Thursday, April 06, 2006

Indie Film Distribution Issues

I SHOULD be picking textbooks for fall semester courses (Postproduction, Directing, and Screenwriting) -- I'm never 100% happy with my textbook choices, so I change them up almost every time I teach a course, and I'm hoping I'll find the perfect (or near-perfect) mix sometime soon and not have to read several new ones right around the busiest time of every semester in order to get textbook orders in by the deadline (which is always months before I've even started thinking about the next ssemester's courses).

But I'm not doing that. I'm reading and re-reading all the various blog and news entries about the controversy related to the theatrical release of indie filmmaker Caveh Zahedi's latest feature film, I Am a Sex Addict.

I wasn't familiar with Zahedi's work until Sujewa started blogging about him. He sounds like a fascinating filmmaker, and his latest sounds like a really challenging and interesting piece.

But that's not the main issue of the day. The issue is rather that Landmark Theaters decided, a mere five days before the release date, to pull the film from its theaters. Why? It's complicated and rather convoluted, but ultimately it boils down to a dispute between Mark Cuban (who owns Landmark Theaters as well as HDnet) and Comcast. Comcast is apparently partnering with Zahedi's distributor, IFC Films, to release the film via Video-on-Demand on Comcast.

But Mark Cuban doesn't want a film playing in his theaters and also on Comcast. Why, you ask? Isn't Mark Cuban in favor of day-and-date release (as he proved by pioneering the whole concept with the release of Steven Soderbergh's Bubble in theaters and on DVD and HDnet all basically at the same time)?

Yes, he is very much in favor of this. But Comcast won't carry HDnet. And Mark Cuban won't have his theaters showing a film that is simulataneously being broadcast (VoD) on a cable company's system that won't also partner with his other company.

Zahedi himself has blogged about this extensively (you should really go back to the post titled Dear Mr. Mark Cuban, which is Zahedi's open letter to Cuban, and then read all the posts and comments after that. And Mark Cuban responded on Zahedi's blog, and also on GreenCine's post about it. I'm a latecomer to blogging about it, but the issue has been on my mind a lot the last few days, so I decided to write about it now (side note: some people have way more time to blog and devotion to blogging than I do)

I supposse Cuban has a reasonable position, given his particular business interests.

But it sure seems as if the main person losing out is an indie filmmaker who desperately wants to see his award-winning underground opus hit the screens. And there's more to any business decision than JUST business. Businesses tend to hide behind the importance of the 'bottom line' to excuse decisions that might be unfair or unethical. Sure, this might cost HDnet and Mark Cuban some money, but what's actually the right thing to do? Is there a hard-and-fast right or wrong? Or is it all a matter of perspective?

Speaking of perspective, I must admit that I sympathize with Zahedi. I can't imagine what it would feel like to be in Zahedi's position, to be on the brink of perhaps your biggest career success, and to have the proverbial rug pulled out from under you by something completely out of your control. Not only is it out of his control, but it has nothing to do with his film, its quality, or people's opinion of it. It is strictly a business decision related to large media companies and their disputes.

I have no great insight here. I am a lowly indie filmmaker who just finished his first feature, and at this point I'm just hoping to get it into decent festivals, get it seen, and get to the point where people want to distribute it to a wider audience.

But I have a feeling that this issue, as its becoming more public, is going to impact the way indie filmmakers and distributors do business.

The good news is that other independent theaters have stepped up to make sure the film will get its theatrical premiere on schedule. And who knows, maybe the publicity of the whole issue will get the film a larger audience. But I know I'd be pretty frustrated by this if it were happening to me. It's something sort of out of an absurdist play. I can almost see Beckett's characters going through something like this...


Anonymous Chuck said...

Caveh's experience is a really complicated one, and it's disappointing to see Cuban resist day-and-date release when it doesn't suit his own interests.

I caught Sex Addict a few months ago with Sujewa and it is a very good film.

4/08/2006 9:03 AM  
Blogger Chris Hansen said...

and you know, after reading even MORE about all this, i think cuban is legitimately acting in his company's best interest. i just think he should have made an exception given the lateness of him 'noticing' that some landmark theaters would be showing an ifc release that was going to get airtime on comcast.

i get the reasoning -- i just think, if no one figured it out til 5 days before the premiere, he should have let it go on and explained that it would never happen again.

4/08/2006 1:55 PM  

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