Distributor FAQ: Lot 47 Films

What is Lot 47 Films?
We are one of the few independent film distributors left in the United States.

Who is Lot 47?
It was co-founded in July 1999 by brothers Jeff and Scott Lipsky. A third brother, Mark, joined the company in January 2001 serving as co-president with Jeff. Scott holds the title of chairman and CEO. Shortly after the company was formed, Mary Ann Hult, formerly of Fox Searchlight and New Yorker Films, joined Lot 47 as vice-president of publicity; Dawn Altyn, formerly an executive at Stratosphere, joined the company as vice president of distribution services; and Danae Kokenos, formerly Director of Acquisitions for Samuel Goldwyn Films, joined the company as vice president of acquisitions.

Total number of employees at Lot 47:

How, when, and why did Lot 47 come into being?
It was Jeff Lipsky’s passionate determination to distribute Tim Roth’s The War Zone that led to the formation of the company. He was the head of marketing and distribution at Samuel Goldwyn Films at the time—early 1999. The War Zone world premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, but Jeff avoided the film because he wasn’t in the mood to see a movie about the war in Bosnia and he didn’t like Quentin Tarantino movies (whose films he closely associated with Tim Roth). The next month he went to Berlin where The War Zone competed in the Panorama section of that city’s festival. He again avoided the film.

After Berlin he discovered what the film was really about and began hearing that it was brilliant, unusual, special. He asked to see a print in New York prior to the AFM and watched it with his then-assistant, Christie Colliopoulos. They were blown away by the film. He showed it to Samuel Goldwyn, Jr. and company President Meyer Gottlieb. They both agreed that it was worth acquiring but couldn’t strike a deal. It was at one in the morning on a cold night in Cannes as Jeff sat commiserating with Tim Roth (with whom he had begun to form a bond) and his producer, Dixie Linder, that he blurted out that he had a brother in Seattle with access to some financing.

Two months later Lot 47 Films was incorporated. Six months later, Jeff’s brother’s enthusiasm about what had been achieved on The War Zone prompted him to suggest they make Lot 47 a permanent part of the independent distribution firmament.

What’s the driving philosophy behind Lot 47?
Our mandate is three-pronged. One: we will continue to provide moviegoers with a broad cross-section of diverse independent American features, great documentaries, and the kind of foreign language films that once moved a generation. Two: we will endeavor to lead an educational initiative that will address the next generation of moviegoers: that generation of children now just entering junior high school (the college kids of today are already a lost cause). We will work with the educational community, the exhibition community, and with our distributor competitors to give this potential audience, from coast-to-coast, a sense of history about American independent film (that is, the 20 years of independent cinema pre-Tarantino). And three: we expect to lead the industry in the exploration and execution of new means of digital distribution, while not forsaking the experience of seeing feature films in conventional theaters.

What’s the origin of the company’s name?
You’ll have to visit our web site to find that out.

What did Lot 47’s founders do before Lot 47?
As for the history of our founders, two years prior to Lot 47 Jeff had rejoined Samuel Goldwyn Films as Head of U.S. Marketing & Distribution. A former consultant to Bravo Television’s Independent Film Channel, Jeff also worked as President of the Motion Picture Division at Skouras Pictures, but left in 1990 in order to form October Films with Bingham Ray.

Previously Jeff had served as Vice President of Distribution for the Samuel Goldwyn Company and General Sales Manager of New Yorker Films. He began his career working with his friend and mentor, John Cassavetes, and Cassavetes’ landmark distribution company, Faces Distribution. Over the years, Jeff has been involved in the distribution of such notable films as Stranger Than Paradise, My Life as a Dog, Life Is Sweet, My Dinner with Andre, The Marriage of Maria Braun, and The Last Seduction. As a filmmaker, Jeff wrote and directed the critically acclaimed feature Childhood’s End.

Scott Lipsky is one of Seattle-based Avenue A’s co-founders and its Chief Technologist, responsible for planning, development, implementation and support of the organization’s proprietary strategic systems and solutions. He is also leading Avenue A’s technology and strategic development in global digital media, including interactive TV and wireless. A veteran of both Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble, Scott is well versed in strategic planning, corporate expansion, technology planning, Internet marketing, content acquisition & licensing, and the development of new products and services in the field of new media.

Prior to joining the company, Mark Lipsky was VP Strategic Relations & Marketing for Singingfish.com, Director of Consumer Marketing at Bravo Networks, Executive VP of Sales and Marketing at Prestige, a division of Miramax Films, and Senior VP of Sales and Marketing at Miramax Films. Over the course of his 20 years in the entertainment industry he has been recognized as an advocate of artistic freedom and has rallied successfully against censorship in the motion picture industry, most notably against the MPAA’s “X” and “NC-17” ratings.

