravitas, and Dodds and Haviland for Haviland Digital.



Home entertainment market tops $250BN


The home video and pay-TV market totalled $251.5 billion in 2016, up by 3% year-on-year, with pay-TV accounting for 86% of global video entertainment spend, says researcher Futuresource Consulting.

The report looked at consumer expenditure across digital video (SVOD, TVOD, EST and pay-TV VOD), packaged video (DVD and Blu-ray) and the pay-TV market, and determined that the pay-TV share of the market will remain stable as growth is in line with spending on both physical and digital home video.

It found that, overall, video entertainment spend is set to rise to $280 billion by 2020, with a CAGR of 3%. Subscription video-on-demand (SVOD) was the standout performer of 2016, and momentum is expected to continue well past 2020. Globally, the firm expected the market to reach 236 million global subscriptions at the end of 2016 — and this is projected to almost double to 485 million by 2020.

However, Netflix’s dominance in the sector is now facing a significant challenge from Amazon, with this space also being targeted by global entertainment companies including content producers, hardware manufacturers and telcos who are attracted by the significant revenues.

Global packaged video spend is in decline, with the deficit not being made up by transactional digital. Annual spend across DVD and Blu-ray fell by 13% to $21.6 billion in 2015 and is expected to fall to $9.1 billion by 2020. For 2016, an exceptionally strong late 2015 theatrical slate converted well to home video unit sell-through, the market also received a minor boost from the introduction of an even more premium tier of Blu-ray, Ultra HD. However, the global rate of decline in dollar terms increased to 17% due to fluctuations in the exchange rate.

Following growth of 30%, digital video spend in 2016 reached $22 billion and exceeded that of physical which fell to $18 billion. The Futuresource report also noted some concerns over the softness within the transactional digital video market with both rental and buy-to-keep currently under-performing.



Independent Documentary Distribution in Turbulent Times


During IDA's Getting Real 2016 conference back in September, we held a panel called "So Your Film Didn't Get Into Sundance (and Even If It Did): Navigating the New Distribution Landscape." As the title suggests, the panel aimed to address the problem of finding a distributor, and/or determining a path to self-distribution. In this ever-complicated media landscape, with disruptors everywhere, and the challenge of breaking through the noise an increasingly difficult proposition, we sought to bring some clarity and guidance to filmmakers whose films weren't being sold in an auction environment at a major film festival—which is to say, the majority of documentary films being made today.

The marketplace is transforming actively and, at times, convulsively, and it is expected to continue to do so for the foreseeable future as technology offers up new modes of content delivery. Amidst the meteoric rise of subscription video on demand (SVOD) behemoths such as Netflix, Amazon and Hulu, along with the concurrent decline of the DVD business, cord-cutting of linear TV by consumers, and the rise worldwide of OTT (over the top) channels, the rate of change to the global distribution landscape is nothing short of dramatic.

As a direct result of these changes, several long-established distribution companies on both sides of the Atlantic have shuttered or scaled back dramatically. Disintermediation is a prevailing wind, as platforms become content creators, financing original content and working directly with filmmakers. Clearly, the rise of the SVOD players has realigned the power structure of the independent film landscape. Complicating matters further are the issues of an oversupply of content pouring into the pipeline, the disruption of the long-reigning content windowing strategy, and the resulting decline in specialty film theatrical box office.

Yet it's not entirely a doom-and-gloom picture. There are some very interesting and exciting new developments on the horizon. New solutions are being devised, new analytical tools are being implemented and new digital platforms are launching globally. Our panel addressed some of these new players, the latest trends, and new lessons to be learned from both experienced hands and first-time filmmakers.

Filmmakers are taking a more active role in distribution and marketing of their work than ever before. Self-distribution is gaining wider acceptance. Hybrid distribution, in which some rights are licensed to a third party and other rights are retained by the filmmaker/rights holder, and split-rights deals are also gaining in popularity as a broadly deployed approach for filmmakers.

