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The Insider's Guide to Film Distribution:A Guide for Filmmakers

Updated: Aug 17, 2023

Understanding Film Marketing & Distribution. Navigating the complex film distribution landscape.


Welcome to the ultimate guide to film distribution! For independent filmmakers, getting their films in front of an audience is one of the biggest challenges they face. While making a great film is certainly an achievement, it's only the beginning of the journey. Distributing a film effectively is crucial to its success, and it's a complex process that can be overwhelming for first-time filmmakers.

That's why we've put together this comprehensive guide to film distribution. Whether you're looking to secure a theatrical release, get your film on digital platforms, or explore physical distribution options, this guide has everything you need to know to get started. From understanding the various components of distribution to creating effective marketing materials, negotiating distribution deals, and navigating legal issues, we cover all aspects of the distribution process. If you need a jolt of creative marketing inspiration check out the Top 13 Indie Horror Film Marketing Campaigns Too Scary To Be True.


Below we'll also take a deep dive into the world of film festivals, exploring how they can be a powerful tool for getting your film seen by audiences and industry professionals. With tips and strategies from industry insiders, success stories from filmmakers who have navigated the distribution process, and a comprehensive list of major film festivals around the world, this guide is the insider's guide to film distribution.


So whether you're a first-time filmmaker or a seasoned pro, let's dive in and explore everything you need to know about film distribution.


Are you ready to explore Film Distribution? Click one of the sections to jump down and read about a specific section:

 

Understanding Film Distribution



What is Film Distribution?

Film distribution is the process of getting a movie to its intended audience. It involves the marketing, selling, and delivering of films to cinemas, TV networks, streaming platforms, and DVD/Blu-Ray retailers. Film distribution is a critical aspect of the movie industry and can determine the success or failure of a film.



Different Types of Film Distribution


There are various types of film distribution. The most common types are:


  1. Theatrical Distribution: This is the traditional method of film distribution, where movies are screened in cinemas. Theatrical distribution is still popular, but it has become more challenging to secure theatrical releases due to the rise of streaming platforms.

  2. Digital Distribution: This involves the distribution of movies via streaming platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, and others. Digital distribution has become more popular in recent years, as more people prefer to watch movies from the comfort of their homes. For a deeper dive into digital, check out The Rise of Digital: Why Online Distribution is the Future of Filmmaking

  3. Home Video Distribution: This involves the distribution of movies on DVDs and Blu-Ray discs. Home video distribution is still popular, but it has declined significantly due to the rise of digital distribution.

  4. Television Distribution: This involves the distribution of movies on TV networks. Television distribution is still popular, but it has become more challenging to secure television deals due to the rise of streaming platforms.






Strategies for Film Distribution

  1. Film Festivals: Film festivals are an excellent way to showcase your film to a wide audience. They provide an opportunity to network with other filmmakers, producers, and distributors. You can also receive valuable feedback from the audience and industry professionals.

  2. Online Screenings: Online screenings are becoming more popular, especially during the pandemic. You can use platforms like Vimeo, YouTube, and others to showcase your film to a wider audience.

  3. Social Media: Social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram can be used to promote your film and engage with your audience. You can share trailers, behind-the-scenes footage, and other content to build excitement for your film.

  4. Press and Publicity: Publicity is essential to the success of your film. You can use press releases, interviews, and other media outlets to generate buzz and increase awareness about your film.

  5. Crowdfunding: Crowdfunding is a great way to raise funds for your film and build an audience. You can use platforms like Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and Seed&Spark to raise funds and promote your film.

 

Film Festival Strategy

At the heart of any film's distribution strategy lies the film festival circuit, which provides a crucial platform for independent filmmakers to showcase their work to a wider audience. In this section, we will discuss the role of film festivals in film distribution and offer tips on how to make the most of the festival experience.





Role of Film Festivals in Film Distribution

Film festivals are an essential part of the film industry ecosystem, serving as a launchpad for independent films and a place where filmmakers can connect with audiences, industry professionals, and potential investors. Film festivals are also an important part of the film distribution process, providing a platform for filmmakers to secure distribution deals for their films.


