New Video/Docurama

What is New Video?
New Video is an entertainment, marketing, and sales company specializing in bringing documentaries, feature films, and classic television to home video and DVD. Our claim to fame is the A&E and History Channel home video lines. With these networks we have released over 2,000 videos, including Monty Python’s Flying Circus and the original Avengers TV series. This past year we officially launched our Docurama label with D.A. Pennebaker’s Bob Dylan —Don’t Look Back, the acclaimed The Brandon Teena Story from Susan Muska and Greta Olafsdottir, as well as Barbara Sonneborn’s moving Regret to Inform. The New Video home office is in New York City, with sales offices in Chicago and Arizona.

Who is New Video?
All 35 of us are key, but our executive roster is as follows: Susan Margolin; Steve Savage; Aimee Connolly, Vice President & General Manager; Trudi Roth, Vice President, Marketing; Mark Kashden, Vice President, Business Development; Gene Fink, Vice President, Sales; and Caitlan Cassaro, Docurama Marketing Manager.

How, when, and why did Docurama come into being?
When we starting putting out videos in 1990 we had a lot to learn. The one thing we knew was never to use the commercially challenged word “documentary.” Fast forward 10 years: we saw the world finally catching up to all of these wonderful films, yet there wasn’t a home video and DVD label dedicated exclusively to docs. And so, Docurama was born.

Unofficial motto or driving philosophy behind New Video/Docurama:
Docurama—Everything else is pure fiction.

What would people be most surprised to learn about New Video or its founders and/or key staff?
Steve Savage ran that legendary chain of Manhattan video stores of the same name in the ’80s. Anybody who still owes late fees can remit them to the address above. No questions asked.

Films and filmmakers you distribute:
Bob Dylan—Don’t Look Back and Stephen Sondheim’s Original Cast Album for Company! (D.A. Pennebaker); Moon Over Broadway (D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus); The Brandon Teena Story (Greta Olafsdottir and Susan Muska); Paul Taylor—Dancemaker (Matthew Diamond); Regret to Inform (Barbara Sonneborn); An American Love Story (Jennifer Fox); Genghis Blues (Roko and Adrian Belic); The Awful Truth (Michael Moore); and The McCourts of Limerick (Conor McCourt).

What types of works do you distribute?
New Video acquisitions reflect our ambition to put together a library of the greatest documentaries and independent programming past, present, and future. With A&E and the History Channel we have TV docs covered. With Docurama we look for documentaries that have a theatrical scale—strong stories, compelling subjects and characters that we want to get to know.

What drives you to acquire the titles you do?
We have acquired films that we knew would be tough but we wanted them for our library. Our role within the community is to find audiences and return money to our filmmakers and, of course, to New Video. When we break through and find that audience, it’s a great feeling. We’re making a difference.

Do documentaries present special distribution issues?
Not issues as much as challenges. Many video stores still don’t have documentary sections. There are buyers for many big chains who personally love docs but are hesitant to bring them in. We do have success stories such as Blockbuster bringing The Brandon Teena Story into all of their stores. Publicity is key, and setting up in-store appearances and online chats go a long way towards helping the film find its audience.

What’s your basic approach to releasing a title?
Tell our customers about it, show it to our customers, tell our customers about it again, tell everyone else about it, tell our customers about it again and then pray.

Where do New Video titles generally show?
Our titles are generally shown at festivals, video stores, music stores, mass merchants, online retailers, schools and libraries. The general viewing age ranges from 18 to 104 and our titles are primarily present in North America, but also in Japan, Europe, and Australia.

Where do you find your titles and how should filmmakers approach you for consideration?
We find our titles primarily through festivals, word-of-mouth, direct submissions, and we do look at works-in-progress. We have found some of our documentaries at such festivals as Sundance, Toronto, Docfest, and DoubleTake, for example. A good place to start is with an e-mail to Caitlan Cassaro who marketing manager for Docurama [ccassaro@newvideo.com].

Range of production budgets of titles in your collection:
Big range: Michel Negroponte shot Jupiter’s Wife for something like $500. Of course, postproduction took it up beyond that, but Digital Video and other such inventions are opening up the low budget doc big time. We’ve also distributed films that have had budgets of many millions of dollars.

Biggest change at New Video in recent years?
The Internet and DVD have almost reinvented our business. Making a commentary track with D.A. Pennebaker and Bob Neuwirth makes Don’t Look Back totally accessible and exciting to new audiences. Also, the Web has opened up new opportunities for us, from both from access to new audiences and revenue streams. Everybody always thinks that the next medium is going to obliterate the incumbents, but this rarely happens. Most often it just realigns and redefines the existing media. We think this is what is happening to us now and so far it’s been good. We are very excited about the future.

Where will New Video be 10 years from now?
As downstreaming, et al. becomes commonplace and people can get anything they want, they’re going to need help finding what’s good and worth their time no less [THAN??] their money. New Video has spent the last 20 years taking great films and presenting them in appealing ways. Finding the marketing hooks, the audiences, and the customers will become more important in this new world. We will probably still be putting things in boxes (portable media) but most of our business will probably be in “virtual packaging” of great films.

You knew New Video had made it as a company
when . . .
our local coffee shop finally allowed us to run a tab!

If you weren’t distributing films, what would you be doing?
Steve would open up a 21st century media deli (the kind of shops that will replace video stores once streaming takes hold). Having the ye olde New Video shops, seeing customers everyday was a grounding experience that we miss on the 15th floor. When we did something wrong our customers would tell us right then and there. Susan would be making a documentary film about distributing documentary films.

If you could only give independent filmmakers one bit of advice it would be to . . .
finish the film you’re working on. And then move on to the next, but don’t abandon the distribution cycle. Our greatest successes happen when the filmmakers stay involved. They have the best ideas. They know their audience better than we do. Their work at publicity and online chats is invaluable in getting the job done.

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