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PART 1: Distribution Profile of Festivals

Marketing ‘tude to Jumpstart Distribution Relationships

The following distribution profile was distilled from more than a dozen interviews and discussions with distributors through IndieWire and the IFP Producer’s Series.

Distribution is difficult because there are so many different kinds of rights to be sold; because there are so many kinds of distributors; because the film market is now global; and not last, because each and every film is unique and has unique elements that vary in value, appeal and marketability. That’s why passion, love and gut reactions are frequently listed as the main criteria in the acquisition of a film’s rights.

Making your way through this distribution maze sinks many a project. So this article, and the advice offered by all these concerned, experienced independent distributors, is designed to help you sort out what works and what doesn't in taking your film to market.

TIP ONE: Get an industry recommendation

It is very important that a new film or filmmaker be recommended by industry fans who come from the ranks of the well-known producer’s reps; festival programmers, film critics or sales agents. It is important to establish good relationships with niche-specific film critics, reps, and especially — film festival programmers who showcase your film – all these industry pros frequently recommend good people and good films to buyers.

The quality of the film festival/market in which your film is exhibited matters, too. Serious, first-class festivals/markets are vital for the unknown filmmaker breaking into the marketplace. Festivals fit different needs, and most festivals are targeted for artsy films (auteur directors and emerging filmmakers). Genre films with little appeal to the critics are probably not a good match for the festival circuit. For instance, “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” was clearly not an “art” film.

TIP TWO: Choose your film festival wisely

The following festivals are favored by distributors for specific kinds of films:

Sundance, Cannes, Toronto, Berlin, Venice, and Telluride are the prominent, industry-based festivals with a high-profile competition section that appeals to auteur directors.

  • Cannes: for European and Asian films, usually programs the latest films from master filmmakers all over the world
  • Sundance: best for discovering emerging American indie films and talent
  • Toronto: mixture of both American and European/Asian films. Because it is so popular with the public, it offers acquisition executives the opportunity to screen films with a North American movie-going audience.
  • Venice and Berlin: for foreign language films.
  • Regional festivals that garner attention from acquisition execs despite their size are: Edinburgh, Sitges, Tribeca, Cinevegas, San Sebastian, and Slamdance.
  • The most important markets are: Cannes, Berlin, AFM, MIFED, and Hong Kong.
  • The key markets for documentaries are Full Frame and Hot Docs. Prestigious doc sections are included in Toronto and Edinburgh.

Some local American fests offer great selections -- such as Seattle, Atlanta, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and South by Southwest. A film can be seen by an important American critic who will then champion it, at a local/regional film fest. That first recommendation often garners a second…and a third…

TIP THREE: Create your marketing message

By building critical mass for your film before attending these key festivals, you demonstrate appeal—which translates into marketability. Critical mass can be built with quotes and referrals by industry champions: critics, producer’s reps, and sales agents, as well as the power of the director vision and personal story.

Distributors often feel inundated by ill-prepared producers and express a heartfelt wish that producers do their research before seeking distribution. By knowing company background, a producer is better able to pick the right distributors for their products. These are some of the areas in which producers can do very profitable homework:

Know the past 24 months and upcoming releases by the distributor: history of the company and gauge how your film fits into their slate of films. Web sites are a wondrous tool for research!

  • Demonstrate to the distributor who the market is for the film (comparable films, exit polls, screenings, reviews).
  • Know who the ideal partner for your company would be: who you want to work with and why
  • Consider the distributor’s niche markets and breadth of release
  • Distributors look for films that will break out on the merits of the filmmaking as well as the story
  • Many distributors are getting involved at the script stage or during production or post-production. Timing is important: contact buyers only after a film is packaged and financed
  • If you have completed your film with independent financing: it is often sufficient to fax or call distributors saying that it is done and ready to be seen.

Knowing the industry landscape is also helpful because it helps you select appropriate distributors as well as plan your pitch based on the audience, trends and market niches. Here are some specifics:

  • Know the field of distributors: research the people and companies that are being approaching.
  • Know what’s marketable: which audience segments support films similar to yours
  • Be familiar with the different types of rights that can be contracted. Some general breakouts include: Theatrical, DVD/Video, Cable, Free TV, Broadband, and Pay-per-view. Know which distribution channels you want to sell and which you want to keep for later marketing.
  • Be aware of creative options such as service deals and self-distribution.

Distributors respect a good sales process. They don’t like to be hassled. They appreciate a good sense of humor, a good first impression. Respect for their time. And they enjoy discovering the power and wonder of an exciting new project. There are some tips on how to get their positive attention:

  • Strong visuals. Exciting stills which can be used for marketing always get our attention.
  • Email headlines should be very specific to what DISTRIBUTORS are seeking. Mass emails are easily overlooked.
  • Trailers should always be done by professionals.
  • Have all your materials ready (press materials, photos, etc.)

(To be continued)


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