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Question in retrospect

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Aaron CadieuxQuestion in retrospect
by on Jan 28, 2015 at 2:57:08 pm

Hey guys,

So last year I sold a documentary film to a major cable network. I won't say which one, but it's one of the big boys. By the time our sales agent took his cut and other entities involved in the film got their cuts of the profits, I was left with what added up to a few mortgage payments. Not a lot. This was my first go-around with a network, and I had no leverage. However, I felt having a network approach us unsolicited was too good of a career opportunity to pass up. Here are some key facts about the film:

The film is 91 minutes, but will be cut down to a broadcast hour for the broadcast. The network is making the edits, and has full creative control.

The network only has the broadcast/TV rights to the film. We retain Blu-ray/DVD distribution rights and Internet streaming rights. We are hoping that the broadcast will drive people to our web site where they'll see that there is 45 minutes to the film they have not seen that is available on Blu-ray, DVD or streaming online.

Driving people to our web site will be tricky. The network is changing the title of the documentary, therefor, only people who take the time to research the film's subject matter will find their way to our web site. When Googling the subject matter of our film, our film comes up number 1 in Google's results.

Here's what I'm wondering. Being that I made so little money on the network deal, would I have been better off offering the following deal to the network? "You guys can have the film for free if providing you keep the original title, plug our film's web site and promote the fact that the film is available for purchase on Blu-ray and DVD."

For me the hope would be that the resulting Blu-ray, DVD and On-Demand sales would have been a better payoff for me in comparison to what I made on the network deal. Would the network have gone for something like that. Or would they still rather pay money for the film instead of getting it for free with conditions?

I am working on my next film, which the network will automatically look at. I am trying to learn what not to do the next time around. Your thoughts are appreciated.

Thanks guys.

Aaron



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walter biscardiRe: Question in retrospect
by on Jan 28, 2015 at 3:00:09 pm

[Aaron Cadieux] "Here's what I'm wondering. Being that I made so little money on the network deal, would I have been better off offering the following deal to the network? "You guys can have the film for free if providing you keep the original title, plug our film's web site and promote the fact that the film is available for purchase on Blu-ray and DVD.""

No leverage to even offer something like that. Regardless of whether it's free, they would probably change the title to best suit their marketing efforts.

DVD and BluRay sales probably won't net you much, at least in my opinion. You're better off approaching Hulu / Netflix / Amazon / Google Play / iTunes to make additional money on the digital distribution. This should all count as internet rights though I would definitely have a lawyer check the contract to make sure they don't control the digital streaming rights.

Walter Biscardi, Jr.
Editor, Colorist, Director, Writer, Consultant, Author, Chef.
HD Post and Production
Biscardi Creative Media

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Aaron CadieuxRe: Question in retrospect
by on Jan 28, 2015 at 3:28:29 pm

Walter,

Thanks for your response. What I meant was that, in retrospect, one of the conditions we would have required is that in order for us to give them the film for free, they would have to agree not to change the title. But from your response I'm guessing that they'd rather pay for our film in order to change the title rather than get our film for free with conditions attached.

Our lawyer was involved in looking over the contract during the negotiations. As I said, we retain the full rights to streaming/digital download. The network gets TV and TV only for four years. They also cannot use our documentary as part of another series or show. They also cannot use pieces of our documentary as b-roll for another series or show.

It's too bad that you don't think our Blu-ray and DVD sales will increase. I was really counting on that.

Best,

Aaron



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Aaron CadieuxRe: Question in retrospect
by on Jan 28, 2015 at 3:31:34 pm

Walter,

Also, we are finding that Netflix is a tough nut to crack. I've heard that there is no way to solicit Netflix and that you have to wait for them to come to you. Not sure how true this is. The sad thing is, I have seen films from the same genre as ours on Netflix, and ours is of a higher quality and many of those other films never inked a deal with a network.

Got any tips for landing a Netflix deal?

Got any tips for getting in Redbox?

Best,

Aaron



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Todd TerryRe: Question in retrospect
by on Jan 28, 2015 at 3:57:21 pm

Hi Aaron...

I'm with Walter, if I'm reading what I think he is saying correctly...

I don't think a network would have taken that deal, had you offered it. If the payment was that low it was probably peanuts to them, and the value of them retaining creative control and the name change would be far greater to them than they spent to purchase the rights. I don't think you would have had any leverage to insist on title retention, nor do I think they would have been willing to drive traffic to your website. Now of course that's just a guess, but I think at least a semi-educated one.

Now, here after the fact... is there any reason (such as being legally prohibited) that you cannot change the name of your film to the name the network is using? That would at least let you piggyback off their marketing and provide some continuity and name recognition, and if someone were to Google it they would have an infinitely better chance of finding your original film.

