Monday, March 10, 2014

Interview with Edward Fletcher (Soda Pictures)

To kick off our series of interviews UK Distribution companies I got in touch with the Managing Director of Soda Pictures to talk a bit about the company and where it fits into the British Film Industry.  Edward Fletcher has founded the company in 2002 and currently works in Blossom Street in London.

Thanks for answering a few questions.  Could you start by telling me a bit about yourself in your own words?

EF: OK well, I worked in a cinema as a duty manager in Croydon and then from there went to manage a cinema in Cambridge for a few years.  From there I did an MA in Film and then worked at the ICA (Institue of Contemporary Arts), which has a small distribution-trading arm called ICA Projects.  Its remit was essentially to find films from new directors, and films that push the form. 

It was through that work that I found out about distribution in a miniature form, so I got together with a contact that I knew (Eve Gabereau) from a very different part of the industry from a marketing background and together we formed Soda Pictures in 2002.

Did you have some kind of a ‘mission statement’?

EF: Well that has to be seen in a historical context.  If you look at that period around 2002/2003 there were a lot of positive factors in the industry:  there was the birth of a whole range of new film magazines, like Empire, Hot Dog and Total Film.  UGC Cinemas took over the Virgin chain, and as a French owned chain brought a rather more European approach to programming giving new opportunities to play commercial foreign language films in selected mutiplexes, this was echoed in the acquisition choices of their own distribution company. 

Also the emergence of companies like Optimum Releasing who released Amores Perros, which was one of the first foreign language films to be ‘conventionally’ marketed to play in multiplexes.  It was very much based on the idea that the studios had a good model that attracted audiences so the direction for Art House or Independent cinema should be to not market into a ghetto.

So when you were at Cambridge in charge of exhibition, what films were you pushing there?

EF: It was basically a very traditional rep house cinema.  On my first night on a Monday in the middle of Novemeber we played Pasolini’s Oedipus Rex and got about 150 people there.  So it was a very special place with a special audience and it gave me an opportunity to learn about cinema and get an education.

OK, another thing I wanted to ask you about is the New British Cinema Quarerly.  What’s that all about??

EF: Well, put simply, it was born out of a bit of a frustration around how to attract audiences to British indie films; there seemed to be a disconnect between the quantity and interest from those people involved in film making, short films etc and the interest in watching British independent films. 

It was strange, like if you were in a band, the idea that you would said “I’m not interested in live music” just wouldn’t happen. So it was born out of that:  How to create an environment to encourage people who are interested in filmmaking to go to the cinema more and broaden their own ideas.

We also noticed at screenings just before social media was coming in that there was a burgeoning interest in Q&As and wanting to speak to directors etc.  Often the talent we were working was mostly first time filmmakers that were full of enthusiasm but low on experience so the opportunity to partner with a set of venues gave filmmakers the opportunity to almost ‘go out on the road’ like they were in a band and do a three week tour with the film.

Okay, so how did you find these people? And also what kind of cinemas did you tour round – what do you mean by tour?  It’s an interesting idea but how did it work?

EF: We generally toured round flagship independent cinemas like The Watershed in Bristol, or The Broadway in Nottingham.  The kind of cinemas that would have a short film weekend and get 200 people interested in short films – it suits a particular type of venue and you get a grassroots and try to grow it from there.

In terms of finding the films, generally we were trying to keep the quality quite high, so mainly films that had played at Edinburgh or the London Film Festival.  There are plenty of films there that do not have distribution, because of the small audiences for that type of film.

And how often do you do this?

EF: We are just kicking off our fifth year, and we’ve done about 4 films a year.  Our last film was For Those In Peril from a new director called Paul Wright, which was selected for Cannes  and won a couple of Scottish BAFTAs.

For Those In Peril
For Those In Peril
I haven’t seen it yet but it looks amazing…

EF: It’s the perfect kind of film as it’s slightly unconventional and pushing the form and trying to do something different whilst still being engaging with good actors.  It’s a really good example of the kind of film that we are trying to champion.

Funnily enough I was just looking through your back catalogue and you have distributed two of my favourite, underrated films of the last few years. Howl, which I think is absolutely brilliant; and Mary and Max.

Anyway… One last question about another part of the company is Soda Pictures International?

EF: That’s just kind of an offshoot of NBCQ as a lot of British producers don’t have an international sales agent for their films, and increasingly trying to get your film out there globally is hard so SPI is a brand to assist in that process.  We help find distributors like ourselves in other key territories, which increasingly in this day and age could simply mean providing opportunities for British film to play on iTunes in the US.  It’s something for the globalized VOD world and recognizing that it is better to be in it [online] in some form than not at all.

Just to get it clear in your own words, how would you say that you are different to the other major British distibutors?

Well, we’re fully independent – I think the largest independent.  It means that all decisions about what we do and how we do it can be made here and not be influenced by being part of an exhibitor chain or by being part of a US or European company.

And you have a staff of 9 is that right?

EF: It’s actually 10 now.

For such a small crew it’s impressive the size of your influence.

EF: But what we have is a whole network. We work a lot with some key partners in which exhibitors are one part, and there are a lot of dedicated people up and down the country in cinemas who love films and are prepared to put that little bit more work into those kinds of films at grassroots level. 

We rely on working and developing close relationships with the exhibitors and building up a following of people who are interested in what we are doing.  One of the key things is that you can see that our social media is outreaching to people who are as interested as we are in what we are talking about, which is good films.
Only Lovers Left Alive
Only Lovers Left Alive
Final question then - obviously your big film at the moment is Only Lovers Left Alive, which looks amazing.  Is there anything else coming up that you can tell me about?

EF: Well we have a film coming up called Ilo Ilo. [a drama from Singapore]

I wrote about that film for the Bath Film Festival…

EF: It’s currently on a massive festival trawl after winning the Golden Camera at Cannes last year and it picked up an award at the London Festival as well [the Sutherland Trophy]. We’ve just been letting that one breathe and pick up awards! And then we’re releasing that on May 2nd. 

We also have a film called Omar, which was the Palestinian foreign language film [at the Academy Awards].

On the horizon we also have Nightmoves. With Dakota Fanning, Jesse Eisenberg and Peter Sasrgaard.

Ok well thanks for this – I’ll keep an eye out for them all.

Soda Pictures back catalogue can be found here

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