EXCLUSIVE: John Sloss, whose Producers Distribution Agency is releasing the provocative unauthorized Disney World-shot Escape From Tomorrow, reports that in its first two weeks, the film grossed $139,334 in theatrical revenues — and $120,560 in VOD/digital grosses — for a total take of $259,894. VOD, he said, was $55,000 and broadband revenue was $65,000. Now, that’s chump change for a studio release, but groundbreaking in that Sloss even volunteered it. Unless it’s after the fact on a triumph like Margin Call or Arbitrage, it feels like most multi-platform distributors would sooner give out the numbers to their personal bank accounts than timely VOD grosses. It makes my job reporting specialty box office an incomplete exercise, because VOD/digital revenues play a bigger role on the specialty film release circuit every year. Distributors say their films clean up on cable and broadband, but there is no reliable mechanism for timely tally on VOD revenues the way there is on theatricals.
Sloss, who is on both sides of the coin in that his Cinetic Media brokers film distribution deals and PDA does multi-platform releasing on films like the Banksy documentary Exit Through The Gift Shop, has issued a challenge to his rivals: cough up the numbers as they get from cable companies, iTunes and other revenue providers, and create a level of transparency that shows what VOD really means to the bottom lines of prestige films.
“We are calling upon those distributors who have been pioneers of the day-and-date evolution to supply Cinetic with their cable and broadband VOD grow numbers,” Cinetic said in a statement. “When combined with the readily available theatrical gross numbers, it will enable us to post ‘Multi-Screen Grosses’ by Monday of each week. This service is designed to help filmmakers make more informed choices when deciding between more traditional theatrical scenarios and day and date releases.”
Right now, my specialty box office report leaves me with theatrical release givens like screen count, per screen average and total gross. The VOD numbers are anybody’s guess, even though they probably often dwarf theatrical revenue on day-and-date and ultra-VOD releases; there, theaters often won’t play those films at all, or not through the traditional revenue split system deals between distributors and theaters. That means distribs have to “four wall” theaters, or essentially rent the screens for a set fee.
“There are a group of distributors that are increasingly moving toward day-and-date releases,” Sloss told me. “There must be a reason they’re doing that. They know it. There’s no reason why filmmakers and financiers shouldn’t know it as well. Rather than just making a decision based on faith, they should be able to do just like the distributor is doing by making decisions based on information. It’s time for that statistics to be known. It should have happened immediately when distributors moved from pure theatrical to day and date because it is the functional equivalent to theatrical box office.”
Sloss said he is coming across on Escape From Tomorrow to help give filmmakers and others a chance to educate themselves on an increasingly viable distribution option. Sloss said the film–which Moore shot in secret at the Mouse House as a creepy paranoid thriller–is already in profits because the cost to make it was low, and because the percentage kept by cable and digital carriers is lower than what is shared with theater owners. Also, P&A costs are virtually nil.
“It only helps the cause for distributors in convincing filmmakers who are so tied to theatrical release that day and date might be a smarter alternative for them,” Sloss said. “Part of the reason we created FilmBuff was because I’ve sold over 400 films and I was frustrated with the secretiveness of distributors. Distributors are basically hired by filmmakers to distribute their films yet most of them feel it’s their birthright to hold onto information until 60 days after the quarter in which their film is released. “I want to use this to learn, frankly. I do have a sense [of VOD performance]. You can look and see if a title maintains a [high ranking] on iTunes, but that is much harder with cable, Until I get accounting statements, I really don’t know. And even accounting statements are pretty opaque in breaking out the different buckets even between Subscription VOD vs. Transactional VOD. I may know a little more than the average filmmaker and that’s certainly more than the average lay person, but I have a lot to learn. I think we all do.”
Sloss’s company is introducing what it calls the “Multi-Screen Gross,” which is effectively a combination of home and theatrical box office figures for day and date releases, which it will post on Cinetic’s affiliate company FilmBuff’s website.
While tallying specialty box office this past weekend, I asked a number of companies if they would follow suit. This is hardly a “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down that wall” kind of proclamation, but any appeal toward transparency will be helpful in demystifying this release model. So how about it, IFC, Magnolia, RADiUS-TWC and Roadside Attractions?