At long last, the 2nd edition of my book “Insiders Guide To Independent Film Distribution” is out. Hoorah! Yes, so much has changed since 2007 when the first edition was published, and I’m ecstatic to finally present you with this updated edition. (thanks for your patience everyone!)
In celebration of the official launch, I’m posting an excerpt from the book here on IFB. If you want to order your very own copy of the book – either paperback or Kindle version, you can head over to Amazon although at the time of this writing there’s only 17 copies left. They’re already flying off the shelves! Amazon also allows you to download the Table Of Contents as well as a Sample Chapter for free…. so head over and see what’s all included in this new version.
If Amazon is out of stock, you can also pick it up online at Barnes & Noble – available in paperback and for the Nook.
Updating the Insiders Guide was a lot of fun, and I especially enjoyed interviewing all new case studies and real world success stories. It includes interviews from people like Jon Reiss, Adam Daniel Mezei, Orly Ravid, Thomas Mai, Laura Kim…and many more!
And now without further ado….here’s the sample excerpt. I hope you enjoy and I’d love to hear your comments below!
The Three Paths To Distribution
My experience has told me time and time again that once you’ve completed your film you’ll start getting anxious to find distribution for it. You’ve put in all this hard work and it’s time to get your film out there and to find its audience.
Many filmmakers’ instinct once they have a finished film is to immediately start shopping it to every distributor in sight. However, ‘shot-gunning’ distributors is not an effective approach! I would advise taking a more methodical approach to finding distribution for your film, which I’ll outline below.
For example, the first thing you want to do before you even start approaching anyone to distribute or represent your film is to put a solid strategy in place. You don’t want to be haphazardly submitting items to distributors and reps, without taking into account any type of protocol.
In today’s market there are effectively three paths to distribution. They are Traditional, DIY, and Hybrid:
Traditional distribution is what we all normally associate with film distribution – theatrical, DVD, and Broadcast. Unfortunately as the market has changed, traditional distribution has become more and more rare for independently produced films. Where a filmmaker used to be able to rely on the tried and true method of premiering at a big festival followed by being picked up for theatrical distribution, DVD, and/or Cable distribution, those days are few and far between now and occur for fewer and fewer films. Furthermore, many filmmakers even reject traditional distribution deals given the choice nowadays because the offers may be so low that they feel they could do better distributing the film themselves (more on that in a minute).
An example of this is the movie Bottleshock that premiered at Sundance in 2008 and when the Producers got no real offers from distributors they decided to strike out on their own and implement a DIY strategy. The result is that they were able to make far more than they would have with any of the traditional deals they were offered.
So something to keep in mind is that even though you may still view traditional distribution as the ultimate goal for your film, it may not always be the best choice for your film and in most cases, isn’t totally realistic in today’s market.
DIY distribution (do-it-yourself) has replaced traditional distribution as the go-to route for most filmmakers with independently produced films. Like I mentioned above, due to supply and demand in the marketplace, there’s just too many films and too few traditional distribution outlets left, so what has surfaced in its place is this new DIY route. DIY (or sometimes called self-distribution) has now supplanted traditional distribution as Plan A, whereas it used to be Plan B.
But don’t worry – DIY doesn’t have the ‘stigma’ that it once did and now many mainstream films are turning to DIY voluntarily because they wish to keep more control of their film and release it how they want to, when they want to, and on their own terms.
Of course there are both upsides and downsides to self-distribution. The biggest upside in my opinion is that any sale you make, any distribution deal you sign, you get to keep all the money for yourself. It goes directly to your bottom line, in paying your investors back and towards your profit. Conversely, the biggest downside to self-distribution that I can think of is that in exchange for not having to pay anyone a sales commission or fee or percentage of sales, you have to do all the work, which can be an enormous amount.
Don’t be fooled, the DIY route takes a tremendous amount of work and patience, but it can pay off handsomely to those who are consistent with their efforts. Before I got a publisher for this book, I self-distributed it as an eBook online. And the number one thing that made it a successful venture for me was my consistent efforts at tirelessly marketing my product. Some weeks were good, some weeks were bad, but being absolutely consistent in my marketing efforts I believe was the top contributor to the book’s success.
