Film DistributionWhen you’ve already invested so much creative energy into developing your film, it can be easy to overlook the financial energy required to get your project out into the ‘real’ world. Unfortunately, without a sound fiscal distribution plan, no film will progress past the production studio.

No two projects are the same and all will differ greatly in their scope and their monetary requirements. It is therefore imperative to anticipate, from the very beginning of your project, not only funding the production of film, but also the distribution and the eventual marketing of the finished product.

What Am I Making, Actually?

You must clearly establish the size and style of your film in order to determine a realistic budget for the distribution of your film. The clarity of this vision will also give you a better chance of securing potential investors. Ask yourself what distribution method is best for your film. Film distribution can take many forms, but it will generally fall somewhere on a continuum between traditional, theatrical mode of release and a more independent, grassroots approach.

A theatrical distribution in its purest form involves a nationwide, and possibly international, release on 35mm film via the use of a commercial third party distributor. The grassroots approach involves a geographically restricted video release organized by the filmmaker(s). The size, scope and concept of your project will determine where on this distribution scale your project should fall. Be flexible and realize that your distribution strategy should intelligently incorporate appropriate elements of each approach in order to successfully draw audiences to your film. After all, that is the main premise of filmmaking!

So, How Much?

In order to answer this question, you will need to identify each aspect of the distribution of your film that may impact your project’s budget. Despite the aforementioned differences between each film project, some important expenses are common to all projects. The following will always be crucial to the ultimate success of a film:

Conversion and Transfer: This may seem trivial, but you will be surprised by the costs incurred via transfer and conversion while distributing your film. You will no doubt be already familiar with the high costs of transferring onto 35mm film (upwards of $40,000 US) but do not discount the further strain conversion may place upon the budget of your film. iTunes encoding, conversion to a European (PAL)/ American (NTSC) format, DVD replication, press release prints, and conversion to specialist theater formats are all crucial aspects of distribution, particularly if you plan to release your film internationally.

Labor: It will take all kinds of “manpower” to get your film ready for audiences, including fees incurred by lawyers, accountants, consultants, research, and venues. Depending on your industry experience and contacts, you may be able to fulfill some of these roles yourself. For the newcomer, however, investing in professional assistance will ensure the smooth distribution of your project.

Media: Think quality not quantity. The most important question here is: Who is my target audience? Flooding primetime broadcast media space with advertising is foolish and expensive. A good film concept is developed with a particular demographic in mind; your marketing strategy should reflect this. Invest in the media that will be most effective in reaching your audience. If your film is targeted at a younger market, consider the low cost and viral nature of social media.

If you are targeting a particular niche market, consider print advertising that specifically focuses on that demographic. Again, consider the overall approach of your chosen distribution method. If you have opted for a grassroots approach, don’t underestimate the power of community interest and crowdsourced funding. Buzz about your project will dramatically reduce the amount of marketing required to get the title of your film known!

Visual Identity: A successfully marketed film needs a salient visual identity and this will considerably affect the distribution costs of your film. Plan for it! The most expensive element will be your art direction, normally fulfilled by a creative agency.  Consider, though, whether an individual may be more cost effective. The talent of your creative team will determine the success of your film’s marketing strategy.

Also, allow for individual costs incurred by graphic design, print advertising, DVD design, press kits and, of course, the trailer! Material costs, like poster printing and merchandising, are also a component of your film’s visual identity. Having a clear sense of how your visual identity contributes to the overall scope of your distribution strategy will allow you to best allocate your budgetary resources.

Travel: As the creator of the film, you are an integral part of the visual identity of the film, along with its actors. As part of the distribution of your film, you may consider travelling with part of the cast to generate media interest in your project. Should you approach investors to support a project later in your career, this media coverage of you and your work may become an advantage.

Hidden Costs: Like all services, distribution incurs fees. Projects that take a more commercial, theatrical distribution approach will naturally incur a wider variety of fees than a grassroots approach. For instance, if your film is to be distributed on DVD, expect to pay around $30 US per a month as a fulfillment charge to the DVD distribution company. Also, consider the possibility of sudden costs like shipping, postage, bank fees and insurance when you are planning your distribution budget. Should you use a third party distributor, ensure ALL fees are clearly outlined before you enter into a contract.

It’s essential to have a clear understanding of your project from its inception, not only of the creative and production process, but also how you propose to take your film to the public. The way in which you market your film will have a serious impact on the way that critics, audiences, and the press will perceive it even before the opening credits have begun to roll. Give your film the best possible chance of success by setting an adequate and appropriate budget for your project’s distribution and marketing from the very beginning.