The Film Business

DIY Film Distribution

Film Distribution

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You’ve tried landing a distributor, but you just keep striking out—or perhaps you like the idea of distributing your own film and having a shot at keeping most of the money it makes. Either way, you’ve made the decision to go it alone and to self-distribute your film (“do-it-yourself” or “DIY” distribution).

The first step in DIY distribution should be to hammer out a distribution strategy that takes into account the following:

Timing and exclusivity. When will your film will be released, and on what platforms? Some exhibitors require exclusivity in a particular medium or market or require the producer to “hold back” licensing similar rights for a period of time. For example, some online distributors require you to sign with them exclusively; as a result, as long as they distribute your film, you may be prohibited from self-distributing it—for example, on Before you grant anyone exclusivity over your film rights, a good practice is to create a two- to three-year release schedule detailing when and in what media you plan to release your film.

Marketing and advertising. How will you attract audience members to your rented theater or drive traffic to your website? What will your movie poster look like? Is your DVD case eye-catching enough? With “old-school” film distribution, it is the distributors who have to worry about these issues. They engage PR and marketing firms, create trailers, place ads in newspapers, and build banner ads for Facebook. Now it’s on you, buddy, and not only is it expensive (see the next bullet), but generating a professional-looking marketing campaign often requires as much time, effort, and money as making the film itself. You have to create a consistent look, feel, and quality for your packaging, marketing, and advertising materials, and that often requires you to hire professionals, such as Adobe Flash animators, graphic artists, and PR companies, just to name a few. Make sure that you have written contracts with all service providers and that any creative work they do is owned by you pursuant to a valid work-for-hire agreement.

Budget. How much will it cost? From the bandwidth fee charged by your website host to the costs of renting a movie theater, DIY distribution costs money. Of course, you could put your project on YouTube or Facebook for free and try to seek ad revenue, but it can be hard to generate the number of “eyeballs”— that is, viewers—you’d need to make money with that kind of distribution model. Usually, if you want to make money on your films, you have to charge the audience, and that means spending money to press DVDs, print fliers, rent theaters, advertise in newspapers, and do the numerous other things required to prompt an audience to part with their cash so they can watch your film. For instance, some distribution methods, such as booking a theater, may require you to spend at least a contractually specified minimum amount on advertising your film. A budget helps you anticipate costs and lets you make informed decisions, such as whether to chose between a Google ad buy and a case of promotional bobblehead dolls of your movie’s main character.

Net profits. Don’t forget that you may have to account to investors and other net profit participants. If you are DIY distributing, you must keep meticulous records of all income and expenses related to your film’s marketing, promotion, distribution, and exploitation. Remember, if an investor doesn’t get paid what they are due, you are the distribution company that will be sued.

Excerpted from The Pocket Lawyer for Filmmakers © 2011 Taylor & Francis. All rights Reserved

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