Today, impact campaigns and the incorporation of paid speaking engagements into the outreach plan are often part of the release strategy from inception. Increasingly, filmmakers are thinking like startups, and are learning to deploy best practices from the startup world. They're creating extensive business plans, marketing plans and branding strategies, and utilizing analytics tools in their distribution and outreach plans. Distributors and aggregators are providing tools such as digital dashboards to enable these strategies.

What you'll find here is a brief summary of the panel discussion that took place at Getting Real. We heard detailed case studies from three filmmakers who have been in the trenches with their films, forging new paths; as independent distribution experts, we led and moderated the discussions.

First, we heard from Nanfu Wang, the filmmaker behind the critically acclaimed Sundance film Hooligan SparrowHooligan Sparrow exemplified the limited art house theatrical film model and what that looks like in today's marketplace.

Next, we deconstructed the case of Christo Brock and Grant Barbeito's Touch the Wall, which deployed festivals, various partner organizations and an innovative on-demand-cinema model for the film's release.

Finally, we looked at the case of Keith Ochwat and Christopher Rufo's Age of Champions. Taking their cues from the startup world, the filmmakers created a robust self-distribution model. Eschewing a traditional theatrical release, their detailed strategic plan was fortified by sponsorship from a major partner organization.

The filmmakers were joined by some of the independent film world's top players, including Josh Braun of Submarine Entertainment; Orly Ravid, entertainment attorney and founder of The Film Collaborative; Annie Roney of ro*co films; Nolan Gallagher of Gravitas Ventures; and Felicia Pride of Tugg, the theatrical event platform, to discuss the latest developments and opportunities for independent films in the global marketplace.

Here are some of the key themes that emerged during the panel discussion:

  • Develop a strategic plan that aligns with your goals as you consider distribution options.
  • Identify your audience early on in the process and understand how to best reach and engage them.
  • Partnerships with organizations and corporate sponsors with resources and reach can be potent tools, yet can be complicated.
  • In this world of digital access, is a theatrical release still necessary?
  • Traditional windowing strategies are being disrupted. What are the new models?
  • An emerging trend involves global all-rights deals and global representation deals. When is this approach a good solution and when is it not?
  • Manage your rights strategically and with care. Split-rights deals can lead to maximization of opportunity.


Identifying Your Audience

Christo Brock, producer of indie success story Touch the Wall, advised filmmakers to "bring your audience to the release of your film." He followed the advice of consultant Peter Broderick and set out to find his niche audience early in the process, and then worked towards engaging them. His team worked with Tugg, the crowd-sourced, on-demand cinema company, on the release of their film. They hired a full-time outreach coordinator, who stayed on the project for 18 months.

Orly Ravid of The Film Collaborative recommended that filmmakers use social media and targeted Facebook advertising to identify and learn about their film's potential audiences. She suggested that filmmakers also choose film festivals strategically, to help build a following. "It's not enough to just get your film out there; you have to build community," she maintained. She also advocated for bringing on a producer of marketing and distribution, or PMD, to have them focus on building audience and community even before the film's first premiere. "It's way too late if you show up to Sundance and that's when you start to think about who your audience is," Ravid asserted.

Nolan Gallagher of Gravitas Ventures added that filmmakers who can devote six to nine months to the marketing and audience-building for their films achieve the greatest success. "Artist-entrepreneurs are a dream for distributors to work with," he noted.

Felicia Pride of Tugg acknowledged that not all filmmakers will want to or will be able to spend their time becoming de facto distributors. For those filmmakers, she suggested creating a budget and raising funds to hire an outreach, social media and marketing team through individual investors, foundations or crowd-sourcing platforms such as Kickstarter or Seed & Spark.



Many filmmakers are finding that sponsorship can provide valuable outreach funding and promotional support. Keith Ochwat of Age of Champions had AARP underwrite community screenings and events. Christo Brock brought on USA Swimming as an organizational partner, which proved to be a valuable promotional partner.

