top of page

The Rise of Digital: Why Online Distribution is the Future of Filmmaking

Updated: Aug 17, 2023


With so many filmmakers vying for attention in today's crowded market, getting your film distributed can be a daunting task. That's why our team, Savant Artists, has a combined 35 years experiences with real world examples, and performed extensive research and analysis to provide you with the most comprehensive guide on how to get your film distribution in today's digital age. Whether you're an independent filmmaker or part of a major studio, our guide will help you navigate the complex world of film distribution and increase your chances of success. If you are still searching for answers, or have a finished film that you would like our team to review, go the the Submit Your Film page and we will be in touch.

In this guide, we will cover everything from the basics of film distribution to the latest strategies and tactics for achieving success in the industry. We'll provide you with specific examples of films that have had outstanding success, such as the Academy Award-winning movie "Parasite," which became a global phenomenon despite being in Korean language. We'll also examine how streaming giants like Netflix and Amazon Prime have disrupted the industry and offer tips on how to leverage their platforms to maximize your film's potential.

But it's not just about the big players - we'll also provide insights into the success of viral films like "Kung Fury" that generated massive buzz and millions of views despite a shoestring budget. Our guide will also feature interviews with filmmakers who have achieved great success in the industry, offering their personal tips and strategies for navigating the distribution process.


In addition to the latest trends and tactics, this guide will also cover the basics of film distribution, including the different types of distribution and how to choose the right one for your film. We'll also delve into the nitty-gritty details of the distribution process, from submitting your film to festivals and markets, to negotiating distribution deals and creating a marketing plan.


Overall, our guide is designed to provide you with everything you need to successfully distribute your film in today's competitive market. Whether you're a first-time filmmaker or a seasoned industry professional, our comprehensive guide will help you achieve your distribution goals and get your movie in front of the widest possible audience.


Click one of the sections to jump down and read about a a specific section:

 

Understanding the Basics of Film Distribution

Understanding the basics of film distribution is essential before delving into the more intricate details of the process. Film distribution involves making your movie available to the audience through different channels, including theaters, television, and digital platforms. The importance of choosing the right distribution type cannot be overstated, as it can determine how widely your film is seen and how profitable it becomes. Traditional distribution involves releasing a film in theaters, followed by home video distribution, while digital distribution involves releasing a film through online streaming platforms such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, or Vimeo. More information on the vast array of streaming services at a follow up article, "The Streaming Wars."

The movie industry has witnessed several viral stories and films that have enjoyed outstanding success through proper distribution. A prime example referencing above is "Parasite," the South Korean film that won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 2020. The film's worldwide success is credited to its strategic distribution plan, which included a slow rollout in theaters before expanding to digital platforms. Another example is "The Irishman," the 2019 crime epic directed by Martin Scorsese, which was released on Netflix and received numerous award nominations. While Parasite and The Irishman are both well-known examples of films that achieved great success through digital distribution, there are other lesser-known examples of films that have been distributed strategically. An excellent case in point is "Sound of Metal," a 2019 drama film that follows a drummer who loses his hearing. The film was released through Amazon Prime Video and enjoyed great success, ultimately receiving six Academy Award nominations. Sound of Metal's strategic distribution plan played a significant role in its success. These films demonstrate the importance of choosing the right distribution strategy for your movie to achieve the best results.

When it comes to choosing the right distribution type, it's important to consider the pros and cons of each option. Traditional distribution can be more expensive, as it involves the cost of physical prints, advertising, and theater rentals. However, it can provide the opportunity for wider exposure and the possibility of critical acclaim through festivals and awards. Digital distribution can be more cost-effective, but it may not provide the same level of prestige or critical recognition. Nonetheless, it offers the benefit of wider reach and a potential for more revenue through the use of online platforms and social media. Below we take a closer look of each form.


In conclusion, understanding the basics of film distribution is crucial for filmmakers looking to distribute their work successfully. Choosing the right distribution strategy requires careful consideration of the pros and cons of each option, as well as an analysis of the target audience and goals of the film. By following the right approach and knowledge, it is possible to distribute your film effectively and achieve your objectives.

