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Film Distribution: Which Way to Go Part 2?

Independent Film Distribution

Most of the filmmakers know nowadays that to make a film is just half of the process. With so many films being made each year the market is crowded, and even excellent film can fail to attract audience or media. And sadly they very often do.

For the distribution to be successful, it needs to be taken into consideration already during the pre-production phase. So the filmmakers will know what kind of steps they need to take for the distribution to be successful for their project. It also needs to be incorporated into the promotion and marketing.

First of all the production team needs to decide whether they are going to choose the traditional way of distribution or the new direction that only emerged a few years ago. Of course, you can always aim for the traditional way of distribution but have in mind and be prepared that a traditional distributor may not pick up your film having such a rich choice.

In this article, you will be able to find information about both ways. We hope you will find it useful.


Traditional streams of distribution for your film mean any public viewing of your movie handled by someone else:





Often distributors become interested in a film after seeing it at a film festival and observing audience reaction. However, acquisition agreements can be negotiated before, during or after production.

To get the better possible distribution deal, you are going to need to have more than one distributor interested in your movie.

While screening your film for the acquisition executives make sure you do it in a movie theatre, don’t send them a DVD. The first experience lasts and usually is the most important.

The best and the most traditional way to screen your movie to a theatre full of potential acquisition executives is at the film festival. Of course, not every festival offers the possibility of screening films to the industry insiders, that is why you need to do your homework and decide which festivals you want to submit your film to. Please remember that when it comes to feature films many festivals look for premieres. With short films, the festivals are much more laid back, and the premiere status isn’t required in many cases unless you are submitting to the A-listers like Berlin Film Festival or Cannes Film Festival

Film festivals also offer the possibility of gathering press and media interest which could be nicely used with both, the traditional way of distribution and a new way of distribution.

However, if you aren’t screening at the festival choose a good and convenient location for the acquisition executives to attend. Again, do your research and invite distributors who are appropriate for the kind of film you offer. Send invitation to the acquisition executives with a professionally made one-sheet. Don’t forget to collect the business cards and provide everyone with the one sheet once again.

If you are screening at the festival make sure you prepared either an electronic press kit or a paper press kit for the press. If you are screening for acquisition executives, don’t be tempted to screen your unfinished copy for just a few of them. It’s better to gather everyone at the same time in the same place. Probably some distributors will try to pressurise you to have the first glimpse but stay strong. You want to sell your film, and that’s why you have to give it the best opportunity you can. You should only screen your movie to acquisition executives once it’s ready. Don’t bother anyone with a rough cut. That is unless you are looking for completion funds and have no other choice.

If you are going to film festivals, remember to plan your festival strategy well and if you can, don’t give your premiere status away to the smaller festival. You will never get it back. Keep in mind that acquisition executives usually attend the most prestigious and prominent festivals.

If you sell your foreign distribution rights your distributor will work around a market calendar (this are the places where deals are made):

  • American Film Market (AFM)in February,
  • Cannes in May
  • Some distributors sell at the Berlin market.
  • Television markets: The National Association of Television Program Executives, MIP (Marche International des Programmes de Television)and MIP-COM (the Marche International des Films et des Programmes pour la TV, la Video, le Cable et les Satellite).

A right moment to approach a distributor is before any of the markets (distributors want to have new films to show). However, you still need to give the distributor enough time to make your film ready for the market if they decide to take you on. Make sure your movie isn’t acquired at the last minute ‘cos if it is, it probably will receive a rushed and often second-class treatment.

The first market your distributor is going to take your film to is extremely important because in most cases this will be the place where the most sales are going to be made.

You should avoid approaching distributors about acquiring your film at the market. The distributor is there to sell the films they already have in the book not to buy new ones. You have to realise that attending a market is extremely expensive. Don’t also approach distributors right after they have returned from the market. Give them at least 2-3 weeks to catch some fresh breath and catch up with all the piled up work.

Some industry insiders say that the best time to approach distributors is around 60-90 days before a significant market. If the distributor likes to buy your film, it can take even up to 30 days to negotiate the deal. And they also need some time to prepare your movie to be displayed.

While negotiating a deal either at the film festival or outside, retain an entertainment attorney or experienced producer’s rep. Don’t do it yourself unless you are an attorney. Those people know what to negotiate and how to do it and will do the best they can for you and your film. At the end of the day they work on commission, and it is money for them too. An attorney or rep can help filmmaker with making festivals and acquisition executives aware of the film, which could have otherwise been unnoticed. We all know how crowded festivals are today and how hard it is to be accepted to any of the A-list film festivals or one that is worth its submission fee. So any help you can give your film and push to your career, use it.

One very important thing you need not forget to check on is the distributor’s track record. You want to be involved with people who can do the best possible for your film, not just have you it shelved for the duration of your contract. Don’t be afraid of contacting filmmakers who had previously worked with the distributor. Those people are going to be good sources for information (Ask them specific questions: Did they receive producer reports on time? Have they been paid on time? Did the distributor spend the amount promised on promotion?) Don’t be naive. If something sounds too good, it probably is.  Be also aware of predators, if the distributor screwed one or two filmmakers before he may do the same to you.

If your film has already had one distributor, getting another one can be a real challenge. Nobody wants to distribute second-hand films.

The term Deliverables will come up when it is time to sign a contract with your sales agent or distributor. It refers to print materials, publicity materials and legal documentation needed to release a film. Deliverables are the last things created by the production team and delivered to the film’s distributor, so make sure you don’t overlook that. 

When the distributor is interested in you film the distribution agreement will be signed based on one of two financial models:

  • Leasing (in this model a distributor agrees to pay a fixed amount of money for the rights to distribute the film.)
  • Profit sharing (The studio/producer and distributor have a profit-sharing agreement.)

Most distributors obtain rights to distribute a film at various distribution outlets, not only theatrically (DVD, cable, TV, Internet, VOD etc.)

Once the distributor has signed your film on they will try to determine what is the best possible opening strategy for it. The distribution team will take into consideration following factors coming up with the strategy (often all of this work is done before the production of the film begins, especially on big studio pictures.): target audience, star power, buzz, media, festivals, season.

However, as I said at the beginning of the article, it is incredibly hard to get a distributor interested in an independent movie unless it is screened at one of the major film festivals. So what else is left out there for an independent filmmaker who doesn’t have a significant studio backing? There is…


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