We live in times where it has never been easier to make a film. Technology, software, and the internet have revolutionized the filmmaking process. But what no one ever tells you is what to do with your film once it’s done. The filmmaking venture is such a behemoth that entire industries – production, post-production, and sales, operate so divorced from one another, that being well-versed in one gives you little, if any, footing in another.
I’ve produced three feature films in my career, and although my specialty is production, I have managed to independently secure distribution for all.
Each time I learnt something, and this article is my attempt to share those lessons with you.
Getting A Distribution Deal
So, your film is complete and you want a distribution deal? Follow these steps and I’m pretty sure you’ll make some headway.
Cut a great trailer! Cutting a great trailer is a unique skill. If you can afford to hire a specialist, do so, it will be money well spent. If not, find a good trailer for a film with a similar genre, mood, or topic, to your film, and follow it like a blue print. In some genres, and at certain budget levels, buyers and distributors are known to buy films just based on a trailer, so a great trailer is essential.
2. Social Media
This is obvious; create a social media presence for your film on all platforms and regularly post content on them, starting with your trailer. If you can afford to pay to boost your posts, do so. Target boosts at film-goers and niche groups that are interested in what your film is about, not your personal social circle. Other content to post includes, behind-the-scenes photographs and videos, interviews, and other news related to your film.
3. Film Festivals
The film festival circuit has become something like the wild west in recent years. Profiteering on the desperation of filmmakers to receive awards and laurels is widespread, and though measures are being taken to clamp down on bogus festivals and awards events, it is up to filmmakers to tread carefully and only apply to legitimate festivals. Distributors and buyers will be able to see through laurels and awards attained from less credible sources, but the general public won’t, and that’s why ‘buying’ festival laurels and awards may always exist. The film festival circuit isn’t for all films, so don’t gauge your potential for success on how well you do here.
You need to build buzz for your film. Write a press release, and if you can afford it, pay for it to go out on a news wire. Otherwise, there are plenty of film-related websites and YouTube channels that are willing to post content about your film. You may have to do substantial online legwork to get some press coverage, but third-party references about your film are extremely valuable as they can help you get an IMDb page, and give you a bigger online footprint. The more people that know about your film, the more valuable your film becomes as a product to distributors.
5. Film Markets
I was in the industry for many years before I finally attended a film market, and within seconds of stepping in the front door I was thinking, ‘Why the hell have I not been to one of these before?’ A film market is a great place to make contacts in the industry from across the globe. Meeting someone face to face significantly outweighs cold outreach using email. If you’re looking for a distribution deal, you are unlikely to get your business done at the film market, but you can definitely make the right contacts to move forward.
6. Approach Distributors
In the past, distributors would only deal with sales agents, however times have changed and some acquisitions departments will accept unsolicited screeners through their provided online channels. Before you contact a particular distributor, study their lineup of recent films. Do they sell films in your genre, or at your budget level? If your film is turned down, politely ask if they will tell you why. Their responses will help you with your next approach.
I imagine that it is the dream of most filmmakers to see their work projected on a cinema screen, but I’m here to burst that massively overrated bubble. The following advice applies to my experience of independently approaching cinemas for a local theatrical release without going through a distributor.
There are two major issues with a theatrical release. Firstly, you are at a massive leverage disadvantage when dealing with big cinema chains. The old norm of a 50:50 gross split with theatres is under threat as operators are pushing for anything up to a 70:30 split in their favor. From their point of view, audiences flock to watch blockbuster films with big stars, and the opportunity cost in ticket sales of playing an independent film over a studio blockbuster doesn’t add up.
Secondly, you better have at least the equivalent of your combined production and post-production budgets available for publicity and advertising. Studios and distributors have large contracts with marketers and advertisers to bombard the public with teasers, trailers, posters, billboards etc. for their new releases. All that stuff costs money, a lot of it. Cinemas don’t want to put on a film no one has heard of.
A limited theatrical release in independent cinemas is the way to go if you really insist on the big screen. I’ve seen big cinema chains take notice of films that make an impact on the independent circuit and subsequently offer a run in the multiplexes. In that scenario, you come to the table with leverage.
By Abishek J. Bajaj
Abishek is Managing Partner at 89Dreams, a film production company based in Bangkok, Thailand. He was a producer on Choice (2013), Fail Stage (2017), and producer and director of M.I.A. A Greater Evil (2018).