 

Traditional Film Distribution


Let's take a look at traditional distribution. Releasing a film in theaters can be a great way to get your movie seen by a large audience. With the right marketing campaign, a theatrical release can generate buzz and hype, which can translate into a big opening weekend. However, traditional distribution can be expensive, and there is no guarantee that a movie will be successful. Additionally, with the rise of digital distribution, the theatrical release has become less important in recent years.


On the other hand, digital distribution offers a much wider potential audience than a traditional release. By releasing your film through online streaming platforms, you can reach a global audience in a matter of hours. The cost of digital distribution is also much lower than traditional distribution, and you can potentially generate a lot of revenue through subscriptions and streaming fees. However, it can be challenging to get noticed among the vast number of films available online, and digital distribution requires a lot of marketing efforts to stand out.


In order to make an informed decision about the best type of distribution for your film, consider your budget, your target audience, and your marketing strategy. For example, if you're making a small indie movie, traditional distribution might not be the best choice for you, since the cost of releasing a film in theaters can be prohibitively expensive. On the other hand, if your film has a niche audience, digital distribution may be the way to go, since you can target that specific audience with online marketing efforts, on current example is Slasher Film: ‘Final Summer’ Teaser Trailer Gives Homage to ‘Friday the 13th’!


In addition to choosing the right type of distribution, it's also important to plan your distribution strategy well in advance. Start thinking about your marketing campaign as soon as possible, and consider hiring a marketing professional to help you get the word out. Building buzz and generating interest in your film can be just as important as the distribution itself, and a successful marketing campaign, can make all the difference in the success of your movie.


In conclusion, film distribution is a complex process with many factors to consider. Traditional distribution can generate buzz and excitement, but it can be expensive and less accessible than digital distribution. Digital distribution can be a more cost-effective way to reach a global audience, but it requires a strong marketing strategy to be successful. Understanding the basics of film distribution and choosing the right type of distribution for your film can be the key to getting your movie seen by the widest possible audience and making it a success.

 

Digital Film Distribution

Digital distribution has revolutionized the film industry, providing filmmakers with new ways to reach audiences and create revenue streams. The rise of streaming giants like Netflix and Amazon Prime has allowed for greater access to films, while social media and video-sharing platforms like YouTube have made it easier than ever to promote and share content.

One example of a film that found success through digital distribution is "Tangerine," a 2015 independent film shot entirely on an iPhone. The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and was later released on iTunes, where it generated significant buzz and critical acclaim. Another example is "The Big Sick," a 2017 romantic comedy that premiered at Sundance and was later released on Amazon Prime, where it received widespread acclaim and earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay. More recently, Hoaxed: Everything They Told You Is A Lie signed with Random Media and quickly reach #1 on iTunes, Read More Here.


When it comes to digital distribution, filmmakers have the option of either Video on Demand (VOD), Subscription Video on Demand (SVOD), and (AVOD) Advertising-based Video on Demand. VOD allows viewers to rent or purchase a film, either through a one-time transaction, a subscription service, or a $ amount per minute streamed, while SVOD offers a library of films for a recurring monthly fee.


The choice between VOD and SVOD will depend on the goals of the film and the target audience. For example, a filmmaker looking to make a profit off of a single film may choose VOD, while a filmmaker looking to gain exposure for their work may choose SVOD to get their film in front of a wider audience.


In conclusion, digital distribution has opened up new possibilities for filmmakers to distribute their work, with a variety of options available to suit their needs. It's important for filmmakers to understand the differences between VOD and SVOD and choose the right type of digital distribution for their film, based on their goals and target audience. With the right strategy, digital distribution can be a powerful tool for independent filmmakers to achieve success in the industry.

 

What Type Of Distribution is right for my film?

