Q&A with Mr. David Linde
you give us an overview of what you do?
is a worldwide film distribution company with offices in New York, Los
Angeles and London with an affiliated office in Paris. We oversee the
development, production and financing of motion pictures as well as
providing the financing for their actual creation. We also acquire the
distribution rights to films produced and financed by other companies. I
run the company with my partner, James Schamus. We've worked together for
many years and have a very close working relationship -- which means that
we largely share all the responsibilities of running the company.
circumstances brought you to participate in the creation of Good Machine?
had worked in film distribution (largely internationally) for about 12
years - first at Paramount, then Fox Lorber Associates (now Wellspring)
and then Miramax. I had developed close relationships with filmmakers in
which I was very involved in the financing and distribution of their
movies - and really enjoyed the experience. Simultaneously, I was exposed
(and responded strongly) to the entrepreneurial environment of Fox/Lorber
and Miramax. Basically, I wanted to try my hand at running a company and
had met the two guys who founded Good Machine (James Schamus and Ted Hope)
when I tried to buy the distribution rights to "Eat Drink Man
Woman" from them. It was a great fit -- we shared similar tastes and
they were looking to expand Good Machine's horizons. I joined them as a
partner to do just that -- expand their ability to finance their movies
and bring new filmmakers to the company.
How would you describe Focus's philosophy - in general and marketing-wise? Does it differ much from GM's, now that you are under a studio's wing?
philosophy is very similar -- we're still trying very hard to make and
distribute "signature films by signature filmmakers." The studio
gives us much greater resources to do that.
The Hulk project sounds like a more "commercial" choice (at least on the surface) - is this a new direction Focus wishes to explore? Was it concocted by Mr. Schamus and Mr. Lee or was it brought to Focus from elsewhere?
Hulk" is not a Focus movie, itís a Universal movie. As you may
know, James has produced all of Ang Lee's movies and his involvement as
one of the producers of the film predates the creation of Focus.
There seems to be differing opinions about what constitutes an independent film. At one point, budget was the determining factor (making the best possible film with limited resources). Now some studios identify films with 20 million dollar budgets as independent. What constitutes an independent film for you?
was an explosion of low-budget American independent productions in the
'80's that also helped spawn several very successful independent
distribution companies -- most notably, Miramax and New Line -- as well as
production companies like Good Machine and Killer Films. I think we tend
to associate that period as defining "independent film" but
there is a much longer history of independent filmmaking, after all, Gone
With The Wind was very much an independent production. Itís very hard
for me to answer that question but ultimately, I think an
"independent film" most likely is a picture that is born outside
of what you would associate as mainstream cinema (which I still love) both
creatively and in the method it is financed.
Has independent film changed in the time you have been working in it? Or have you noticed any changes in the quality or content of independent films?
have a very international (including the U.S.!) perspective on the
business and I'm constantly amazed by the quality of work that is going
on, everywhere. There are real ebbs and flows as you suddenly discover
tremendous originality somewhere. Sundance was very much the locus for a
tremendous creative dynamic here that began in the '80s but at the same
time, there was very exciting filmmaking going on in Asia, much of which
only came to the forefront in the late '90s. Right now, what's going on in
places like Mexico, Iran, Spain, Thailand, etc. is astounding. I spent
about a week in Sundance this year and was very taken by the films that I
saw there. Itís interesting to see how much digital production is really
coming of age and also how many good, indie films are being financed by
HBO and Showtime. Both those networks are providing a real alternative to
producers who want to make original, low budget fare with younger
Have indie films influenced the ways studios have approached the production and/or marketing of their films?
As a distributor, you can only hope to match the creativity of the
filmmaker in the ways that you present their film.
you consider the marketing of a film, is it different for each genre
and/or budget of the film or star attached?
short, yes. In evaluating how you present a film -- which costs a lot of
money -- you have to take everything into account in targeting the
audience and hopefully, expanding well upon it.