Comprehensive List of Major Film Festivals and Their Submission Requirements

There are hundreds of film festivals around the world, each with its own unique submission requirements and selection criteria. Some of the major film festivals include the Sundance Film Festival, Cannes Film Festival, Toronto International Film Festival, and Berlin International Film Festival. It is essential to carefully research each festival and their submission requirements before submitting a film.


Benefits of Participating in Film Festivals

Participating in film festivals can provide a range of benefits for filmmakers, including exposure to a wider audience, networking opportunities with industry professionals, and potential sales of distribution rights. In addition, film festivals can help filmmakers build their reputations, which can lead to future opportunities.


Creating a Successful Festival Strategy

Creating a successful festival strategy involves targeting the right festivals, budgeting for submission fees and travel costs, and preparing the film for screening. It is essential to research the festival's selection criteria and target festivals that are a good fit for the film's genre and style.


Dos and Don'ts of Submitting to Film Festivals

Timing is critical when submitting a film to a festival, and it is essential to research each festival's submission deadlines carefully. It is also important to prepare a compelling submission package that includes a high-quality screener, a synopsis, and a press kit. Filmmakers should also be prepared to pay submission fees, which can range from a few dollars to several hundred dollars per festival.

 

Preparing Your Film For Distribution

As a filmmaker, creating a distribution plan early on in the filmmaking process is crucial. This is the time when you should be preparing your film for distribution, ensuring that it meets all of the necessary requirements to be sold and distributed to the public. In this section, we will discuss the importance of having a distribution plan early on, outline the steps filmmakers should take to prepare their films for distribution, and provide tips for creating effective marketing materials.


The Importance of Having a Distribution Plan Early On

A distribution plan is a crucial part of the filmmaking process. It allows you to identify your target audience, choose the best distribution channels, and create effective marketing strategies. Having a distribution plan early on also helps you to budget for distribution costs, which can be a significant expense.


If you wait until after your film has been completed to start planning for distribution, you may miss out on opportunities to reach your target audience, and you may end up spending more money than you need to.


Steps to Prepare Your Film for Distribution
  1. Quality Control: Before distributing your film, it's essential to make sure that it meets industry standards. This means ensuring that the sound and image quality are of a high standard, and that there are no legal or copyright issues that could cause problems down the line.

  2. Clearances: It's important to obtain all necessary clearances and licenses for your film. This includes obtaining music clearances for any songs used in the film, as well as obtaining any necessary releases from individuals who appear on camera.

  3. Subtitles and Closed Captions: If your film contains dialogue in languages other than English, it's essential to include subtitles or closed captions. This not only makes the film more accessible to a broader audience but also ensures that it meets the standards required for distribution.

  4. Format: When preparing your film for distribution, it's important to consider the format in which it will be distributed. This includes choosing the right aspect ratio, resolution, and file format.

  5. Metadata: Metadata is the information that is used to identify and describe your film, including its title, genre, synopsis, and cast and crew information. Providing accurate and detailed metadata is essential for marketing your film effectively and making it discoverable to potential buyers.

Tips for Creating Effective Marketing Materials
  1. Trailers: A trailer is one of the most critical marketing tools for a film. It should be short, engaging, and provide a clear idea of what the film is about.

  2. Posters: A well-designed poster can help to generate interest in your film. It should be eye-catching, include the film's title and key information, and convey the mood and tone of the film.

  3. Press Kits: A press kit is a collection of materials that are used to promote your film to journalists and reviewers. It should include a synopsis of the film, biographies of the cast and crew, and high-quality stills from the film.

Preparing your film for distribution is a crucial part of the filmmaking process. Having a distribution plan early on, ensuring that your film meets industry standards, and creating effective marketing materials are all essential steps in ensuring that your film reaches its intended audience. By following these steps, you can increase your chances of success in the competitive world of film distribution.

 

Preparing Your Film For Distribution

As an independent filmmaker, making a great film is only half the battle. To ensure that your film reaches the widest possible audience, you need to have a distribution plan in place early on in the filmmaking process. By taking the necessary steps to prepare your film for distribution, you'll be setting yourself up for success.