When it comes to distributing your film, there are different types of distribution that you can consider. Understanding the pros and cons of each distribution type is important to make an informed decision about the best option for your film. Here are some examples of different distribution types and films that have had success with them:

Theatrical Distribution: Theatrical distribution refers to the release of your film in movie theaters, providing a chance for a wide audience to watch it. While it can be expensive, involving the cost of physical prints, advertising, and theater rentals, it offers the potential for critical acclaim through film festivals and award ceremonies. One great example of a successful film with theatrical distribution is "Moonlight," a 2016 drama film that won the Academy Award for Best Picture. It received widespread acclaim after premiering at the Telluride Film Festival and was praised for its artful direction, writing, and performances. Its theatrical release allowed it to gain significant exposure and ultimately helped it become a critically acclaimed and successful film.

Home Video Distribution: This type of distribution involves releasing your film on DVDs or Blu-rays. It's a more traditional distribution method that has been around for decades. It can provide a reliable source of revenue for your film, but it may not have the same level of exposure as theatrical distribution. An example of a successful film with home video distribution is "The Blair Witch Project," a 1999 horror film that became a cultural phenomenon and grossed over $248 million worldwide on a $60,000 budget. Henceforth,The Blair Witch is arguably the most successful independent film marketing example of all time and with a more in-depth review on the Top 13 Indie Horror Film Marketing Campaigns Too Scary To Be True article.


Digital Distribution: Digital distribution, on the other hand, has become increasingly popular with the rise of streaming platforms such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu. This approach can be more cost-effective, as it doesn't involve the costs associated with physical prints, advertising, and theater rentals. Instead, your film can be released directly on streaming platforms, which offer the potential for wider reach and more revenue.

Some filmmakers have found great success by combining traditional and digital distribution. For example, the 2019 film "The Farewell," directed by Lulu Wang, was released in theaters before becoming available on digital platforms such as Amazon Prime. Similarly, the 2020 film "Promising Young Woman," directed by Emerald Fennell, was released in theaters before being available for rent or purchase on digital platforms like Amazon and Apple.


It's also important to consider your film's genre and target audience when selecting a distribution type. For example, the 2018 horror film "A Quiet Place" was released in theaters, as the horror genre tends to do well in theaters, while the 2021 romantic comedy "To All the Boys: Always and Forever" was released on Netflix, as it targeted a younger audience.

In conclusion, choosing the right distribution type for your film requires careful consideration of factors such as budget, genre, target audience, and goals. By understanding the pros and cons of each distribution type and analyzing your film's unique needs, you can make an informed decision that will increase the chances of success for your film.


Hybrid distribution is a versatile method that combines different distribution channels to reach the widest possible audience. It's a smart choice for independent filmmakers who want to make their movie available in theaters, on TV, and through digital platforms simultaneously. This method can also help to generate buzz and increase the film's overall visibility.


An example of a successful film that used hybrid distribution is "Moonlight," the 2016 coming-of-age drama directed by Barry Jenkins. The film was released by A24, a film distribution company known for using unconventional marketing tactics to promote their films. A24 utilized hybrid distribution to roll out the movie gradually, starting with a limited theatrical release before expanding to a wider audience. This approach helped to build hype and generate positive word-of-mouth, leading to the film's eventual success at the box office and award ceremonies.

Another successful example of hybrid distribution is the documentary "Won't You Be My Neighbor?" which focused on the life and legacy of beloved children's TV host Fred Rogers. The film was released in theaters by Focus Features before becoming available on DVD and streaming platforms. The combination of a traditional theatrical release and availability through digital channels proved to be a winning formula, as the film enjoyed critical acclaim and financial success.


In conclusion, hybrid distribution is an effective method for independent filmmakers to reach a wider audience and generate buzz for their films. By combining different distribution channels, filmmakers can increase the visibility and profitability of their work. As demonstrated by the examples of "Moonlight" and "Won't You Be My Neighbor?", hybrid distribution can lead to both critical acclaim and financial success.

 

Creating a Film Distribution Strategy

After determining the most suitable distribution type for your film, developing an effective distribution strategy is key to successfully reaching the intended audience. Proper planning involves identifying the target demographic, devising a comprehensive marketing plan, and selecting the appropriate channels to engage with the audience. For instance, social media platforms like Instagram and TikTok can be efficient in reaching younger audiences, whereas television and print ads may be more effective for targeting older demographics.

