Congratulations, independent filmmaker! You’ve finished post-production on your award-winning film. now you’re ready to distribute your movie to the masses and sign on the dotted line for a million dollar deal.
In any case, it’s time to block movie distribution and get your budget back. the only question is, where to start?
Let’s first introduce two common movie distribution strategies or what we’ll call dream scenarios. if none of the scenarios work, don’t worry! we’ve outlined six easy steps for learning how to distribute a movie yourself. let’s go!
two common film distribution strategies
1. bidding war at a film festival
In the past, the “success story” went like this: Have your film festival premiere at Sundance, Cannes, or SXSW. this is followed by a million dollar bidding war by major distributors. then comes the full purchase of your movie.
again, this is the scenario of the dream success story.
Are bidding wars still happening? Sure, but it’s rare. In the past, filmmakers ran the film festival circuit to build buzz around their film and attract distributors.
with the advent of vod platforms like amazon and netflix, the path to distribution has changed. in fact, most movie purchases happen before opening night.
If distribution companies are buying the movie rights before opening night, you’re probably wondering how the hell you get that movie distribution deal.
Keep dreaming or keep reading, the choice is yours.
2. sell movies to streaming platform
With over 150 million subscribers, landing a theatrical distribution deal with Netflix is a dream come true for independent filmmakers. Of course, it would be just as exciting to secure a distribution deal with the handful of other major distributors, like Lionsgate, Universal, Paramount, or Warner.
however, as with dream scenario #1, selling the film rights to a distributor is a long shot. The process involves research, intimate understanding of your film’s audience and potential market position, compiling films, and the bane of all independent filmmakers’ existence: connections.
When presenting to film distributors, it’s all about providing hard numbers and charting the golden path so they feel secure in their investment. however, only after you’ve completed publishing your film and with limited audience exposure, you likely won’t have the necessary market details to knock your release out of the park.
With those dreamy sets fading fast, what’s an independent filmmaker to do?
6 steps to self-distribute your independent film
In his 2015 sxsw keynote address, legendary independent filmmaker mark duplass offered this famous, yet painful, piece of advice: “the ordeal won’t come.” Is your independent film unique and entertaining, capable of grabbing the public by the throat? very possibly. However, even if you have the next Citizen Kane on your hard drive, it may never see the light of day. you must take the bull by the horns and self-distribute your film.
Now that you’ve heard Mark’s speech and maybe thrown a funeral on the stage of your dreams, it’s time for you to pull yourself together and figure out how to self-distribute your independent film. you can do it! There are a variety of paths independent filmmakers can take to attract independent film distributors. We are going to give you all the details so you can distribute a film!
step 1: finance your independent film distribution campaign
use crowdfunding platforms to your advantage
Most filmmakers turn to crowdfunding sites like kickstarter and indiegogo during pre-production. Those interested in financing their self-distribution journey using a crowdfunding platform may find themselves in an enviable position.
Having already proven his salt as a filmmaker who does things, asking for funding to bring his product to larger audiences is an admirable goal. When writing his personal story and movie synopsis, be sure to highlight that he’s already proven his metal: he’s completed an independent movie. Unlike other crowdfunding campaigns that promise advanced screenings when your independent film is completed in 2-5 years, you can provide an instant download through a private link on Vimeo or YouTube. this gives potential investors an incentive to endorse you and your independent film distribution efforts.
If you’re concerned about posting a link to your movie, you can offer a variety of teasers for your standalone film, from trailers to scene previews, or even share “making of” footage. this is fabulous ammunition for building a cult fan base around your movement. Consider adding subtitles to your content to take advantage of SEO and make clips even more shareable.
step 2: prepare your independent film for distribution
formats required for theatrical distribution
Since 2002, the industry has standardized the way movies are shown in theaters. Much to the chagrin of die-hard moviegoers, most theaters no longer show 35mm film. these days, digital projections are standard.
Whether you’re “building four walls” for your film (renting a movie theater for a flat fee) or preparing your independent film for festival screening, you’ll want to put the following on your to-do list:
formats needed to distribute a movie online
Although you have a bit more freedom in terms of film format for online distribution, you still want to film to encode at the highest possible quality.
subtitles and subtitles for your independent film
many international film festivals prefer submissions to have English subtitles or translated subtitles. if accepted, English films may need to have subtitles in the host’s native language. For example, films invited to the international competition at the Berlin International Film Festival must have German subtitles. Here at rev, we have a team of subtitle translators dedicated to creating foreign subtitles for independent films.