In this section, we'll outline the key steps that filmmakers should take to prepare their films for distribution. From quality control to clearances, and creating effective marketing materials, we'll cover everything you need to know to ensure that your film is ready for the distribution process.


Have a Distribution Plan in Place Early On

One of the most important things that you can do as a filmmaker is to have a distribution plan in place early on in the process. This will help you to make informed decisions about the film's production, budget, and marketing strategy, and will allow you to maximize the film's potential for success.


A distribution plan should include information on your target audience, your budget, your marketing strategy, and your distribution channels. By identifying your target audience, you can tailor your marketing strategy and distribution plan to ensure that your film reaches the people who are most likely to enjoy it.


Ensure Quality Control

Quality control is a critical step in preparing your film for distribution. Before you submit your film to distributors, you need to ensure that it meets the highest standards of quality. This means checking the film for technical issues such as sound and picture quality, as well as ensuring that it is free of errors and inconsistencies.


In addition to technical issues, you also need to ensure that your film is legally sound. This means obtaining all necessary clearances, including music and image rights, and ensuring that you have the necessary agreements in place with your cast and crew.


Create Effective Marketing Materials

Creating effective marketing materials is essential to the success of your film. Trailers, posters, and press kits are all important tools that can help you to generate buzz and excitement for your film.


When creating your marketing materials, it's important to keep your target audience in mind. You want to create materials that will appeal to them and that will help to build anticipation for the film's release.


Your trailer should be a powerful and engaging representation of your film, showcasing its strengths and highlighting the elements that make it unique. Your poster should be eye-catching and memorable, featuring striking visuals and key information about the film.


Your press kit should provide journalists and critics with all the information they need to write about your film. This should include a synopsis of the film, information about the cast and crew, and high-quality stills from the film.


Preparing your film for distribution is a crucial step in the filmmaking process. By having a distribution plan in place early on, ensuring quality control, and creating effective marketing materials, you can maximize your film's potential for success. Remember to stay focused on your target audience and to tailor your distribution plan and marketing materials to their interests and preferences. With the right preparation and strategy, you can ensure that your film reaches the widest possible audience and achieves the success it deserves.


 

Film Distribution Platforms

Film distribution companies play a crucial role in getting films in front of audiences. These companies typically work with filmmakers to license their films for distribution across various platforms, such as theatrical, digital, physical, and more let we will take a brief glance at below. If you have a completed film or are in post production, check out the Submit Your Film and we can schedule a time to discuss further.


Here are some of the top film distribution companies:

  1. A24: A24 is an independent entertainment company that distributes both critically acclaimed and commercially successful films. Some of its most popular releases include "Moonlight," "Lady Bird," and "Uncut Gems."

  2. Focus Features: Focus Features is a subsidiary of Universal Pictures that specializes in the distribution of art-house and foreign films. Recent releases include "Promising Young Woman," "Stillwater," and "The Card Counter."

  3. Sony Pictures Classics: Sony Pictures Classics is the specialty distribution label of Sony Pictures Entertainment that focuses on the distribution of independent and art-house films. Some of its most popular releases include "Call Me by Your Name," "Whiplash," and "American Hustle."

  4. Neon: Neon is an independent film company that has made a name for itself by distributing critically acclaimed and award-winning films. Some of its most popular releases include "Parasite," "I, Tonya," and "Honeyland."

  5. Magnolia Pictures: Magnolia Pictures is an independent film distributor that specializes in the distribution of independent and foreign films. Recent releases include "Zola," "The Killing of Two Lovers," and "My Name Is Pauli Murray."

Each distribution platform has its benefits and drawbacks. Theatrical distribution, for example, allows for a more immersive and communal viewing experience, but can be costly and difficult to secure. Digital distribution, on the other hand, allows for greater accessibility and reach, but can result in lower revenue and less prestige.


Getting films onto each platform typically requires working with a film distributor. Filmmakers should research and identify the most appropriate distributors for their films, based on factors such as the distributor's track record, the type of film being made, and the target audience.


