Film Distribution Myths You Should Stop Believing to Achieve Success
Award-winning Producer/Writer Jerome Courshon breaks the biggest lies of distribution and gives awesome pieces of advice for indie filmmakers who want to get a distribution deal.
Myth: I’m a director, a filmmaker, a creative person. I don’t have to worry about the business stuff.
Truth: There are of course some people who get lucky and either have a producing partner who does all the business & marketing (and is good at it), or they have the money to hire the right people to do everything. However for most this isn’t the case, especially if one’s film career is in the early stages.
Distribution is business, and distributors don’t care if you’ve made the greatest indie film/art film/documentary of the past 20 years. The more you can become a “salesperson” and marketing maven, the more success you will have on your quest for distribution or sales.
What Orson Welles famously said about the film business is still true today: “It’s about 2% moviemaking and 98% hustling.”
Myth: Distributors are asking me to send a DVD screener. They’ll acquire it!
Truth: All major distributors track the movies that have been listed in the trades under their production columns. If you were in those columns, you’re going to be phoned. Do not send them a rough cut. Do not send them a final cut. Do not send them the movie. You must “unveil” your movie in the right place at the right time, such as a top film festival, to get the theatrical buyers to really want your feature. Movies do not get picked up for theatrical releases that have been sent on a DVD to a distributor. So when they call asking to see a screener, you’ll say “It’s not ready, but I appreciate your call. Check back with me in a month or two.”
Myth #3: My movie was selected for the Sundance Film Festival! All I have to do is show up and I will get a deal!
Truth #3: Your work hasn’t even begun yet. You will have to work, strategize and position your movie, before it premieres, as a very desirable movie that distributors must have. You have one shot at the top festivals for a theatrical deal, so don’t piss it away. Unfortunately, most filmmakers don’t know or understand this. They get a slot at Sundance or Toronto, don’t assemble a team or promote their film properly, and then come away without a deal and are entirely lost as to their next step.
Myth: I was rejected by the top festivals, so now I’m submitting and getting accepted by the next tier of festivals. This is cool. All I have to do is show up to my screenings and I’m treated like a rock star. Distribution, here I come!
Truth: Yeah, okay, if this is you, at least you’re having fun. But you’re not going to get distribution this way. There is a real purpose to the festival circuit beyond the top festivals that most people, even Hollywood veterans, simply do not understand. The obvious purpose is, of course, exposure. But there is actually a MORE important purpose: Building a Pedigree.
What is a Pedigree?
It is an accumulation of press coverage, interviews, quotes from critics, and awards if you can get them, which says you have a winning movie on your hands. Once you methodically build this pedigree, which takes some work on the festival circuit, you are then ready to parlay this into a distribution deal (or healthy sales). It’s a simple concept that most do not grasp; yet it is extremely powerful and effective for independent films that don’t get into the top festivals. There is real psychology involved in the “art” of selling a movie or documentary. Ignore at your own risk. However, if you learn this “art,” you will have success.
Myth: I’m going to bypass traditional distribution altogether, sell my movie on the internet myself and make a ton of money from DVD sales and digital streaming (VOD).
Truth: Not likely. For every 5000 movies being made every year, there are less than 20 who make serious money this way. WHY? It’s hard work. It takes time (a lot of it), it takes specific strategies, and you become the de facto distributor for a good year, if not longer. Which isn’t an exciting proposition for most filmmakers, who’ve already been on a lengthy and arduous journey of making their film.
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