Amid sold-out movie premieres and star-studded red carpets, another side of the Toronto International Film Festival was unfolding at venues like the Soho Metropolitan Hotel on Wellington Street.
“Every hotel room has a different sales agent,” said Laurie May, co-president of Elevation Pictures and a TIFF board member.
Behind the scenes, distributors and studios met with sales agents and filmmakers. These gatherings, as well as festival buzz, can determine when, how, and sometimes if a film can one day be seen by a wider audience.
While high-profile studio movies like The Fablemans, The Woman King, Y Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery If they all have fairly mainstream releases in the coming weeks and months, what happens to some of the other 200+ films on TIFF’s lineup now that the festival is over?
Some films may never find a wider audience, but others have found deals to land on the big screen, though in many cases where, when and for how long are still up in the air.
Huddles and hotel meetings
It’s not just moviegoers in the TIFF audience. Even at exhibits open to the public, the deals could filter through.
“Distributors will attend a public screening of the film,” said Geoff MacNaughton, TIFF’s senior director of industrial and theatrical programming. “[They] they’ll drop that screening, they’ll all get together and talk about if it’s something they really want to bid on and pursue.”
Some films are shown exclusively for buyers and industry professionals, such as door mousea Canadian thriller about a comic book writer who works in a nightclub and investigates the disappearance of several young women.
“This type of projections, [they’re] funny because it makes sure everyone pays attention,” said Todd Olsson, president of international sales for Highland Film Group, which is selling Gate Mouse.
MacNaughton says that in the past there were more full-length films seeking buyers at the festival.
“Now, I think what the industry is doing more and more is buying content that is in an earlier stage of completion, something like a project package or a script stage,” he said.
In addition to on-screen movies, TIFF provides an opportunity for the industry to come together and negotiate deals for projects that have yet to be made. An example of that phenomenon at this year’s festival is dumb money, May said, a still-to-be-shot movie about the GameStop stock saga will star Seth Rogen, Paul Dano and Pete Davidson.
According to May, Elevation’s investor and partner, Black Bear Pictures, had plans to be in Soho selling international rights to the film to various distributors.
She compares financing independent films to building a condominium.
“You pre-sell 60 percent of the condo and then you go to the bank and borrow the other 40 percent knowing it’s a small gap you have to cover,” he said.
It can be difficult for Canadian TIFF films to convince distributors that they are commercially worth showing to a broader Canadian audience.
According to an April report From the Motion Picture Association – Canada, Canadian films accounted for just 2.6 percent of theatrical revenue in the Canadian English-speaking market last year.
“Despite the plethora of Canadian productions out there, moviegoers still flock to Hollywood films,” said Tom Alexander, director of theatrical distribution for Mongrel Media.
Director Ashley McKenzie makes movies on her home island of Cape Breton, often with first-time actors and crew members who live in the community. She feels that this local focus can make it more difficult to attract distributors.
McKenzie was at TIFF with Qing Dynasty Queens, a drama about a neurodiverse teenager in a small remote town who finds herself unable to live on her own after a suicide attempt.
She feels part of the challenge is because investors are hesitant to take a chance on unknown-actor movies from emerging filmmakers, but she also feels there is a geographic hurdle to finding distribution in an industry she describes as centralized in large urban centers, especially in Toronto. .
“I am aware of many filmmakers who make films in their communities like I do,” he said. “I hope that maybe there will be more options available … for some of those films to be seen and distributed.”
Heading into the festival, McKenzie was looking for a distributor for Qing dynasty queens and struck a deal with Toronto-based distribution company MDFF that may lead to a theatrical release in late 2022 or early 2023. It also has a pre-sale licensing deal with CBC Films that will eventually provide a venue. landing for the movie.
Buzz (or not)
The attention on TIFF can affect release schedules for movies, even if distributors already have the rights, said John Bain, levelFILM’s head of distribution.
“If you get an especially positive rumor, does that mean we should hurry up while it might attract a lot of attention?” he said.
The opposite may be true for movies that don’t generate attention.
“It takes a long time to get a distribution deal done if a film doesn’t generate that critical buzz at the festival,” MacNaughton said.
Some festival films may never receive distribution, says Alexander.
“Certainly there will be a lot of movies and very good movies being shown. But for whatever reason, distribution companies may just not be able to see the potential for audiences.”
Find a wider audience
MacNaughton says TIFF’s Film Circuit program will bring films from the festival to more than 140 communities, starting in September after a multi-year hiatus.
“We are working closely with community partners across Canada to ensure that not only Toronto audiences see these movies, but audiences across Canada see them,” he said.
Some of the Canadian films are scheduled for national distribution in advance, as this may be a common condition for unlocking financing, although that does not guarantee a wide release.
Mongrel Media is distributing I like movies about a curmudgeonly teen who works in a video store in early 2000s Ontario. Alexander says the company looks to release its movies theatrically whenever possible.
“We are seeing that audiences are coming back to theaters and we continue to show movies in theaters when we can,” he said.
However, he said those releases tend to be limited and focused on large urban centers, so it may be easier to see some of these films in Vancouver theaters than in Viking, Alta.
Last year’s schedule can provide a rough guide as to when Canadians might see some of this year’s Canadian TIFF selections.
Scarboroughwhich won the 2022 Canadian Screen Award for Best Picture, was distributed by levelFILM and opened theatrically in February, before hitting Crave last summer.
night raiders, a dystopian film about a mother trying to rescue her daughter from a state institution was named one of TIFF’s top ten Canadian films last year. It was released in over It also hit the Crave earlier this year and opened in 80 theaters in October 2021, a record total for an Indigenous film.
SEE| Scarbarough won the 2022 Canadian Screen Award for Best Film:
Learn to swim, which was named to TIFF’s list of the top ten Canadian films at last year’s festival and opened theatrically last March. It was recently made available in the US on Netflix and is available to rent or buy on various video-on-demand platforms in Canada.
While important, the film festival is a step, not the end, in a film’s long journey from its inception to reaching a wider audience.
“Half of the movies that are available are made well. And then half of that half gets to festivals and then a quarter of that half gets distributed, right?” May said.
“It’s a long road…but when you put yourself on that road and that road works well, it’s a beautiful thing.”
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