#1 Define your goal
The first question I’d ask of yourself is what is your goal in distribution? Is it to make money? Is it to get accolades? Is it to get the film the widest possible audience? These things occasionally coincide, but I wouldn’t expect it. I’d also think about who your audience is. Is it easily identifiable (and reachable)? What are you looking for a distributor to bring to the table?
-MORGAN NEVILLE (DIRECTOR, 20 FEET FROM STARDOM)
#2 Offline outreach is a must if the filmmakers are not well known.
“Although it is important for filmmakers to lay the groundwork for any future film by using social networking sites, we wonder if there is a ceiling to how much new filmmakers can accomplish when they do not have much work that is well known or at least can be shared and linked to on the internet. This is one place where a grassroots approach focused on offline outreach (cold calling non-profits, advocacy groups, etc.) to create relationships would probably bear more fruit in the early days. If no one is aware of who you are, tweeting a lot won’t magically build your audience. However, creating face-to-face or at least telephone relationships with people who have similar interests could result in people feeling more connected to you personally and later becoming more invested in your projects.”
#3 Issue-driven films should reach out to advocacy organizations
In a case study, Marcia Jarmel, director of the film “Speaking in Tongues,” about teaching secondary languages in schools, talks about connecting with organizations already dedicated to this social issue: “Our strategy… was to connect with campaigns already in process rather than try to create and implement our own campaign… because we didn’t have the people power or organizing expertise in house.”
#4 Go for Regional Screenings
In a case study with filmmaker Jay Craven, Gottwald and Penn highlighted his strategy to enrich the areas in rural New England that are often the subject of his films by bring film screenings to towns that are too small to sustain a movie theater. By building ties to these communities through film, Craven was able to build local bases of grassroots supporters that would take an interest in his films in particular and later help to finance and distribute them. His distribution methods raised questions for Gottwald and Penn about the value of local demographics.
“The main question Jay’s town distribution model raises is whether independent filmmakers are better off trying to reach a demographic beyond indie and blockbuster audiences through local or regional screenings. Not only is this method cost effective, but it also provides filmmakers with an opportunity to tap into support from people in small towns that are not lured into high budget Hollywood movies and more likely to appreciate the regionally specific cultural aspects of independent film.”
#5 Release for Free
“I looked at ‘Person of Interest’ which kind of has a very underground esthetic and I thought the best way to release this thing is for free, vie torrents. It did pretty well, it quickly rose to like 100,000 downloads. But then the more remarkable thing was that because it was free to share someone uploaded it to YouTube and it pulled in three quarters of a million views on YouTube and sparked a fairly long conversation about things the film deals with.”
How did it pay? This move saved Greg money on the expensive marketing and submission costs of a festival run, and allowed him to make the film easily accessible to his target audience.
#6 Don’t rely on one distributor/ sales agent.
Splitting your rights up amongst multiple companies or situations has actually been a strategy many producers have been using since the mid-late ’90s (including myself). It means making a deal with one company for Blu-ray/DVD rights, another company for VOD rights, another company for foreign rights, and so on.
When filmmakers make one deal for all rights (an “all-rights” deal) with one company, this is usually the mistake that kills them — unless they’re getting a nice big check in advance. Why does it “kill” them? Frankly, there are many crooked distributors out there, who will not pay a producer their fair share of the profits, and/or will use accounting tricks such as cross-collateralization to always show a loss.
#7 Find another recent film that has done what you hope your film can do.
Look at how it was distributed. Who handled it? When was it released? Was it day and date with VOD? How many markets? Where did it air on TV? This might give you a template to follow. Operate as if you assume a self-release and if you are relieved of that burden on terms you like, great. If you operate that way, you will be negotiating from a position of power and ultimately get better deal terms too, not to mention having a full fledged back-up plan in place.
-ALEXANDRA JOHNES (EXECUTIVE PRODUCER, THE SQUARE)
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