Posted By:
September 6, 2014
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The Top Ten Basics of Film Distribution

Ok. So you’ve made your film. You’ve spent hours and hours planning, shooting, going crazy over the render bar and so now what? Distribution concerns the matter of actually getting your film there for people to see whether it’s a theatrical release, straight to DVD, as airplane content or ( if you’re a hobbyist/ emerging filmmaker) film festivals.

These days with the proliferation of social media and online streaming anyone can distribute their film on a minuscule budget. Here are the top ten basics that you need to take into account when looking at festivals and film distribution.

1. Have all your paperwork done.

It doesn’t matter if you’re best friends with the composer or actors of your film, you need to have the legal right to be able to distribute their music/image/work as part of your film.

Copyright is a very tricky business and a lot of film festivals make you sign as part of the submission agreement that you have paperwork of all the releases that you need which could be reproduced if needed. It is very rare for a festival to want to actually sight this paperwork unless you’ve made an indie feature on no budget and have included something like Thriller as the soundtrack. Cause let’s face it – odds are if you’ve shot a no budget film you’re 99% not going to be able to have the cash to license such a well known song. Other festivals may simply just disregard your entry (which obviously hurts your chances!.)

If you end up selling your short to a short film aggregator or a television station the importance of this paperwork may also pop up again. My best advice is to just get all of this paperwork done in pre-production and leave it in a folder somewhere safe in case you need it.

2. Work out your films genre.

You need to have a particular slant on how you’re going to market your film.

It would be complete silliness to enter a rom-com saga into a horror film festival or a thriller into a fishing themed film festival. There are so many festivals out there that knowing this will help you sell your film and help you pick which festivals may be more likely to accept your film.

Don’t get me wrong, there are generalist film festivals that will accept anything and include it on merit, but there are thousands more film festivals that will have a theme.

This leads me to my next point….

3. Research.

It costs you nothing. All you need is your laptop, some time and a bunch of key words and websites to get you going.

Great film festival distribution websites that I tend to use are which is the predominate online entry portal that tends to have an American focus. Short film depot and reelport are also good but have European and South American focuses. They all list details about film festivals that accept online submissions through them including things such as deadlines, entry fees, being able to submit films to festivals online (and saving on postage!) if there are specific themes or focus for each festival, their website details and a whole list of other good info. Definitely good to use as research and as a way to submit into festivals.

4. Keep notes.

I guess this point runs in tandem with doing research and is definitely is not a bad thing to consider by itself. By keeping lists of festivals you’ve entered, money you’ve spent on promotion and deadlines of specific film festivals and markets you want to hit, you can work things according to your budget a little easier and have a rough idea of where you are in your films distribution cycle.

I personally keep a running list of all expenses outlaid on the film and a spreadsheet of all film festivals I’ve entered films into with details such as whether we’ve gotten in, if there has been any word back from the festival, deadlines of the festival and of course its name so I don’t enter the film festival twice!

5. Create a Press kit.

This is a must for any filmmaker whether you have a feature or a short film on your hands.

Press kits contain all the information about the people both in front of the camera and behind the scenes as well as info about the film and where you can actually SEE the film. If you have budget for a publicist they will usually be drawing this up to give to news agencies in order to try to create publicity for your film but if you don’t have budget for a publicist they are amazingly easy to create.

The main information a press kit should have inside it is:

  • the name of the film,
  • the contact details of the person in charge of sales and distribution for the film (usually on short films it’s the producer),
  • the length of the film,
  • any addresses/handles for any of the films social media campaigns (if you are running one), a synopsis of the film (both long and short),
  • stills from the film as well as behind the scenes,
  • key cast and crew biographies,
  • screenings information,
  • reviews,
  • any other press material (such as news articles),
  • posters,
  • links to trailers, and
  • cast/crew list.

The point of a press kit is to try to garner publicity and basically tell someone in the media (or a film festival publicist) as much as you can about the film so that they might be able to use it to promote both you and the festival etc.

6. Work out a distribution budget at the beginning.

A lot of people forget this but this is really important!

You need to have some kind of budget to push your film out into the world even if its $100 or so. When working out your budget don’t forget things such as prints (digi beta at the minimum), postage, envelopes, entry fees and disks. Believe it or not these will start to add up quite fast when you start your distribution run so it’s a good idea to have set money aside.

The size of your budget also helps to guide you into how many festivals you can afford to enter and whether that $55 dollar entry fee for some festival you’ve never heard of on the other side of the world of is worth it. If it’s a big well-known festival that EVERYONE knows of then it may be worth entering your film and paying the entry fee if you believe your film will standup in the market place and has a realistic shot of getting in.

