SXSW Panel: Arthouse Awakening: Indie Distribution Today

What's the future of cinema amid a landscape of streaming services?

(l-r) Richard Matson, Ryan Krivoshey, Michael Rosenberg, and Elizabeth Sheldon
(l-r) Richard Matson, Ryan Krivoshey, Michael Rosenberg, and Elizabeth Sheldon (Photo by Marjorie Baumgarten)

Who chooses to leave the house when it’s possible to just sit at home and stream movies from the comfort of your couch? And what are the things filmmakers should consider when contrasting the value of distribution via brick-and-mortar cinemas vs. on-demand streaming? Experienced distribution representatives reviewed the options.

Moderator Elizabeth Sheldon, COO of Bond/360, began the conversation by noticing that arthouses recently seemed to be multiplying, not just in New York where she lives, but nationally. Ryan Krivoshey, founder and president of Grasshopper Film, and Richard Matson, The Orchard VP of distribution, both concurred on the new opportunities for booking flexibility afforded by near-universal digital projection in the arthouse theatres. Krivoshey noted how that initial burst of media notice and word of mouth helps a film get greater attention than a streaming release might. Matson pointed out that a theatrical run validates your movie, not only for an Oscar-qualifying run but as an object of value worth leaving the house to see. All noted a bit of an age difference in attendance: Older patrons tend to bring the numbers to arthouse offerings, while younger viewers tend to book films for special, one-off screenings. Michael Rosenberg, president of Film Movement, debunked the theory of the long tail in distribution, and all the panelists heartily agreed, dispelling the widely held belief in the longevity of niche films, declaring that the long tail may exist but it gets skinnier and skinnier over time. Launching a film with a big initial promotional push has greater long-term value.

Another thing the panelists all agreed on is that the purpose of the theatrical run is not necessarily about making a profit. Money can be made in the ancillary streams: selling and renting to online streaming services, as well as airlines, prisons, libraries, etc. All were also in accord that day-and-date releases benefit no one, distributors or filmmakers. The panelists helped clarify the conundrum facing filmmakers lucky enough to be deciding between a big-figure sale to a streaming service where they will never know how many people view their films or a lower bid from a conventional distributor. “It depends on your definition of success,” they concurred.

Arthouse Awakening: Indie Distribution Today

Saturday, March 11, Austin Convention Center

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