A Progress Report on its Music Films: Tribecca

Jennifer Vineyard/ 04/29/11 Billboardbiz.com

The Tribeca Film Festival winds up next week, but the deals keep coming. The festival, which kicked off April 20 with the world premiere of Cameron Crowe’s just-finished documentary about Elton John and Leon Russell’s collaboration, “The Union,” had a strong music emphasis this year, with a large percentage of its program of feature films being either about musicians, by musicians, and/or starring musicians.

“Treatment,” for instance, is a film written by, co-directed by, and starring former Harvey Danger front man Sean Nelson, and features original music by Robyn Hitchcock, who also makes a cameo. The movie follows a would-be filmmaker who enters rehab to pitch his idea to a movie star already in residence.

“Tribeca is weirdly situated between Sundance, SXSW, and Cannes,” Nelson told Billboard.biz. “Sundance is so about American independent cinema, and SXSW is slightly more about emerging talent, but Tribeca has a more fluid identity. They do show small independent American films, but they also show a much broader international roster. Tribeca is for the dark horses.”

Dark horses this year include “Talihina Sky: The Story of Kings of Leon” (which, despite its work-in-progress status, is already garnering rave reviews), “The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye” (about the panandrogyny of Psychic TV’s Genesis P-Orridge and his late wife), and “The Swell Season” (which shows the impact of that band’s 2008 Oscar win for “Once”).

Many of the films about music were at least partially financed by the musicians themselves. Swell Season singer Glen Hansard said that his band paid around $100,000 for the filmmakers to join the group on tour. “We paid for it, and now it’s done, and [the film] exists,” he said. “Do we need the money back? I don’t think so.”

Other musicians, however, will get their money back, through profit participation deals. The members of longrunning hip-hop group A Tribe Called Quest, for instance, get 50 percent of the net profits from “Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest,” which came to Tribeca after premiering earlier this year at Sundance. Despite this deal, the members of the group initially were not in full support of the doc, complaining about final cut and producer credits, but resolved those issues before the premiere April 27. (The documentary was acquired by Sony Picture Classics for a July 8 theatrical release, prior to Tribeca).

In some cases, the most realistic way to pay back the people who worked on a film is to offer points on the back end. “It’s a lot more like making an independent record than making an independent film,” Nelson said. “It’s like royalties in that you give points – a percentage point of the film’s value. So in the event we get acquired and distributed, we recoup the budget and pay everyone [in addition to their original day rates].”

Prior to its premiere, “Limelight,” a documentary about the rise and fall of New York nightclub owner Peter Gatien, sold its world rights to Magnolia, which is now aiming for an August release. Most of this year’s Tribeca films, however, will probably only draw offers after their premieres.

“The phone is already ringing,” said Jack Osbourne, who produced and helped finance the biopic “God Bless Ozzy Osbourne,” which premiered April 24. He estimates that the cost of making the film came in at under a million. “We’re going to see the week out, and start taking some meetings. The ultimate goal is to sell it and get it out there. If someone wants to buy it, please do!”


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