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Traditional Way Of Film Distribution

You have finally finished your film and decided that the best way to distribute your work of art is with the help of a sales agent. A good sales agent (in the perfect world but remember, filmmaking business is far from perfect) will represent your film at markets, film festivals, introduce you and your film to distributors, and try to sell your film to networks, hotel chains and airlines. 

However, in reality, many films are sold in bundles combined with other films that are either the same genre or touch on the same or similar subject matter. Sales agents usually put catalogues of films together and try to sale them for one flat fee to TV stations or local distributors.

Ideally, sales agents should try to sell films they represent to distributors, who in turn distribute those films to cinema chains, TV networks, hotels, airlines, or the VOD platforms. In the traditional model of film distribution, the sales agents are the link between the filmmaker and the distribution company. However, currently, this model is quickly changing, because of the easy access to the VOD platforms, which gives indie filmmakers more options.

In the perfect world sales agent’s job should be to represent each film individually and to create sale packages for each film. But that isn’t always the case; if the films are bundled together, they don’t get the individual attention from the sales agent.

Also, keep in mind that having a distributor doesn’t mean that your film will be actually distributed. The distributor buys out the rights to a title for 20-30 years, sometimes longer, and in reality, they can shelve the title if they conclude that it’s too costly to try to distribute it.

It’s worth remembering that not every sales agent (actually few does) has the rights to represent the film across all the territories. Sometimes they represent films in selected territories and only seek distribution in those territories. What rights and to what territories the sales agent has, will always depend on the contract they sign with the production company or the filmmaker.

The traditional way of distributing films is still going strong with big-budget productions, having a lot of resources for all the marketing and promotional expenses. In the independent filmmaking world, hybrid distribution is making waves. What it means is that films have limited run in cinemas and right after that make their way to one of the VOD platforms. At times indies skip the theatrical release altogether and go straight to VOD platforms.

Keep in mind that the traditional distribution costs a lot of money and not every production can afford even to have a limited release in theatres. Also, finding the right sales agent is a long and often disheartening process. As a filmmaker, you would want to work with someone as committed to your film as you are but finding that kind of partnership is not easy.

Hybrid distribution or creative distribution often give filmmakers the freedom they need to seek the best for their film, especially when you work with a very restricted budget. 

UPDATE

In TIFF 2019 many big players (distributors) lock-up hot titles before they start their festival run.

VOD platforms are also big spenders at festivals. Amazon and Netflix went “crazy” at Sundance 2019, for instance.

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