Maximizing revenue on each platform can be challenging, but there are several strategies that filmmakers can use. For example, they can leverage social media and other digital marketing channels to build buzz and generate interest in their films. They can also work with distributors to secure favorable placement on platforms and negotiate revenue sharing agreements.


Choosing the right distribution platform and working with a reputable film distributor can greatly increase the chances of a film's success. By understanding the benefits and drawbacks of each platform, preparing a strong marketing campaign, and staying informed about legal and financial considerations, filmmakers can optimize their chances of getting their films in front of audiences and generating revenue.


Each potential film distributor will have a unique approach to maximizing a films revenue. In a recent article, The Rise of Digital: Why Online Distribution is the Future of Filmmaking, I dove into the varying aspects of traditional and digital distribution. The important takeaway for filmmakers is to understand each platform has its own benefits and drawbacks, and it's essential to know how to get films onto each one to maximize revenue.


Below, we'll provide a comprehensive list of distribution platforms and discuss the benefits and drawbacks of each one.

  1. Theatrical Distribution Platforms Theatrical distribution refers to the release of films in movie theaters. The following are some of the most popular theatrical distribution platforms:

    • AMC Theatres

    • Regal Cinemas

    • Cinemark Theatres

    • Independent theaters

Benefits:

  • Theatrical distribution is the most traditional and prestigious way of releasing a film.

  • It provides an immersive cinematic experience for the audience.

  • It can help generate buzz and critical acclaim for a film.

Drawbacks:

  • The cost of theatrical distribution can be high, with the need for expensive prints and advertising.

  • It can be difficult to secure distribution in major theaters.

  • The theatrical window is usually short, and films are removed from theaters quickly if they don't perform well.

How to get films onto theatrical distribution platforms:

  • Hire a theatrical distributor who has the necessary contacts and expertise.

  • Submit the film to film festivals to generate buzz and attract distributors.

  • Self-distribute the film in independent theaters.

Tips for maximizing revenue on theatrical distribution platforms:
  • Secure a good theatrical release to generate critical acclaim and word-of-mouth buzz.

  • Use social media and other marketing tools to promote the film.

  • Consider a simultaneous release on digital platforms to increase revenue.

    1. Digital Distribution Platforms Digital distribution platforms refer to the release of films online, either through streaming or download. The following are some of the most popular digital distribution platforms:

      • Netflix

      • Amazon Prime Video

      • iTunes

      • Google Play

      • Vimeo on Demand

Benefits:

  • Digital distribution is more accessible and affordable than theatrical distribution.

  • It provides a wider audience reach, including international audiences.

  • It offers a long-term revenue stream, as films remain available on the platform for an extended period.

Drawbacks:

  • The competition on digital platforms is fierce, with a vast amount of content available.

  • The revenue share for filmmakers can be low, with platforms taking a significant cut.

  • Films may get lost in the sea of content without proper marketing and promotion.

How to get films onto digital distribution platforms:

  • Hire a digital distributor who has connections with the platforms.

  • Submit the film to film festivals to attract attention from distributors.

  • Self-distribute the film through online marketplaces like Vimeo on Demand.

Tips for maximizing revenue on digital distribution platforms:
  • Use data analytics to identify and target the film's audience.

  • Optimize the film's metadata and keywords to improve its discoverability.

  • Secure good reviews and ratings to increase visibility on the platform.

    1. Physical Distribution Platforms Physical distribution platforms refer to the release of films on physical media, such as DVD and Blu-ray. The following are some of the most popular physical distribution platforms:

      • Walmart

      • Target

      • Best Buy

      • Amazon

Benefits:

  • Physical distribution offers a tangible product for fans to own and collect.

  • It can generate additional revenue through merchandise and special edition releases.

  • It provides a platform for niche and independent films that may not be available on digital platforms.

Drawbacks:

  • Physical distribution is costly, with the need for manufacturing, packaging, and shipping.

  • It has a limited audience reach, as physical media sales continue to decline.

  • It can be difficult to secure distribution in major retailers.

