By lance weiler, January 21st, 2008

The news of deals being struck is beginning to filter out of Park City. But behind the deal making that has become legendary is the reality of having to deliver the film. Long after the buzz has dwindled producers will start the long haul of delivery. For some outlets it can be minor but for others it can be a labyrinth that will take money from you at every turn.

It tends to be a dry subject but is critical to the sale and distribution of your film. This is especially true if you intend to have some type of traditional theatrical, VOD, TV or foreign distribution. Tani Cohen is an established producer who has delivered numerous narrative and documentary films. This is the first in a series of articles that will attempt to demystify the delivery process.

Tani reports – What is required for delivering your film can vary from company to company. Some smaller companies may require as few as a dozen items where the studios can demand anywhere from 40 to 75 items. The best thing a filmmaker can do is be vigilant while making their film. If possible, the first thing you want to do is hire a production attorney and have them review all the possible documents you may need to compile over the course of production and post. Have your production attorney do as many of the agreements as possible. If you cannot afford an attorney, at the least, try to have an attorney review whatever agreements you create (writer, director, actors, crew deals…)

I think what often happens is that pre-production and production can be so all consuming that things can easily slip through the cracks and then months later (when you are fortunate enough to be in a position to deliver your film), you are scrambling to gather all the documents required.

Another important thing to do is have a script clearance report done before you start shooting. This is a service that will read and break down the script and flag any items that may present a legal conflict. This can include character names, locations, artwork, music, copyrighted material, and product identification… Usually the report will recommend changes and contact information to obtain the proper legal clearances.

Your production coordinator should keep files of all these agreements and build a production folder as part of their wrap. Of course there are many post-production requirements that will be required and usually your post-production supervisor (or you) will track these items.

In additional to the legal delivery items, you will deliver your film and sound elements. Delivery requirements can range from a 35mm answer print to a digital master (or both) depending if you finish on film or a digital format. The film items can include your original picture negative, interpositive, internegaive, optical soundtrack negative and your soundtrack masters. Depending on the company, they will give you specs of what digital format they want and how they want the master delivered, along with the audio specs. There are a variation of sound elements and audio technical specs that may be required; again it depends on the company and format required.

Below is a list of 40 plus possible legal delivery requirements; (They are broken down by items that can be compiled during production, postproduction and/or both.)

LEGAL DELIVERY ITEMS

PRODUCTION

1. WRITERS AGREEMENT
2. UNDERLYING RIGHTS AGREEMENT (chain of title documents)
3. FORM PA (US copyright registration form)
4. SCRIPT CLEARANCE REPORT
5. FORMATION OF PRODUCTION COMPANY DOCUMENT
6. DGA AND WGA SIGNATORY AGREEMENTS (if applicable)
7. SAG SIGNATORY AGREEMENT
8. PRINCIPAL CAST AGREEMENTS
9. SUPPORTING CAST AND DAY PLAYER SAG AGREEMENTS
10.ACTOR PREMIERE AND PHOTO CLEARANCE OBLIGATION STATEMENT
11. DUBBING RESTRICTIONS
12. PAID AD STATEMENT
13. RESIDUAL OBLIGATION STATEMENT
14. DIRECTOR AGREEMENT
15. PRODUCER AGREEMENT
16. STUNT AGREEMENTS
17. KEY CREW AGREEMENTS
18. CREW DEAL MEMOS
19. IA SIGNATORY AGREEMENT (if applicable)
20. SCRIPT SUPERVISOR LOG
21. LOCATION AGREEMENTS
22. ART CLEARANCE AGREEMENTS
23. MISC VENDOR AGREEMENTS
24. BUDGET

PRODUCTION AND POST ITEMS

25. MAIN CREDITS
26. END CREDITS
27. BILLING BLOCK
28. PAID ADS STATEMENT
29. FINAL VENDOR LIST
30. COMPOSER AGREEMENT
31. VISUAL EFX AGREEMENT (if applicable)

POST ITEMS

32. EDITORS NOTES
33. MUSIC CUE SHEETS
34. MUSIC USE & SYNC LICENSE AGREEMENTS
35. SYNOPSIS & PRESS MATERIALS (including production still photographs)
36. FINAL COST REPORT
37. COPYRIGHT & TITLE REPORT
38. POST SOUND AGREEMENT
39. FINAL CONTINUITY LIST
40. DOLBY, DTS &/or SDDS AGREEMENTS
41. LAB ACCESS LETTER
42. MPAA RATING
43. E&O INSURANCE DOCUMENT

Tani Cohen recently produced, the HBO feature documentary, “Mr. Conservative: Goldwater on Goldwater.” The film was released on DVD through Zeitgeist Films. Prior credits include the MGM released feature film, “The Dust Factory” starring Hayden Panettiere and Armin Mueller-Stahl. Cohen executive produced the Emmy nominated Showtime feature “Snow in August” adapted and directed by Richard Friedenberg. Cohen’s many producing credits include, “Inside Monkey Zetterland”, “The Souler Opposite”, “How to Kill Your Neighbor’s Dog”, “Forever Lulu” and “Guinevere.” Cohen is currently producing Dylan Otto’s “Listen” with director Valerie Landsburg and “The Great Divide” based on T. Davis Bunn’s best selling novel.

