Filmmaking: Tips, Sources & Tools — November 6, 2012 at 10:31 pm

Independent filmmaking – distribution tips you need to know

Assuming you, as a starting independent filmmaker, have just completed your film, then comes the hardest part – securing distribution.

Without distribution nobody will see what you’ve spent your time and energy on, and it will all be for nothing.

This article from LAvideofilmmaker covers the independent film distribution options that are generally available to independent filmmakers.

Finding a distributor

The ideal situation was and still is to sign a distribution deal with a reputable film distributor who will then take care of all the possible distribution channels: theatrical distribution, television, DVDs, video on demand, and so on.

In this situation, the distributor pays the filmmaker a decent advance and they then split the revenues after the distributor has recouped costs (this is known as Gross Adjusted Deal).

The advantage of an advance payment from the distributor is not just about money, as the real advantage of this deal is that it really pushes the distributor to do his best with the film, because they paid you an upfront fee for it and are therefore highly motivated to generate some serious revenues.

With the First Dollar Split deal, in which the distributor and filmmaker do a 50-50 split with no advance payment, the distributor is not under as much pressure to do anything with the film and may completely waste your time and leave the film on the shelf until the contract expires and you manage to get the film back.

Producer’s representative

This representative is essentially a well-connected representative who can shop the film around to a variety of distributors and film buyers for the purposes of acquiring the best possible distribution deals. The thing here is that finding a producer’s rep who is willing to represent you is almost as difficult as finding a distributor, but it is always worth a shot. Of course a representative would want to see the film and all the publicity material, to determine whether the film is marketable.

If your independent film is not marketable, nobody will distribute it, for the simple reason that there is no money to be made from it. If people do not think they can make money off your film, they will leave it on the shelf without mercy.

This is probably something worth considering when preparing your feature film, but if you have completed your film and are seeking distribution, it is pretty much too late to do anything about that, although radical re-editing can sometimes make a film more marketable.

Self-distribution

If everything else fails – there is always self-distribution you can try. Many independent filmmakers go this path every year, as this path has been a viable alternative for years and is now better than ever. Independent film self-distribution is now unquestionably the way forward for the overwhelming majority of small independent films.

CreateSpace

With CreateSpace you can submit your film and all the artwork electronically – completely free – and your film will be available for sale as professionally-made DVDs on Amazon.com, where it can also be sold as video on demand. CreateSpace is part of Amazon.com and absolutely reputable. There are no start-up fees for filmmakers and it is guaranteed and instantaneous distribution.

CreateSpace will allow your film to be bought by as many people as are willing to watch it.  Depending on how popular your film is, you can even count on a good profit.

The truth is that there is nothing wrong with ultra-cheap, mediocre independent films shot with camcorders, since as long as they are marketed honestly and priced correctly, there is usually at least a small market for that sort of films.

The problem with such films is that they are impossible to distribute profitably by traditional means (cinemas, television). For this reason, independent film self-distribution was the only option for niche independent feature films.

The reason for the lack of economic viability of independent feature films was simply that, no matter how cheaply they were distributed, the costs always exceeded the revenues. How can an independent feature film make a profit if it cannot even find 1000 people willing to spend three dollars for a copy or a screening? It just couldn’t be done, and independent feature filmmaking was essentially a cheaper and more effective option than attending film school and building a reel, but nothing more than that.

The good news is that, thanks to CreateSpace, which is part of Amazon.com, it is now possible to make a profit on just about any feature film, because all the filmmaker has to do is upload the video file and the associated artwork to CreateSpace and within minutes the film is available for sale on DVD or as a video-on-demand download on Amazon.com.

This solution is efficient and economical because it is fast and has no start-up costs for the filmmakers. You signup for a free account on CreateSpace, upload your materials and you’re ready to go.

The advantage of this independent film self-distribution approach is not just the enhanced likelihood of actually making a profit on your independent feature film, it also cuts out all those  independent film distributors who have been taking advantage of independent filmmakers for so many years.

Of course, when it comes to independent film self-distribution, one always had the option of ordering a batch of a few thousand professionally made DVDs and then selling those on Amazon.com.

As an independent film self-distribution solution this is pretty good, but it made the filmmakers carry the cost of DVD replication or duplication. With CreateSpace, all of that is handled by them on a per-order basis. This reduces the costs and therefore also the risks for the filmmakers.

LAvideofilmmaker gives a very good advice here, which is “when screening your feature film for potential film buyers and distributors, it is absolutely essential that you screen the film once only when all the interested parties are present. Choose a screening date, give the film distributors and buyers plenty of notice and make it emphatically clear that there will be absolutely no sneak previews or DVD copies for anyone“.

This is because if you allow a buyer or distributor to take a look at your film on DVD before the main screening and they decide to reject it, the other film buyers and distributors are going to hear about it and it will kill your film’s chances instantly, regardless of its merits.



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One Comment

  1. ‘The good news is that, thanks to CreateSpace, which is part of Amazon.com, it is now possible to make a profit on just about any feature film, because all the filmmaker has to do is upload the video file and the associated artwork to CreateSpace and within minutes the film is available for sale on DVD or as a video-on-demand download on Amazon.com’

    I don’t see how you can make a profit on it. Profit comes when you already got back what you have invested. Let’s say you did the unwatchable garbage with friends over the weekend and spent just 5k on it. It’s still 5k to get back and then you can think of making a profit.

    I don’t see this possible unless you have tons of friends who will buy it just because they are your friends but if It’s a digital copy for Let’s say $5 only, you still need 1000 people who will buy it just to get the money you invested in making this movie. All sounds good in theory but self distribution on any level makes no sense, unless you have secured the money for P&A to promote your movie.

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