I recently came across some unpublished blog entries I wrote back in April 2005 when I was trying to sell my feature film Soul Searcher. It’s amazing how close I seemed at the time to getting my big break. It just goes to show you how big a pinch of salt you have to take what sales agents tell you with.
The Secret Diary of Neil Oseman, aged 24¾
April 26th 2005
I’ve decided to start up this secret parallel journal because distributors are now getting interested in the film and from a business point of view it’s not a good idea to be putting too much info about offers and stuff on the website. Hopefully this journal will one day see the light of day.
Today the number of sales agents/distributors planning to make an offer on the film went up to four. Echelon Entertainment (Burbank, sales agents) and Foundation Films (also California, sales agents) joined Third Millennium (London – the only UK distributor interested so far) and CinemaVault Releasing (Toronto, sales agent) in the ranks of the keen. CinemaVault sent me through the official Offer paperwork today but I haven’t read it yet.
The main reason I wanted to write this secret journal is to tell you about the e-mail I just got from Echelon. They reckon there’s a US TV show called Soul Searchers and they want to change my movie’s title to “Grim”. Who the hell’s going to buy a film called Grim? I politely replied that I couldn’t find any mention of this TV series on the net and that it might not be wise to change the film’s title after all the publicity it has had.
Another great story of sales agent stupidity which I couldn’t possibly put on the site is that CinemaVault reckoned SS cost $500,000 USD to make. Hahahahaha! Christ, I’d be seriously worried if SS was the best I could do for half a million bucks. [It actually cost £28,000.]
I just read the CinemaVault contract [see my previous post for an analysis of this]. The list of delivery requirements is five pages long. I estimate producing all the materials to be a two month full-time job. Most ludicrous of all is they want a “cut by cut description of the action in the Picture” and T/C in & outs for EVERY LINE OF DIALOGUE.
April 28th 2005
I just found out that CinemaVault want to push for a theatrical release. Fucking YEAAAH!!!
[An hour or so later…]
Okay, now I’ve calmed down a bit. I’ve recorded my thoughts on video for Going To Hell and I thought I should put some more in writing, only now I don’t know what to write.
Alright, here are the thoughts going round in my head right now:
- This is the FIRST company to make me a formal offer. They’re talking about probably a small US release, but what if another company proposes something bigger?
- SS hasn’t been to any festivals except Borderlines yet. That could be where the big boys pick it up. Surely I shouldn’t sign before it’s had a chance to go to Telluride, Raindance, etc? Though who knows if it’ll get in.
- Cannes of course is coming up. Perhaps I can meet Michael Paszt [from CinemaVault] face to face there. Should I fess up about the budget? (He thinks it cost nearly US$500,000.) After all, the fact that I made it for so little is a major publicity point.
- What will happen when I tell CinemaVault that there’s no 35mm print? Surely they’ve guessed that already, but what if they’re not prepared to bear the cost of it? Can I raise the necessary funds to pay for it, even with a sales agent behind me?
- These are HUGE, HUGE things I’m dealing with. Should I get someone who’s business savvy to negotiate this stuff?
- Who framed Roger Rabbit?
- Doesn’t the fact that I’ve had this offer mean I should be able to get more? I mean, now I can say I’ve been offered a theatrical release – surely other sales agents/distributors will come running? Can I somehow use this to break into Hollywood?
The journal also includes a few previously unpublished thoughts from my trip to Cannes the following month.
I was feeling frustrated that I must seem to buyers like another punk kid with another lame movie. I had to tell them it cost $400,000 to make – if I’d have told them the truth they would either have ripped me off or not given me the time of day. The problem is that it’s not a good advert for me. If SS was the best film I could make for $400,000 I’d be seriously worried. I want to show them the Guardian article – explain how the fact that it was made for so little should be the cornerstone of the publicity campaign – the double-disc DVD, the making-of book. The El Mariachi effect. This is NOT just another low budget film. But I know that just another low budget film was all these people wanted.
Ultimately most of the interest trickled away. After initial enthusiasm and talk of theatrical releases, the sales agents retreated to much smaller offers (“maybe we’ll do a theatrical but probably not”) or stopped returning my calls. Soul Searcher failed to get into any major festivals and was released only on DVD and VOD by a small UK company that went bust shortly before the distribution term expired last year.
The moral of the story is that it can be extremely exciting to be offered a distribution deal, but these companies will have no qualms about leading you on. Most hope you’ll sign quickly, but you should never do that. Ask them tough questions – many won’t even reply and the rest probably won’t give you the answers you want, but you must know what you’re getting into when you sign away your baby.