At AFF this weekend, I had conversations with several writer-directors who had read my earlier appraisal of the frustrating state of independent film distribution, and my experience with The Nines. One director of a college comedy (whose name and film escape me, unfortunately) was planning to do a get-in-the-van tour with Todd Sklar of Box Elder. Probably a smart choice for his film and audience.

Others had different plans and questions. And while I didn’t have any new answers, I wanted to share some of what’s going on.

First up: Splinter, which looks to be a straightforward and stylish creature horror movie. Director Toby Wilkins made the film for Magnolia Pictures, which is distributing it theatrically and via HD on demand. (In fact, the on-demand version is available right now.)

Here’s the trailer:

While it won’t be getting a big theatrical push — and there’s no point expanding it after Halloween — I bet this will do reasonably well for everyone involved. Horror fans are fairly easy to reach through genre sites and publications, and the mix of theatrical and video-on-demand creates a national release in advance of the DVD. Wilkins and writer Ian Shorr (a USC grad) will get more exposure than many horror filmmakers, who often find themselves hitting a few festivals before the movie eventually comes out on DVD, nearly forgotten from its earlier hype.

But will they get any more money? Hard to say. Since Magnolia has a relationship with HDNet, where they can theoretically show the movie as much as they want, is there the same motivation to squeeze every cent out of video, both in the U.S. and overseas? Time will tell. I was very hands-off with The Nines when it came to international video, which is part of the reason the DVD just came out last month in Australia. 1

summerhoodAnother filmmaker I spoke with was Jacob Medjuck, whose film Summerhood has gotten a steady string of festival awards. It’s a summer camp comedy with John Cusack and Christopher McDonald, but it’s the little kid who (appropriately) seems to be the potential break-out star.((Note to all indie filmmakers: embrace embedding for your trailers.))

Jacob is trying to figure out what to do next in terms of distribution. Whereas Splinter was an easy sell based on genre, Summerhood is what we call “execution-dependent.” That is, in order to be worth something, Summerhood has to be better-than-good; Splinter just has to be competent. (For the record, I haven’t seen either movie.)

In a perfect world, Summerhood would sell to a distributor like Fox Searchlight, who could make it the next Juno. Or at least the next Waitress. But if that hasn’t happened yet, I would take all offers seriously, even if they’re really for TV and video rights. If a Magnolia-like company wants to do a day-and-date video/theatrical experiment, consider it. If iTunes gets an indie program going, try that.

Jacob wisely asked how he should be proportioning his time between working for his movie and working for his career. In truth, he should probably be splitting it 50/50 — but doing it with such intensity that it’s 100/100. He can probably get into 40 more film festivals this year, and if he has the inclination, he should. Festivals are probably his best bet for getting people to see his work on the big screen, and his persistence will lead to some good contacts along the way.

Both Toby and Jacob are evidently blog-readers, so I’m hoping they’ll jump in to answer any questions or comments that come up.

  1. Ballast director Lance Hammer dropped out of a similar-sounding deal with IFC when the dollars involved were just too low, ultimately choosing to self-distribute. But Magnolia apparently invested in Splinter from the start, so their investment is likely quite a bit higher.