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Estoril : cas pratique sur la stratégie de distribution du film ILLEGAL de Olivier Masset Depasse

décembre 20, 2010


Saturday, November 13th

MODERATION: Jean Paul Commin, consultant (France)

Henk Cluytens – O’Brother (Belgium)

Carolyn Occelli – Haut et Court (France)

Laurent Dutoit – Agora (Switzerland)

Marieke Jonker – Amstelfilm (Netherlands)

The case study is focused on the different distribution strategies, done or to be done, for the Belgian movie ILLEGAL. It has been coproduced by Belgium (Versus Productions), France (Dharamsala) and Luxembourg (Iris), presented in world premiere at Director’s Fortnight in Cannes 2010, and sold by French international sales company, Films Distribution. So far, the following territories have been acquired: Italy (Archibald), USA (Film Movement), Israel (Orlando), Germany (Telepool), Greece (Feelgood Entertainment).

Illegal tells the story of a Russian woman who lives with her teenage son in Belgium, she’s well integrated, has a job, speaks the language, her son goes to school. But she has no official identification papers. When she gets arrested, her son manages to escape, but she ends up in a closed prison like asylum where she risks to get expelled. The movie has a strong political and social anchorage.

clip_image002The main production company, Versus (Joachim Lafosse, Bouli Lanners, etc), has been created by two brothers, Jacques Henri and Olivier Bronckart, who created the brand new distribution company O’Brother. Thus, O’Brother head of distribution, Henk Cluytens explained how it was important to distribute a movie that you’ve produced. In Cannes, the movie won the SACD prize. The release date has been scheduled for October 6th: just before, they toured in Belgium with the director and the actress for premieres. There were 14 prints and so far 15 000 admissions (the goal was 20 000, and they’ll do it). The distribution strategy has been focused on three elements. Firstly, the associations: Henk Cluytens underlined it was crucial to have a guide, somebody who can help you choosing the right association (because they all have different means to reach their goal). Secondly, the schools: they were – and still are – responsive to the movie; screenings are booked until April. Thirdly, they wrote an open letter they posted on their website. The question was: how is Belgian government treating illegal immigrants? So far, they got 5000 participations. The open letter has been published as postcards, in theaters and restaurants. Furthermore, Laurent Cantet, Entre les murs’ director, Palme d’or awarded, directed a short documentary (3’), called On bosse ici, on vit ici, on reste ici (We’re working here, we’re living here, we’re staying here), they can suggest it as a supplement for theaters who are showing the movie. Illegal has been selected as Belgian entry for Oscars.

Then, Carolyn Occelli from Haut et Court takes over the panel, relating the French distribution strategy. The movie has been acquired end of 2008, at script stage, only for theatrical rights: Haut et Court is close to Dharamsala, the French coproducer, and to Versus, the Belgian producer. They started working on all marketing elements for Cannes preparation (trailer, key artworks, pics, pressbook – the same for Belgium). Media and non media partnerships have been dealt. The associations were not interested in working on the movie earlier (they did it one week before the release), because, ironically, there were very big issues on immigration laws at that time. Haut et Court decided to focus on online strategy through advertising on cultural and cinema websites (like Allociné or Evene), political targets (like Rue89), Facebook and a blog they created (all the elements could be easily commented).

The movie has been released one week after Belgium, on October 13th on 73 prints (9 in Paris), but only got 31 686 admissions (Nov 8th), for a P&A budget of 208 000€. Even if the word of mouth from associations was rather good, people didn’t want to see this kind of movie (when the movie has been released in France, there were harsh strikes). Now, they’re doing screening for associations, and maybe the movie will enter the educational film selection.

On the Swiss part, Laurent Dutoit from Agora Films, bought the movie in Cannes to Films Distribution: he really liked the movie, even if he knew the release would be small (with the same political and social subject, they released Welcome last year, with mixed results – 20 000 admissions). Usually, he tries to schedule the release one week after France to benefit from the media exposure and the word of mouth. But the Swiss Cinémathèque would like to show it during a retrospective and will invite the director to present his movies. The release has been postponed after this event. In Switzerland, there is a law to expel foreign criminals, so this is a hot topic now. He did mailings to associations to spread the news about the movie’s release. If he reaches 1000 admissions, it will be a good number. Indeed, exhibitors are interested but they’ve seen the figures in France, so it won’t be a huge success. Maybe, he’ll manage to get 2 or 3 screenings a day (usually it is 5). The release will be only for the French part (not German neither Italian, because political movies don’t work). Optimistically, he thinks he won’t recoup his costs…

Finally, Marieke Jonker from Amstelfilm in Netherlands, still far away from the release, presents her ideas for the distribution scheduled for March 2011, with 3 prints in 35mm and 5 in digital. The programmers are enthusiastic: the movie has been selected to IFFR in January and MTM (Movies that Matters) in March, just before the theatrical release. The targets are 25yo female audience and students. For now, she thinks she’ll do the same scheme with associations and schools, and likes the idea of the open letter! Still, she needs to explore two important subjects: how accurate is illegal in Netherlands, and how to get in touch with political associations.

These 4 distributors used or will use the same tools to promote Illegal, with a strategy mainly focused on viral marketing and relying on associations. A distributor asks if it was possible to release the movie as a thriller (see the poster), in order to be more commercial, but the panelists answer “no!” in a consensus…

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