Creating a distribution strategy also requires identifying the right distribution channels for your movie. The most popular streaming platforms, such as Netflix and Amazon Prime, may not always be the best fit for your movie. Alternative options such as Vimeo on Demand, Seed&Spark, or Filmocracy may be better suited to your film's genre or target audience. For example, Vimeo on Demand is known for its strong community of independent filmmakers, while Seed&Spark caters to niche audiences such as LGBTQ and BIPOC communities.


Choosing the right distribution channel is equally important, and there are several options to consider in addition to well-known platforms such as Netflix and Amazon Prime. For example, Filmocracy is an online streaming platform that offers a gamified viewing experience, while Seed&Spark caters to niche audiences, including LGBTQ and BIPOC communities.

One example of a successful distribution strategy is the 2017 horror film "Get Out," directed by Jordan Peele. The film capitalized on social media platforms to generate word-of-mouth buzz and excitement for the movie, in addition to using non-traditional marketing techniques, such as partnering with popular online communities to generate interest in the film. These methods paid off, and the movie went on to gross over $250 million globally.

Other examples of successful distribution strategies include the 2020 indie film "Nomadland," which leveraged virtual cinema to reach its audience during the pandemic, and the 2018 film "Eighth Grade," which employed a multi-channel marketing campaign, including YouTube influencers and movie theater events, to successfully connect with its target audience.


In summary, a well-planned distribution strategy is crucial for independent filmmakers to achieve success. Understanding your audience, devising an innovative marketing plan, and selecting the appropriate distribution channels can help your movie reach a wider audience and maximize its potential profitability.

 

Identifying Films Target Audience

Identifying your target audience is crucial for creating a successful distribution strategy. You need to understand who your movie is for, what their interests are, and where they spend their time. This will help you tailor your marketing and distribution efforts to reach your target audience effectively.


To create an effective distribution strategy, it's essential to identify your movie's target audience. Knowing your audience will enable you to tailor your marketing and distribution efforts to reach them successfully. Understanding their interests, preferences, and behavior can make a big difference in the success of your movie.

One example of a movie that successfully identified its target audience is "Deadpool," the 2016 superhero film starring Ryan Reynolds. The movie targeted adult comic book fans and was marketed as a raunchy, R-rated comedy, which was a departure from the traditional superhero movies aimed at a younger audience. The film's marketing campaign also utilized social media and viral marketing to reach its target audience, resulting in a massive box office success.


Another example is the horror film "A Quiet Place," which identified its target audience as fans of horror and suspense films. The marketing campaign emphasized the movie's unique concept of using sound as a central element and the tension it creates, which appealed to the target audience's interests. Final Summer is a more recent example of a horror/slasher film that really took the time to understand target audience and continues to as it moves towards digital release. I discuss more In-depth at ‘Final Summer’ Teaser Trailer Gives Homage to ‘Friday the 13th’! and also mentioned as an honorable mention on the Top 13 Indie Horror Film Marketing Campaigns Too Scary To Be True .

Identifying your target audience involves researching and analyzing demographics, psychographics, and behavioral patterns. It requires understanding who your movie is for and where they spend their time. For instance, if your movie is a family-friendly animation, your target audience would be parents and children, and you could market the movie on social media platforms popular with families, such as YouTube.


Identifying your movie's target audience is crucial for creating an effective distribution strategy. By understanding who your movie is for and what appeals to them, you can tailor your marketing and distribution efforts to reach your target audience successfully. This can make a significant difference in the success of your movie, as seen in examples like "Deadpool," "A Quiet Place," and "Final Summer." Below we will take a look at elements of successful marketing plans and how forward thinking filmmakers can brainstorm creative marketing ideas to bring films to life and reach desired audience.

 

Creating a Film Marketing Plan

A well-executed marketing plan is essential for any filmmaker seeking to generate interest and buzz around their movie. With the abundance of content available today, it's critical to develop a marketing strategy that effectively captures the attention of your target audience. An effective marketing plan should include a blend of online and offline marketing tactics, such as social media marketing, email marketing, public relations, and advertising.