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Posted in BTS biz deals delivery distro doc dvd festivals how to legal narrative resource theatrical tv

lance weiler is the founder of the WorkBook Project and also a story architect of film, tv and games. He's written and directed two feature films THE LAST BROADCAST and HEAD TRAUMA. He's currently developing a number of transmedia projects

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  • btw, the way Ryan... thanks for all the thoughts... those are great insights.

  • I think it's a little early to write off cable VOD. I'm not thinking about today, I'm thinking about tomorrow. This downturn is presenting opportunities for new release windows and I'm thinking its time for us to collectively redefine the model. I'm not satisfied with the way things are. Someone will emerge with the right kind of influence and innovative spirit, I'm certain of it, to instill some serious, lasting change.

    It's like the Walmart thing -- Walmart is the biggest seller of DVDs and traditionally you need to have distribution to get your DVD there, right? but that hasn't stopped me from making an effort toward selling our film in bulk thru a subdistributer. There was a time when you had to do the same for Netflix, and more and more filmmakers are reaching brick and mortar outlets via subdistributers and fulfilling their own orders – Hunter Weeks, for example.

    I've got a short on all the internet platforms you listed via IndieFlix and I'm grateful for it. They have made incredible strides on behalf of filmmakers and I look forward to how their services will grow. But the views to $$$ ratio is not the greatest. 70% of 2¢ per view on Hulu is the reality because sponsors are not throwing much money at ad-supported content. Not enough anyway.

    I feel like iTunes aside, all internet-based VOD is a great vehicle for exposure but that DVD and the potential of Cable VOD has numbers that can truly sustain us if we can find a way to bypass the middlemen.

    Filmmakers who cultivate true fans and nurture their audience are in a great position to leverage that community's support. The truth of the matter is that most filmmakers who strike deals with distributers work just as hard to promote and market their films, only they see less income for it. You can do your own theatrical as IndieFlix proved with April Showers, or you can go to FreeStyle Releasing like "We Live In Public" did and strike a service deal.

    But man, no way am I selling my film for 20 years to an IFC should the offer come. I can do much better partnering with the right people in non-exclusive deals, strategizing my own theatrical, negotiating my own DVD bulk sales, working with IndieFlix to accomplish the things they do so well, etc, etc. Why would I develop a strategy that relies on the unreliable?

  • Hi Zak- this is based on our experience with The Graduates...

    We do NOT have a cable VOD deal, our VOD is all online, and the percentages are much better than what you outlined. On the other side, a cable VOD deal looks better especially with IFC's name attached. That's the trade-off for indies- you (currently) have to take shitty deals for exposure.

    IFC's 15K "digitization fee" is brilliantly titled. Assuming the filmmaker sends IFC the requested deliverables, you're just paying for the privilege of having cable VOD and using IFC's name (ie: not for "digitization" of anything). But there's not an alternative (that we've found).

    Filmmakers, if they're smart, can use that to their advantage though, and treat the cable release as advertising for DVD sales, theatrical runs, etc. It's a model a lot of people are talking about now, using release avenues with weak percentages to promote more traditional release avenues.

    Just one example- our Hulu release, where anyone can watch for free, is helping DVD sales and ticket sales on our ongoing theatrical run, though the actual streaming does not return a huge percentage per viewer.

    This is just my take, but the IFC model isn't really a helpful discussion because the vast majority of indies will never have to decide if that's a good deal or not. The average indie doesn't get into Sundance, doesn't get attention form IFC, etc... and focusing on these models can distract from preparing a competent or hopefully sophisticated strategy for release, using all the available tools.

    We go through IndieFlix, who takes 30% flat. For that we have good real estate on AmazonVOD, Hulu, and iTunes, and soon in some brick and mortar stores and RedBox. Because of their relationship with these companies (and because the companies often look for seasonal or themed promotions), we've been featured on the front page of these outlets at different times, driving very good traffic. For us it's been worth the 30% fee. After the digital outlets take their cut, we walk with 20%-30%. I'll take that over 6% any day. I wouldn't mind IFC-level exposure, but I'm a lot more inspired by 25%.

    iTunes and cableVOD outlets are still more exclusive: iTunes charges $700-$1000 to place a film on its site. Depending who you go through (we use Tunecore) this includes encoding to their specs. It's complicated, but for 700-1000 you can be on iTunes in two-three months. So, still huge barriers to entry: money and time. Clearly it's worse with cable.

    If the cost of delivering digital content drops by 50% every year (which is what we've heard over and over again), then the cost to filmmakers should drop as well. However, outlets and aggregators have a strong, strong hand because they control so much traffic, that they will be able to squeeze indies for many years to come. iTunes should drop their fees and bring on a lot more content, but it seems like they've deemed that bad business for them, for some reason.

    IFC knows it's name and access is worth quite a bit. If filmmakers want to circumvent weak deals like that (and often a deal like that isn't even on the table), the solution is sort of simple. You have to get really good at driving your own audience to your film. The actual cost of delivering your film to an audience is cheap, and it does drop every year, especially if you: release digitally; prepare for audience building with lots of free content; and devote time and energy to a long release window. I think this would be a much, much better focal point for the average indie.

    I could go on and on, but I wanted to jump in and hopefully steer the average indie away from worrying about IFC and cableVOD, when the reality is going to be AmazonVOD, Hulu, iTunes, Joost, etc. for soooo many filmmakers.

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