The panelists acknowledged that there were often trade-offs and compromises to be made when involving partners and sponsors, and that they generally want to see the film both before and after its completion before they commit to a partnership/sponsorship package. From time to time, sponsors will request that changes be made to the film, which can create issues around editorial control and the potential for censorship. At times, filmmakers have had to make painful decisions around pleasing the sponsor, or risk losing valuable promotional support or production funding. Clearly, sponsorship can be a slippery slope.


In the Age of Streaming, Is a Theatrical Release Still Necessary?

Many experts in the distribution world agree that for certain films that are determined to have real theatrical box office potential, there still is no substitute for a theatrical release in terms of creating awareness and value in the marketplace. Annie Roney of ro*co films stressed that a theatrical release builds value for the educational market. She spoke about one new development in which some theatrical distributors have been willing to allow a semi- and non-theatrical campaign to launch day-and-date with theatrical. She cited the recent film Trapped, which opened in 20 cities. The team was able to capture the momentum created by the release to open in scores of additional cities simultaneously through an impact campaign.

Nolan Gallagher of Gravitas Ventures suggested that filmmakers try to retain their theatrical rights when doing deals with distributors: "I don't want to force spending $75,000 on theatrical, and then if the film doesn't perform in ancillary that money is sitting out there in deficit for years upon years,"

There was a consensus among the panelists that although awards qualification requires a limited theatrical release, too many films are spending money there that might be put to better use elsewhere in the campaign. The panelists agreed that while doing a 15- or 25-city release does create value, one must determine in advance if it is worth the cost, as very few films make money on their theatrical release alone.


Disruption of Traditional Windowing Models

For decades, the traditional order of creating windows of exploitation of channels of distribution followed a familiar pattern: three to six months of theatrical, followed by an educational window, then home video and transactional video on demand (TVOD), followed by pay TV and then linear TV.

First, a radically constricted theatrical window disrupted the traditional windowing pattern with premium digital distribution offerings coming within weeks, or in certain cases, day-and-date, with theatrical openings. Streaming services such as Netflix would generally follow TVOD availability by an additional window. Today, SVOD services often want to be day-and-date with TVOD, further truncating windows. Clearly, the rate of change is unprecedented, and the level of disruption is challenging for distributors and filmmakers alike.

Josh Braun of Submarine observed, "The windowing and what each entity needs [in a split-rights deal] is the bane of our existence because you put one piece of the puzzle into place, and then everything else has to fit around it. That wasn't the case five years ago." He explained that streaming services are looking for shorter windows—90 days, for example—in which filmmakers are able to exploit premium digital offerings and theatrical.


International Sales

Several new trends were discussed on the international sales front. The first was the question of the value and efficacy of global representation and global all-rights deals. According to Ravid, "Filmmakers have to weigh the value of doing one deal versus doing lots of smaller deals. In some cases, doing multiple deals will add up to significantly more [money] than doing one overall deal." Roney added that a Netflix deal might cannibalize what you could ultimately do in each territory. She cautioned that some films with strong international potential warrant doing deals territory by territory, but others will not.

Braun spoke to the new trend of global representation, in which sales reps line up a coalition of up to six international partners with whom their companies may have a first-look deal. Submarine will now often bring these deals to the table to help close a deal with an international sales company.

Gallagher described the rise of the simultaneous VOD release on a worldwide basis. He cited For the Love of Spock, which was released in 25 markets theatrically, 100 million homes in North America and over a billion homes worldwide. Gallagher spoke to the fact that 50 percent of the business that the film will do on iTunes will come from overseas. The filmmakers were able to promote the release via PR and social media, and spent very little ($25,000) on the marketing campaign.


