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February 23, 2016

How to Make ‘Seed Money’ Grow

This article originally ran in the February 2016 issue of AVN magazine. Click here to see the digital edition. Independent filmmaker Mike Stabile is fascinated with the parallels between the adult industry—where he works as a publicist—and the quixotic world of independent film. His acclaimed documentary Seed Money, which profiles Chuck Holmes, the legendary founder of Falcon Studios, is wrapping up a whistle-stop tour of the festival circuit. Stabile is now faced with the daunting task of puzzling out the best method of distribution for a project that has consumed five years of his life. “We’ve played about 50 festivals in the past six months,” he says. “We had sold-out crowds at the Castro (in San Francisco) and for Outfest down here. The reaction has been amazing. It’s been really positive and we’ve had a lot of press. We are still wrapping up festivals; I just got a call from someone in the U.K. who wants to show it.” The film’s high profile—it was named by Advocate.com as one of the ten best LGBT documentaries of 2015—means a number of suitors have come calling. “I’ve been approached by different distributors who are interested in taking it to a broadcast network,” Stabile says. “I have other people who want the whole project—everything from Netflix to university libraries. And then some people who are just interested in looking at DVDs or online distribution.” How does he find the best audience for his pet project without giving away the farm? That’s where Stabile finds parallels with the adult industry. “As a content producer and as a filmmaker, I’ve got a lot of distributors who are looking for a percentage of every sale (in exchange for access) to Netflix and Amazon and everywhere else,” explains Stabile. “If you get something on iTunes and Apple takes their share and then you split the rest with your distributor, it’s a good deal (only) if the distributor is going to bring a lot of audience to you.” Stabile realized his five-year hustle to finance Seed Money, which overlapped his established career in adult, already provided him with the tools he needs. “I had a distributor who was really interested in bringing Seed Money to Showtime. But on top of it, he wanted distribution rights to everything else as well,” Stabile recalls. “I know my audience. I know who they are and because I work in the adult industry, I know how to reach them. And if someone like Showtime were to look at it and decline, I’m still stuck in a distribution contract (giving away) 50 percent of whatever else might come along. So now I’m trying to figure out the probability of getting a big payout from one of these companies that is worth risking my (remaining) percentage on the rest of it.” Stabile realizes he can drive his own traffic. “It may just make sense to do this myself. It’s a new world. Coming from the adult industry, you realize how much similarity (we have) with independent film regarding distribution. It’s a very DIY model,” he says. “What I’ve always liked about the adult industry is we’re used to doing it ourselves. We’re used to trying to figure out how to get that audience and looking outside of traditional outlets to reach them.” He singles out VOD membership site NakedSword, led by Tim Valenti, as a company that is looking for new ways to expand their existing audience base. “Tim has been really interested in having Seed Money as an exclusive,” Stabile notes. “NakedSword has always been really (invested) in the project. They came in with a good amount of money just for presenting rights, to be able to say ‘NakedSword Presents’ so that when it plays at all these festivals and when it eventually gets distribution the NakedSword placard is there. “For Tim, this is something that’s been part of his business that’s growing. He produced I Want Your Love a few years ago and that got a lot of attention. It drove a lot of people who would not normally come to NakedSword to come to that site. I know he’s producing a number of other independent films. It’s smart because he has an audience that a lot of mainstream companies would really like. You’ve got an audience of primarily gay men who are willing to put down a credit card for media. Traditionally, that audience is ignored by mainstream advertisers—they can’t be associated with our product. But NakedSword has figured out a way to broaden their audience. We’ve certainly been talking with them.” Stabile has taken a few lessons from the subject of his film. “I picked up a few tips from Chuck Holmes and the people that worked with him in the industry in the early days. The idea is appealing—not selling your rights (but) instead figuring out eighteen ways to Sunday to sell this or make money from it. The last thing you want to do is sell your rights to somebody who does nothing. Then you’re stuck. You see that so often with independent films. And, coming from an adult background, I see examples of people who have really made it work in unconventional circumstances by finding an audience where other people wouldn’t.”

 
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