This is the big question; every filmmaker asks themselves during the production process. Partially, you should know who your target audience is, and who is going to watch your film, before you start the development process and invest a ton of time and energy into that project. The sooner you start thinking about your distribution options and possibilities, the sooner you will be able to start the marketing and promotion efforts. And, the sooner you start to market and promote your film, the bigger the audience you will be able to reach, and the more fans you will be able to find.
Having enough time to work out your marketing and promotional strategy will also help you polish that strategy and see what works and what doesn’t work in practice.
However, if the distribution is not something you gave a lot of thought to, before you started production or just right after the post-production began, you will have to get on with the job as soon as possible.
I do agree that having an agent and a distributor is vital for some productions. Those professionals can help you a lot, especially to get your film into places you usually wouldn’t be able to get it too. But nowadays, not having an agent or a distributor is not the end of the world for that production. If you are looking for an agent or a distributor, it doesn’t mean you should give up on the idea of building your own audience and following online. If anything, that could only be a positive asset for you while you are negotiating with a sales agent or a distributor.
Many independent filmmakers pick the traditional way of distribution over a hybrid, or even spending some time and money on investing in social media exposure. If the distribution deal you sign doesn’t offer a marketing and promotion budget, you will still need to do this job yourself or hire someone else to do it for you, which means that you have wasted quite a lot of time waiting for your film to be picked up.
The current reality is that sales agents and distributors are keener on representing films, which already have an audience or following. They know that it will make their jobs of selling the film much easier.
Once you have your film done and don’t really know what to do with it I would suggest:
1. Learn and explore various types of distribution available to you.
2. Work on building an online following and fan base for your film. Those people will hopefully turn into paying customers, regardless of the way you decide to distribute your film.
3. Make a list of film festivals where you would like to send your film to and keep up with deadlines to save money on submission fees.
4. Have all the types of pitches ready. So, whenever you need to pitch someone, you will be confident enough to describe what your story is about without going into unnecessary details.
5. If traditional distribution is your aim or a part of your distribution strategy, start approaching sales agents and distributors. If you are attending film festivals with your film, make appointments with distributors and sales agents you would like to talk to.
Producing a film is just part of the filmmaking process. Finding the right audience and reaching your audience is another part of that same process, equally important as the production itself. That’s why spending time and energy on finding the right distribution strategy for your project as well as finding your audience should never be underestimated.