DistributorHiring a distributor to release your film is one of the most important decisions that you will have to make in order to ensure that your film is released at the most appropriate time and that it will be seen by the appropriate audiences.

It is important that you locate a distributor that has experience with the release process and a history of successful film releases.  It is also important to have a good working relationship with the distributor, as the release of your film will be an ongoing, long term process.

Below are two examples of films with different budgets, one with a low end budget and one at the  high end of the budget spectrum.  These films were released at the same time in 2008.  At the end of this section, there are some tips and advice based on their experience at the time of releasing their films. The film Good Dick was made with a budget of $200,000 and was a hit at the Sundance Film Festival in 2008.

The director, Mariana Pulka, and producers, Jen Dublin and Cora Olson, received various offers for the distribution of the film, ranging from $20,000 to $50,000.  They decided to reject these offers, as they realized that is required $200,000 to release the film on all of the available platforms.  Fortunately, their investor believed in them, and in the  film itself; their investor funded the entire distribution budget.

They released the film in seven different markets, for one week in each market, grossing an average of $5,000 in each market-  a respectable figure for an independent theatrical release. However,  they were unable to recoup their original $200,000. Had they failed to achieve a theatrical release for their film, they would not have obtained their subsequent DVD, VOD, and cable deals. The film Bottle Shock is about the early days of the Napa Valley wine industry. Starring Alan Rickman, the film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2008, at the same time as Good Dick.  The film was made for $5.5 million, which is at the higher end of the budget spectrum for an independent film.  With no studio involvement,  all of the necessary money was raised as equity.

In an interview, J. Todd Harris, one of the producers, said that the film received an offer from Magnolia for $500,000, but they rejected the offer, as they felt that this was not enough money to promote the film in all of the available markets.   At that time, they met a person that had $12 million worth of media ads for sale and was offering them at a cost of $8 million.   They reached an agreement with this individual, in which they would recoup the investment on a 2-1 split until the media ad costs were repaid; in reality, that meant that for every $3 earned at the box office from the release of the film, $2 would go to the media ad provider and $1 to the investors.  In the world of P&A financing, this is not a bad deal;  they decided to accept the offer.

However, in addition to the media buys costing $5 million (after adjustments), Harris estimated that they spent $8 million in cash on the release and $3 million on everything else they needed at the time (publicity, booking services, prints, advertising etc.)

Due to the availability of the $12 million worth of media ads, their concerns about a competitive film on the brink of release at the same time, and the fall of Art House films, they decided to take a risk and release the film in the summer of 2008.

Harris stated that his biggest regrets are that they spent too much money on the release, and that they rushed the release process.

Harris also said that, as a rule to make money on your release, you should gross theatrically what you spend on P&A; so if you spend $8 million on P&A, you should then gross $8 million at the box office.

Only three films at the Sundance film festival sold for significant sums: Hamlet ($10 million), Choke ($5 million), and Henry Poole Was Here ($3 million).

Lessons And Advice

  1. To be an artist, you need to be a cultural warrior. It’s important to mentally prepare yourself for the battle ahead and to be prepared to defend your film at every step of the process.
  2. Don’t keep your film a secret: get it out to the distributors and see how they react. This will provide you with an insight as to where any problems may occur with the release and help you prepare for the festival premiere.
  3. Good Dick hired Richard Abramowitz as a consultant, who ended up releasing the film through his company Abramorama. 42West managed the publicity of the film and Peter Broderick supervised their strategy and rights.
  4. Have your DVD and VOD readily available at the time of theatrical release.  The Good Dick team was late in their DVD and VOD delivery, which ended up costing them in the long run.
  5. Sell your DVDs on your website.  Although some theatrical agencies would get upset, Peter Broderick advised the Good Dick team that it is better to apologize after the event than to ask their permission beforehand.  In this case, the Good Dick team sold their DVD on their website prior to the home video deal, and it did not affect their later home video or VOD deal.
  6. Think about who your audience is for the film and direct the release of the film to that specific niche.
  7.  Find and employ a reputable web design company to maintain your film’s website.  The  Good Dick team used a company called Rapid Weaver to develop their film’s website and maintained the website themselves from their office.
  8. Remember that the strategies for the release of your film depend on the specific year of its release and the competitive films that will be released during the same festival.
  9. Nobody cares more about your film than you, and you have to nurture the film through the various stages of its life.

Additional Tips

  1. Find someone with experience in the release process, and who has ongoing relationships with the exhibitors.  Obtain references from other filmmakers that have worked with them in the past  and get their experiences on the process, as well as any problems they may have encountered along the way.
  2. Find someone who believes in your film.  If they do not like your film, they will put very little effort into the process. If they believe in your film, they will put much more effort into selling it.
  3. Discuss marketing ideas for your film and agree on a strategy for its release.
  4. Discuss what they can offer to promote your film in regards to art and graphic designs, and talk to their publicist in depth in order to ensure that he too believes in you and your film.
  5. Can you work together? This is a long term relationship, so it is important that you share the same goals and are able to amicably discuss and resolve problems as they arise.
  6. Are they flexible and willing to negotiate on issues that arise during the process of releasing the film?