How to get films onto physical distribution platforms:

  • Hire a physical distributor who has experience in the industry.

  • Submit the film to film festivals to attract the attention of distributors.

  • Self-distribute the film through online

 

Film Sales And Marketing

In the film business, distribution is often considered the key to success. Without a proper distribution plan, a film may not reach its intended audience, resulting in poor box office performance and limited exposure. However, having a distribution plan alone is not enough; filmmakers also need to focus on sales and marketing to ensure their film gets the attention it deserves. In this section, we will discuss the importance of sales and marketing in film distribution, offer tips for creating a successful marketing campaign, explain the role of film festivals in marketing and distribution, and provide information on how to get the attention of distributors and sales agents.


Importance of Sales and Marketing

Sales and marketing play a critical role in the film distribution process. They are responsible for creating buzz around the film, generating interest from potential buyers and distributors, and ultimately driving revenue. A well-executed sales and marketing plan can help a film stand out in a crowded market, increase its chances of being picked up by a distributor, and ensure that it reaches its intended audience.


Creating a Successful Marketing Campaign

Creating a successful marketing campaign requires careful planning and execution. If this brief overview is not enough, take an in-depth look at one of my favorite articles, Successful Film Marketing: An In-Depth Guide. Filmmakers need to identify their target audience, craft a compelling message that resonates with them, and deliver that message through a variety of channels.


Some of the key elements of a successful marketing campaign include:

  1. Creating a memorable trailer that showcases the film's unique selling points and captures the audience's attention.

  2. Developing eye-catching posters and other promotional materials that make the film stand out from the competition.

  3. Leveraging social media to build buzz and engage with potential viewers.

  4. Creating a press kit that includes high-quality images, production notes, and other materials that can be used to promote the film.

Role of Film Festivals

As we looked at above, film festivals play a critical role in the film distribution process. They provide a platform for filmmakers to showcase their work to potential buyers and distributors, generate buzz, and build a following. Filmmakers can use film festivals to:

  1. Build relationships with buyers and distributors who attend the festival.

  2. Generate buzz and build a following among festival-goers.

  3. Collect critical feedback from audiences and industry professionals.

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Getting the Attention of Distributors and Sales Agents

Getting the attention of distributors and sales agents can be a challenge for filmmakers, especially those who are just starting out. However, there are several strategies that filmmakers can use to increase their chances of getting noticed, including:

  1. Networking: Attending industry events and building relationships with industry professionals can help filmmakers get their foot in the door.

  2. Submitting to Film Festivals: Submitting the film to relevant film festivals can help get the film in front of potential buyers and distributors.

  3. Creating a Compelling Trailer: A well-crafted trailer can capture the attention of potential buyers and distributors and make them more likely to take a closer look at the film.

Sales and marketing are essential components of a successful film distribution plan. By creating a compelling marketing campaign, leveraging film festivals, and getting the attention of distributors and sales agents, filmmakers can increase their chances of success and ensure that their film reaches its intended audience. With careful planning and execution, filmmakers can create a distribution plan that maximizes their film's potential and sets them up for success.

 

Legal and Financial Aspects of Film Distribution

Film distribution can be a complex process, and it's essential for filmmakers to understand the legal and financial issues that come with it. In this section, we'll explore the legal aspects of film distribution, provide tips for negotiating distribution deals, outline the different revenue streams for filmmakers, and explain the importance of keeping accurate financial records and monitoring revenue streams.


Legal Issues Related to Film Distribution

One of the most critical legal issues related to film distribution is ownership and rights. Before distributing a film, it's essential to ensure that you have the rights to distribute it. This includes obtaining the necessary licenses and permissions for any music, images, or other copyrighted material used in the film.


Another legal issue to consider is contracts. When negotiating distribution deals, it's crucial to have a clear and concise contract that outlines the terms and conditions of the distribution agreement. This includes details such as the length of the contract, the distribution territories, and the revenue splits.


Finally, it's essential to understand the various laws and regulations that govern film distribution, such as copyright laws, piracy laws, and censorship laws. By staying up-to-date on these laws and regulations, filmmakers can ensure that they're distributing their films legally and avoiding any legal issues.