Manage Your Rights Carefully and Strategically

Felicia Pride of Tugg stressed the importance of knowing your film's rights status. "Oftentimes filmmakers that I talk to don't even know the rights they have available. They don't realize that they can often carve out educational and non-theatrical rights. Filmmakers need to remember that your rights are your most valuable asset." Gallagher also cautioned filmmakers to make sure that their distributor has a plan to fully exploit all of the rights that they are being granted.

Gallagher added that filmmakers should keep SVOD term lengths as brief as possible, so that once the initial exclusive term expires, the film can be licensed to several smaller SVOD platforms on a non-exclusive basis. He described a whole new tranche of SVOD services that have launched around the world recently.

Following are the in-depth case studies of Hooligan SparrowTouch the Wall and Age of Champions.

Case Study: Hooligan Sparrow

Even though Hooligan Sparrow is Nanfu Wang's first feature film as a director, launching her career was only third on her list of goals for the release of the film. The film follows the harrowing journey of human rights activist Ye Haiyan as she seeks justice against an elementary school principal who abused six girls in China. Wang's primary goal was to build a wide audience for the film and raise awareness of its issues. But she also prioritized repaying her investors. The total budget was under $600,000, with approximately $200,000 in equity. With an increasingly robust sales market in recent years, spurred by the rise of such powerful SVOD players as Netflix and Amazon, her selection into the Sundance Film Festival boded well for her ability to meet those goals. This hope was confirmed by Submarine coming on board to sell the film at Sundance.

Though Hooligan Sparrow garnered acclaim and favorable publicity at Sundance, the film did not land a splashy all-rights sale there. Like a large percentage of films sold at festivals, Hooligan Sparrow ended up with a split-rights scenario with several distribution partners for both domestic and international rights, all secured at Sundance and finalized sometime after. Wang negotiated a television broadcast sale with POV for mid-five figures, and an SVOD deal with Netflix for low six figures. Submarine created a nice strategy for POV and Netflix, with a near day-and-date for the two platforms. After the festival Wang made an international sales deal with ro*co films and a deal with The Film Collaborative to handle festival rights. The outstanding rights coming out of Sundance included theatrical, TVOD and educational. A number of months later, Kino Lorber came on board for the educational and TVOD rights. So Wang was left (as many filmmakers are) with the theatrical rights.

Hooligan Sparrow became an international festival darling, screening in over 60 festivals in 20 countries and winning many awards and prizes. Nevertheless, Wang did not feel that there would be a strong theatrical audience for the film (her festival screenings were not regularly sold out), and she was on the fence about whether or not to even have one. She knew that theatrical releases can be very expensive and you really need to have your goals in mind in order to proceed with one. Bryan Glick of The Film Collaborative loved the film and set out to convince Wang to let him book it. He argued that a theatrical release would trigger great reviews for the film, which would (1) help raise awareness for the topic through traditional press; (2) help the long-tail revenue stream from the film, especially when it comes to TVOD and educational, which would compensate for a very stripped-down theatrical spend; and (3) help Wang's career. Glick felt that if the film started booking 90 days before broadcast and SVOD, he would be able to get up to 20 bookings without any four-wall fees.

With limited resources, Wang was able to get the film out to as wide an audience as possible. While she was happy to have secured the sales, she has not recouped the entire production cost for the film. Because Netflix pays over a number of years, her investors will need to be patient to receive their money. Ultimately she agreed to spend a little more on the release in order to qualify the film for Academy Award consideration. This paid off handsomely; in December the film made the Oscar documentary shortlist—which, in turn, will help secure additional theatrical bookings thanks to this heightened awareness of the film.

Case Study: Touch the Wall

Filmmakers Christo Brock and Grant Barbeito had a different goal for their film Touch the Wall. They wanted to share the inspirational story about two female swimmers training for the Olympics with as wide an audience as possible. Through social media, a Kickstarter campaign and partnerships with leading swimming organizations, the filmmakers began outreach to their targeted audience of swimmers and swimming associations a year out from the premiere of the film. While this approach took a lot of planning and personal engagement, it did pay off.

