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How To Be An Indie Distrib in 2014: My Interview With Freestyle Releasing Co-President, Mark Borde

Photo of Jim Amos By Jim Amos | Box Office Insider August 11, 2014 at 9:24PM

How to be an indie distributor in 2014. My wide-ranging interview with Freestyle Releasing Co-=President, Mark Borde.
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Mark Borde


BOI
FIRST OFF LET’S TALK ABOUT GODS NOT DEAD.  WHAT A TREMENDOUS SUCCESS.  TALK ABOUT HOW IT CAME TO YOU AND WERE YOU AMAZED BY THE FILM’S SUCCESS

God's Not Dead

MB
I was very amazed.  One of the good things about being an independent is the ability to capitalize on success once it happens.  Did we know that eventually this film would gross $60 million?  I would be a total liar if I said we thought it was going to do anything close to that.  Our expectations were in the low millions.  So we were very pleasantly surprised.  There were a lot of factors that went into that.  

BOI
HOW DID IT ALL HAPPEN?

MB
The picture came to us through Pureflix, with whom we did previous films.​​​​.  They were comfortable with us, they liked our ability to release on a wide basis.  We are one of the few independent companies that does thousand plus releases on a regular basis.  With my four offices around the country and my relatively large staff that’s one of the things we do on a regular basis.  So that was interesting to them and we get along.  It was a good fit. 

BOI
WHAT WAS NEXT?

MB
Then the discussion was how wide do we go initially.  At first the plan was to go relatively small, 400-500 theatres, which is a normal dip your toe into the tub kind of release and see where we go from there and as you know tracking starts at 500 so sometimes you want to stay below that number.  That number is manageable from a P&A standpoint as well.  But then we saw the action, and I give all the credit to the team at Pureflix, the interest in the movie, first from presales, which were very strong, number two from the social media buzz, very quickly after the wheels started turning on this movie they were up to 1 million likes on Facebook.  And the movie was being talked about on Facebook.  And then we were tracking on Fandango and all the various indexes and we decided as a team to open larger and we went to 750 theatres and we actually got to $1 million in presales before we even opened the door.

BOI
WHAT DID YOU THINK ABOUT THE OPENING WEEKEND?

"...they had a great cast and they made a movie where the message was crystal clear, "God's Not Dead".

MB
Well we had a bit of luck from the whole “Duck Dynasty” controversy because the part of the cast is in the movie.  And the controversy lasted a few weeks so we got free publicity from that.  So when you add everything up, the tracking, the presales, the social media buzz, the “Duck Dynasty” controversy we had a good chance to open decent.  Well we opened better than decent as we had a $9 million opening weekend.  So we then suggested to Pureflix and we quickly agreed to expand much faster than we intended.  We expanded to 1,170 theatres the second week and then 1,860 theatres in week four.  And once the train starts rolling there’s really no stopping it.  And I give most if not all the credit to the filmmakers and Pureflix as they had a great cast and they made a movie where the message was crystal clear.  “God’s Not Dead”.  The title was terrific, the key art was sensational so right away you’re telling the audience in three words what the movie is about and why they should see it.

BOI
THAT’S AN INTERESTING POINT AND MIGHT BE ONE OF THE REASONS WHY A FILM WITH A FAITH BASED ANGLE TO IT LIKE “MOM’S NIGHT OUT” DID NOT WORK.  BY THE TITLE, YOU REALLY DON’T KNOW THAT IT WAS FAITH BASED UNLESS YOU REALLY DUG DEEP

MB
Exactly.  Also, I don’t mind saying when trade papers compare apples and oranges they have to keep in mind the ROI on a movie like “God’s Not Dead” because we don’t have the studio machine of something like “Heaven is For Real” and we don’t have to spend $15-20 million to release these films