Tips for Negotiating Distribution Deals

Negotiating distribution deals can be a daunting task, but there are several tips that filmmakers can follow to ensure a successful negotiation. Firstly, it's essential to have a clear understanding of your film's value and potential audience. This includes having a realistic expectation of box office revenue and potential sales on different platforms.

Secondly, it's crucial to research and approach reputable distributors who have experience in distributing similar films. This includes understanding the distributor's track record, the types of films they specialize in, and their distribution networks.


Finally, when negotiating a distribution deal, it's essential to be prepared and professional. This includes having a clear understanding of the terms and conditions of the distribution agreement, having a concise and compelling pitch for your film, and being open to compromise and negotiation.


Revenue Streams for Filmmakers

Filmmakers can earn revenue from various sources, including box office sales, streaming platforms, physical sales, and licensing fees. Box office revenue is earned when a film is screened in cinemas, while streaming platforms such as Netflix and Amazon Prime pay licensing fees to stream films on their platforms.


Physical sales include DVDs, Blu-rays, and merchandise, while licensing fees are earned when a film is licensed for use in other media, such as television shows or commercials. By diversifying their revenue streams, filmmakers can increase their earning potential and maximize their film's profitability.


Importance of Keeping Accurate Financial Records

Keeping accurate financial records is essential for filmmakers to monitor their revenue streams and ensure that they're being paid the correct amount. This includes keeping track of box office receipts, digital sales, and physical sales, as well as monitoring licensing fees and other revenue streams.


By keeping detailed financial records, filmmakers can identify any discrepancies or issues with their revenue streams and take appropriate action to address them. This includes following up with distributors or platforms to ensure that they're paying the correct amount and taking legal action if necessary.


Understanding the legal and financial aspects of film distribution is crucial for filmmakers to succeed in the industry. By staying informed on the various legal issues, negotiating distribution deals effectively, diversifying revenue streams, and keeping accurate financial records, filmmakers can maximize their earning potential and ensure the success of their films.

 

E&O Insurance in Film Distribution

Along with the legal and financial aspects, another important consideration for filmmakers in the distribution process is errors and omissions (E&O) insurance. E&O insurance protects filmmakers from legal claims that arise from the distribution of their film. This type of insurance can cover a range of issues, including copyright infringement, defamation, invasion of privacy, and breach of contract.wr

Having E&O insurance is essential for filmmakers who want to protect themselves from potential legal disputes that may arise during the distribution process. Distributors may require filmmakers to have this type of insurance before agreeing to distribute their film. Even if it's not a requirement, having E&O insurance can provide filmmakers with peace of mind and protect them from financial and legal losses.


When obtaining E&O insurance, it's essential to ensure that the policy covers all potential risks and issues that may arise during distribution. Filmmakers should work with a reputable insurance provider who has experience in the film industry and can tailor the policy to meet their specific needs.


While legal and financial aspects are crucial considerations in film distribution, having E&O insurance is equally important. Filmmakers must understand the risks associated with distribution and take steps to protect themselves from potential legal disputes. By obtaining E&O insurance, filmmakers can mitigate these risks and ensure the success of their film distribution.

 

Concluding Thoughts

Thank you for taking the time to read through our comprehensive guide to film marketing and distribution. As filmmakers ourselves, we understand the importance of getting your film in front of the right audience and making sure it gets the attention it deserves. Our team at Savant Artists is here to help you navigate the complex landscape of film distribution and marketing, and we would love the opportunity to sit down with you and discuss your project.


From creating a successful marketing campaign to getting the attention of distributors and sales agents, we have the expertise to help you succeed. We have worked with countless filmmakers, and our track record speaks for itself. We understand that every project is unique, and we will work with you to create a customized distribution strategy that fits your needs and goals.


So, if you're ready to take the next step in your filmmaking journey, we invite you to set up a meeting with us. Let us help you bring your film to the world and make your mark in the industry. With our guidance and expertise, the sky's the limit. Thank you again for considering Savant Artists, and we look forward to hearing from you soon.


 

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