A Landmark Business, moderated by indieWIRE's Eugene Hernandez, brought together representatives from all aspects of Mark Cuban and Todd Wagner's vertically integrated filmmaking factory, now called Wagner/Cuban Companies: Ted Mundorff, film buyer for Landmark Theaters; Tom Quinn, acquisition exec for Magnolia Pictures; Eammon Bowles, President of Magnolia; Elizabeth Glass, buyer for HD Net and HDNet Movies; Bill Banowsky, head of the new distribution initiative, Truly Indie; and Wagner himself, who easily stole the show by spouting his party's platform. Wagner's rhetoric was probably pre-packaged but undeniably convincing nonetheless.
Wagner/Cuban's various distribution revolutions were the order of the day. In all the hype surrounding the conglomerate's groundbreaking day/date strategy, their equally ballsy Truly Indie program has been somewhat overlooked. Banowsky described it as a "producer empowered distribution alternative." The concept came from the exhibition sector: Landmark shows a couple hundred films on its 300 screens a year, but half of its profits come from about 20 titles. In fact, the bottom 50-70 films, as Banowsky explained it, actually lose money for the chain. So the various sectors of the company got together and came up with Truly Indie, which essentially allows producers to pay a single fee to rent space at a Landmark Theater, and simultaneously hire Truly Indie to market and promote their film. It's sort of a second (last?) chance, for filmmakers who, say, come off the festival circuit without a viable theatrical option. Truly Indie will allow such filmmakers to buy themselves a brief theatrical run, and still have the opportunity to cash in on the DVD rights. Wagner elaborates on the mission:
"We should be listening to the voice of independent cinema. I'd go to fests like this one [and hear filmmakers say], "I'm shut out of the system!" So what we're trying to do is open up the system. If you believe in your product, you should have a chance to release it."
The conversation soon, predictably, turned to day/date, and the company men are, rightfully, defensive. Here's where the Wagner quips really start to heat up. Some excerpts after the jump.
"If you're a financier in Hollywood, you will be out of the business in 2-3 years – if you play by the rules of Hollywood."
Wagner quotes Yahoo!'s Terry Semel, from a chat he says they had four years ago: ""If you guys are gonna survive, you've got to look like the house." Who's the house? The studios are the house! Unless I looked at this as philanthropy, like Jeff Skoll does [burst of laughter from the masses] ... we needed to rethink the business."
Todd says there are "three big gotchas" when it comes to making money off of filmmaking:
1) Budgets – particularly, salaries
2) Print costs
He's trying to counteract all of therm. If his filmmakers shoot in high def, actors can spend less time on set, and there are no costs associated with making and shipping prints. If he compresses the window between theatrical and home exhibition, he only has to pay for one ad campaign.
Wagner says this is all, ultimately, about better serving the viewer. He says he learned a lesson from the music industry: "You can ignore the consumer at your peril." He goes on: "Let's look at this as, instead of, "Oh my god, you're collapsing windows!" – "Oh my god, you're trying to reach more people!"" It's about letting consumers who, for whatever reason, aren't going to theaters, have "an impulse buy opportunity", via DVD and/or VOD.
"80 percent of people like what we're doing," Wagner says. "Obviously not distributors." He says part of the plan is to share DVD revenues with exhibitors, but doesn't outline specifics.
"We are never saying we don't want people to go to the movies. My god, we want people to go to the movies ... but the reality is, this is the world we live in now. [The world is] digital. THAT's day and date." He then sat back and watched as the room burst into a muted round of applause.
Eamonn Bowles steps in to temper the excitement somewhat: "There are some films that day/date might not be appropriate for," he warns. The conversation hops over to Glass, who stresses that she's only looking to acquire films that meet the channel's tech specifications. She urges filmmakers to prepare their work for TV viewing. "If your film gets picked up for distribution," she says, "It's going to have a short theatrical window. It's going to reside on TV for the rest of its given life."
Eugene asks the panel to talk about Bubble, the first major test of their 3-format simultaneous release plan. Quicker than you could say "disappointing box office," Wagner piped up with the sports analogies. "Bubble was the beginning of a very long process," he says. "This is like spring training. This is like the first inning of a very long game." As for day/date's future: "There are other directors on that "A list" that have come to me and said they want to do the same thing. We're not crazy! Give us some modicum of credit!"