The difference between Lot 47 and other distributors of independent films is…?
that we won’t acquire movies simply to fill a pipeline, or to build a film library without any regard for the shorter term goals, aspirations, and profits of our filmmakers. Making feature films is less expensive now than it has ever been while marketing costs have skyrocketed. We want to get back to basics, using grassroots methods and sheer ingenuity, as well as taking advantage of unique Internet marketing opportunities to mitigate some of the cost of marketing, thereby creating higher profits for the company and its filmmakers.

What would people be most surprised to learn about Lot 47? How many works are in your collection?
In only 18 months we have acquired 10 completed films: Tim Roth’s The War Zone; Aiyana Elliott’s Sundance Film Festival award-winning, autobiographical chronicle of her legendary father Jack Elliott, The Ballad of Ramblin’ Jack; Tonie Marshall’s Venus Beauty Institute; Chunhyang, Im Kwon Taek’s 97th feature film and the first Korean film ever selected for the Main Competition at the Cannes Film Festival; Harry Sinclair’s The Price of Milk, starring Danielle Cormack and Karl Urban in an extraordinarily unique, almost indescribable story set in New Zealand; Christopher Livingston’s Hit & Runway, winner of the Best Screenplay Award at the Los Angeles Independent Film Festival and the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen; the 2000 Australian Academy Award nominee Russian Doll by Stavros Kazantzidis, a funny and touching love story about a Jewish Russian mail order bride who arrives in Australia to find her husband-to-be dead; Fast Food Fast Women, the first comedy from the director of Sue and Fiona, Amos Kolleck (son of former mayor of Jerusalem, Teddy Kolleck) which world premiered in the Main Competition at the 2000 Cannes Film Festival and blew away the audience at the 2000 Toronto International Film Festival; and waydowntown, a cutting edge, visually stylized, youth oriented comedy comes from Gary Burns, director of the acclaimed film Kitchen Party.

Is Lot 47 also involved in co-production or co-financing of works?
Lot 47 Films has also affirmed its commitment to the next motion picture revolution by partnering with digital video producers Jason Kliot and Joana Vicente of Blow Up (Chuck & Buck, Series 7), to release eight films over the next three years. This is not, however, a production deal. The sure-fire, most direct path towards disaster for a distributor that possesses a modicum of marketing and distribution expertise is to assume it automatically boasts the skill set required to produce motion pictures. Wrong! That level of vanity is unaffordable and helps perpetuate mediocrity and contributes to a general glut of product in a limited marketplace that is already bursting at the seams.

By joint venturing with qualified visionary producers like Jason and Joana we are merely a conduit allowing complete artistic freedom to filmmakers exploring the DV frontier, while gaining access to exploit early marketing opportunities that had heretofore not been available to most acquisitions-based distributors.

What’s your basic approach to releasing a title?
We acquire all rights in North America. We acquire about 10-12 titles per year. Each and every one of our titles becomes a showcase title, a driver. No film will ever fall between the cracks. If we had 10 times the number of employees we do now, that would not allow for 10 times as many titles. This would only mean we’d have people falling over each other, unfocused, lacking in communication.

How do you find the films you distribute?
We are just as culpable as every other distributor in terms of how lazy the industry has become. The (equally lazy) media (in particular, film editors) lets film festival selection committees do their work for them. Distributors, in turn, let the media do its work for them, and filmmakers and consumers suffer as a result. Lot 47 buys films because we have a passion for the product and because we think the purchase price does not constitute a make-it-or-break-it arrangement. A film doesn’t have to have been selected by Sundance, or have been an award-winner at an international film festival, or have the imprimatur of a high profile film critic for us to consider it.

If you could only give independent filmmakers one bit of advice it would be…?
When one of us speaks on panels or at symposiums filmmakers as a conduit of advice, we each try to tell them (the directors, not the producers) that they must ask themselves if they will die if they don’t make their movie. If the answer is ‘no,’ then they shouldn’t make the movie. Do something worth dying for. And if you make a movie, make it for yourself. If you’re true to yourself, you’ll be addressing a universal audience.

We all share some of the same life experiences and if the viewer can identify with just one character in your film, your potential audience will number in the millions. None of us, however, are superheroes in our daily lives. No one except Joel Silver, I suppose.

Upcoming titles to watch for:
We take considerable pride in the fact that we saw a video cassette of an unheralded French film last summer, a film that met with limited box office results in its homeland, and on the basis of our love of the film, and a reasonable deal, it is now our tentpole summer 2001 release. The film is The Beating of Butterfly Wings, which you might not have heard of it yet, but you goddamned will have by the end of the summer! Coming across it the way I did, it was the first film since I had been “forced” to watch a cassette of The Unbelievable Truth by then first-time filmmaker Hal Hartley, that I felt like I had truly discovered a great harvest in a field thought fallow. I suddenly remembered why I’ve been doing this for 27 years.

About :

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