For an independent filmmaker, getting accepted into a major festival is like winning a creative lottery–a seal of approval for all of the work, the creative vision, the money that went into bringing a film idea to life.
But the harsh reality of the festival circuit is that, while it might seem like (and for some indeed become) a launching pad to critical and commercial success, for most, it’s the end of the road. Being part of a festival lineup puts a film in front of an influential audience but that hardly guarantees a distribution deal. And when it comes to making a film a true, commercial success, distribution is everything.
Now, through a partnership with the Toronto International Film Festival, digital distribution platform Vimeo hopes to change that. Vimeo is making an open offer of up to $1.5 million to support films that are making their world premiere at the festival in Toronto. Any of the eligible 150 films accepted into TIFF have the opportunity to capitalize on a $10,000 cash advance from Vimeo in exchange for agreeing to distribute the film on Vimeo On Demand for 30 days. How filmmakers use that cash is up to them–though marketing is a likely bet–and once the initial $10,000 is recouped (filmmakers have to set a minimum download price of $4.99 on Vimeo On Demand), the film is released from its exclusivity and Vimeo’s 90/10 revenue sharing, with 90% of revenue going to the filmmaker, goes into effect. The arrangement is only for the first digital distribution window, so filmmakers lucky enough to secure theatrical or cable distribution are still eligible to claim an advance.
Cameron Bailey, TIFF’s artistic director, says every year he sees a lot of great films premiere at the festival and then fail to gain distribution. “It’s a shame because these are beautiful and cinematic films but they might not be commercially viable according to distributors in North America,” says Bailey. “We thought that if we can help get those films other opportunities, then great.”
The idea for the partnership was spurred by the growth of Vimeo’s On Demand platform, which was launched in March and is designed to give filmmakers direct access to audiences and control over the distribution terms, such as geography and pricing. Vimeo CEO Kerry Trainor says the partnership with TIFF was a way to do “something a little bit bigger to directly express our believe in the growth of direct distribution.
“This is all about developing this marketplace. We believe very strongly in the future of direct distribution and VOD is both an alternative and singular route to audiences, but also a complementary part of a multifaceted campaign,” Trainor says. “We believe strongly that this is the future of the film ecosystem, and this is an investment on our part to help individual filmmakers but also continue to educate and continue to build the momentum of the marketplace overall.”
With so many films eligible for a $10K advance, it’s likely that there will be a few, shall we say, underperformers in the lot. But such a risk is one that Vimeo is willing to take. “We fully expect that not every film will recoup the money,” says Trainor. “At the same time, we’re willing to put our money where our mouth is in this case because we believe so strongly in empowering creators of all levels with high-quality tools to go direct to their audiences, again, alongside traditional distribution, or as an alternative.”
For Bailey, the opportunity to offer the filmmakers in this year’s festival an alternate avenue of distribution was an important one. “Conventional distribution is still important but people are finding different ways to see movies now, and online portals are more and more important,” he says. “While we’re a curatorial institution and not in the distribution business, if there’s a way we can help filmmakers reach audiences after they play at the festival, we’ll try to do that, because it just breaks your heart when you see a great movie come to a festival and then just fade away.”
[Image: Flickr user Bob B. Brown]