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PART 2: Indie Distribution and the Career Factor

TIP FOUR: Build relationships for the long term

A common frustration for producers is knowing how to get acquainted with distributors and learn what they want. The most frequent channel mentioned by the distributors is through participation in the festival circuit. One distributor even mentioned that participating in festival-sponsored event such as the distributor exchange at the Los Angeles Film Fest called the “speed dating event”. By asking questions and getting answers in a controlled venue, both distributor and producer respect one another’s time.

Respect is a large part of building a relationship with distributors. There are some no-nos that can damage a budding business relationship – here are some of them:

  • Unsolicited submissions – always query or have a respected industry fan recommend your work.
  • Bad art materials – professionalism makes an appealing impression
  • Bad trailers – again, an amateurish marketing trailer makes a bad lasting impression.
  • Poorly designed websites – a 24/7 impression is worth a touch of quality
  • Blanket emails or mass mailings – they don’t address the recipient’s needs
  • Aimless get acquainted calls – they waste time, and time is best spent marketing films!
  • Aggressive sales push – humility, honesty and respect go a long way.
  • Pestering – do you like to be pestered by sales people?
  • Permanent email newsletter list -- never, ever spam people you are trying to build a relationship with. Email newsletters should be opt-in only.

It is possible to think too much about marketing and distribution during the early phases of making a film. However, if you think about who your audience will be, you will communicate with them better. If you think about product placement early, you can add production value with the funds raised. If you bring a distributor into the picture before you start shooting, you can shoot those necessary cultural cover shots at a very low add on cost. Marketing is about building a relationship of communication, trust and respect with all your buyers and partners in the business process. That means the festival programmer, the critic, the distributor…and the movie fan.

TIP FIVE: Make great movies

One of the most adamant requests by distributors is that producers make great films. Great production value. Great story. Here are summaries of distributors’ concerns about film quality:

  • Make a film that stands a chance of getting major reviews from major critics
  • Weigh the film’s playability with an audience.
  • Filmmakers should always begin with the end in mind-- imagine the poster or the 30-second commercial, the theatrical trailer...Does you film have enough elements?
  • Present a truthful point of view.
  • Develop a clear "pitch" of your film
  • Stand out from the pack.
  • Originality.
  • "Astonish me."
  • Demonstrate your "willingness to entertain"
  • Creative components are ranked as follows: 1) director, 2) screenplay, 3) key crew (dp, editor, production designer, and 4) cast.

But partnerships in film distribution are based on human factors much more than one would first imagine.

  • Focus 100 percent of your energy on making a great film first and foremost until it's in the can, assuming you are making the film with independent money. THEN think about distribution, marketing, representation, and the industry stuff.
  • Keep to your vision of the film and don't over-analyze the acquisition part of the equation.
  • DVD has affected the ancillary shelf-life of a film: director-driven and genre films geared towards film enthusiasts have a renewed potential.
  • Cross over a bit from a strictly limited release and generate good ancillary revenue by adding appropriate elements that appeal to tangential audiences.
  • Films that target a specific niche are gaining in marketability
  • Focus on writing scripts and making films for a specific audience.
  • Be knowledgeable and realistic about who the audience will be for your film.

TIP SIX: Build a longterm career and network

Distributors like to build long term relationships with professionals who will be around for a long time. They want to do the best job possible in selling each of the films they acquire. Producers help make that possible by understanding the deal-making process. Distributors also want to have a first look at the next great picture and are willing to build a working relationship with producers to make that possible. So here are some career tips to attract distribution attention:

  • Make a good movie and a good impression
  • Maintain a sense of humor
  • Modesty is always important and maintaining one's balance of passion and business sense is especially appealing.
  • Keep writing and directing -- demonstrate to a producer or a studio, through your shorts, your commercials, your scripts, or your independently produced features, that a distributor and/or investor should trust you to be able to consistently make the best of an idea within a budget.
  • Library value down the road is usually because the film is director driven.
  • Make sure you own "all rights" for your film -- from music to cultural images.
  • A film isn’t complete until it is ready to deliver to a buyer: understand the scope, timeframes and cost of deliverables that are part of making a distribution deal.
The life of a film can be as long as 30 or 40 years. Even small films can have a life of 10 to 20 years. Dollar signs probably pop up at that idea! However, the flip side of that lifespan of marketing is that the relationship needs to last decades, as well. The independent producer usually keeps some distribution rights and will have a hand on the tiller for the life of the product. To make the distribution deal more of a joy than a headache, it is important that you choose distributors wisely, think about your company goals, know your product, and understand the distributor’s needs and goals. And then, it’s always a good idea to take representation with you into deal discussions. Have deals vetted before signing them. Then honor your deal with humor and good will.

Remember that the relationship is part of every deal.

This distribution profile was distilled from more than a dozen interviews and discussions with independent distributors through IndieWire.com and the IFP/LA Producer’s Series.


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