Thursday, December 04, 2014

DISTRIBUTION: Warp X's Le Donk + Scor-zay-zee

Use the tag cloud to find more on distribution
KEY POINT: Cinemas continue to insist on an exclusive release window as home cinema would otherwise eat substantially into their prospects, and they have gone as far as threatening to boycott a blockbuster Disney movie when they tried to reduce this window. Frankly, they will care little what an Indie micro-budget production does, and the 'cinema release' was really a marketing stunt by Warp to attract newspaper reviews!
Scroll to the end of the post for a short list of all key points. 
Impressively, Warp secured distribution in several foreign markets, such as Norway. Note how Meadows and his previous movies are highlighted as a key selling point.

Le Donk and Scor-Zay-Zee (Meadows, 2009) is an interesting counter-example of what we conventionally see. Okay, so this micro-budget Indie (just £48k, it launched Meadows' 'five day film' concept which, at the time of release, several other well-known directors expressed an interest in, though it doesn't really seem to have taken off in the way Dogme 95 - Lars von Trier etc - once did) got limited cinematic release.

All warp trailers are embedded in 1 post tagged distribution!
Lets be clear - the vast bulk of Indie productions simply fail to get any cinematic release; almost all are straight-to-DVD or, in the worst case scenario (as the DVD release window should come before the TV release window, which can itself be split between terrestrial, satellite and streaming) straight-to-TV (maybe made-for-TV).

By the way, Working Title's debut production, My Beautiful Laundrette, started out as a made-for-TV film, but when it got a screening at the Edinburgh International Film Festival (EIFF) and the critics raved about it, a swift decision was made to fund a cinematic release, from which it made a modest but significant profit, and WT would grow from this small success (including a US release).

There are no figures for Le Donk's box office, which usually suggests there was no cinematic release. It is not alone in Warp productions in getting a very, very limited cinema release, presumably a premiere and some limited London screenings.

What is noteworthy about this is the release window:

This seems odd...

Cinemas insist on a wide release window (gap) between cinema screenings and DVD or TV release/exhibition, to ensure they can maximise their box office receipts - why bother paying a tenner a head if a £10 DVD is due out straightaway and you can watch it on your own home cinema setup, with popcorn that doesn't cost a small fortune?!

Warp managed quotes from The Times, Loaded + Esquire
So ... why on earth did the distributors for Le Donk go for a strategy with such an exceptionally short release window? Basically, they recognised the extreme unlikelihood of Le Donk becoming a breakthrough hit showing on 100s of screens in the multiplexes*. They calculated that any cinema release, even if on just ONE screen, would boost the prospects of getting reviews in newspapers, magazines, e-zines, blogs, TV shows etc. A DVD release is less of an 'event' and the odds of getting coverage are lower than for a cinematic release.

* See the BBC December 2013 feature, Does it matter that only 7% of British films make a profit?, for a lot of useful detail on the ins and outs of the industry, plus my post summarising the latest annual BFI report into the UK film industry.

It was actually self-distributed! There was no real cinema release, but the DVD was distributed by Warp Films Home Entertainment. Digitisation is increasing the prospect of even Indies pursuing vertical integration (where production, distribution and exhibition are all handled within a single company or conglomerate).
For a basically brilliant overview of how distribution actually works, especially for Indies, see this Sundance guide!!!!

When I was chatting to the box office staff at the National Media Museum after a Friday screening of '71, the latest Warp Films production, they noted that the small audience would most likely increase on Saturday ... because the Guardian carried a review. Film festivals can be very significant, as MBL showed, but so too can coverage and reviews in the media.

Le Donk's distributors decided to focus efforts on the DVD release, which is where Indie films typically make most (if any!) of their money (alongside TV sales), but sought wider publicity than a DVD-only release would bring by cutting a cinematic trailer and having a limited cinematic release.


In theory, digitisation levels the playing field - the Indie can now compete with the studio. VOD means the Indie can now not only self-distribute, with marketing through their own website and social media, but also handle exhibition: streaming or downloads through their own (or a third party) website, and postal orders for DVDs, with the option of extras such as autographs.
A rare example of unique Warp web material!

However, keeping social media content engaging and making it enticing in the first place requires expensive web designers and hiring skilled practitioners to keep replying to audience interaction and adding fresh content. For Paul Working Title went beyond the role of producer by adding their own marketing material, and it was notable that there were Facebook groups in more than one language - again, an expensive undertaking. We've also seen Hot Fuzz Pacman and Shaun of the Dead Space Invaders, again, fairly expensive.
On the whole, Warp aren't great at this; their website is heavily pitched on the music releases, with very few extras beyond links to interviews and reviews.
However, they did add one neat feature for Le Donk ... an ability to generate a le Donk Christmas card! When I checked on it today, though, the link was dead; the web design agency haven't maintained the content.
Here's a screen recording of what is on the Warp page for Le Donk.

In a separate post I'll consider why this worked for an Indie film, but caused near-disaster for a big 6 tentpole...

Quite a long post, so here's a short summary.

  • Indie films struggle to get any distribution, never mind theatrical distribution.
  • Cinema exhibitors insist on a lengthy exclusive release window between cinema and DVD.
  • Le Donk's cinema 'release' was 9th October, the DVD release 26th October; this would not have been permitted by cinemas if it was a release with any likelihood of hitting multiple screens.
  • This mico-budget film had no real chance of box office success; the cinema release was effectively a stunt to boost hopes of getting print reviews. It worked: Times, Esquire, Loaded are quoted on posters/DVD.
  • It managed to get a release in several foreign markets, including Norway (M.East all media (Front Row Filmed Entertainment), US TV VOD (Independent Film Channel (IFC)), Australia DVD (Madman Entertainment)).
  • The UK release was self-distributed! Digitisation means that even Indies can now think about vertical integration.
  • We also saw horizontal integration with the inclusion of the Arctic Monkeys, a Warp Records act, in the film (the AM singer would also score Submarine).

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