Produced By: Indie Filmmakers, Execs Discuss Future of Distribution

DirecTV and A24 partnered on 'Slow West'

Panelists at the Producers Guild of America's annual conference on the Paramount lot anticipated challenges with short films and VOD programming.

A panel of filmmakers and executives discussed distribution models for independent film on Sunday at the Produced By conference.

The shift away from standard distribution models and into VOD and digital programming was the recurring theme of the event, held on the second day of the Producers Guild of America's annual conference in Los Angeles.

For producer David Friendly (Little Miss Sunshine), the rise of digital platforms inspired him to direct his debut feature, the SXSW-premiered documentary Sneakerheadz. "That you can watch literally hundreds [of documentaries] on Netflix, iTunes or whatever made me realize you could actually have an audience and not have to spend years of your life on something nobody's going to see, which was kind of the overriding fear with docs for me in the past," he said.

Hanny Patel, DirecTV’s senior director for digital and emerging Markets, discussed DirectTV's partnership with A24 (Ex Machina, A Most Violent Year) to release select films from the distributor for a short pay-per-view window before their theatrical openings. (A24 is owned by Guggenheim Partners, which owns the parent company of The Hollywood Reporter.)

"When I started [at DirecTV] four years ago, there was this chasm happening between $100 million blockbusters and $10 million indies. The middle is disappearing. There were so many independent film projects that were not seeing the light of day," she explained in an interview with THR before the panel.

She said VOD releasing in particular benefits parents who don’t get time to go to a theater ("the first time I went to a movie theater after I had my daughter, I spent all this money to go to the theater and then I fell asleep," she said) and audiences in cities usually not included in indie films’ limited releases. “Our customers weren’t getting access to these films, and these films weren’t getting access to our customers," she said. "We just introduce a new window."

But VOD won’t be the answer for every film, added IFC senior vp acquisitions Arianna Bocco. "I think there are certain films where a traditional release will always be the best way, and there are films where a day and date or VOD release will be the right way," she said.

Echoed Richard Abramowitz, who heads distribution and sales company Abramorama (Exit Through the Gift Shop, Pearl Jam Twenty): "Sometimes a filmmaker thinks they have a home run and I think I can stretch it into a double," and the parties have to compromise on a distribution plan.

Among the challenges that remain for indie filmmakers and distributors is getting short films to wider audiences. "Shorts are a calling card for filmmakers, but monetizing them is tricky," said Bocco.

Another is audiences' unawareness when films get simultaneous or overlapping theatrical and VOD releases. But the panelists were optimistic: Said Russell Schwartz, recently the head of theatrical marketing for Relativity EuropaCorp, "I think once there are more and more of those movies, consumers will start to realize, this is how films go."