EDN Member of the Month - Andy Whittaker, Dogwoof
In this monthly interview series EDN focuses on one of its many members to show both members in the spotlight and the diversity of the EDN membership group. Our EDN member of the month for February 2014 is Andy Whittaker, co-founder of UK film distributor Dogwoof.
Dogwoof is a leading UK distributor of high profile documentaries. The company has released over 100 documentaries across all windows, including titles such as The Age of Stupid (Franny Armstrong, 2009), Restrepo (Tim Hetherington, Sebastian Junger, 2010), Dreams of a Life (Carol Morley, 2011), Bobby Fisher Against the World (Liz Garbus, 2011), The Act of Killing (Joshua Oppenheimer, 2012), and The Spirit of 45 (Ken Loach, 2013). Since 2011, Dogwoof has also been selling some of the films it distributes in the UK internationally, including titles such as Marina Abramovic The Artist is Present (Mathew Akers, 2012), Blackfish (Gabriela Cowperthwaite, 2013), and Dinosaur 13 (Todd Miller, 2014).
EDN has among other things talked to Andy about Dogwoof’s latest initiatives and about this month’s European Film Market in Berlin.
EDN: Can you start by telling us about your background – how did you get started in the business and what was your motivation for launching Dogwoof?
AW: My background was online and digital with eBay. Though my passion was always film, in particular documentary and world cinema. Looking at documentary I always believed there was a built-in audience and that they had a life theatrically and online, and not just TV and there was a business opportunity to build. And call it luck or skill, launching Dogwoof timed well with the current wave of documentary filmmakers that followed. The early days were difficult to get people to buy into the vision, though The Age of Stupid opening on 80 cinemas certainly helped and it was this kind of innovation and pushing the boundaries that attracted me, in particular around digital.
My motivation is simple: there are some talented filmmakers out there making amazing films and I want to get these to the widest audience they can get. Blackfish and The Act of Killing are just two recent great examples. It's rewarding.
EDN: Please describe Dogwoof’s profile. Which types of documentaries are included in the catalogue – is there a prevalent theme, genre or style?
AW: We look for compelling, narrative-driven documentaries with strong international sales potential (across all platforms) and clear appeal to the audiences in the UK.
EDN: How do you select the titles for distribution?
AW: We try to cover all the major festivals for possible acquisitions, although we also accept submissions – shortlisted titles are then discussed internally by the key team. We pride ourselves in only taking on films we all feel passionately about.
EDN: How many titles do you take on a year and do you take on films before they are completed? Is your company also actively involved in the production phase?
AW: We release between 10-15 titles in the UK each year, and we represent around ½ of these for international sales. Nowadays, we do come in at any stage of the project and can get involved at the production stage. We currently have three documentaries, which are in production, all of which will receive a theatrical release in the UK, as well as international representation.
EDN: Can you tell a bit more about how you work with theatrical distribution – what happens after the film is selected for your catalogue, what are the strategies and where do you take the films? How do you see the current situation for theatrical doc distribution?
AW: We think of our films as global releases, and work with distributors and top digital partners to achieve a cohesive universal release.
We provide a whole team of documentary distribution experts, working to build audiences from early stages of a project through to the actual release. We try, where possible, to sync the releases, i.e. simultaneously releasing in the English speaking territories, which creates a lot of buzz, and on the back of that, the other all-rights deals quickly follow. Most of the titles on our Global slate have a number of international theatrical deals in place, and we have an on-going relationship with some of the main international theatrical distributors of docs.
EDN: How does Dogwoof work with rights? Do you acquire all rights when taking on a film?
AW: Yes, definitely. We acquire and exploit all rights.
EDN: In 2011, Dogwoof branched out into international sales with Dogwoof Global. What is the idea behind this initiative and how is it working out?
AW: Dogwoof Global is the fastest growing arm of Dogwoof. It evolved from Dogwoof UK quite organically; filmmakers liked our approach to distribution and promotion of films, and asked us if we wanted to represent their films internationally - applying the same level of diligence and innovation, and we decided to give it a try. Our first title was How Much Does Your Building Weigh Mr Foster?, which we went on to sell all over the world. It did really well for us. Then other, high profile docs followed: Marina Abramovic the Artist is Present, The House I Live In, Blackfish.
EDN: Recently you have also launched the VOD platform Dogwoof TV and Popup Cinema. What do these initiatives offer and how do they fit into the Dogwoof business model?
AW: Both platforms are integral to our belief to make our films as widely accessible as possible and to bring the audience – the consumer – into the distribution of the film rather than imposing a distribution plan on them. Popup Cinema for instance has grown significantly since we launched it in 2010 and allows for non-theatrical screenings from the date of a film’s cinema release, with us now having a wide alternative exhibition network for all our films.
EDN: You work with distribution on many different levels and platforms. How do the different platforms complement each other? What are the distribution challenges in the digital era?
AW: For us, it is all about making the film available on as many platforms as possible and shortening windows wherever possible. In the modern marketplace, we must accept that the audience is king and should have the power to decide how, when and where they want to consume our films. We don’t see any challenges in the digital era, just amazing opportunities to connect with audiences.
EDN: Which markets do you normally attend around the year?
AW: Sundance, EFM, Asian Side of the Doc, MIPDoc and MIPTV, Hong Kong FILMART, Marche du Film Cannes, Sunny Side of the Doc, Sheffield Doc/Fest Meet Market, TIFF, Venice, Rome, IDFA, CPH:DOX, Ventana Sur, Dubai Film Market, Leipzig Dok, Asian Film Market.
EDN: This month from the 6th to the 16th the Berlinale International Film Festival takes place in Berlin also hosting the European Film Market - EFM. How do you operate there as a documentary distributor and how is the market there for feature documentaries?
AW: We have a stand under UK Film umbrella. EFM is one of the most important markets for us, and traditionally we do a good business there. This year we are screening seven titles, two of which are hot new acquisitions from Sundance: Dinosaur 13, which Lionsgate and CNN will be releasing in the US this summer, and a Sundance award winning HBO Documentary production The Case Against 8. Buyers should also look out for The Last Impresario, which features interviews with Kate Moss and Yoko Ono.
EFM is important for us, as buyers, too. Last year we’ve picked up UK distribution rights for The Act of Killing, which went on to receive two BAFTA nominations, and is still playing in cinemas, after more than 6 months.
EDN: Do you have any advice for independent filmmakers with a finished film – how does one go about finding the right distributor and what to be aware of when entering a deal?
AW: Try and keep the rights intact as much as possible, and attach a sales rep before the film receives its festival premiere.
EDN: What lies ahead for you and Dogwoof?
AW: We are looking to increase the number of opportunities we can offer filmmakers, especially in terms of our digital partnerships and the new platforms we can work with. We are also looking to increase our visibility in the US, helping secure the best partnerships there for our films, and also becoming more involved with projects at an earlier stage.
If you are attending the EFM you can meet Andy Whittaker at the Meet the Distributors session on Saturday February 8. For further details check out the Meet the Docs programme.
Related links on edn.dk:
Find EDN members in the on-line member database
Find a distributor for your documentary