With Box Office info being so accessible to the public nowadays and with the various marketing campaigns via the Internet, do you utilize specific industry tricks to garner larger audiences and appeal when you release a film?
have to be aware of every trick in the book and then invent a few of your
own -- because once you use them, everyone knows what they are!
When did you become involved with the marketing and distribution of The Pianist?
bought the U.S. rights to the film after screening it at the Cannes Film
Festival in May last year. We began working on its presentation
immediately -- which started with the selection of the release date. Once
we chose that date, the "machine" started up.
seems to me that most of the best independent film festivals (Sundance,
New York, Toronto, etc) fill their slates with films that have
recognizable talent involved -- either directors or actors. I think they
will many times choose these, even if they are not as good or entertaining
as a film without attachments -- It's good marketing.
What advice would
think itís important to take into account that these festivals vary
tremendously in scope and purpose. Going off the top of my head, I think I
would break them down as follows, using specific examples.
Cannes, Venice, Locarno, San Sebastian, Tokyo and Berlin are
representative of very high profile, international festivals that take
submissions from around the world. Accordingly, they often limit the
amount of films they take from each country and itís simply very
difficult to get in. With that said Ė itís not impossible and in each
of these cases, the festivals have created side-sections outside of the
main competition (which are still very much part of the festival)
primarily oriented to younger filmmakers. These include Berlin (Panorama,
Forum), Cannes (Director's Fortnight, Un Certain Regard, Critic's Week)
and Venice (Critic's Week.) If you think you have a film that would play
in these festivals, itís important to get the regulations from each
festival (they all have websites) and carefully read the descriptions of
each section. The worst thing you can do is submit your film to the wrong
Toronto, Melbourne/Sydney, Montrťal, Edinburgh. These are all very large,
"national" festivals that make an attempt to not only bring in
films from acclaimed filmmakers but have created side-sections
specifically oriented to younger, independent filmmakers -- often with a
focus on local filmmakers. Itís
also important to remember that these festivals tend to attract a huge
amount of national press and thus distributors will use the festival as a
launching pad for the release of their movie because itís a relatively
inexpensive way to publicize a film. Moreover, because of the cost of
holding these festivals, itís important that high-profile filmmakers and
actors attend the festival itself -- it keeps the profile of the festival
high and satisfies the wider audience they rely on to support the
festival. You or I may not like a particular film by a well-known
filmmaker but it doesn't mean there isn't an audience interested in seeing
the continuation of that filmmaker's work.
Seattle, LAIFF, Hamptons, Austin (South By Southwest), Santa Barbara.
These are strong, local festivals that have gradually built up
their profile for discovering new directors. As a result, they attract
executives from the various film production and distribution companies
scouting talent. Films at these festivals get reviewed in Variety and
Hollywood Reporter. These festivals are a terrific way to get your film
noticed -- if itís good, people will talk about it at these fests and
you will get "covered."
Could you explain the different functions between the distribution and acquisition people at the same studio?
folks are constantly in search of projects that are either about ready to
be made, in production or completed -- and that, in turn, they believe
have a "market" in theatres.
Effectively, they buy the film so that the company can then
distribute the film into theatres. Distribution people actually
"book" the films into theatres, which are owned and operated by
different companies. They decide how many theatres the film should go into
and at what time of year Ė taking into account their perception of how
many people can be convinced to see it and where they live.
If you believe a film might be commercially successful domestically, but not internationally, how does that impact your decision whether it should be made/acquired?
evaluate every film by trying to identify its "core" market. For
instance, when we made Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon -- we were confident
that the film would be a big hit in Asia and Europe but were actually less
sure about North America. Accordingly, we budgeted the film on that basis.
Little did we know...
In your opinion, what makes a GREAT script/story?
first or second timers -- a strong, defined 3-act structure. Compelling
primary characters that you can identify (positively or negatively) with
early on. A strong sense of time and place.