Filmmaking Blog Posts by Indie Film Factory

What is a film distributor, and what are they looking for?

Imagine spending four years of your life drilling for oil. After an egregious amount of work, you are left with thousands of barrels of crude oil. What do you do now? How do you refine this process to get gasoline? To end with a product that can actually take you somewhere? Have you ever heard of a film distributor?

Film School is great at teaching it’s student’s the techniques and artistry of making a film. But one fundamental skill that film schools always skip is how to convert your art into a product that can sustain you in this industry. You know the importance of angles to enhance the emotion of a scene, you know the effect of a zoom vs a push in, you can spot tasteful Mise-en-scène from a mile away, but how do you harvest this to generate revenue? What you’re missing is a film distributor…

In my last article, I explored a few tips on how to find a film distributor. In this article I list a few areas of knowledge that are important when approaching the distribution phase of your project.

Lets explore a few points:

  1. Most companies that label themselves as “distributors” are more or less sales agencies, that broker rights deals and handle fulfillment and delivery to retailers, video platforms and theaters. These companies handle the dissemination of your film, and will sometimes help with basic marketing such as creating movie trailers, and artwork for the title. They usually contract the rights to your project on an exclusive basis allowing them to sell your film to buyers at various filmmaking markets throughout the year.
  2. All film distributors have their own personal taste and style. Do some research before you approach a company. Pursue a distributor that supports or specializes in the genre/themes that you work within. ie: If you are making documentaries, find a company that specializes in the release of those types of titles.
  3. Regardless of genre or personal taste, all film distributors will tend to avoid picking up films that include the following: bad sound, films with too much explicit content, racist or overly politically films, slapstick comedy, or films that have over all — amateur production value!
  4. Before dealing with a distributor, secure a knowledgeable entertainment lawyer. Entertainment lawyers come in many different suits: Copyright, music, or performance rights. Do not assume that just anyone who fits under the umbrella of entertainment lawyer will be helpful with your distribution contract. Seek a lawyer who deals definitively in or has experience in film distribution and rights management.
  5. Beware of bad deals. While any deal that’s put on the table might seem like a win, they are not worth the risk of not only losing your chance at some cash, but of having your months, even years of hard work be all for not. Some signs of a bad deal include: Net Deals (with any expenses added from the distributor), Long term contracts (over 4 years) contracts that allow the distributor to alter your art, and contracts with no specifications of gross receipts. 
  6. Be patient. Once you sign with a distributor, it may take up to six months before your title sees an official release. The reason for this is because the distributor needs time to shop the film through the various markets they attend. Once those deals are made then things start to happen. It’s fairly common to see a movie being released nearly a year after it’s completed. Do fret. Use this time to develop new material and help create some social media but around your film.
  7. The work has just begun. Once your title is picked up, the real work begins. Its crucial that you create an extensive marketing plan to help bolster your film’s release. Many filmmakers fall victim in believing the distributor will market their film. This is not usually the case. In fact, most companies spend little to nothing on advertising films. Unless you are picked up by a major studio, the likelihood that a company will run radio ads, Tv commercials or social media campaigns on your behalf is close to zero. It’s really up to you to make sure that people know about your film. The company can get you on the shelves, but its up to you to drive the conversation.

There is a myth out there that all film distributors are evil. This is not always the case. There are companies that prey upon the inexperienced filmmaker, but there are also tons of reputable companies that are worth exploring. Do your homework on these companies and always ask for referrals of leads.

After all, you’re signing away years of your life, and that should take some care and thought.

Here is a link to some of the usual suspects in this space.

Wiki Commons List

Enjoy your week!

-Kelly Schwarze

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