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» "Super" Hype: How An Indie Film Beat the Distribution Sales Slump

by Michelle Castillo, published on October 8, 2010

Producer Miranda Bailey finally let out a sigh of relief. She only saw and heard positive things during the first screening of her film Super at the Toronto Film Festival.

The movie had a midnight slot on Friday, September 10, 2010, but Bailey wasn't worried since the typical audience for her superhero dark comedy enjoyed late screenings. She went back to her room after the congratulatory hugs, hoping to get calls from distributors in the upcoming days. In an ideal world, she thought, she'd be able to enter negotiations before the festival was over, fingers crossed that she might be able to announce a deal with a distributor in Toronto.

To her surprise she got a call at 2:30AM: The bidding war had begun. Then, another at 9AM. By morning there were around five companies trying to buy Super.

“It was freaking awesome,” she said excitedly.

By the next day, Bailey and her team proudly announced that IFC would be distributing the film, which was the first acquisition in the entire film festival. The Indie quickly became the first major buzz of Toronto, especially surprising since the film was a strict genre film with an offbeat sense of humor.

In a depressed market where Independent distribution companies have been forced to close their doors, the sale of Super is a rare success story. Although the film has garnered much praise - in the press release IFC president Jonathan Sehring called Super “one of the most creative and subversive films of the year” – there are plenty of critically acclaimed films that haven't been picked up.

“I think it's funny because Toronto was a really healthy sales market, but I think that we shouldn't be lulled into the misconception that the Indie market is back,” IFC senior vice president of acquisitions and co-productions Arianna Bocco said.

By all rights Super has had everything going for it. Director and writer James Gunn had a large nerd-based following from his previous film Slither, who were eagerly awaiting his next movie. The film was made for $2 million, ridiculously cheap considering that the movie stars actors Rainn Wilson, Liv Tyler, Ellen Page, Kevin Bacon and Nathan Fillion. The cast and crew were eager to tweet and do promotional appearances despite the huge pay cut they had to take.

“Nobody complained about how little they were getting paid,” Bailey said with a hint of disbelief in her voice. “There was no big deal to get any of the cast to come to Comic Con or to Downtown. I have no clue how this happened but it's been a lovely experience. I would work with them in heartbeat.“

Super is about a disgruntled ex-husband named Frank (Wilson), whose wife Sarah (Tyler) left him for their local drug dealer Jacques (Bacon). With Libby (Page), a comic book store clerk ally at his side, Frank becomes the Crimson Bolt, a vigilante superhero whose only purpose is getting his due revenge on Jacques. It's drawn many comparisons plotwise to Kick-Ass and comedy-wise to Observe and Report. Not exactly huge blockbuster material when you look at the films it's compared to, but for some reason from production to acquisition, it only took Super an unprecedented one year.

Bailey points out that that she normally sees a two to four year lag to when she can pay her investors back, but this film had some supernatural force powering it. Day One: She met with co-producer Ted Hope. Day Two: She read the script. Three months later: Shooting had begun. “What happened with Super was totally unique and never happened before to me. There must be a little bit of magic dust on it,” she said.

IFC's Bocco said Super fit what the company was looking for at the time. She admitted they knew the movie would do extremely well with their audience right after the screening. “We were looking for a highly marketable film that would be embraced by its core audience,” she explained. Not only the fan boys, but the critics who would be reviewing and blogging about it who would embrace James as a filmmaker.”

“Every year it gets harder and harder to make money off these films,” Bocco said. “We're still figuring out ways to reach the audiences. It's still incredibly challenging. Especially for American Indie films that don't have Rainn Wilson, Liv Tyler and Kevin Bacon in it.”

But, Bocco admitted that luck had a huge factor in the films success. The film screened so well at Toronto in front of acquisition teams that it drummed up interest right away. She admitted that although she enjoyed the film and believes in it, it's not typical how fast and how valuable Super got right away. “There are more unsold films that are sold. It's still the ratio that is in place. There's still not enough distributors (for Independent films) out there and that's still a problem,” she explained.

“I think the movie was on people's radars, but I think at the end of the day it sold because it played well,” Bailey asserted, honestly believing in her product. “At the end of the day, no matter what you do, you have to make a good movie.”

IFC is targeting a March or April release in order to drum up summer sales, hoping the movie will stay in theaters throughout the summer due to a cult following. They also plan to release day and date on VOD.

Bailey is realistic about the number of projects that are out there, knowing that many deserving films just like hers have yet to find an interested buyer. “It's a great script, but there are tons of great scripts,” she said. “James is a great director, but there's tons of great directors. It's got awesome producers, but there are tons of awesome producers.”

Being brutally honest, she admitted it really all came down to timing and mostly luck.

“If I knew what the magic was on this project I would bottle it and sell it to every film maker,” she said.

Source: techland.com

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