Partnering with USA Swimming provided the filmmakers with a connection with the organization's 390,000 members and 450,000 Facebook followers. Additional relationships with swimming website SwimSwam and retailer SwimOutlet provided Brock and Barbeito an additional 750,000 Facebook users.

Building their film's audience a year in advance allowed the filmmakers to recognize they had a fan base to support theatrical screenings. Immediately after premiering Touch the Wall at the Denver International Film Festival, Brock and Barbeito brought their film to theaters via both conventional and on-demand distributors. As their limited-theatrical approach flagged, they quickly realized they'd have greater success going directly to their fans. They began to self-distribute the film using theatrical-on-demand platform Tugg. Their audience embraced this model enthusiastically; Touch the Wall screened 363 times to over 55,000 people, grossing over $700,000.

Approximately nine months after the Tugg screenings, the filmmakers began direct sales of their DVD from their website and as an affiliate with Amazon, resulting in sales of over $150,000. (And some say DVD is dead.) They were also successful in direct sales of group license, digital downloads, educational license and related film merchandise.

Brainstorm Media was hired to distribute the film after most of the Tugg screenings were finished, and Brock and Barbeito secured a broadcast deal on the Oprah Winfrey Network. The film went to TVOD in May, to broadcast on OWN in July, and then SVOD on Netflix in August, just ahead of the Olympics. However, the Netflix deal was for only $20,000—disappointing to the filmmakers. They had received an offer of $15,000 earlier in the year, but they turned it down. According to Brock, "Netflix's rationale, as told to us by our distributor, was that the film had been around in theaters for a while, and we had sold DVDs on our website and through Amazon. They considered us already played, and not 'new.'" The filmmakers ultimately took the offer just before the Olympics, but their decision killed their DVD and TVOD ancillaries. As Christo reflects, "My feeling with SVOD/Netflix is that it's a Sophie's Choice kind of moment: You can take the guaranteed money from Netflix…and know that your other streams of revenue will dry up, or you turn them down and go for greener pastures on your own. Tough choice nowadays, given the importance of Netflix. For us, I think it was the right choice, but our other revenue streams have dried up, and the film's a bit long in the tooth."

One of the options the filmmaker would advocate in the future would be to tighten the timing windows between theatrical release, DVD sales and broadcast and digital sales. The momentum of the film had slowed considerably by the time the sales agents were engaged.

Overall, the Touch the Wall filmmakers viewed their distribution strategy a success because they reached their goal of presenting their film to a large, passionate audience—and they were also able to make back a large part of their investment in the film.

Case Study: Age of Champions

Created by director Christopher Rufo and producer Keith Ochwat—who also teach an online course about direct distribution at www.filmmaker.mbaAge of Champions tells the story of five competitors, up to 100 years old, who sprint, leap and swim for gold at the Senior Olympics. For Rufo and Ochwat, the primary goal for this film was to bring their careers to the next level. They had made two previous films with ITVS funding, but they wanted to make their careers more sustainable.

Age of Champions premiered at AFI Docs and screened at a few festivals including San Diego and Austin. Like Brock and Barbeito, Rufo and Ochwalt realized that they would have the most success going after their core audience, which they first imagined to be seniors and senior athletes. This did not turn out to be the case, however. Through trial and error, the filmmakers ultimately found that their audience was nonprofits and businesses in the senior health community. The filmmakers realized early on that social media would not be the best way to reach any of their target audiences; strategic partnerships and conferences were the way to go. They started going to make connections—unpaid at first, but then they realized that they could get paid. They focused on senior living, gerontology and higher education conferences. They ended up doing 3,000 screenings and speaking engagements, with fees ranging from $2,000 to $5,000 per event; this revenue stream grossed a total of $294,000, with an additional $165,000 from AARP-sponsored events (for which they had to pay expenses, which were substantial).

