What do a film about Yo-Yo Ma, Brian Wilson, and Liam Gallagher all have in common? According to our sources, each documentary ("The Music of Strangers: Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble," "Brian Wilson: Long Promised Road, and Liam Ghallagher: As It Was") is on the roster of films that have allegedly had their revenue payments withheld by the public company CSSE - Chicken Soup for the Soul Entertainment. We asked CSSE if they had failed to make revenue payments to these filmmakers; they refused to comment.
Documentaries about Yo-Yo Ma and Brian Wilson
The production company has purportedly withheld income from numerous filmmakers after taking on their films for distribution. Chicken Soup has placed these films on popular streaming platforms, like Amazon, Hulu, and iTunes, and has allegedly stopped paying filmmakers their promised portion of the revenue from the streaming profits.
Filmmaker Corey Goode pictured above
Through the Filmmaker's Lens
Filmmaker Corey Goode was one of the many filmmakers who has stopped receiving payments from CSSE. His films – “The Cosmic Secret” and “Above Majestic” – are documentaries in the paranormal genre about UFOs, secret space programs and more. Both were number one on Itunes and Amazon for months.
Corey Goode's films - both are available on Amazon and other platforms via 1091 Pictures / CSSE.
Goode was initially with 1091 Pictures, which was purchased by CSSE. His contract stipulated that CSSE would distribute his two films and pay him his share of distribution revenue. Seven months ago, the payments from CSSE stopped, but the films kept racking up views on the streaming platforms.
“At first, I reached out to the customer service people that we normally speak to on billing issues, and for several weeks they told us they would have information for us the next week,” Goode said. “That went on for a while, and then finally, they stopped responding. I don’t know if those people left the company or what.”
After that, Goode contacted Lev Avery Peck at Screen Media Ventures LLC – another distribution arm of CSSE.
“[Screen Media] informed us that CSSE was trying to obtain loans to fix their liquidity issues, and that there was no ETA,” Goode said. “But that was after we had contacted them, and that was months after not being paid. No one from [Chicken Soup] ever contacted us and told us.”
Legal Action Commences
It took four or five months of being strung along before Goode realized he was not alone.
We filed suit against @1091pictures today. Others have done/are doing the same. Support independents, please. It’s a hard road for a lot of us and greed is the name of the game with the companies running the distro game.— Seth (@SethBreedslove) November 16, 2023
Filmmaker Julia Kots had her narrative feature film, Inez & Doug & Kira, starring Severance’s Michael Chernus and Yellowjackets’ Tawny Cypress, picked up for distribution by 1091 Pictures in 2020. She claims she has not received a penny.
A trailer for Julia Kots' film which is currently on Amazon and other platforms via 1091 Pictures / CSSE
“I can see on their platform that the film has earned revenue,” Kots said. “The platform shows that payments have been made to me, but they haven’t. 1091 reps have strung me along for months.”
One concern of all these filmmakers is that if CSSE files for bankruptcy, their films may get seized as assets in bankruptcy proceedings, which could last years. Kots has asked 1091/CSSE to release her film rights back to her, but has been ignored.
“If the film is seized as an asset, I can’t show it anywhere else,” said Kots. “This is independent film; we’re not making bank here; we poured our hearts and souls for years to make a piece of art that hopefully can speak to someone, and now it’s in danger of being shut away in some black box of bankruptcy.”
Filmmaker Julia Kots pictured above
Looking Towards an Uncertain Future
The independent film distribution world is in a state of turmoil and CSSE seems to be adding to the crisis. “1091 Pictures was one of the good guys, offering full transparency of revenue to its filmmakers,” said Kots. “Now CSSE has taken over and that good will is gone. Yet another indie distributor bites the dust.”
Pat Murphy is another filmmaker who experienced a similar situation when his film, "Psychedelia" was signed with a distributer called Passion River.
"They were withholding a big payment from my film at the end of last year," Murphy said. "Then earlier this year, they told us that they had sold their 'assets but not liabilities' to another distributor. Passion River had been withholding payments going back years, and there were hundreds of films in their catalog. We never got paid."
Some filmmakers who are signed with CSSE are fearful they may go a similar route - taking away any chance of the filmmakers receiving their dues.
To make matters worse, Chicken Soup for the Soul has continued to sign on new filmmakers, despite its unwillingness to pay its current roster. A filmmaker we spoke with saw Screen Media soliciting new films as recently as November 2023 at the American Film Market.
While independent filmmakers struggling to pay their bills get the run-around from CSSE, the company’s Executives seem to be doing well for themselves. With $400,000 - $500,000 base salaries, before bonuses, CSSE’s Executives aren’t bearing the brunt of their company’s downfall.
[Head of CSSE Corporate Communications Peter Binazeski and Senior Vice President of Business Affairs and Distribution Lou Occhicone declined to comment on our story].