The Game of DIY Distribution

The changing ways of distribution is something that highly interests me. So, weekly I will post an article about different routes of DIY distribution that I’ve found, whether it be through case studies or just ideas that pop into someone else’s head or mine. So here it goes. Look for an article every Tuesday if you are interested in DIY distribution of films.

I read a fantastic case study about a film that made it to Sundance, but they took a completely different strategy for distribution after the Sundance hype. The film is called Indie Game: The Movie, and it is about the world of indie gamer developers. Instead of going the traditional route of distributors offering to buy rights to their film for theatrical distribution, limiting them to their digital distribution rights, they decided to self distribute. They built buzz through the Sundance premiere, their kickstarter campaigns, twitter, other social media, and targeting their niche markets. Five days after Sundance, they were on the road for two weeks for a multi-city promotional tour with seven dates and 15 special event screenings. They also had 37 theaters across Canada launching a one night special event. These screenings generated a lot of hype through word of mouth. ”We had this sort of hype machine happening. We didn’t put out advertising. Everything was through our mailing that started with the 300 on our first Kickstarter and through Twitter,” said co-director James Swirsky. Now the team has over 20,000 on their mailing list and 10,000 twitter followers. They released 88 minutes of exclusive content that didn’t make the final cut to their funders, put creative suggestions from their online forum to use, and sent out updates of the folks they interviewed in the film. While they were doing all of this promotion, the film was available online at several digital platforms. This did not affect their theatrical releases. They made the film available on iTunes,, and Steam, a gaming distribution platform.

They had no idea if this plan would work, but it did. They made most of their profits from pre-orders. They offered three DVD packages, one for $9.99, $24.99, and a special edition DVD for $69.99. They offered an additional 20 interviews in that package, making it the highest seller. For a more in-depth blog about this, please visit

Now that’s creative and going against the grain.

Here is a chart made by Jon Reiss for an article in Filmmaker Magazine that compared a service deal for distribution vs. what he budgeted for distribution vs. what he actually spent to distribute his film. It gives you a nice heads up on what to expect if you are planning self distribution in the future.

Jon Reiss wrote an article for filmmaker magazine about his experience with releasing his filmBomb It.  A bit that stuck out to me was this:

It was now the fall of ‘07, and I knew I had to release the film by the spring because that‘s when New Video was putting out the DVD. Also, a similar film had just been acquired by a small distributor. I wanted to beat them to market, or at least run concurrently with them. (If possible I do recommend having your film come out at the same time as a similarly themed film — we had a great experience with Better Living Through Circuitry when three films about rave culture were released into the marketplace at the same time. This offered us not only higher profile reviews but also feature articles on the phenomenon of rave-culture films.)

I have witnessed many filmmakers stressed or almost ruined by someone else stealing their ideas or realizing that their dream film or life’s work is being done by someone else at the same time. In the back of my mind, I saw it as free publicity, but I never actually said that to anyone’s face. If someone else is doing film about on the same subject matter as mine, that means double the publicity, because technically I could run off of their back. For instance, the Hatfields and McCoys story is certainly not a new one, but when the history channel television mini-series aired and did extremely well, the story blew up. Not only was there a television series, but a documentary was made and aired on the history channel as well. Then came the casting call for the reality series about the current day Hatfields and McCoys. Before all of this, there was a theater group that performed the story every summer, but now the theater group has seen their audience grow like wildfire, not to mention the amount of tourism in the area has grown exponentially. All of this growth came from one successful mini-series.

Reiss posted every lesson that he learned while distributing his own film. I highly recommend reading the article.

He also has some good lectures on

That’s it for this week. Come back next Tuesday for more on DIY distribution.


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