How to Successfully DistributeBeing a film or movie distributor may look and seem like a huge opportunity for making a load of money. You may have even tried it already, but if you have, why are you reading this? What went wrong with the “do it yourself” (or DIY) distribution method?

One thing you must make a priority before even starting the venture: determine how you will attract traditional film distributors to your product! There are various promotional factors used by conventional distributors that are prohibited to DIY film distributors, such as streaming video. Another factor to consider is that simply by advertising your film as being available for viewing to a non-paying audience, you run the risk of over-exposing its potential, or uniqueness. This could result in a possibly valuable piece of filmmaking being later rejected by a regular distributor! It is a scenario that leads to your researching every available opportunity before you take the plunge into “do it yourself” distribution.

Taking the Plunge with a Plan

There is a variety of general options open to you on the DIY distribution circuit. In the case of DVD media, you can create your own website and partner with a fulfillment company, or even fulfill the orders directly as your own enterprise. An alternative would be to duplicate the DVD and sell it on demand via various reliable sources. If you choose to take the theatrical route, you would need to either enlist the services of a film booker, or book a theater on your own accord.

Another method to consider is online distribution. This facility provides a global opportunity for any marketer to not only grab some attention, but also to be noticed and promote or sell a huge assortment of products. It is therefore an option for you, but you must conduct some research regarding the foremost Internet distribution vehicles that will attract the greatest traffic volume to your film.

Like marketing, promoting and selling any other type of product, your “do it yourself” film distribution needs to attract not only the lookers, but also buyers! Therefore, you must have a plan that takes into account the various aspects of your sales campaign. Of primary importance are the factors of when and through what media the film will be released. Also, keep in mind that some distributors will require to be given exclusive rights to a specific medium or market segment, with an agreed time clause for this exclusivity. It would therefore be advantageous if you compiled a 2- to 3-year release schedule before you consider committing yourself to any exclusive rights to your film.

Getting Visual

There is an old saying that you can’t judge a book by its cover! This may have been true in the past, but today the pace of life dictates that consumers are attracted to what they see. This is where you should give careful thought to your marketing and advertising strategies, and how you will attract major traffic volume to your website or theater, and your film!  Utilizing posters and DVD covers are just two promotional targets that must be given priority status. If you were going with a traditional distributor, then this would be their concern. It is a task that would most likely be delegated to public relations and marketing specialists, as well as established “contacts” helping smooth the way of the cause.

If your film promotion is to be presented to its full capabilities, you are going to need some serious financing! Promoting your film to a potential audience involves media exposure. Whether related to newspaper advertising and showing trailers, or to space on social media websites, it is all about impact visuals. The product, which is your film, should be recognized as being of substance and professional quality, which is precisely what must be portrayed in your marketing and advertising campaign. You will need the help of professionals if you want promotional success, and they don’t come cheap. In addition, ensure that you have binding contracts with anyone you hire, and that all rights to the work carried out for your film revert to you.

If you want to make money from your film, you must be prepared to spend on your “do it yourself” film distribution, and this is where you plan your budget. Of course, you could always go the cheap route of showing your film on the various “free” media, in the hope that you will generate advertising revenue. However, there is a long and tedious road to getting the volume of viewing traffic needed to gain any significant revenue using this method.

In order to make money from your film, you must charge an audience, and that means promotion, including pressing DVDs and a variety of other enticements that will get people to view the screening. It’s all about you making informed decisions based on facts and available finances, and this is where your budget plays a crucial role in your DIY distribution. In the event of your having responsibility to any investors involved in the project, they are interested in a financial return, and expect their resources to be used to the best possible advantage. Accordingly, they will reasonably want facts and figures presented to them regarding how their money was spent. Therefore, ensure you maintain financial records of all expenditures and income; otherwise, it could come back later and give you a nasty bite!

Weighing Your Options

If you are determined to become a film distribution mogul and to do it yourself, then you must learn some of the rules and regulations that govern this practice. First, we travel the road of being a DIY theatrical distributor. By showing your film in a major city, it is probable that other theaters will also want to exhibit it. In addition, your film could attract the attention of DVD distributors and motivate them to sell it! A point worth noting is that a film that can boast a run in a theater, and not just a premiere, is eligible for inclusion in the Internet Movie Database (IMDB).

