Tuesday, September 7, 2010

6 weeks until release!

Hello friends,

Sitting at Bangkok airport I had a sudden heart pang about what an amazing year it's been. The best of my life. Funny that I haven't earned so little cash since I finished film school. Interesting. Money certainly can't buy happiness in our trade. ...Um, not that I'm against it or anything. Actually, scratch that, can you spare a dollar?

Summer Coda is complete, MIFF screening was an absolute blast and we're now revving up for our Australian cinema release on Oct 21st.   

The last couple of months have been particularly eye opening. The cinemas (the exhibitors) hold so much power. I knew this of course, but I'd never experienced it first hand. Particularly on an Indy release.  Your distributor works their butt off on your film's campaign, gets the press and as many exhibitors as possible to come see your pride and joy. Then exhibitors get back to the distributors on whether they'd like to play your film, and how many sessions. And then let the games begin! Seriously, exhibitors and the distributors have very, very difficult jobs. A phenomenal juggling act really. 

I'm excited to say Summer Coda will be playing at 90% of the cinemas we wanted - which is just awesome. The size of screen and how many screenings you get a day are also crucial.  So the bargaining begins. Fascinating to watch. You have to fight to give yourself the best chance to be seen, and hang around long enough for positive word-of-mouth to spread. Hopefully.

Being an Indy film (but hopefully commercial too), you wont be seeing Summer Coda at a lot of mega plexes, you will however be seeing it at all the best art houses in Oz as well as a few of the finer big boys. Perfect for us. I  think we're looking at about 25 metro screens. We're also rolling out on a whole bundle of the best rural cinemas. We're thinking Summer Coda will go down well in the country, so l'll also be heading out on a massive road trip to visit as many of these cinemas as possible. 

You hear a lot of talk about PER SCREEN AVERAGE. This is the average of how much cashola your film takes at each cinema you're playing in. You need this bad boy to be HIGH. High means that people are coming along to your sessions -- not a lot of spare seats -- which means the exhibitors are happy for you to keep all your sessions for the following week, because it's clear punters want to come for a looksey. This is why your first weekends box office is so important.

It's hard to get Aussies to go see our home grown films at the best of times, let alone needing them to watch your pride 'n joy in the first week!  That's why your marketing strategy is so integral and why you live and die by your distributor. We're lucky enough to have two. 
Two champions that have put it all on the line for Ricky (and more than a few others ; ). Big shout out to Natalie Miller @ Sharmill FIlms and Jamie Bialkower @ Jump Street Films.
I have loved being in the trenches with them. As well as marketing, media, print, booking cinemas, other deals like TV, DVD, NZ and airline sales have been intriguing.

Summer Coda was privately funded. 90% anyway, 10% from the champs at Film Victoria (who have been backing Ricky for so long it's lovely to finally have something to show them). "Privately funded" means we have a bunch of investors that have taken the punt on Summer Coda. Beautiful people, because as you can imagine, backing a film is not the most 
blue chip of investments!  This brings massive responsibility to the production, to scrutinise every penny spent. Which doesn't mean we don't want to spend money -- because you certainly have to to market your film, but it just means you gotta get bang for your buck. You must know what type of film you have, who your key audience is, and what films in the past have worked. Not to mention what you can learn from the ones that didn't.  

Your $14-18 ticket at the box office gets split many ways. The exhibitor and the distributor take a big piece (as they should), and the rest flows back to the production company -- who pay the investors. However, the production company doesn't see a cent until the P&A is paid back. P&A is the costs of the film's Prints and all Advertising that the distributor has forked out for. The distributor (who's taken a large financial risk)  must recoup their costs, AND THEN money flows to the investors, while continuing to be split with exhibitor and distributor.

Summer Coda is in an amazing position where we have already paid for our P&A before a single ticket is sold. Which is due to the hard work and selling of our distributors. This is extremely rare in our country. This means from the very first ticket sold on Oct 21st, our investors are beginning to recoup their investment. This might not sound like anything too special, but let Ricky assure you, it is amazing. And it's taken some bloody hard work. 

Many Australian films aren't able to pay off their P&A by the END of their cinema run, let alone before the movie screens for the first time. The above is usually confidential, but we're working on a very different model to the vast majority of Oz films, so i think info sharing is constructive. I certainly would have liked to learn this stuff at film school.

Often we celebrate Aussie films that make over a $1m at the local box office, without looking at important things like - P&A spend and the film's actual budget. It seems like millions of dollars in losses are acceptable in our business. And maybe they have to be? Because If more than $3m is spent on an Australian film, it is virtually impossible to make your money back through local box office. As I've illustrated above, after all the splits, your film would need to make over $10m at the box office. That's if it was made for just $3m. 

As you know, many films are made for a lot more, and so those numbers compound terribly. And how many Aussie films made in the last 10 years have grossed more than $10m at the box office? And when they did, were they also made for a lot more than $3m? When you do the maths, it's not a pretty picture. But does it matter? Who cares? The general public heading to the movies don't. They just want a to see a good film.  I have no problem with that. 

However, it matters when you're trying to protect your investors so that they'll invest AGAIN.  It matters if you want to think of our industry as a business. I've been told many times just to worry about the creative: "You're the filmmaker". However, if this filmmaker wants to make another film, he needs to look after his investors. Not a bad thing to do because:

If Summer Coda's investors make their money back, they'll invest again. Meaning more privately funded Aussie films. Meaning other like-minded producers can sell this as a model and more investors will gain confidence in investing in Aussie films, when they are set up correctly. 

And so, with every ticket sold to Summer Coda -- from the very first ticket -- cashola flows back to the people that made it happen. Awesome. This is why our first week, starting Oct 21st is so crucial. 

We are very fortunate to have a film industry largely funded by our government. But we should respect that money, like we would if it was our own 2 cents. 

And that was mine. 

Lots of love,

Ricky : )

PS. By "liking" our Summer Coda facebook page you help us broaden our social network. Wink wink. Nudge, nudge....   Same goes for Twitter


  1. Great post, keep up the positive outlook, and good luck with release.

  2. FANASTIC TO READ ABOUT THE INDUSTRIES WE SO LITTLE HEAR OF - Hope it breaks all your widlest dreams and then some! Look out Mildura! Congratulations to all involved from the very bottom rung right to the very top! You should all be applauded for your enthusiasm and your efforts, for without these the industry would be boring and un inspiring...I look forward to buying my ticket!