With all the new DIY platforms out there remember that since you do not have a distribution company behind you, you will have to do all the marketing, promotions, and advertising yourself (or with a team you hire) – whatever it takes to drive sales of your film. I will talk about specific ways to market your film with each self-distribution method I discuss.
There is a also a Hybrid distribution model that is part Traditional, part DIY. For example, if you make a film that doesn’t immediately get distribution you may choose to do your own platform theatrical release. While you’re doing your own platform theatrical release, you may decide to sell your own DVD’s at the screenings. At this point, you will probably also want to sell DVD’s or Streams/Downloads off your website to capitalize on the fact that you are out there creating a buzz doing public screenings. With all this in place, you are completely self-distributed.
Suddenly a traditional DVD distributor picks up on all the buzz you’re getting, and sees that there is a market for your product, and that you are actually selling DVD’s, and they want in on the action! BUT…you have a nice successful online operation going and you don’t want to give up that revenue. After all, for every DVD you sell off your own website, you could be pocketing $5-$15, depending on the selling price of the DVD for. Once a DVD distributor picks up your film, you will only make perhaps $1-$3 per unit sold, at most.
So, you are left with a conundrum. While you always wanted a DVD distributor to offer you a deal, you also are enjoying the revenue that you’re making while self-distributing. The perfect solution is to negotiate in your contract with the distributor that you the filmmaker retain online distribution rights to your film. This would have been unheard of a few years ago, but surprisingly DVD distributors are realizing that they have to acquiesce in this area if they want to be able to acquire hot-performing niche films that are already out there collecting a buzz in the marketplace. Distributors are also realizing that filmmakers who are heavily promoting a film online, will only help their retail sales in the long run anyway. So everybody wins.
Distributors don’t have a choice anymore rather they absolutely have to alter their business models to accommodate filmmakers in this area. Traditional DVD distributors will be more like retail partners in the future, and filmmakers will leverage the new technologies available to them and handle their own online distribution.
Another part of the hybrid distribution model that has become popular is known as House Parties. For example, while some filmmakers are taking their platform theatrical release to art house and independent movie theaters, others are choosing to do targeted screenings in peoples’ homes.
A great example of this model is Robert Greenwald’s Wal-Mart: The High Cost Of Low Prices. Robert really wanted to get his message out there and knew how to find his target audience online. By galvanizing online support he organized grass-roots screenings at people’s homes all across the country and built a tremendous buzz for his film. He ended up having somewhere around 1000 house parties, each with around 10-15 people in a living room. Within a couple of months he had sold 100,000 DVD’s from people buying them at the parties and off his website.
Granted, the house party strategy works very well with documentaries that lend themselves to strong grassroots opinions and campaigns, BUT you could also apply this strategy to a narrative feature if your film applies to a core audience (ie: surfers, teenagers, sports enthusiasts…whatever). Think about what groups people belong to online and how you can reach them. Then capitalize on that enthusiasm and organize screenings around it.
It almost makes sense these days to think in terms of what types of films could appeal to which groups online, and word backwards from there. At least that way, you will always have the insurance of direct sales of your DVD online and know that you’ll be able to make the revenue that way to pay your investors back. Even if a traditional distributor never picks up your film, you know you can do some grassroots promoting and selling all on your own.
Something else to think about is that while you’re out there doing grassroots screenings, building an audience for yourself, you may well be able to raise money for your next film. I know of a few filmmakers who while screening their films to a targeted demographic at private screenings met investors for their next films. So keep your eyes open and be prepared!
Stacey Parks is a film distribution expert with over 15 years experience working with independent producers. As a Foreign Sales Agent for several years she secured distribution for hundreds of independent features and programs worldwide. Stacey currently specializes in coaching independent film professionals on financing and distribution strategies for their projects, and works with them both one-on-one and through her online training website www.FilmSpecific.com. Stacey’s clients have secured deals with U.S Studio divisions, large international broadcasters, and worldwide DVD distributors, and have premiered their films at Cannes, Sundance, Toronto, Berlin, SXSW, San Sebastian, and other major film festivals worldwide. Stacey is the author of ‘The Insider’s Guide to Independent Film Distribution” 1st & 2nd editions (Focal Press) and presently divides her time between her clients, FilmSpecific.com, and producing projects of her own.