Tag Archives: Ben Niles

Theatrical screenings

While it is still the hope of every filmmaker we know that their film will be seen on the big screen, very often they do not have a clear idea of the work and money involved in making this happen. They also do not have an idea of the kind of revenue (or lack thereof) these screenings will generate. There are a few passages in the book that address this topic and the many ways filmmakers are screening their films.

This first piece is from Ben Niles, director of Note by Note. After Ben had taken the film back from his sales agent, he set about looking for a theatrical distributor.

I was trying to find an indie distributor and I was getting pretty frustrated because these people that I was told were indie distributors still wanted me to spend $50,000 to$75,000. They wanted me to get a 35mm print; they wanted a ton of money for P and A, and I said, ‘I guess I’m missing it, because that’s not indie to me.’

Ben met with Jim Brown from Argot Pictures and they agreed on a monthly fee for Jim to book the film theatrically. The successful Film Forum screening was crucial, because theaters across the US look to NY box office figures to see what might be good to book locally.

Jim and I worked out a guaranteed three-month deal to see if he could get any traction for the film, and then we would step back and renegotiate if everybody was happy. Well, we renegotiated like within six weeks. The phone wasringing off the hook.

Within the first year, they had 50 theatrical and 20 alternative theatrical dates grossing $100,000.

Since the New York theatrical was done at Film Forum, who provided the publicist, Ben was able to keep the costs of the theatrical release very low. He spent a total of $4,500 on publicists in LA, SF and Chicago, which Ben thought was very effective and a wise spend. He also spent $3,000 on print ads, (which Ben considered a waste of money [but is often required by the theaters]), and $500 on dubs.

Case study The Best and the Brightest had an interesting theatrical release partly through Emerging Pictures.  Jon Reiss explains Emerging’s model

Emerging Pictures has a relationshipwith about 100 theaters nationwide, in which they can deliver a digital “print/file” for no cost. In other words, they have eliminated all print costs (even BluRay) and created a network of theaters that are connected to audiences. In addition, if you have a live event after your screening, Emerging can net-cast this to any of their member theaters. All this costs is $1000 encoding fee and 70% of the box office; the filmmaker keeps the other 30%.

Here is more about Best’s theatrical screenings:

“New Video [the film’s DVD distributor] and Weiser [the film’s producer] engaged Marian Koltai-Levine of PMK to create a theatrical release for the film in New York and Los Angeles (Miami also came on board as part of Baldwin’s sneak previews) for a fee of $50,000. New Video put up 50% of this fee,which included around $20,000 for print ads. The 50K also included the four-wall fees for the theaters in NY and Los Angeles. It made sense for Best to spend this money because they had stars in the film. Hence, they would get reviews as well as other forms of national press, such as Neil Patrick Harris on Conan O’Brien, Amy Sedaris on Letterman and John Hodgman on The Daily Show, among others. Total gross for opening weekend—$4,771—hence the per screen average for NY/LA: $2,385.50. Weiser told us, ‘There was no expectation of making our money back from the theatrical itself, but we hope it will all impact the bottom line DVD/VOD/digital sales.’ Koltai-Levine was also able to get Emerging Pictures on board to continue the theatrical into about 30 to 40 additional cities.”

The chapter on Adventures of Power demonstrates the work, expense and risk of theatrical screenings.

“Ari hired Dylan Marchetti’s company Variance Films to do the theatrical release and he worked with Range Life on the event/semi-theatrical.

Did you do traditional theatrical, and if so, how much time did you spend to set it up?

Ari: I spent about four months setting it up.

How much did you spend on the theatrical?

Ari: $150,000. [he thinks that $20,000 went to prints.]

How long was the theatrical run?

Ari: About six weeks.

How many cities were full-week runs?

Ari: Eight.

In how many cities did you have alternative theatrical screenings?

Ari: 15.

According to Box Office Mojo, the film grossed just $17, 419. Ari still feels like it helped by generating publicity and awareness for the film for the ancillaries.

How much did you spend to book your alternative theatrical release?

Ari: $1,500.

How much did you gross on your alternative theatrical release?

Ari: $800.

To read more in depth about how each case booked their screenings, worked to promote them and how they felt about the service providers they hired to work with, read Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul.

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Book Trailer

At long last, our book trailer is live. Thanks to filmmakers Casper Andreas, Nicolas Alcala, Ari Gold, Hunter Weeks, Nina Paley, Ben Niles, Josh Bernhard and Bracey Smith for allowing us to do video interviews. The full interviews with them will be available in the iBook premium version releasing on September 13, 2011.

Ben Niles Talks About Note by Note

One of Jon’s chapters concerns the film Note by Note, a documentary about the making of a Steinway concert grand #L1037 piano from forest floor to concert hall. The film was completed in 2006 when the talk of internet distribution and social media marketing of films had hardly begun. Back then, the conventional route of getting a sales agent, premiering at a major film festival like Sundance or Toronto to start a bidding war of offers was all the rage (some still think this is the way things are done) and it was the way Niles envisioned how the distribution of his film would go. But it didn’t happen. While he did secure a sales agent, Note by Note was not accepted into the big festivals  that agents use to launch a title into the market and his sales agent’s interest waned. He knew he had to take matters into his own hands lest his film completely die.

Note by Note partnered up with the Steinway Company

Since the Steinway company plays a big role in the film, Niles found a way to incorporate their enthusiasm into a workable relationship to help promote Note by Note.

“There are hundreds [of Steinway dealers] around the country. The film was done and we had just screened it as a courtesy to the executives at Steinway and they were very happy with the film.  They approached us and said they wanted to show it to the dealers at the dealer meeting in California. I didn’t even know they had a dealer meeting, but of course I was happy to do it. Once we screened it, that really unleashed a wonderful resource of finding new fans for the film because every single one of the dealers asked ‘when can I get my hands on this film, how can we help you promote it?’

As a filmmaker I was nervous about that because I didn’t set out to make a film to promote the Steinway company or to promote a Steinway piano. I fell in love with the story for many different reasons. I was reticent about joining forces with them because I wanted the film to be objective and I wanted to maintain my sense of control. But I couldn’t deny the fact that these people could reach our audience very easily. We never asked the Steinway company for any kind of funding. I knew if we did that, if we crossed that line, people wouldn’t take the film seriously. It was the first question from every critic, ‘did they fund this in any way?’ and when I said no, the interview would continue.

We premiered at the Hamptons Film Festival in New York and we called the Steinway company and asked if they wanted to be involved. They brought the piano out from the film, with a pianist to play it and they catered it and we had an aftershow party. It was a big success and it really set the model for other festivals and theatrical screenings from that point forward. They started moving the piano around [the one from the film] to over 20 cities. Denver, Dallas, San Francisco, Florida, we would call the dealer and say where we would be screening the film and ask if they wanted to team up and do this event. They did it very tastefully it, it wasn’t like a ‘Steinway Presents’ type of thing.  We had a lot of autonomy and the theaters were happy and the dealers were happy. They are still doing it. Now that it is airing on PBS, if it airs in say Phoenix, they get in touch with the Phoenix affiliate and try to do a private screening.”

To hear more about Note by Note’s theatrical and community screenings distribution strategy including the revenue it generated, read Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul Presented by PreScreen coming in September 2011. Also ‘like’ ourFacebook page.