Fedz creator Q responds to Amma Asante’s Film Summit keynote speech.
Reading Amma Asante’s keynote speech led me to write this open letter.
Yes the first film is tough, and the second film even if it is 10 years apart, even tougher. But getting your first film distributed or even your second film could be even harder than making the movie.
Let me talk about a niche market: namely that for black films. I will not use the word urban to soften it to your eyes or ears. Black films make money - that has been proved at the American box office recently - and the word black is a lot more inclusive nowadays, as the majority of people in the front row and in the stadium at a Beyonce, Jay-Z, Kayne West concerts are white, and they have no objection in showing their love for black culture created by people of colour.
If I look at the American box office this year, Think Like a Man Too, Ride Along, No Good Deed, all went to number one, and were all produced by Will Packer.
The Equalizer went to number one, but hey that is Denzel Washington.
However when an Idris Elba movie makes approximately $25 million dollars at the US box office and is number one and it makes about $64,000 (£40,000) in the UK and is number 22 on the opening weekend then I think it is time to open up the debate.
Are UK distributors poor at marketing black movies? Do they even care?
I mean if Idris Elba — from Mandela, Luther, the Emmy-nominated, Golden Bear-nominated actor - cannot open a movie in the UK, if Idris cannot get Sony Pictures in the UK to get behind him, what chance do all these other UK based black actors with Hollywood dreams have?
There is the argument that we in the UK don’t support our local talent. Is Idris still seen as local talent? Isn’t he one of the names that a UK distributor, or a financier would want a budding filmmaker to bring signed, sealed and delivered, and saying ‘I am yours’ to get a potential project to green light?
So what is the difference between America and the UK? Obviously it is not just a colour situation, because more white actors have left the UK than black, but from the drain of black talent leaving theses shores, it is evident that the island mentality is too small for them and they need a bigger sea with a bigger market and better marketing and distribution of their talent.
Which brings me back to the main theme of my letter, which is film distribution.
If UK distributors have been continually bad at marketing black movies - and let’s say for argument’s sake there is a market for this product - then what are the options?
Revolver Entertainment were one of the few distributors to cash in on this market and get it right. Since their demise there has been a big gap and since the advent of digital distribution, UK distributors have been trying to find their feet in this new landscape, for their own white-based product, let alone worrying about black movies.
However, in the new digital landscape, this is where black artists are reigning supreme and cut out middle men or the traditional distributors of their products, and joyously inventing new business models, partnerships and reaching their audience and making sales, and taking the lion’s share of the profit.
Beyonce dropped her album via Instagram, Jay-Z his album with Samsung, and Kanye is just Kanye. However the key factor is that, like Will Packer, all these artists have gone to their niche markets as well as going commercial via digital.
Let’s talk Will Packer as film is my passion. His micro and macro understanding of the economics of the film industry has made him into one of the most powerful producers in the US.
So taking a leaf out of his book, we decided that the revolution would not only not be televised but it would be digitised.
If the UK distributors of black movies were bad, why even bother with them? If they didn’t care, why should we care about them? Michael Jackson said it very clearly in the one of his songs with the line: “All I really want to say is that they don’t really care about us.”
So taking that as a given, and decoding Micheal’s message, we went on a stealth digital campaign with our film Fedz, both as an experiment into the arena of digital distribution and niche marketing.
I am not going to talk about it all but Google Fedz and it will show you the social proof, of the mixtape, Vimeo pulling us down, our lawyers taking on IAC and getting us back up, our innovative sold-out cinema premiere at the Genesis Cinema, our recent adverts on BskyB, being on the homepage of iTunes, and getting to number six in the iTunes chart and outselling the titles of certain UK distributors that have previously badly marketed black movies.
Having said all this, we are not wrong in our digital strategy and cutting out the middle man, if the god of independent film distribution Harvey Weinstein is using the same strategy as us - albeit on a much bigger scale - with Snowpiercer and now with Crouching Tiger 2, then we are in the right place.
We don’t have friends in high places to call upon, but we do have a level playing field with iTunes and digital distribution and we know, where our audience is and how to reach them, also the key indicator for us for commercial success is that when you are an indie, and you don’t ask for favours, you don’t jump up and down about diversity but champion entrepreneurship, you are going to get hate in the commercial arena.
But this is a sign of success, because we know the majority don’t like it, and like John Boyega said about the hate he is getting in his Star Wars journey, “get used to it”.
Well said John, we are not going anywhere. As a matter of fact we are going to use our talent and enterprise to rise, and all colours and creeds will show us the money, because we have been forced to create new models to survive and if they missed it…tuff.
The revolution will be digitised and they might just miss it.
Q is the writer, director and star of Fedz.