Various routes to film distribution
Making a movie is tough enough, let alone trying to figure out film distribution and what to do with your beloved work when it’s done. Hopefully film distribution has been at the forefront of your mind. Making a film without having thought about distribution is a risky proposition.
Most long-time filmmakers have film distribution in place before they even shoot their films. This can take years of cultivating relationships and attending markets to achieve.
This being said, there may be many of you who have not thought that far ahead, and this article is designed to help you get sorted!
There are several routes filmmakers can take with film distribution. Here are three.
The Traditional film distribution route. This is where you submit your work with a distribution company that will place and fulfill your film into various retail, theatrical or streaming platforms. This is the method where you sign an agreement that basically shifts temporary and unrestricted ownership to another company in hopes that you earn something after they sell your film. Most distributors will require longer term contracts and can be fairly heavy on their fees. I’ve written extensively about this in my book, What Film Schools Don’t Tell You. You can avoid many of the pitfalls filmmakers go through if you set a few basic guidelines for yourself.
Typically, film distribution companies will only take content that they believe they can sell, and then market it to their buyers. They traditionally work with the same people and are less likely to champion your film unless it is making them money or has major industry leverage, like well-known film festival awards, or star-power. Traditional distribution companies are highly selective in their acquisitions and this method can be very challenging to get you paid. If you are a first time filmmaker, you may have your lunch eaten by some of these companies. There are plenty of predatory distribution companies out there, so do your homework, ask for referrals and never sign anything without an experienced entertainment rights lawyer looking over your agreement.
DIY, self distribution. Although this subject changes day by day, another option for filmmakers is taking their film and marketing it themselves. You can do this by either self-representing your title, (which I do NOT recommend), or hiring an aggregator to place your content on various streaming platforms. It is virtually impossible to land any theatrical deal or secure a Netflix deal going the DIY route. Even so, on a good note, you can maintain more control over your film’s marketing efforts and royalties via this method. Most aggregators charge a flat fee with additional fees depending on the platforms you are wanting to secure. So for example, if you want your film placed on Google Play, it may cost an additional fee outside of your initial contract.
Aggregators are perfect for filmmakers who have already built an audience and have pent up demand for their film’s release. You can bypass the traditional film distributor and collect 100% of your royalties. However, be advised, aggregation fees can cost upward to $10,000 if you’re not careful. Do your research and find the best company for your film. As of 2021, a few companies to explore are BitMax and Quiver.
Hiring a sales agency. Sales agents do exactly what you think they do; they sell your film. They are similar to a traditional film distributor, but they do not do: fulfillment of orders. This means you may be responsible for attaining errors and omission insurance (E&O) and sending various formats for your film to different fulfillment companies. If you are going to go this route, be sure to have your film’s deliverables cleaned up and ready to go. You may also need to find a delivery service to help you encode your media to the various specs that are surely to arise.
Basically, sales agencies charge you a fee plus a commission to make deals on your behalf. Some companies will consult you through the deal-making process to help you secure the best outcome. The disadvantage to this method is that you may be required to pay for marketing materials as well as fees for your agent to attend various markets. This distribution option is something I do not recommend for filmmakers unless they are working with multiple titles and have a post production system for delivering assets to platforms.
If you decide to hire a sales agent, here are some questions you should ask:
- What types of films do you represent?
- What markets do you attend?
- On average, what do most of your clients average in sales per quarter?
- What is the reporting system you use?
- What is your payment schedule?
- What are the fees associated with your service?
- What expenses do you charge for?
- What percentage do you take from royalties or sales?
- What is the term of contract?
- Is there a performance and delivery clause?
- What types of deliverables do you need for the markets?
In conclusion, never sign any deal without consulting the appropriate legal advisor. Also be sure to learn as much as you can on film distribution and how the system works. By knowing how the game is played, it will not only help you make better deals for your films, but it will make you a better filmmaker overall.
I hope this helps. Enjoy your week, and best of luck out there. Peace-out!