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Indie DVD Suppliers Work to Boost Small Film Market

26 Apr, 2004 By: Jessica Wolf

If Kevin Smith had made Clerks today, no one would ever see it, said Chris Gore, editor of Filmthreat.com. But Gore and other independent film suppliers are making DVD plans and deals that will hopefully preserve a future for today's would-be Kevin Smiths.

“Think about it: In this market climate, if someone described that movie to a theatrical or video distributor — it's student looking, shot in 16mm, in black-and-white, no stars and full of dick jokes — it would never have gotten distribution,” he said.

That's why Gore started Film Threat DVD last year, to ensure future Kevin Smiths get a voice and hopefully make a little money along the way.

It's not easy, he said. “The state of the market for independent film on DVD is not a great one, but we have a plan to survive it,” he said.

Film Threat DVD's line boasts a small but growing catalog, 12 titles right now, including the Star Wars spoof Jar Jar: The F! True Hollywood Story and the sexy actioner Agent 15. Gore said plans are in the works to release one to two DVDs a month in the coming year. Arriving this summer is the DVD debut of Red, a film that did well under Film Threat's VHS release lineup in the 1990s.

Film Threat DVD works closely with filmmakers for each disc's substantial extra content and for marketing, keeping overhead low by piggybacking resources with the film centric Web site and having realistic sales goals for indie films on DVD.

“Your business model has to be based on being profitable selling less than 3,000 units,” Gore said. “We may never be in Wal-Mart, but quite frankly, neither are the people who would want to buy our product.”

Film Threat hits up festivals with print ads in the programs, flyers and booths, often with DVDs for sale as part of its alternative marketing strategy.

It's getting to be time for a shakeout among independent film companies trying to distribute product on DVD, Gore said. One player, IndieDVD, has recently filed for bankruptcy.

“There will be a reckoning in the independent film DVD world, and we will hopefully come out on top,” Gore said.

Frugality, coupled with realism, and a strong brand will keep the filmmakers coming and keep the product reaching the right consumers through the right retailers, which are still often mom-and-pop video stores, Gore said.

Another indie brand looking to make a stand in the DVD market is Slamdance Media Group, partner to the Slamdance Film Festival, which launched 10 years ago to run alongside the Sundance Film Festival after two of Sundance's cofounders discovered they couldn't even get their own films into the festival anymore.

Slamdance Media Group has inked a distribution deal with Ventura to create a video line out of festival submissions, with an expected 12 titles to be released each year.

“We're in the process of talking to about 10 filmmakers about obtaining video rights,” Robert Schwartz, chairman and co-CEO of Slamdance Media Group.

The Slamdance brand is strong among filmmakers, he said, and the organization gets roughly 3,000 submissions from indie filmmakers each year, only a few of which make it to the festival, so there's plenty to cull from for a video label.

Ventura was the right partner, said George Ketvertis, EVP of strategic planning and business development for Slamdance Media Group.

“Ventura did a lot of due diligence on the market, and in analyzing it, they really feel there is an opportunity for independent film, especially leveraging it off the Slamdance brand,” he said.

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