Distributor FAQ: Artistic License Films

What is Artistic License Films?
A film distribution company.

Who is Artistic License?
Sande Zeig, president; Vicky Waldron, vice-president of acquisitions and business affairs; Steve Fagan, vice-president of theatrical distribution; Anne Crozat, distribution associate; Nora Coblence, financial manager.

Total number of employees at Artistic License:
Five, plus we’re very committed to our trailer maker, poster designers, promotions company, printers, and publicists.

How, when, and why did Artistic License come into being?
In 1994, after leaving her job as director of theatrical sales at First Run Features, Sande Zeig started booking a handful of films including Mark Rappaport’s Rock Hudson’s Home Movies, Michel Negroponte’s Jupiter’s Wife, and Yale Strom’s The Last Klezmer. These were great small films that weren’t finding theatrical distribution and needed specialized attention to work in the commercial market. This endeavor developed into Artistic License.

Unofficial motto or driving philosophy behind Artistic License:
Make the filmmakers happy.

What would people be most surprised to learn about Artistic License’s staff?
Sande Zeig directed her first feature film The Girl which will premiere in Toronto this September; she does a great handstand. Vicky Waldron is the associate producer of The Girl; she doesn’t believe in the positive effects of yoga. Steve Fagan is not somebody to be joked about. Ann Crozat is the newest member of the staff and Sande almost has her convinced about the positive effects of yoga. Nora Coblence knows everybody you’d ever want to know.

How many works are in your collection?
About 50.

Filmmakers and films you distribute:
Bette Gordon’s Luminous Motion, Robert Pappas’ Some Fish Can Fly, Kore-eda Hirokazu’s Afterlife, Matthew Diamond’s Dancemaker, Barbara Sonnenborn’s Regret to Inform, Jill Sprecher’s Clockwatchers, Fridrik Thor Fridriksson’s Devil’s Island and Cold Fever, Catherine Gund’s Hallelujah, Chris Hegedus and D.A. Pennebaker’s Moon Over Broadway, D.A. Pennebaker’s Don’t Look Back, Jeanne Jordan and Steve Ascher’s Troublesome Creek, Michel Negroponte’s Jupiter’s Wife. In association with Merchant Ivory Films we also distribute Lea Pool’s Set Me Free, Theo Angelopoulous’ Eternity and a Day, and Alain Renais’ Same Old Song.

What drives you to acquire the films you do?
We look for films we love, films we feel will stand out in a competitive market.

Is Artistic License also involved in co-production or co-financing of works.
Not yet, but we will be.

Is there such a thing as an Artistic License film?
A film becomes an Artistic License film only after we’ve distributed it.

Best known title in Artistic License’s collection:
Afterlife or Cold Fever.

What’s your basic approach to releasing a title?

Where do Artistic License titles generally show?
Everywhere: calendar houses, first run houses, chains from AMC to UA.

Where do you find your titles and how should filmmakers approach you for consideration?
Tips, faxes, tapes. We acquire at Toronto, Sundance, Cannes, Rotterdam. Filmmakers are encouraged to send us their films on video.

Range of production budgets of titles in your collection:
From $150,000 to $3 million.

Biggest change at Artistic License in recent years:
We started releasing films in association with Merchant Ivory Films last year.

Most important issue facing Artistic License today:

Where will Artistic License be ten years from now?
Ten times as big, ten times as profitable.

You knew Artistic License had made it as a company when…?
Afterlife made Variety’s 250 Highest Grossing Films of the Year in 1999.

Best distribution experience you’ve had lately:
Afterlife grossed over $800,000 in theatrical—a Hollywood remake is in the works.

If you weren’t distributing films, what would you be doing?
Making films.

Other distributors you admire and why:
Sony Classics for the quality of work they distribute and New Yorker Films for leading the way.

The difference between Artistic License and other distributors of independent film is…?
Artistic License works closely with filmmakers on all creative aspects of the release.

If you could only give independent filmmakers one bit of advice it would be to…?
include a line item for distribution in your production budget.

Upcoming title to watch for:
Lynne Ramsay’s Ratcatcher (in association with Merchant Ivory).

The future of independent film distribution in this country is…?
In our hands.

About :

Lissa Gibbs was a contributing editor to The Independent and former Film Arts Foundation Fest director.