The Changing World of Film Distribution

The old tradition for filmmakers: make your movie, enter film festivals, distributors eat it up, and Waalaa….you make your investor’s money back…and hopefully you put some in your pocket. Today, it seems that is the old man’s way of doing it. If I were to rely on that method, it would be equivalent to putting all my savings into buying lottery tickets. Times have changed. And keep changing. Every day. How do we, as independent filmmakers, keep up?
Many people are running to Netflix and VOD. Is that a better option? Or an addition to the film festival route? So far, I haven’t heard any positive reviews about Netflix experiences. Maybe you know someone who has? VOD seems to be a positive route, but does your film have enough hype around it for VOD to be useful. For that matter, millions are making movies all the time, so how are ours going to stick out of the crowd?
I keep going back to the potential of proper use of the internet. The majority of people are on the internet. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE going to the theater, but marketing usually hits me online. Maybe the best route today is finding your niche audience online. Let them enjoy your film.
Thomas Woodrow, the producer of the film Bass Ackwards, came up with one of the first creative distribution solutions after failure to get distribution from a successful festival run. Said Woodrow, “We knew that the only one thing Sundance guaranteed us was a tremendous amount of publicity, a chance for people to hear about the film and to be curious about it. We also knew that we had an anti-commercial film, difficult to market, without an obvious target audience outside of the people that go to film festivals. We knew we had virtually no chance for traditional pick-up, and imagined that if we did things the regular way and waited for other companies to come to us, we’d probably see ourselves on IFC’s digital platform six months later, and nothing else.
We also knew that we had spent so little on the film that we could afford to take risks,” he continues. So we decided to just go for the jugular and to use the publicity generated by Sundance to release the film directly to the audience. We knew we couldn’t wait until people forgot about the Sundance press, so we decided to launch the film as wide as possible immediately after the Festival, meaning February 1st…one day after the Festival concluded.”
After spending $15,000 for the Sundance release, the team also made preparations for the aftermath of the release. Theatrical bookings were being made to run immediately following Sundance. Digital platforms were being armed with the film so that people could see it as soon as they heard about it. DVD release was scheduled immediately after the festival with Amazon.com on pre-orders to ship on Feb 1. Cable VOD was coordinated to work immediately after the Feb 1 release, except it ended up being pushed back 1 month.
For more detail on Bass Ackwards.
Bass Ackwards was the first to take the step into the unknown. Now things have changed considerably, but at least Woodrow made $35K back on his film. Better than nothing. Maybe it was worth it, maybe not.
Curt Hahn, director and producer of the film Deadline, took a unique approach. The film is about two investigative reporters so felt they could get support of the newspaper industry for this movie. Major newspapers hosted premieres of the film in their cities. Not only did they write stories, but they also promoted the film in their ad space, $700,000 worth. They took this grassroots approach and traveled in a tour bus to 46 different premieres in 46 cities. They set up a red carpet every night, which is a big deal in smaller cities and towns. Television stations covered it as well. Genius!
For the interview with Curt Hahn.
For more on the film, visit their website: deadlinefilm.com.
So, what is the best method for you to distribute your film today? I believe that is entirely up to you and your creativity, and how much involvement you want in the distribution process. There is no harm in going the traditional route if you want to hand the job over to someone else. You may not make as much money as you would have several years ago, but you never know.
IF you want to get creative with it, get out there and study study study BEFORE you make your film. If you’ve already made it, it’s never too late to start studying now. Develop your own method, mix and match, pull from other ideas, whatever you have to do to make it happen. There is help in sites built specifically to teach, such as Film Specific who helps in all areas from packaging your film to distribution, or something I found recently on indiemoviemaking.com called Distribber.
It seems somewhat pricey to me, but maybe others have had much success out of it. Has anyone used this before or know someone who has?
I am in the process of piecing together a distribution plan for our “secret” project. It’s not really secret, we are just in the VERY early stages of development and don’t want to release any details until we are further along. I will post details of any projects that have used distribution methods that I find intriguing as I do my research. If you know of any interesting methods, please comment below. I look forward to hearing from you.
Also feel free to make any additions or comments about anything in this article or anything completely random!
Ingen’s out.

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