An average short films sales agent acquires 10-30 films per year. Let’s face it – the market is small so it is impossible that all of them will be successful. Hopefully, one manages to make at least a few sales for each title over a period of time. But sometimes you will have 2-3 titles that do really well. And that was the case with Paths of Hate for us – definitely the highest-selling short film that we’ve ever had in the catalogue. Here, I would like to try to answer the question “why?”
Paths of Hate was produced by Platige Image – a Warsaw-based animation and special effects studio. It is one of the most successful Polish production companies, which makes special effects for Lars von Trier’s films (Antichrist, Melancholia) and was Oscar-nominated for Tomek Baginski’s Cathedral. We built a relationship with them while working on the sales of their previous film, Kinematograph (Oscar-shortlisted in 2010). This is exactly how we like to work with producers: building long-term relationships and mutual trust. After a successful run with Kinematograph, we were invited to their office in November 2010 to see a new film which was almost ready. It was Paths of Hate – a 10-minute-long, fast-paced story about two fighter pilots who turn into beasts and become a universal symbol of hate, all accompanied by hard rock music. It was an entertaining film, hitting a specific demographic – a young male audience fascinated with planes, World War II and, indirectly, fantasy, sci-fi, and animation – potentially a strong film for the US market (like most Platige titles). It was also a nice, flashy change for a lot of festivals (and our catalogue) filled with student art-house dramas about suicide – always a good film to break a depressing or very arty screening block. We took the film and started to discuss the best way to promote it. The timing was perfect: the beginning of the year has a few strong festivals: the Berlinale, Clermont-Ferrand, Sundance etc. The producer was handling the submissions. In the end, we premiered in Tampere in March 2011, and then went on to SXSW, Annecy where the film got a special mention, it won Jury Awards at Siggraph and Comic-Con to name but a few, and screened at around 200 film festivals in the world (many of them in the US). That means it got enormous exposure to professionals and audiences alike around the world. In order to be able to sell the film, we did an Oscar-qualifying screening in Los Angeles in March 2011. The Oscar campaign was run by the producer with support from us, the Polish Film Institute and using US-based publicists and agents. The most intensive part of the campaign took place at the end of 2011 and the beginning of 2012. The short-list came up in December 2011 and the nominations in January 2012. The film made the shortlist but was not nominated, which was surprising for many. It seems that the Academy prefers softer, less controversial, Pixar-style films (have a look at the nominees from recent years!). Paths of Hate had many fans but it also alienated a lot of people looking for more kids-friendly content and, yes, women – all together a substantial group of voting Academy members, it seems.
Paths of Hate is 10 minutes long, which means it’s suitable for TV slots (both as a fillers and as part of a blocks of films), cinemas (as a film that could be screened before a long feature) and festivals (as part of a screening block). Most short films are too long or at least longer than they could have been. This is problematic for broadcasters and festivals. Have a look at a programme of any festival – how many 30-minute films are there? Maximum 2-3 films compared to around 20 which are under 15 minutes long. Same with TV stations – only two or three in the world are willing to purchase a foreign film that long – most broadcasters don’t have such slots. And cinemas? Forget it. Even if they are open enough to consider playing shorts before features, they need to play 15-20 minutes of commercials and then they don’t want to keep the audiences waiting for more than 5-10 minutes before the main feature. Which means that with 10 minutes of length, Paths of Hate already ticks a lot of boxes. In general, I advise you to make films under 15 minutes, and around 8 minutes for animation. To put this into perspective: festivals get 2,000-5,000 submissions and they want to be able to show as many films as possible but only have 30-80 slots, which means that every 30-minute long film competes with three 10-minute long ones. Not a good chance for selection if you ask me.
Paths of Hate is also a commercial film, visually impressive and fast-moving. Because of that, it quickly got the attention of blogs and animation and WWII enthusiasts. In fact, it was the first film ever in our catalogue for which I received requests from individual customers, who wanted to buy single copies on iTunes or Amazon. We tried to respond to that as soon as it was possible and the film is now available on both of these platforms – both as VOD and DVD. It was also released on DVD by other companies.
Over a period of two years (from January 2011 to January 2013) Paths of Hate has been sold to ten TV broadcasters, two DVD labels and four cinema distributors, it is available on iTunes and on Amazon.com as VOD and DVD. The film won prizes at 31 festivals and was Oscar-shortlisted. Damian Nenow, the director, has created his own, recognisable style and he is now making a 3.5 million Euro animation and documentary hybrid feature called Another Day of Life. For us, working with Paths of Hate from such an early stage was a great experience and a real pleasure. If you have another one like this, call me!
text: Jan Naszewski
New Europe Film Sales