In addition, video-on-demand platforms also require subtitles. If you are wondering what is the difference between subtitles and subtitles, it is this: subtitles include atmospheric elements. sound effects and on-screen music are often crucial to the narrative. therefore, they are important elements to include for viewers who are deaf or hard of hearing.
step 3: decide on the online and streaming launch strategy
To distribute a movie online to a vod platform, you have two paths: through a third-party aggregator or on your own.
third party aggregator
Third party aggregators are providers that specialize in the distribution of movies. In addition to submitting your independent film and negotiating deals with the various VoD platforms, aggregators also take care of everything else, including the encoding, packaging, and delivery of your film to digital platforms. Aggregators have relationships with VoD platforms, including those that have low take-up rates from people representing their movies (ie Netflix).
However, this convenience and influence comes at a cost. aggregators can charge high fees and even take partial ownership of your movie. however, if you have the funds, giving away some ownership of your film may be reasonable compensation if it means finding an audience.
If you’ve already invested all of your funds into production and are still waiting for the money from investors or crowdfunding to come in, don’t despair. You can still find a home for your independent film through one of dozens of VoD distribution platforms (more on that in a bit). Best of all, if you end up securing vod distribution, you’ll retain ownership of your movie instead of splitting ownership with a third-party aggregator.
step 4: target vod distribution platforms
As mentioned above, you’re unlikely to find a distributor who will spend your time, money, and energy to distribute your film. Fortunately, independent filmmakers have many avenues to find their audience through the various VoD platforms. But before you dive in and submit your film to the various VoD platforms, let’s introduce the ecosystem with a few acronyms.
disclaimer, the following section is heavy on alphabet soup…
video on demand with advertising (avod)
Viewers should watch the ads before, during and/or after the movie. platforms include hulu, youtube, and crackle.
subscription video on demand (svod)
this may be the vod service that people are most familiar with. Ever since Netflix broke into the industry more than a decade ago, users have shelled out a monthly subscription fee to access the platform’s library of content. it can be a challenge to get your movie on netflix. The process requires submitting your film, and they are likely to choose films that already have a few film festival wins, or at least a solid following on Vimeo or YouTube before being distributed. another popular svod platform is amazon prime.
transactional video on demand (tvod)
In this pay-per-view model, the public pays for each movie they want to see. there are two options:
cable video on demand
In the cable vod model, premium channels buy the rights to broadcast their movie to their subscribers. Popular networks include HBO, Starz, and Showtime, as well as providers that distribute media through cable boxes in hotels.
free video on demand
Perhaps the best known are the free vod platforms such as youtube and vimeo. If your goal as a filmmaker is to get your film in front of as many eyes as possible as quickly as possible, then exploring free vod platforms may be the path you want to take.
Step 5: Determine if you want a theatrical release
Despite the various online channels available to filmmakers today, sometimes nothing says “I made a movie!” more than a theatrical release. If you intend to bring your film to the big screen, there are a few things to consider:
- expensive! Your fourth wall movie at a theater can be expensive. essentially, you work with a theater to “book” a performance for a flat fee.
- Cost can range from $250 and up to secure such a fix. Although it’s expensive for a single performance, if you can fill the house (loading tickets), you may even get by.
There are theater service companies that specialize in booking, advertising, promoting and collecting tickets. While expensive, the trade-off may be worth your experience, contacts, and professionalism in this field.
Step 6: Promote your independent film
building audiences for your film is key to building buzz. If you can tap into a niche audience that will support your film and act as an ambassador, you can plan to transition to broader audiences.
Volumes have been written on the promotion of movies. In a nutshell, it all boils down to a few key ingredients:
that’s a wrapper!
While the road to self-distributing an independent film can be a long one, it’s definitely worth it. By breaking down this complicated process into 6 easy steps, we hope you now have an idea of what needs to be done.
No matter what happens, remember this: the skills and connections you make on your journey to secure a film distribution deal will serve you well in your current film, as well as your next independent film projects. go ahead and cultivate your own ordeal!