BOI
TALK ABOUT WHAT YOU DO HAVE COMING UP THAT IS FAITH BASED

MB
Next up is “The Identical” which is a really good movie with Ashley Judd and Ray Liotta and it’s sort of loosely based on Elvis about twin brothers and their love of music and how they go on different paths in life.  Ray plays the lead’s father who is a minister and he wanted his son to go into the ministry.  Sound like anyone you know?  There’s a lot of faith elements in the film, although it also has a strong secular based slant as well.  That goes on September 5th.  And then we follow that up with a movie I’m very excited about, which is “Left Behind”, which is part of the series.  The books sold 60 million copies and this is a big budget feature film starring Nicolas Cage and he’s fantastic in it.  It’s the story of the rapture.  But done in a studio fashion with a first class story, great special effects, etc.  That goes October 3.   And we also have a film that is an Academy Award type of release in December called “The Letters” and it’s the story of Mother Theresa.  It’s a Catholic bent film but we’re not selling it purely as a religious film, it’s primarily a biopic and it’s beautiful.  Juliet Stevenson is the lead, Max Von Sydow is in it, and it’s all shot in India.  It’s going to be in a ton of festivals before the end of the year.  And we think that Juliet Stevenson, who is in every frame of the movie, will receive Oscar attention,. On Valentines Day 2015 we will be releasing OLD FASHIONED, a faith based “dating” movie as counter programming to 50 SHADES OF GREY, and this has already received a ton of press due to the counter programming angle.

BOI
IF YOU HAD IT YOUR OWN WAY HOW MANY FILMS WOULD YOU RELEASE IN A YEAR

MB
Well I do-we release 10-12 movies a year theatrically and we have Freestyle Digital Media, which is very successful and that’s our VOD division.

BOI
I’M GLAD YOU BROUGHT UP THIS SUBJECT.  I WANTED TO GET YOUR VIEW OF THE VOD LANDSCAPE AS IT CURRENTLY EXISTS AND WHERE YOU SEE IT GOING. 

MB
|It’s here to stay.  As someone who’s been in the business for 40 years so I kinda come to this kicking and screaming and if I had my way the traditional windows would not only stay in place but would be longer so people could see movies in their 5th, 6th, 7th weeks like “God’s Not Dead” did.   But you can’t stop progress.  I personally have cable in my house and have 500 choices of Video On Demand plus all the other platforms and I’m as guilty as the next person in not going out to the movies as I used to because of the accessibility of films and how close they are to release.  That’s just the way it is.  And I think that’s one of the reasons why pictures are going so wide-they don’t have to wait 2-3 weeks to see it.  You can go to a 2pm, 3pm, 4pm show so nothing sells out anymore.  Nothing sells out anymore.   It’s a lifespan issue

BOI
DO YOU THINK THAT OUR ATTENTION SPANS ARE GETTING SHORTER?  WE’LL SEE “PLANET OF THE APES” AND THEN FOUR WEEKS LATER WE’LL THINK “PLANET OF THE APES” WAS THIS SUMMER?

"We distribute Hispanic films, African American film, now faith-based films and political films are yet another one or two quadrant genre"

MB
That’s absolutely correct.  And the perceptions of films has changed.  I read an article on your blog about the misconception that the last Tom Cruise movie didn’t do well but in reality it did a lot of business, especially when you factor in International.  We forget. 

BOI

LAST QUESTION.  WE’VE SEEN OVER THE LAST SEVERAL YEARS THAT POLITICAL FILMS GAIN TRACTION LIKE NEVER BEFORE IN THE MARKETPLACE-MOVIES LIKE “OBAMA 2016” OR “AMERICA”.  DO YOU SEE THAT CONTINUING?

MB

Well yes and no.  As a company that specializes in targeting one or two quadrants companies like ours make our money hitting singles and doubles, not the home runs that studios need to.  So playing to one or two quadrants are in our wheelhouse.  We distribute Hispanic films, African American films, now faith based films and political films are yet another one or two quadrant genre.  We just did (Afghan War documentary/drama) “The Hornet’s Nest”, which was not an easy task reaching that audience and have them pay for something that they might perceive as something they could get on free TV.  But that audience is out there and some of these specifically targeted films will work. 


 

This article is related to: Interviews, Mark Borde, Freestyle Releasing, God's Not Dead, The Identical, In the Spotlight


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