It's not always easy for the smaller companies to survive against the conglomerate studio system but several companies here have made successes.
Leomark Studios, headed by composer Erik Ludmark and Maria Collis, do just about everything from production to distribution. They even can help with financing films with their own investors. "We are interested in a wide diversity of films not just low budget horror. WE want something that is well crafted which will grab the emotions of the audience and are tired of the found footage homemade type films. If we like it, we will develop a script with the notes. They currently have a Western in pre-production and they found that it's important to have at least one name in your film. Something, like a Western, which requires expensive horses, need the bigger budget. If you have a name, almost anything goes. Right now, they are finding that action pictures and thrillers are still the biggest sell. Comedy, unless it's outrageous like Hangover or American Pie, doesn't sell without a strong cast. Some buyers won't even hear pitches for the later." Most of the pictures they do are between 1-3 million.
A composer and producer, Erik didn't like the deals he was getting from distributors and decided to do his own. As distributors, despite being only a year and a half old, they sell their products world wide. "A producer knows they are getting an honest deal here. Since we also create content, we know what it takes to sell it." He tells producers to know your genre and the marketing for your film. Understand that there needs to be money put behind it, or it will be buried, especially with the larger companies. Many distributors will ask for up front fees, plus expenses, to take your film on. You don't want to go with them. "While some places will charge a retainer fee, we don't charge unless you approve expenses a head of time and while we do supply some P &A for the films, you have to understand to put some money aside for the selling of the film. Make sure your distributor knows that there's a cap on the expenses, but filmmakers have to understand that advertising is a big expense.
"If you want to succeed at filmmaking, you have to be practical. Understands what sells and doesn’t sell and while you should film from your passion, know that straight artistic expression isn't going to make the buyers notice. Wait til you make a name for yourself, then you can go with the artistic film.
One of their recent success at the market is Blue Collar Boys, written, directed and edited, by young filmmaker Mark Nistico. The story of the economy, of construction workers being shafted and families struggling to stay together, the film was awarded best microbudget film in Toronto. "One of my biggest mistakes," says Mark, "was not being fully prepared to shoot. You need a powerful infrastructure to keep a film afloat, especially if you are working on a tight budget. Know that investors will want you to shoot earlier than you are ready. They want to see the film out and making money. Don't be rushed." He had 40 locations in the 27 day shoot and made the film for $75,000.
Located in the western San Fernando Valley, Fries Films, run by Alice and Charles Fries (yes, they're related to the great Chuck Fries of TV fame) do production, sales agent and distribution, as well.
Their current slate includes a female action thriller post apocalyptic, a Western, family drama and thrillers. Another is Meeting Spencer, which won best screenplay at the Miami Film Festival. "Diversity is what the buyers today want," says Alice. They just recently did a Pinocchio in 3D, which has been favorably accepted. "Family films almost always do well. It's the universal connection for everyone.
Rex Media by Romania born Geroge Lascu lauds the budget cutting production facilities in Romania. "I can shoot there for half of what it takes here and the crews, having done numerous films already, are quite professional. His favorite films are fantasy and adventure. Among the current offerings he has are a sci fi thriller "Photica" and "Five Dogs of War," staring Andy Garcia, Sharon Stone, Val Kilmer and Heather Graham. "Yes, it's possible to get the stars, if you have a good script. The difference between going straight to DVD and having a theatrical release is often the cast."
David Suarez of Ytinifini Pictures also found that he needed a distributor that he could trust and, after producing several pictures, began to do his own thing. He deals a lot with the Chinese as they are an ever expanding market. "Of course, the story has to have something culturally Chinese within the script for them to want to do it. Every movie is very different and every deal is different. Some things you can do pre-sales with and some you cannot. Everything has to make sense from the business plan and the script to the cast and the director." He urges filmmakers, when doing their business plans, to be sure to mention comparables. Working as both a sales agent and a distributor, he makes deals film by film. His tastes are diverse from thriller and horror, to family, adventure, martial arts, comedy, psycho drama and sci fiction.
A slightly bigger company, TriCoast Worldwide, they, nevertheless, have to fight the conglomerate studio giants. Run by Marcy and Strath Hamilton, the company has been around for 27 years and while they like all genres, they are especially fond of family fare. "Christmas movies also do well." "We are producers, but we do finance, co-production and like to have our hand in the casting choices." They, too, started off as just producers and realized that they had to be distributors, as well. As far as being distributors, Marcy says, "We are transparent is all our dealings. We're happy to show all contracts and give referrals" (Something that's very important…doing your due diligence.) "We want to be able to give our investors their money back and then some. In fact, we won't take on a film unless we can pay the investor back." While they see dozens of scripts, they are very selective on what they take on because they want to make sure they have buyers for the films.
Another successful small company is Cinetel run by Paul Hertzberg. He tells producers to be sure that the distributor you are choosing actually handles films in your genre. Look at their track records and see what they have sold and to whom. He advises producers always to have collection accounts when dealing with distributors. It keeps everyone honest. "And make sure you have a good attorney." Paul likes high concept horror and thriller as well as action and disaster films. Produce what the market is buying, at least until you make a name for yourself. Be realistic. Don't think that just because you have made a film that it deserves a theatrical release. Those are reserved for films with great subject matter and good casts.