The Film Business

Seven Deadly Sins of Self-Distribution

Getting your film made is easy, compared to the struggles filmmakers have in getting their films distributed.

At Raindance Film Festival we work with countless filmmakers trying to get their shorts, features and documentaries screened to as wide an audience as possible.

Of course the filmmaker’s wet dream is to have their film picked up at a film festival by an international distributor who hands them a fat cheque—a cheque large enough to pay back all the investors, all the bills, and leaving enough left over to enjoy a few months’ secure living. This scenario rarely happens.

Self-distribution has become an option for filmmakers seeking an audience and financial return. It’s being touted by self-appointed experts as the quick fix to a filmmaker’s distribution woes.

Sometimes self-distribution works. Sometimes.

When it fails, it is because the filmmaker has committed one of the seven deadly sins of self-distribution.

Deadly Sin #1: Pride

I see filmmakers all the time who ask me for distribution advice. I won’t ever charge for advice like this (unlike some of my worthy colleagues). I will ask in the first instance who they have shown their film to. Usually filmmakers go down a lengthy list, from large distributers all the way down to lowly sharks. If no one on their list has agreed to distribute their film, I know pretty much at once that another lousy film has been made.

No amount of marketing can rescue a bad film.

Hint: Learn to admit when you’ve screwed up and made a stinker and learn lessons (however painful) that will help you on your next film.

Deadly Sin #2: Greed

In today’s wintry economic climate, the prices of films have dropped like a stone. I have sat in meetings in sales agents’ offices with filmmakers who were being hounded by creditors on a half-million picture, to be told that their film would net a maximum of $20,000 worldwide.

Trouble in this case was the producer and director decided they deserved big fat salaries.

Every picture has an income potential. Figure out what that revenue is before you hawk the family silverware.

Hint: Never ask too much. It’s a fine line between fair and greed.

Deadly Sin #3: Sloth

Why is it filmmakers think that success is all about shaking hands and signing autographs?

The reality is that a career in the arts, or media is very, very hard work. If you are not prepared to do the dirty work yourself, then you better have a big pile of cash to pay others to do it for you. Self-distribution is no exception; you need to work hard at it or it will never work for you.

Hint: You have to put in the hours to get the results.

Deadly Sin #4: Envy

The reality is that people with less talent, people who don’t work as hard and people who are less deserving than you are going to be the ones who gain success. Get over it.

Hint: Keep your hands on the handlebar, your feet on the pedals and your eyes on the road.

Deadly Sin #5: Gluttony

Seems to me that a lot of people become filmmakers, and I think guys in particular, because of all the stuff. Stuff like: free lunch on a film set (in what other industry do you get free lunch?) Others view a career in the film industry as a glorified dating service, or a way to access a (probably illegal) hedonistic lifestyle.

Hanging around at film festivals and red carpet events might be amusing, and refreshments tasty, but you can’t live on canapés alone.

Hint: Toys are for boys—you don’t need all this shit. Never forget the age-old maxim that works a treat: early to bed and early to rise makes a filmmaker happy and wealthy and wise.

Deadly Sin #6: Lust

Blindly seeking fame can be in itself reason enough to make a film. It might not meet my own personal goals for a career, but it is a specific goal that can be measured against a point in time when the filmmaker/hero either attains or gives up the fight for his or her goal. However, making decisions purely to attain one’s goal at the expense of others is wrong, no matter what your career or business.

An accomplishment based solely for your own pleasure is entertainment in its basest and cheapest form. If you are to rise above the rabble you need to forsake lust and learn to live and work with humility.

Deadly Sin #7: Anger

Want to annoy another filmmaker? Criticise their work. No matter how nice and polite you are, say one eensy weensy thing against their film and they explode as if you had spit on their baby. And when a filmmaker hits the anger button, all reason flees. Don’t be that person.

Hint: Remember that people have a right to say what they think about your film. Very few people in the world can actually relate to you from your side of the fence. Lashing out shows everyone how threatened you are. And when you are angry, you won’t hear anything important anyone is saying.

Excerpt from Raindance Producers’ Lab Lo-to-No Budget Filmmaking, 2nd Edition by Elliot Grove © 2014 Taylor and Francis Group. All Rights Reserved.

Image by yoppy via flickr

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