Film Short: Sam Eigen Offers A Film Distributor’s Point of View
Ironically enough, the first workshop I attended at the 2010 Movie Campusfest Grand Finale held at the Wynn Hotel in Las Vegas last weekend was led by Sam Eigen, Executive Vice Present at Shoreline Entertainment discussing Movie Sales and Distribution. I use the word ironically for two reasons. First of all, I saw Sam speaking a week earlier at the Las Vegas International Film Festival and secondly because distribution is one of the final steps in the filmmaking process, yet this seminar kicked off my coverage at the event.
Eigen’s perspective comes from being a distribution company executive and he provided insight and advice for filmmakers from that standpoint. A businessman and consultant for many years prior to joining Shoreline, Sam said he “never dreamed of making films or being in the business that way.” He came on board over six years ago through a friend of his, an entrepreneur who attended USC’s Master program, formed a management company and then became involved with Shoreline’s CEO and Founder, Morris Ruskin. Eigen believes that his background outside of the movie industry brings a unique point of view to a job that is frequently filled by failed directors, producers and writers.
Although Shoreline doesn’t make a lot of films nowadays, it did start off as a production company and Morris is well versed in that part of the business. He has produced 47 films starting with David Mamet’s “Glengarry Glen Ross”, which earned him a co-producer’s credit. Currently, however, being a sales company is the firm’s primary business model.
Eigen’s schedule is not always an easy one to balance with a home life and he travels to several film festivals and markets throughout the year starting in January at Sundance, where he may view as many as 38 feature length films within a week. Other not to be missed events include: NATPE, The Berlin Film Festival, The Hong Kong Film Festival, Cannes and AFM. He told us that he has had as many as 220 preset meetings scheduled during one of these events, which usually take place in hotel rooms converted into offices.
As a consumer, Sam enjoys attending local film festivals, but in his role at Shoreline his attention is focused on what he calls the first tier made up of Sundance, Berlin, Cannes, Venice and Toronto. On the second tier Tribecca, SXSW and Telluride are also on his radar. In this area Shoreline has a standard policy of not letting a film be seen at a festival unless a distribution deal is in place. He told filmmakers that theyshould refrain from submitting films to festivals that don’t have platforms set up for worldwide distribution.
Eigen described his firm as a full service organization that works with producer reps and agents in order to acquire films and suggested that filmmakers seek representation from sales agents, who can facilitate the distribution process. He advises approaching them in terms of their business and determining what films will work for their business models. “When you’re soliciting think about what they know and their perspective,” he said. Filmmakers should take into account what will motivate distributors to sell their films before writing an email. The movie should be introduced quickly in 5-10 sentences explaining why a distributor should be excited about the film. He added, “Don’t do anything that makes me think you’re an idiot. Don’t do anything that makes me think you think I’m an idiot,” Eigen also advised against sending a screener along with an email. “Make us ask for it, so you can make me accountable to watch it,” he said.
What Sam does look for in a submittal is branding and receiving it before it’s sent out to any festivals along with seeing a story that has a hook. “The beginning’s got to rock. We’re not going to watch your film if we’re bored after 10 minutes,” he said. Genre films have a built in brand, which can make them an easier sale. He also believes it’s a mistake for filmmakers to write, direct and edit their projects and recommended finding a good editor to handle that part of the process. “Our job is harder in terms of finding good films cause there’s so much crap out there,” he admitted. For the most part, Shoreline works with producers they know or with newcomers they’ve had referred to them by people they already haave existing relationships with.
As for what type of distribution program Shoreline may select for a film, there are several factors taken into account. “The math has to be there for distributors to release theatrically,” Sam asserted. Most are direct to DVD releases, where in the United States millions can be made from that type of sale. “The film does not have an inherent value. It’s the business model of the distributor that has inherent value,” he explained.
Aspects of the business are changing, however, mostly because of developments in technology. When examining DVD versus VOD models, Eigen is thoughtful. He told us that although the marketplace is 95% DVD and 5% VOD at the moment, distributors know that this is going to shift and that an infrastructure that can do both needs to be in place. At present, he doesn’t think it wise to do a VOD distribution model, but isn’t sure how long that will be the case. “Theoretically, it will be cheaper in that process for all of us,” he related. On the other hand, he feels that releasing a film on your own will be harder. “If you’re serious about being a filmmaker, take a year and go get into the distribution side and find out how many people make money with their films,” he advised before adding, “Blind optimism is not a business model.”
For more info about Shoreline Entertainment go to their website at http://www.shorelineentertainment.com/index.html.