I have been asked over that two years why I chose to put my screenwriting career on hold and embark on entering the film distribution arena and start a film festival. The answer is not so simple. I will try and lay it out to you without boring you to death.
Upon the Writer’s Guild Strike of 2007/2008 which lasted for 100 days several things happened that would change the course of my life.
First, among the many proposals from both sides regarding the new contract, there were several key issues of contention but the one issue that really interested me was the compensation for “new media” content written for or distributed through emerging digital technology such as the Internet.
Even back then it was widely expected by industry observers that new media will eventually supplant both DVD in the home video market and television in the broadcasting market as the primary means for distribution. Not having any real experience in technology or interest for that matter, this issue was intriguing. I had been fortunate to work within the studio system for over a decade at that point and the projects I worked on were handled by the fat cat Hollywood suits. I was collecting checks in my underwear with no real concern what happened after the script left my hands. I sold original pitches, specs and was hired for rewrites and punch ups. As long as the check cleared I was happy. The idea of striking over something that didn’t involve me meant I better find out what’s up with this content New Media stuff and emerging platforms.
The second thing that happened during the strike was that the studios now had time on their hands to really go over their piles of scripts in development. No longer mired in taking meeting or power lunches they had to figure out a way to fill their days. And what they found out was that they spent too much money on guys like me in their underwear on projects that will never see the light of day.
Those 100 days changed Hollywood forever, not to mention my future. They determined that they would be better served to just make huge event movies instead of 30 million dollar family comedies or sports films. When Bob Iger, the CEO of Disney said, “I no longer get excited by a 30 million dollar film making 100 million if it doesn’t create an amusement park ride or a toy line”, I knew my career was in trouble.
When the strike ended and jobs became thin, several of my writer friends decided to take control over their own careers and venture into the world off independent filmmaking. I was too lazy and never really wanted to direct so I just accepted my fate and opened a gym and taught screenwriting waiting for the cyclical nature of the industry to turn back into my favor. Well, that never happened.
My friends who made their films all got frustrated with their distribution deals. I was fascinated how these guys who have been working in Hollywood for decades still didn’t understand how distribution worked. I decided to peek behind the curtain and ask some old acquisition friends how distribution really worked.
“It’s all about the library, baby.” said one distribution executive. Distribution companies don’t really care about your film as much as building their library. Another executive said, “Filmmakers don’t want to know the truth. It’s expensive to release a film and recoupable costs are our bread and butter. For every one dollar we spend putting a film out we will bill back 2 dollars to the production. It’s legal and often times appropriate.” Another acquisitions rep from a major buyer said it is part of their business model that the filmmaker must sue the company in order to see any project reports.
I was shocked by this information. So unless your film becomes a worldwide phenomenon then you are unlikely to see anything other than a minimum guarantee. I finally understood the old joke: What is the best way to become a millionaire in Hollywood? You start out a billionaire.
So I decided I was going to do things differently. I created a new distribution business model marrying the three entities of the film business: Production, Distribution and Exhibition. I won’t go into detail here about the specifics of this release strategy but I will say this concept was more satisfying then breaking a story beat in a script.
Now circling back to what I learned about the “New Media” during the strike. Boom, I found my third act resolution. You see, after I enthusiastically launched my distribution company, New Hollywood Entertainment, I was confronted with by what one distribution executive said about filmmakers not wanting to hear the truth.
I was out at festivals, meeting filmmakers and explaining how I was going to do things differently and what I got in return was dead air and blank stares. I heard things like, “I don’t want things differently”, “I want the same release Juno got” or “I love the way Winter’s Bone got handled.” Don’t get me wrong, I understand where these filmmakers were coming from. It was just unrealistic and delusional. They didn’t know what they didn’t know. Hell, I want a Napoleon Dynamite release as well. But those are the exceptions, not the rule. And one thing I know about filmmakers is that they play by their own rules. You almost have to in order to be crazy enough to embark on career in film.
We were able to acquire 4 films, but if I was going to change the landscape I had to open up my reach and get filmmaker’s attention. With a dwindling bank account and small library I knew I had to do something drastic. While sitting in a hotel room at a nameless film festival and thinking about the one term that killed my career “New Media on emerging platforms”, I had my M. Night Shayamalan moment when he decided Bruce Willis would be dead the whole time in “The Sixth Sense.”
So I decided to start an online film festival. Believe it or not it has never been done before. There are small shorts and docs online film festivals, and Tribeca dipped their toes in market, but not any to the scope that I envisioned.
I will approach filmmakers with the same full transparency as a distributor and produce a cutting edge digital platform for filmmakers to get discovered. Hence, the birth of the NUHO ONLINE FILM FESTIVAL.
Well, there you have it. That’s the why. This endeavor is the hardest thing I have ever done. As far as I am concerned looking back perhaps the strike was the best thing ever to happen to me. Afterall, I can still sit in my underwear and work.
So please go to our site which launches next Feb. 7th and sign up. This is it. Hopefully the first of many festivals to follow.