On the 3rd of March 2013, it was reported in the Sunday Telegraph that Revolver, at one point the UK’s most prominent urban theatrical and home entertainment film distributor, had entered into administration. Commentators had cited that the West London outfit (established in 1997), which brought iLL Manors, Anuvahood and Exit Through the Giftshop (to name but 3) to the masses had failed to keep up with the cultural shift in how their content was being consumed and appreciated. A lot has happened since then as the wheels continue to turn and the face of distribution takes on a different look.
Fortunately for those who associate themselves within the British Urban Film fraternity, as one door remains firmly shut (literally), another door digitally opens. And although the traditional windows of distribution still remain a lucrative avenue for filmmakers (albeit via the middlemen) self-distribution then becomes a tempting proposition. Cometh the hour, cometh Ross Bispham. If there’s one individual (who previously worked at Revolver) who can put their finger on where we go from here regarding distribution and more importantly how everybody gets well paid in the process – then it’s most probably going to be Ross. With a team including Tom Westgate (who previously worked for the London Film Festival), Ignite Film Fans has been set up to fill the void which many believe to have existed in the 14 months since the house of cards that was Revolver, folded. So why should we care about Ross and his gang? Probably for the same reasons you continue to read this blog in your thousands. Writing exclusively for the British Urban Film Festival, here is this month’s edition of the BUFF blog from Ross Bispham…
The British film industry is currently in a very exciting place that is evolving at an incredible rate, presenting the perfect opportunity to introduce new production, distribution and audience involvement initiatives. For years, there have been many obstacles, which have kept film a virtually closed-off industry, available only for people with cash, the right connections or an indomitable obsession for success, but effectively closed to a huge number of highly talented people desperately attempting to nose their way in any which way they can.
However, I believe that trend is now changing and is no longer the norm. With the increasing popularity of open castings, crowd funding and fan development websites throughout the movie world, there are more independent films in production today than ever before. And all of them want a shot at the big time.
Working at Revolver Entertainment was an exciting and eye opening experience. With an abundance of arthouse and indie productions on its slate, Revolver won many awards for diverse and innovative release campaigns and strategies on films such as Mum and Dad, Iron Sky and Ill Manors. Through courage or fearlessness, some releases were highly successful, others not so. Yet my time there offered me an invaluable lesson when it comes to film distribution – timing is key, placement is important, but understanding and meeting the needs of your audience is paramount.
The rise of two aspects in the independent film world are particularly fascinating at this moment in time. The first is the phenomenal success of and response to crowd funding, not only as a concept, but also in its execution. The way in which it has been accepted and embraced by film makers and, of course, the general public has been pivotal to the ongoing development of film making as we know it. Secondly, it is incredibly refreshing to witness a new era of varying and daring release strategies across the board. From multi-platform releases to self-distribution, it never ceases to amaze each and every time someone is brave and determined enough to attempt a completely unique approach.
Crowd funding has come up with some unbelievable success stories in recent years. In 2012, the release of Iron Sky, which began life as a trailer in jest, raised in the region of £10million from a combination of crowd funding, contributions from private investors and the pre-sale of its distribution rights. It went on to become a global sensation, having sold in thirty three different territories to date and became the biggest straight to DVD release of the year in the UK, supported by a small multi-platform release. The resounding success of this film was predominantly thanks to the simply staggering amount of awareness and support it gathered while it was merely a concept and then throughout pre-production. This just goes to show how a great idea can pick up an absurd amount of steam.
Iron Sky was merely the beginning and this method of film financing has spread rapidly – now even utilised by the already rich and famous. Less than a year ago Zach Braff successfully raised over £2.7 million from over forty one thousand contributors for his new film Wish I Was Here.
This could be a sign that the public and movie lovers understand some of the plights faced by independent film makers and are keen to help. Crowd funding is possibly the first time in history that the man (or woman) in the street has been given the opportunity to get involved with productions at such an early stage in its development; an opportunity that many have shown to be willing to seize with both hands.
We already know that the landscape of film is drastically changing and it doesn’t stop with production. The way in which we all view our films is constantly evolving thanks to a host of new and innovative distribution strategies. From services such as the Netflix binge viewing culture to immersive cinema experiences the public are accepting of and relating to the opportunity to view content in new and innovative ways.
This is good news for the plethora of UK film makers who are desperate for their films to reach the audiences they deserve. The birth of self-distribution presents film makers with a fantastic abundance of different opportunities to get their work seen. Importantly, most of these new methods are very cheap.
With the rise of digital distribution, directors and producers no longer need to secure a distribution deal to allow them to showcase their film to the public. Red State was a prime example of this. The film was touted to be auctioned off to distributors at Sundance until director Kevin Smith instead announced he would hold on to the rights for it and take it on a national tour securing cinema runs and university screenings across America. The film was later released through the Lionsgate video on demand service, proving a film doesn’t need to follow the accepted norm to achieve profit and gain international sales.
Does this suggest an end to traditional cinema? No, not at all. We can all rest assured that the demand for seeing films on the big screen will not diminish – at least not for the time being. Studios will continue to produce and distribute blockbusters and independent distributors will continue to pick up and release arthouse films. Will the box office continue to bring in substantial profits? That remains to be seen. It would be fair to argue that film makers face a bigger battle with illegal downloading acting as a drain on their monetary success. And let us not forget that the cost of digital distribution is considerably less than that of traditional methods. All we can be certain of is that the times are changing, and if film makers do not keep up with and adhere to current technologies and trends then they will be sure to lose out.
The undeniable potential of digital distribution does not come without its risks however. As previously mentioned the number of independent films in production is currently higher than it has ever been. If all of these seek a digital release could that spell disaster? Film fans and movie goers are anything but in short supply, but how do you find your audience in a saturated market? And as a film buff yourself, how do you find a film you will really enjoy in an endless and confusing sea of potential alternatives? These are just two of the many questions to which Ignite Film Fans hopes to provide the answer to.
Ignite Film Fans’ mission is to help independent producers and film-makers across the United Kingdom to connect with their audience and build a dedicated fan base for their projects during development and production stages. In doing so, they will be able to translate this accumulated support into a tangible value and driving force to help them achieve their long term goals, be that film festival selection, obtaining further funding, or securing distribution. But there is a vital flip side to this. It is also essential that the fans get something back in return.
By signing up to Ignite Film Fans free service and offering their support to individual films and concepts, members of the public will be rewarded with exclusive content, fantastic offers and exciting competitions direct from the film-makers themselves. These include signed scripts, behind the scenes footage and exclusive artwork, as well as winning set visits, the chance to appear as an extra and tickets to screenings and premieres. Through creating this mutual relationship, film fans can get involved with the UK’s very best, exciting and innovative productions in a way never before possible and enjoy the drive and enthusiasm of a new generation of talented film-makers.
Ignite Film Fans are dedicated to supporting and showcasing the very best emerging talent and independent productions across the UK. By facilitating and mediating beneficial relationships between film makers, audiences, financiers and key industry figures it is possible to help them achieve their long term goals.
(c) Ross Bispham/British Urban Film Festival 2014. All rights reserved. Final submissions for the 2014 British Urban Film Festival close at 5.00pm, Monday 9 June. For full details go to http://www.britishurbanfilmfestival.co.uk/BUFF-SUBMISSIONS-2014