Rufo and Ochwalt then created a screening kit that they sold for $149.95 (after experimenting with a few price points). This kit included a double DVD, posters, postcards, bracelets and the license. They grossed $143,000 from these sales in bulk to partners and another $192,000 from direct sales of the kits. An additional $111,000 came from direct-to-fan DVDs, which they only sold months into their screening campaign. An additional $88,000 came from direct educational sales. The filmmakers also secured non-exclusive DVD and educational deals with Passion River and Collective Eye; these deals grossed $26,000. You can see why they focused on direct-to-fan: They were able to engage an audience that was willing to pay a premium for this kind of content. They were also able to create customized video marketing content for corporate partners, earning an additional $160,000.

Concerning broadcast and digital, the greatest success for Rufo and Ochwalt was having the film play on PBS Plus, who took the film out nationally through the PBS affiliate network. The filmmakers were allowed to sell a minute of underwriting time to monetize this broadcast. They brought on a underwriting consultant who, while working hard for a year, was not able to sell any underwriting. This consultant advised them to sell each 15-second spot for $100,000-$150,000. But when they were three months out, Rufo and Ochwalt cut the rate to $75,000 and ultimately made $235,000 from the PBS underwriting—a pretty decent broadcast deal. They made an additional $38,000 on SVOD through Netflix and Amazon Prime through Cinedigm. However, their TVOD numbers have been very sparse, perhaps owing to the way that the audience consumes media, or perhaps to how late TVOD was engaged. But note the very high DVD sales; different audiences consume media in different ways.

Looking back at their distribution strategy, the Age of Champions team was very pleased with their decisions. They took a very unconventional approach to distribution by relying on partnerships and speaking at conferences, but it allowed them to bring their careers to a new level and start a long-term relationship with their audience. Thus, they achieved the success they wanted with the release of their film.

There are still a lucky few who can go to a festival and sell their film, but even then, chances are likely that you won't fully recoup. What is essential to success? Know what your goals are; identify and engage with your audience as early as possible; and understand that, as the landscape is ever-shifting, you will be better off with a split-rights strategy than with an all-rights deal.



Ping Pong Summer

Sundance: 'Legion of Brothers' Acquired By Gravitas Ventures



CNN Films and Gravitas Ventures reached a deal on the U.S. distribution rights for Greg Barker’s documentary “Legion of Brothers” at the Sundance Film Festival on Monday.

The documentary follows the first deployment of U.S. Special Forces immediately following the Sept. 11 attacks. Barker interviews several Green Berets who were part of the first wave of the war in the Middle East and asks them about how their attitudes towards the war changed over time.

Gravitas has acquired the theatrical, SVOD, and other platform distribution rights to the film in the U.S. CNN Films will retain rights to air the film on TV. International distribution rights were sold to Content Media prior to its Sundance opening.

“Gravitas is honored to collaborate with CNN and Greg Barker to share this powerful, true story of these U.S. Army Special Forces that is just as timely today as it was amazing in 2001,” said Gravitas Ventures CEO and founder, Nolan Gallagher.

The deal between CNN Films and Gravitas Ventures was negotiated by Stacey Wolf, vice president for business affairs for CNN, on behalf of CNN Films, and by Nolan Gallagher, CEO of Gravitas Ventures, on the company’s behalf.  Cinetic was the sales agent for the deal.

“Legion of Brothers” is produced by John Battsek and Greg Barker of Passion Pictures, and Peter Bergen and Tresha Mabile. The film is executive produced by Amy Entelis of CNN Films and Vinnie Malhotra. The supervising producer is Courtney Sexton, vice president for CNN Films.

Sundance festival attendees can see “Legion of Brothers” when it screens Jan. 28-29.



'Folk Hero and Funny Guy': Alex Karpovsky-Wyatt Russell Comedy Finds a Buyer


Gravitas Ventures has acquired the worldwide rights to the comedy “Folk Hero and Funny Guy,” starring Alex Karpovsky and Wyatt Russell.

