Updated: Nov 24, 2019
We see hundreds of movies every year and as I have said many many times on my blog and everywhere else… few filmmakers know how to make a movie (very few) even less have a single clue about how to go about monetizing the fruits of their labors. Well… this is for you!
I have worked as a script and film agent and consultant on many different movies with budgets in the millions down to micro and no budget movies. The rules surrounding the profitable release of the film are pretty much the same regardless of the budget of the product. Let me try and explain most of the common misconceptions and myths about film distribution. At least the ones I run onto most often.
From this I hope you will be able to see how to create a workable strategy to get your movie distributed – and wow, profitably.
Myth #1: Filmmakers focus on making good films.
The producer looks after marketing and distribution. Filmmaker’s don’t need to get too involved with the producer’s job. Stick to what you know and hire or partner with a GOOD one.
Reality #1 Some filmmakers get lucky, make a film that gets out there on it’s own. But the percentages aren’t too favorable: few (like almost 1 a year… almost) filmmakers are actually that lucky.
The film business is a marketing business. If you start making a movie without considering the audience, or understanding the basics of film finance and how the money flows, you are encumbering and self defeating the chances of your success.
Knowledge is power. Study examples of indie successes like Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity for examples. These filmmakers were experts at understanding marketing and distribution.
Myth #2: A distributor is excited – they’ve asked for a screener
Distributors read the trade papers and the production reports searching for new product. If your producer was smart enough to get listed in the trade papers, chances are you will get calls from prospective distributors. But is this good news?
Reality #2 Everyone is so incredibly busy. The worst mistake you can make is to send a distributor a rough cut. BAM! YOU SUCK! They will watch maybe the first 10 minutes of the rough cut and then never ever watch the finished version.
I was involved with a great 93 minute feature film that played at Raindance a few.. ok a number of years ago – it won awards all over the place. The UK distributor who financed the movie only ever saw the 2 hour version and dumped it carelessly onto a DVD release totally messing up the film.
The real trick is to figure out how to unveil the movie in a way that will attract quality distributors. This is the reason film festivals have become so important as of late. There are 4 reasons to attend film festivals – and reason number one of course is to unveil your film and get a distributor offering you cash.
A filmmakers homework is to try and figure out which of the 100 top film festivals would be right for you and your film. Then you need to plan how you are going to present yourself to the film festival you have been selected for.
Myth #3: I’ve been accepted into Cannes – I have it made!
The top 3 film festivals in the world are Toronto, Sundance and Cannes. Getting accepted into one of these film festivals, or to Berlin, Venice, Rotterdam or Karlovay Vary are the dreams of nearly every filmmaker in the know. Getting your film selected by one of these film festivals will certainly get you noticed. But will it get you the distribution deals you crave? No.
Reality #3 Get accepted into one of the world’s top film festivals and your work has just begun. First you have to create a strategy and assemble a team. Yes, a TEAM. Not your old crew from the shoot months ago either.
Your key team member is going to be your publicist. A screening at a major film festival will also mean that you will want to (or should) have an after party. All of this costs money, Remember you will want to get the cast to the screening too. They say that an afterparty at Cannes costs a minimum of a quarter million dollars. So add a party planner to your team. And make sure your interview technique is up to scratch.
Good filmmakers know that this is simply a part of the marketing budget of the film, and done right will guarantee a good return on investment.
Attending a major festival without a marketing and publicity strategy will seriously impede your chances of getting a decent deal from anyone… EVER.
Myth #4: I’m getting lots of festival invites – it’s just a matter of time
Having your film at a bunch of film festivals is the ultimate ego trip, right? Films I have produced have been in over 50 of the top film festivals around the world. Attending with your film, doing Q&A sessions, presenting workshops and partying til you drop is all part of the scene. Will all this glamor lead to a deal? No.
Reality #4 Having fun and traveling around your world to festivals does not guarantee the sale of your film, period. In fact, it can backfire if the perception of your film is that it is nothing more than a festival darling. Some film makers even dread the “festival darling” term for this reason.
The reason you attend film festivals is to build pedigree for your film, and for your career. This is done by getting reviewed, by being interviewed and by winning awards. Get enough of these and your are more likely to catch the serious glance of a distributor. But as always, never guaranteed.
Myth #5: I can self distribute
Anyone who creates content, be it a book, song or movie can self distribute. In the publishing industry this is called vanity publishing – a dirty word until some recent bestseller successes like that enjoyed by Amanda Hocking.
Reality #5 Self-distribution is a viable option if you are prepared to work very hard at it and have a CLUE about what you’re doing. Of the thousands that attempt this every year only a handful (even less than that) succeed – and their success is almost directly related to the amount of effort they have put into it. If you’re not at the top of your game in this regard, forget it.
One of my favorite self-distribution stories is Lee DeMarbre’s 2001 classic Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter. He followed up a successful string of festival appearances with a tour of the north-eastern States where he booked the film into a string of latenight cinema screenings.
Following that he managed to get the film distributed by Lloyd Kaufman’s Troma label, and most recently it is showing on a string of internet aggregates like Netflix. Lee has managed to create a great revenue stream for his film over a decade-plus span.
But, as he says, he’s worked his butt off.
Myth #6: DVD is dead
One reads about the closure of DVD stores and the birth of online distribution channels like Distrify, Blinkbox and Netflix. Does this mean the glory days of DVD are over? No.
Reality #6 DVD is not dead – it is still the largest revenue earner in America by far, where the DVD market grossed over $15 billion in 2011. There are hundreds and hundreds of boutique DVD distributors out there. Don’t be lazy. Research the marketplace and find one that fits you and your film.
Myth #7: I’m a filmmaker. I don’t need to know about the internet.
There are two types of filmmakers out there right now: Those who loathe and abhor social media and wouldn’t be caught dead with a Twitter account, and those who love and embrace it.
Reality #7 The fact is, the internet is a hugely powerful tool that can enable you to send messages directly to your audience without having to go through a middle man, like a distributor or broadcaster. It’s a HUGE tool and you NEED it, PERIOD.
Distributors are also influenced by your own social media presence because it is proof that your movie works, and because it gives them a network to plug into in order to get bums on seats.
The distribution models are constantly changing and rapidly too because of the different distribution platforms offered by the internet as well as the rest of the industry.
Most of the old paradigms and models don’t work as well as they did back when I started in 1995. I hope these dispelled myths clarify your understanding of more of the business and point you in right directions instead of wrong ones.
Christopher John Taylor - VineHill Entertainment
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