Social media marketing is a powerful tool for promoting your movie and engaging with your audience. Platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram provide a direct line of communication with your audience and the ability to share information about your movie. An excellent example of social media marketing in the film industry is the viral marketing campaign for the 2014 horror film, "Ouija." The film's marketing campaign utilized social media platforms, including Instagram and Vine, to create a buzz around the movie and drive awareness.


Email marketing is another effective way to promote your film and keep your audience informed. By collecting email addresses from your followers and fans, you can send out newsletters and updates on your film's progress. One of the most successful email marketing campaigns in the film industry was for the 2012 comedy film "Ted." The film's marketing team created a humorous email campaign featuring the film's main character, Ted, which garnered significant attention and generated interest.

Public relations can also play a crucial role in promoting your film. This can include reaching out to media outlets and journalists to secure coverage and reviews. Another option is to leverage influencer marketing by collaborating with bloggers, YouTubers, and other social media personalities to promote your movie. A prime example of influencer marketing in the film industry is the collaboration between beauty YouTuber James Charles and the movie "Birds of Prey," which resulted in an increase in awareness and interest around the film.

Lastly, advertising can also be a powerful tool for promoting your film. This can include traditional forms of advertising such as billboards and television commercials, or more targeted advertising on social media platforms. The 2019 film "Joker" utilized targeted social media advertising to reach its intended audience effectively.


In conclusion, creating a marketing plan that includes a mix of online and offline marketing tactics is essential for any filmmaker seeking to promote their movie successfully. By understanding and leveraging these marketing strategies effectively, you can create a buzz around your film, generate interest, and ultimately increase its chances of success.

 

Leveraging Social Media

In today's digital age, leveraging social media has become an indispensable part of promoting and distributing movies. It offers an opportunity to engage with your target audience and build a following for your movie. Major studios and independent filmmakers alike have used social media to generate buzz and promote their films. For instance, the marketing campaign for the 2018 horror film, "A Quiet Place," was a standout success, partly due to its clever use of social media. The film's director, John Krasinski, shared behind-the-scenes photos and sneak peeks on his personal Instagram account, building excitement and anticipation for the movie's release.

Social media provides a cost-effective way to promote your movie and connect with your audience. You can use it to share exclusive content, behind-the-scenes footage, and promotional material, all of which can help generate buzz and build excitement. With the right strategy, social media can also help create a community around your film, with fans sharing their own content, creating memes, and engaging with each other online. The result is a more engaged and invested audience that is more likely to support and promote your film.


When using social media to promote your movie, it's important to be strategic and intentional. You should have a clear plan in place for the type of content you will share, the frequency of posts, and the tone of your messaging. You should also be responsive to your followers and engage with them regularly. By using social media effectively, you can create a powerful tool for promoting and distributing your movie.

 

Conclusion

Lights, camera, action! The world of film distribution can be a rollercoaster ride, but fear not, our comprehensive guide will help you steer the ship to success. We've got you covered with everything from the basics of film distribution to the latest trends and tactics in the industry. Our guide is packed with examples of successful films that have gone viral, including the Academy Award-winning movie "Parasite," and even low-budget viral sensations like "Kung Fury."

We've gone above and beyond, including interviews with filmmakers who have achieved great success in the industry, providing exclusive personal tips and strategies for navigating the distribution process. #InsiderTips


Our guide will take you step-by-step through the distribution process, from identifying your target audience, creating a marketing plan, leveraging social media, and negotiating distribution deals. With our help, you'll create a solid distribution strategy that will help you get your movie in front of the widest possible audience. #MaximizeYourReach


By following the advice outlined in this guide, you'll gain a deep understanding of the industry and the strategies necessary to achieve success. With the right knowledge and approach, you'll be able to successfully navigate the complex world of film distribution and achieve your goals. #SuccessIsPossible


Share this guide with your fellow filmmakers and let's bring your film to the silver screen! #LetsMakeAMovie #FilmDistributionGuide


 

More Info on Digital Film Distribution


Excellent Film Resources

If you're interested in learning more about the film industry and improving your filmmaking skills, there are many excellent resources available online. Some of our favorites include the American Film Institute, the Sundance Institute, and the International Documentary Association. Additionally, many film schools and universities offer degree programs in film


bottom of page