The film premiered in April at the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival and scored 100% “fresh” on Rotten Tomatoes. Jeff Grace made his feature directorial debut with a script he wrote about a successful singer-songwriter, played by Russell, who hatches a plan to help his friend (Karpovsky) by hiring him as his opening act on his solo tour while his friend has been struggling with a declining comedy career and broken love life.

The film also stars Meredith Hagner (“Search Party”), Melanie Lynskey (“Togetherness”), Hannah Simone (“New Girl”), Heather Morris (“Glee”), Michael Ian Black (“Another Period”) and David Cross (“Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”). “Folk Hero and Funny Guy” will premiere in theaters and on demand on May 12.

Grace starred in and produced the 2012 black comedy “It’s A Disaster.” He combined tales of his own stand-up touring experience with that of the film’s composer Adam Erza to create Folk Hero & Funny Guy.

Grace also produced “Folk Hero and Funny Guy” with Ryland Aldrich. Executive producers are Vinny Chhibber, John Davenport, Dom Genest, Tom Hamilton, Mike C. Manning, Katherine Ann McGregor, Micki Purcell, Tripp Rhame and Tom Simpson.

Karpovsky stars as the Ray Ploshansky character in the HBO series “Girls.” Russell co-starred in “22 Jump Street” and opposite Anna Kendrick in the upcoming comedy “Table 19.”

The deal was negotiated by Nolan Gallagher for Gravitas Ventures and by UTA Independent Film Group on behalf of the filmmakers.


Backstreet Boys

Gravitas Ventures Acquires Bitcoin Doc; Bond/360 Nabs ‘Franca: Chaos & Creation’


Gravitas Ventures has secured worldwide rights to the Christopher Cannucciari-directed documentary Banking On Bitcoin. The film follows the ideological battle underway between fringe utopists and mainstream capitalism. Bitcoin’s early pioneers sought to blur the lines of sovereignty and the financial status quo. After years of underground development, Bitcoin grabbed the attention of a curious public, as well as the ire of the regulators the technology had subverted. Yet, after landmark arrests of prominent cyber criminals, Bitcoin, which surged on election night, still faces its most severe adversary, the very banks it was built to destroy. David Levy is producer and Matthew O’Neill and Jon Alpert exec produced. The deal was negotiated by Gravitas Ventures’ Dan Fisher and by Preferred Content on behalf of Periscope Entertainment.

Bond/360 has picked up U.S. rights to Franca: Chaos & Creation, the documentary about legendary editor-in-chief of Italian Vogue, Franca Sozzani. Directed by Sozzani’s son Francesco Carrozzini, the film depicts a woman who has changed and challenged the global fashion industry with her iconic imagery and editorial direction. Bond/360 will release the doc in limited theaters next year, followed by a digital and DVD release. It features interviews from Karl Lagerfeld, Bruce Weber, Baz Luhrmann, Courtney Love among others and offers an inside glimpse into the often controversial magazine maven’s creative process and her vulnerabilities.  From LDM Comunicazione Production, the doc first premiered at the 2016 Venice Film Festival. The deal was negotiated by Elizabeth Sheldon of Bond/360 and Linzee Troubh of Kinetic.

FilmRise, in an AFM deal with Archstone Distribution, has acquired the rights to Dead Awake, the horror thriller from the creator of the Final Destination franchise. The company plans a domestic theatrical release early 2017. Directed by Phillip Guzman and starring Orange Is The New Black‘s Lori Petty, the film is about a young woman who must save herself and her friends from an ancient evil that stalks its victims through the real-life phenomenon of sleep paralysis. Jesse Bradford and Jocelin Donahue also co-star. The deal was negotiated between FilmRise CEO Danny Fisher and VP of Acquisitions Max Einhorn with Archstone.