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Page Ostrow - Excerpt from Independent Film Quarterly - Independent Film Quarterly


INDEPENDENT FILM QUARTERLY

THE INDIE'S PAGE by Timothy Ford

Page Ostrow of Ostrow & Co.

"For years the buyers were focused on a genre-talent equation. We could sell a film by saying 'it's a Rutger Hauer action pic' or whatever. Nowadays the market wants a good story and good filmmakers. It's a healthy trend."

It's every independent filmmaker's dilemma: where am I going to get financing? Or, in the case of those lucky or industrious enough to have film in the can: how do I get completion funds and/or distribution?

The industry landscape can be mystifying, even for those who've been around for a while. Most newcomers are lost in a treacherous sea. Should they seek an agent or an executive producer/godfather? A production company or an international sales company?

In recent years filmmakers have been presented with another option--to hire a producer's rep, sometimes called a finance or distribution consultant. One such rep, Page Ostrow of Ostrow & Co., has participated in the financing and distribution of over 125 feature films. Unlike the lawyers, agents and former production execs who dominate this emerging field, Ostrow hung out her shingle after many years in international distribution. "I covered the major markets--Cannes, MIFED, AFM, NATPE, Toronto--representing over 25 distribution companies, a situation which put me on a first-name basis with over 300 distributors. It was my job to close deals--to negotiate licensing rights to completed films and to arrange territory pre-sales for projects in development.. Often I would participate in the acquisition of a property for a company then sell the rights to that same property to buyers from other countries, frequently in the same day." Ostrow, whose gracious-but-direct manner sets her apart from many in this world, feels her familiarity with distributors' end-users allows her to engage an educated dialogue for her producer/clients.

Ostrow feels a good presentation is crucial. "Filmmakers--even experienced ones--are usually unfamiliar with the culture of distribution and finance. I shepherd my clients through the packaging stages of their projects. I make certain that the client has an opportunity to make a good first impression by presenting a package in the format that the acquisitions or development people expect. I have the relationships with the production and distribution companies.. Through an ongoing dialogue over the years I've developed a rapport with these individuals so that I'm able to pitch and negotiate for my clients effectively."

The main difference between an agent and a producer's rep is how and when they get their fees. Producer's reps are retained upfront; agents get a percentage if and when a deal is consummated. Ostrow nonetheless feels a rep is a better choice. "It's my experience that agents tend to submit a lot of projects, hoping something happens so their 10% fee results. I am retained in advance so I feel obliged to be aggressive--to perform--for the client. I tailor submissions to the particulars of the project. Many agents are reluctant to even return phone calls from clients unless a deal is on the horizon. My clients and I are on an equal footing--we talk a couple times a week, they get status reports from me on a regular basis. I expect my clients to be involved. We sit down at the beginning of our relationship and delineate what I'm going to be doing and what they're going to be doing. I make no guarantee their dream will come true, but they will know very clearly what to expect from the process on a week-to-week basis. I always promptly return my client's calls. I don't know any agents who give that kind of service.

Ostrow accepts projects in all stages: concepts, treatments or books; bare screenplays; packaged projects; in-the-can films needing completion funding; and completed films looking for distribution. "For example, sometimes it's a script with an "A List" star attached, partial funding in place but no director or producer. Last year a film entitled "To End All Wars," starring Kiefer Sutherland and Robert Carlyle, came my way needing post-production funding. It was a beautifully shot WWII epic, looked like a 50 million-dollar studio picture. But the final investor had taken a big hit in the stock market and fell out."

Ostrow warns "the one thing I'm not interested in is any film featuring excessive gratuitous violence against women. On the other hand, sometimes a project does not appeal to me but the individual's energy and commitment does. And sometimes the client might start the relationship wearing one hat and end up wearing another--like a writer who decides to step up and produce his or her own project."
Ostrow sees material--and increasingly, the director--as crucial to closing an international deal. "For years the buyers were focused on a genre-talent equation. We could sell a film by saying 'it's a Rutger Hauer action pic' or whatever. Nowadays the market wants a good story and good filmmakers. It's a healthy trend."

Ostrow believes territory-by-territory pre-sale strategies are still viable for independent financing. "The people who say you can no longer finance independent films through an aggregate of pre-sales are the same people who were never very good at it in the first place," she feels. "Of course, my preferred route to get a project financed is through a domestic production company with both domestic and foreign distribution," she adds. "I like to approach the process Aikido-style. I want to get past all the no people quickly so I can get to a yes."

Ostrow also stages a series of pitching events called Greenlight Nights, wherein a panel of development and acquisitions executives evaluate and vote on pitches. The winner receives a free consultation with Ostrow and Co. The panelists also agree to take the winning project back to their respective companies for serious consideration. Recent panelists have included high-ranking execs or agents from ICM, Disney/Buena Vista, New Line/Fine Line, Miramax, Patriot Pictures, New Regency, Artisan Entertainment, Franchise Pictures, First Look/Overseas and Full Moon Releasing. Ostrow encourages the panel to not pull any punches. According to her, "If they feel you need to move back to Milwaukee, they say so." On the other hand, Ostrow reports a neophyte husband-and-wife writing team recently wowed the panel and is now in negotiation with a major production company."

Ostrow & Co. will evaluate a project for $275, which covers the reader's fee, administrative costs and a one-hour initial consultation, after which both the client and Ostrow can determine whether to move forward. Ostrow adds, "Generally, the minimum fee to retain me to represent a project or completed film is $7500-12,500 plus commissions."