Otherwise if your budget is minuscule I would recommend doing research on which festivals your film could possibly suit and then entering as many festivals that have free entry fees as possible. That way you only have to pay for postage which should only be about $2 per entry. Definitely makes $100 go further than you think. As for getting a print of your film done, it definitely pays to shop around!

Little known fact. Cannes, YES CANNES main film competition is actually free to enter (apart from postage) and is always a good one to enter. After all you never know!

7. Social media.

In today’s day and age you can’t live without a social media campaign (in my opinion). Your film’s demographic and the way you choose to publicise your film all decides how to run your social media campaign. Facebook and twitter are definitely mainstays in running a social media campaign as is pinterest which is becoming the new next craze.

In running a page or account the trick is to try to engage with your fans and to be aware that you need to have a lot of content to run through them in order to keep them active, whether it be pictures from behind the scenes, competitions, quizzes, status updates, screening information or even q and a’s (twitter specifically) with one of the actors from the film. All you need is a little imagination and to actually use the incites and aggregate data that is collected through Facebook pages etc. in order to tailor your content to your fans.

Putting up trailers absolutely everywhere can also help your film as is putting up sneak peeks or even bloopers etc of the film to draw more interest. YouTube is always great to put up trailers due to it having such a large audience base, however be careful about putting your film up on it early in its distribution run – some film festivals will not accept films that have been screened on YouTube/the internet (as well as distribution companies/aggregators) so beware of this and plan early on so that is does not minimize your distribution run or potential sale. If you don’t make it into any film festivals or you don’t get to sell your short it is always a good place to put your film to help it find its audience.

8. Short film markets.

These little markets (well quite big actually) are literally exactly what they sound like – a market for where films, both features and shorts are sold. At the end of the day from a distribution point of view a film is your product and these markets are the perfect place for you to sell it to your customers – people such as agents, distributors, aggregators etc to actually see your film and consider buying the rights to screening it etc.

There are multiple film markets around the world with some of the main ones including Cannes (of course) and Clermont Ferrand. Usually these markets are attached to a festival and in some instances your film needs to be selected as part of the program in order to be allowed into the market but others such as Clermont Ferrand will allow you to exhibit your film as part of market even if you do not make selection. Thus if you’re ever entering any of these film festivals its highly recommended to enter the film market as well.

9. Create promotional materials.

Having this in mind during pre-production and production can save you a lot of headaches once you’re up to the distribution stage. Whether you need to think about finding a graphic designer to create posters or hiring a photographer to take stills of crew members, actors, behind the scenes or even scenes from the film itself, this all need to be thought out beforehand.

If you choose to run a social media campaign this will also help you form part of your branding of the film and give it a more professional look to your audience. It will also help feed the content monster that needs to be fed in running a social media campaign. The more buzz you can create about your film and the more noise you can make in an already saturated market place the better.

10.After the (film festival) distribution run.

So once its up to this stage and the film no longer has “legs” to run on the film festival circuit where to next?

Leaving your film to languish on YouTube or some dusty old shelf may not be the answer. If your film has done well on the festival circuit then you may be able to sell it to a short film aggregator or film distributor who may package it and sell it with other shorts to television stations and airlines around the world (depending on company and deal struck).

Depending on your luck you could also separate your rights according to territories or sell it with worldwide rights included. This is the area of your films distribution cycle where you may possibly be able to make a small amount of revenue from the film (and it always looks good on your CV that you’ve sold the short if you try to gain funding for bigger and better projects). You could also potentially sell on DVD direct to the public through etc. depending on how well received your film is.

Getting your film on iTunes can be tricky as it is usually done through a short film aggregator. Some you have to pay in order for them to put it up on YouTube while others will sign a contract with you and simply take a cut of the profits.

Please comment…

Did you like the post? Do you have any distribution horror stories or dream runs you want to share?



RobertSeptember 6th, 2012

Surely you’ve missed the most important stage: pre-sell it through social media crowdfunding sites such as Kickstarter

Much of what you describe simply refers to festival exhibition rather than distribution, where you pay to get a film screened rather than make money from screenings. Films end up on that circuit for ages, losing money every time the film is shown. Crowdfunding can break through that cycle, bringing money in from day one

… & noone would seriously consider using ITunes as a distribution network. Deals are bad for creatives & restrictive technologies limit access to the audience. Financially, you’d be better off letting the film getting bootlegged & open up a paypal for people who wanted to pay

Exciting new distribution for Video Production – Vimeo On DemandMay 6th, 2013

[...] You have spent a year in production, another in post-production stretching your grant or, more likely, credit card to its limit all the while cleaning toilets, delivery pizzas or facing the 9 to 5 grind to keep a roof over your head. The sound mix is back, the grade is done and you’ve had your festival run ANYWHERE you could get it (see Top Ten Basics of Film Distribution) [...]

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