As you are looking ahead and thinking “big-time”, when going into the realms of consideration for an Academy Awards nomination, it is necessary for a documentary feature to complete a 7-day run in a theater in Los Angeles County. In addition, the film must have a 7-day run during the eligibility period, in the borough of Manhattan. There are two usual methods by which a “do it yourself” film distributor can be accepted into a theater; these are by way of either a film booker or the film maker! A film booker is an agent, and their job is to get theaters interested in showing your film and booking the theater. They are paid commissions based on the bookings they obtain, and generally require their clients to commit to a service contract for an agreed number of months.

Before working with you, a film booker needs the motivation of a film they believe will attract an audience. Their services are expensive, but they do have established contacts in the right places and can frequently get films shown in theaters when the film maker has failed! For a theater showing interest in your film, the booker will negotiate a theatrical exhibition agreement and will try to get you the best possible box office percentage. There will also be a commitment for the film to be shown for a specified period, with an option to extend if successful. However, there will also be a cancellation clause, should the film not meet expectations. It is the responsibility of the film booker to ensure the film is delivered to the contracted theaters for showing.

For one reason or another, including the cost factor, if you are still determined to go the “do it yourself” film distributor route, you must follow the procedure of booking the theaters yourself. Unless you have similar connections as distributors, film bookers and agents, you could have trouble. However, the trouble can be moderated if your film wins awards at film festivals, is based on a topical subject, or features a recognized actor.

Your Film in a Theater

Negotiating a deal with an interested theater will likely revolve around two aspects. The first is that you rent the location and all the services you need to show the film for an agreed fee, which could range between $10,000 and $20,000 per week in prominent metropolitan locations. With renting a theater, or as it is known, the “four wall” option, you must be prepared to be innovative in your promotion. This involves planned and thorough advance advertising, a mailing campaign, and getting favorable pre-show reviews.

Your “four-wall” agreement will be with the owners of the theater, and should clearly state what you are receiving for your money! It must specify the dates on which your film will be shown and all the service facilities that will be included. A usual run length is one week; therefore, the contract must state how many times your film will be shown in that period, the number of runs each day, and the show times. You could also specify the screening room you require and the film format: for example, 16mm, 35mm, DVD or another format. It is your responsibility as the producer to ensure that no copyrights are infringed, and that the film meets all legal requirements regarding libelous and obscenity factors.

Another point to be highly aware of relates to a theater stating they will be entitled to a percentage of the box office takings, which is not usually part of a “four-wall” agreement. This could be seen as an attempt to take advantage of the box office percentage deal, which is a separate contract entirely. With this generally preferred option, you would agree to a percentage of the box office returns, which is usually in the region of 25% to 65% of the takings during the run of the film. However, be prepared, if you are a new film maker, to be asked to guarantee the theater a minimum return payment, should your film not attain the guaranteed ticket sales.

The Final Scene

Naturally, there will be other expenses incurred by you in setting up the screening of your film. It is usual for a theater to request that a film distributor commit to spending an agreed sum on advertising their film. This would be directed towards advertisements on television and radio media, as well as print and various other local exposures. A further aspect relates to attracting the attention of film reviewers, and in this connection you may be required to enlist the services of a public relations specialist, at your expense.

Your financial position would probably demand that you receive your percentage from the box office takings as soon as possible. Therefore, make certain you include a clause in the contract that specifies a deadline for this, as producers are sometimes expected to wait as long as 30 days for payment. In the contract negotiations, try to ensure that you will receive the entire sum due to you, immediately after the film run is completed. In this connection, make sure your accounting procedures are in order for checking purposes!

It is crucial to maximize your film promotion by providing advertising materials such as posters and lobby cards for display in the theater. Ensure that a trailer of your film is screened as a forthcoming attraction. As for your film, exposure is a critically influencing factor towards your success as a “do it yourself” film distributor!