The Film Collaborative explores nonprofit distribution
Orly Ravid says that she began The Film Collaborative after becoming acutely aware of the layers of middlemen who can, in the name of “distribution,” be the buffers between a filmmaker and his or her chance of making some money.
Ravid, who studied film at Columbia University, had spent a decade in the world of traditional film distribution, even as the world of traditional film shifted significantly.
And so was born TFC, Ravid’s effort to create a nonprofit distribution company that can help filmmakers move their work to deserving audiences and still come away with some compensation. She is founder and co-executive director (with Jeffrey Fabian Winter; David Averbach serves as creative director).
Based in Los Angeles, TFC works with two assumptions. First, that the traditional distribution pipeline for independent films has largely collapsed, and second, that filmmakers deserve to retain the rights on their work.
In some ways, it’s an oxymoronic phrase – “nonprofit distribution.” We did have a for-profit company that we did operate as we do the Collaborative, which is not taking rights, taking very low fees, and being in partnership with filmmakers and not owners of their film. As a nonprofit we can be up for a grant, to do a series of films that are not inherently commercial enough to get traditional distribution. We can help filmmakers make their money back if a lot of the money isn’t going to a middleman, or lawyers who are charging more than the filmmaker can afford. We can justify it in a way that we’re not charging a lot from the filmmakers, but we’re making up for that through donation and sponsorship.
TFC takes donations through Paypal, has done some funding efforts through IndieGoGo and has members ships ranging from “contributor” to “conspirator” to “teammate.” The films on the roster include shorts, fictional features and documentaries such as Kimberly reed’s “Prodigal Sons.”
We’ve been officially launched since March, and right now we’re waiting on a grant to do, theatrically, a film series of films directed by women, so that’s the kind of thing we do to find money to allocate to films that wouldn’t otherwise find distribution, so that filmmakers don’t have to finance distribution themselves.
We do a whole bunch of different services. Sometimes it’s a consultation. Sometimes we’re doing the festival distribution, talking to people about having films screen in their festivals.
The way TFC works with film festivals is an interesting example of the groundshift in the way films move into the world.
We do charge rental fees from festivals. The A-list festivals don’t pay, but the way we see it is that your film might have a big brand of its own, if you the filmmaker, or the subject of the film, has its own brand. But the brand gets more elevated and gets more publicity when you show it publicly – if either the festival or you do the job of making that happen.
A filmmaker needs a festival as much as a festival needs a film. It’s the cheapest way to see how audiences react to your film, to get publicity and marketing around your film, and frankly as a standard of legitimacy to separate your film out from other films. Certainly, digital platforms and cable look for those signifiers.
TFC takes a 15 percent cut of digital distribution (and encoding and marketing costs that are negotiated in advance with the filmmakers).
We’re constantly expanding the digital platforms we’re doing direct distribution to. The way we function is we play a lot of different roles, and wear a lot of different hats depending on the needs of the film. Sometimes we behave as a producer’s rep. We’ve done some films where there’s a traditional deal going on, but we’re doing it very nontraditionally. And then there are other times when we’ll do direct distribution, inclusive of digital, which is obviously emerging for us.
While the big theater chains are the stuff of studio films, more attention is paid to the many art houses and independent cinemas.
I’m meeting with one theater that has an initiative about connecting with other theaters; Emerging Pictures has done that and there are other companies looking at that. AMC has its independent initiative, and Landmark. Then there are organizations like the Northwest Film Forum that don’t have an official linkage between theaters but book with a cluster of theaters.
To me, the most important next step is that the theatrical concept of getting book for a week with four or five shows a day and trying to get a crowd in, is just silly. We’re looking for ways of getting the benefit of theatrical, which at the end of the day can just be getting reviewed and getting awareness of your film, but for a fraction of the cost.
Publicity is key, as more films flood the market. In particular, documentaries may have a solid audience interested in the topic; letitng them know about it in the shifting media landscape presents difficulties and opportunities.
The journalists are few and far between unless your at Cannes, and the space they have to write is shrinking, and online there’s just too much noise for that kind of press to mean as much as you’d like it to. Everybody wants a New York Times or Los Angeles Times review. Even the New York Times doesn’t want to cover a film that’s just opening in New York; they’re mandated to cover films that have wider releases.
The emphasis is on community, including a page called The Film Collaborators,” which TFC would like to see become a “Facebook for Filmmakers.”