I know what I'm suggesting probably sounds like blasphemy... and you think you have already named the film what it really should be named and the network suits should have stuck with the original title because it is the best one. BUT... they just might know what they are doing. It very well could be that their new title is much more viewer friendly, marketable, and attractive to potential watchers than the one you have. Filmmakers should really rarely if ever do their own marketing, because it's really a completely different area of expertise.

I think I've told this story here before under very similar circumstances..... I have a friend here, Homer Hickam, who years ago wrote a wonderful autobiographical novel, "Rocket Boys." Universal bought the novel and made a pretty darn good movie of it. But... one of the first things they did was change the name to "October Sky." Their marketing gurus (and probably focus groups) felt that "Rocket Boys" sounded like a film that would primarily appeal to teenage guys, whereas "October Sky" would have a much wider appeal and put more butts in the seats. He's never told me so, but I'm betting Homer thinks "Rocket Boys" is a better title (so do I). But... he cashed the check, moved on, and if he wants to complain about it now he can do it with beautiful views from his well-deserved island vacation home on St. John. Sometimes it's good just to get over it.

Sometimes an author's (or filmmaker's) title isn't the best one. A couple of examples (two from Stephen King)... "The Shawshank Redemption" is more marketable than "Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption," and "Stand By Me" is a much better (and more appropriate for the film) title than "The Body."

"The Hudsucker Proxy" is a wonderful film, but I personally think it tanked (or at least didn't do very well) in part because it had, in my opinion, a really terrible title from a marketing standpoint.

T2

__________________________________
Todd Terry
Creative Director
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.
fantasticplastic.com



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Mark SuszkoRe: Question in retrospect
by on Jan 28, 2015 at 4:58:30 pm

Aaron, I think you did the best you could the first time out, and you should be proud of your achievement. Maybe refer to your version of this as the Extended Director's Cut? IMDB often seems to list movies along with their alternate titles, can your marketing do that as well? Then both names stay linked in searches and SEO?

One way you could goose your DVD sales would be to buy some air time during the premiere broadcast of their version, to plug "The Extended Director's Cut Collector's Master Version, with 30 percent more bonus material,and more, now available at home!" with an 800 fulfillment number and/or web address. A&E Networks,Discovery, TBS and PBS are not shy at all about such self-promotion.


For your next, bigger production, maybe build in a "free" time buy "trade-out" as part of the overall contract, especially if they don't want to pay you a lot? Think vertical integration, baby! :-)


Smile: you're already accomplishing more than many of us ever get to do! And look for inspiration to the string of successful projects by such master Movie Making Businessmen as Roger Corman. You don't need to make one mega-blockbuster; if you can make a living on a string of little successes, it's all good!


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walter biscardiRe: Question in retrospect
by on Jan 28, 2015 at 5:09:26 pm

[Aaron Cadieux] "Got any tips for landing a Netflix deal?"

You need to go through an agent or production company who has already secured deals with Netflix. They're out there.

Walter Biscardi, Jr.
Editor, Colorist, Director, Writer, Consultant, Author, Chef.
HD Post and Production
Biscardi Creative Media

Craft and Career Advice & Training from real Working Creative Professionals

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Andrew KimeryRe: Question in retrospect
by on Jan 28, 2015 at 9:08:55 pm

First off, congrats on finishing the project and getting distribution.

I agree with Mark that putting out a DVD/Blu-ray with a lot of bonus content is the best way to make it attractive to customers.

Also, like Walter said, to get onto streaming VOD (like Netflix) you need a company that already has a relationship in place. On a doc I cut a few years ago on Lenny Bruce (**shameless plug** called "Looking for Lenny" **shameless plug**) we partnered with Gravitas Ventures. They took their cut of course but they are good to work with (a couple of people I know have gone with them and been happy about the experience). Just don't expect a windfall of cash.

Unless you are huge (like a movie studio) Netflix pays peanuts. Your best bet, in terms of financial return, is iTunes because it is the biggest pay-per-view streaming service. Netflix will give you a flat amount whether your doc is view 1 time or 1 million times. It kinda sucks because Netflix has the biggest audience and I don't think very many people will pay to rent/own content from iTunes if they can stream it from Netflix. You can add bonus content to iTunes now to make that digital purchase more appealing, of course the tough part is still getting someone that watched it on Netflix and liked it over to iTunes where the extra content is for sale.

IMO to be successful as a little guy you need to start a social media campaign at the beginning of the project (blog, tweet, etc., regular updates about every up and down of the process) so that years later, when the project is done, you've curated a group of core fans that want to evangelize about your project, want to buy the super-special edition DVDs, and want to follow you onto your next endeavor.


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