Category Archives: Independent Film

Credit Where Credit Is Due: Is There Enough Room On Awards Night For More Producers?

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After five producers received Best Picture Oscars for “Shakespeare in Love” in 1999, the Motion Picture Academy placed a three producer per Oscar limit on any film under contention. The Academy also required the honored three to be fully functioning producers on the pictures; studio execs, personal managers and lawyers (oh, well) need not apply.

Subsequent to enactment, certain producers who were credited on “Crash,” “Little Miss Sunshine” and “The Departed” but eliminated for award contention by this rule made some compelling objections against it. As a result, the Academy is relaxing its requirements, albeit slightly, to allow for the inclusion of one additional producer under certain rare and extraordinary circumstances. Each of the producers must be credited as “producer,” thereby excluding any individuals with executive producer or associate producer credits.

Meanwhile , the Television Academy is tightening its eligibility requirements in an effort to “crackdown on producer credit inflation” by capping the number of individual producers who can receive an Emmy for a comedy series at 11 and a drama series at 10. But even with these higher numbers, exceptions seem to be proliferating with “Gray’s Anatomy” and “House” each having grandfathered eligibility for 13 producer nominations.

Note that neither of these rules limit the number of producer credits accorded to any motion picture or television program. They just limit the number of producers eligible for award nominations. Nevertheless, the academies are right to be concerned with credit dilution. These awards are intended to acknowledge the creative efforts of those responsible for the works in contention. They are also a great way to increase box office gross. As I have said elsewhere in this blog, credits are “the coin of the realm” in the industry and diluting any credit reduces their value just like real currency. However, it is wrong-headed to set arbitrary caps on the number of producers eligible for an award as a means of addressing this capricious credit problem. Mandating that all award eligible producers render meaningful, creative services is a far more equitable way to go.

Until the academies modify their position, reps will need to be creative to increase their clients’ chances. Although the Motion Picture Academy asserts that it is “not bound by any contract or agreement relating to the sharing or giving of credit and reserves the right to make its own determination of credit for award consideration,” I have been involved in several negotiations where reps for producers (myself included) negotiated producer credit order “for all purposes, including award consideration.” Without a more logical approach, it is inevitable that the contractual intent of the parties to producer agreements versus the subjective consideration of the academies will be tested in the near future.

Advertisers Now Investing In Indy Films

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The Los Angeles Times
and Tim Swanson’s blog reported earlier this month about Inferno Distribution’s recent financing of “The Women” starring Annette Benning, Meg Ryan, Eva Mendes, Jada Pinkett Smith and Candice Bergen. I’ve worked with Bill and Jim at Inferno before, and they can be very resourceful when it comes to financing their pictures.

Inferno financed about $3 million of a reported $15 million budget with an advertiser buy-in from Unilever/Dove. In exchange, Dove will share in profits at cash break-even on the negative cost of the picture (presumably, with some fees payable to Inferno and distributors off the top).

Similarly, Gatorade reportedly invested about $3 million in “Gracie,” a picture about girls soccer, making it possible for the producer to acquire an additional $7 million in financing from a hedge fund. In a deal that apparently proves that producing credits are the coin of the realm – even outside the entertainment business – Gatorade execs received three producing credits in exchange for Gatorade’s investment but neither they nor Gatorade are entitled to receive any back end.

Swanson’s blog reported that neither company demanded product placement for their investment though apparently both advertisers will receive it anyway. The girls in “Gracie” reportedly drink Gatorade on screen. Diane English, director of “The Women” is quoted in both pieces as looking for ways to incorporate the Dove brand “seamlessly.” (Funny, doesn’t the placement of product in the picture make these deals run of the mill product placement deals?) In both “Gracie” and “The Women,” advertisers are leveraging content that reflects well on their product or ties in a like-minded demographic audience to their product with the picture. Given advertising budgets in the hundreds of millions (billions?) of dollars, an investment in an smaller budgeted, independent picture is a drop in the bucket for many advertisers.

Product placement and sponsorship are nothing new to the entertainment business and have been around even longer than motion pictures. What is new, is advertiser focus on smaller, independent pictures. Still, this seems to be more flash than substance since there is no business bang from advertiser investment in pictures without significant domestic (read: theatrical) distribution. In other words, independent producers without distribution (aka consumer reach) need not apply.

The Importance Of A US Theatrical Release

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I was catching up on my reading and caught this from one of Anne Thomson’s blog entries she wrote from Cannes last week. Thompson wrote that “[v]ideo drives everything. I know I’m supposed to already know this, but it really drives it home when you hear the would-be buyers discussing the way they put these deals together. They do crunch the numbers and when video doesn’t crunch for a black and white or foreign title, it doesn’t make people comfortable, no matter how much they love a movie.”

While I agree that video accounts for a substantial portion of the gross on pictures and I am sure that Anne and the people she speaks with know their stuff, video is (and has been) imploding in very much the way the music business is getting whacked with CD sales though for different reasons. Video is down because there is a great deal of content out there with no distribution – lots of supply vs. demand. CD sales reportedly have gone in the toilet due to online access to tunes though I understand there are other reasons for this as well.

The best way to maximize foreign sales – and increase the likelihood of covering a picture’s budget – is with a US theatrical release. If a client is trying to sell the foreign rights for a movie about paint drying or a smart, material-driven movie and the paint drying movie has a guaranteed US theatrical release, the buyers will usually if not always take the former over the latter.

Why this is so probably has more to do with the credibility Hollywood has over the movie going public the world over than the quality of the material. Higher movie revenues in foreign territories are generated by the consumer’s preference for titles released theatrically in the US. Back in the day, a producer could four-wall his movie and call it a US theatrical release to satisfy the conditions of a foreign sale. But foreign buyers won’t accept anything less than a genuine commitment from a distributor – even with a platform deal – to theatrically release the picture in the US.