First of all, let me introduce you to the existence of Independent Film Predators. They are less-than-legitimate indie film distributors that want to distribute your film and unfortunately, there's a bunch of 'em. In fact I can vouch for their existence personally.
3 OF A KIND, my recently completed psychological thriller, premiered at the WorldFest Houston International Film Festival. It's a film we literally scraped and clawed financially to get done. We ultimately had to take out personal loans to get the extra funds needed to complete the film. To say we were anxious to recoup our investors' money and our money is an understatement.
Then the unexpected happened. We were approached by three different distribution companies once our film screened. Just what we wanted!
Slick and friendly, they all promised the moon. Their pitches to us became even more impassioned once they learned our film won best picture, best director and best actress at the conclusion of the festival.
I was flattered and excited, but deep down my gut was telling me something else.
What I found out is that these predators will sweet talk you and promise you anything to get you to sign with them. "You'll make millions and your film will be in every theater across the country! Then we'll hit the foreign markets and make you even more money. Yes - that's what we'll do for you! Just sign here," they'll say, I'm using hyperbole, but you get the idea.
I know it sounds silly that someone would actually fall for that line, but you'd be surprised how many first-time filmmakers sign after hearing this. Heck, I almost did!
Here's the scoop. These predators are volume players and despite their rhetoric of how they like to work with filmmakers and make money for them, etc., they won't. Their way of doing business is making a quick buck off your film in any way they can. At the end of the day, it's all profit for THEM.
Think about it. Let's say you are one of these predator distributors and you sign 50 indie films in a year. If you make $15,000 per film (more on this later) you end up with $750,000. Not bad for one year's revenue, is it? But how much will the filmmaker see? Not a penny.
This is how the predator distributor makes their money. They'll tell you your key art (poster art work) is all wrong and must be redone. The cost to you? $6000. "Oh, and your trailer needs to be redone to sell your film more effectively, $8000 please. Did we mention your film needs to be professionally color corrected? $7500 should cover it". Get the picture?
Will you see revenue from a company like this? The chances are slim to none and slim is on his way out of town. Which brings us to my first rule.
Rule 1: If the deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is. This is basic advice, but I'm bringing this up because the first-time filmmaker is sometimes blinded by the light. First-time filmmakers are convinced they have the next MANCHESTER BY THE SEA and it's just a matter of getting their film out there.
Don't be stupid.
Look at the proposed distribution contract carefully, then have your entertainment attorney look it over BEFORE you sign anything. Keep in mind that if you sign, you are relinquishing all rights to your film for probably five years or longer.
Manchester By The Sea
Rule 2: Hey, this great tool we have called the internet? Use it to vet the distributor that wants your film so desperately. How do you do that? Contact filmmakers that have been in the distributor's catalog for a year or two. Use Facebook, Twitter or go through the filmmaker's website. Whatever way you use, get to the filmmaker and talk to them. Ask them what they honestly think about the distributor. Have they seen any revenue? How's their accounting reporting? These filmmakers will give you the real scoop. Listen to them, but be prepared. What they say can be sobering.
Rule 3: Call the prospective distribution company on the phone. Why should you call? Because you can tell a lot about the culture of the company by the way you are treated by the person on the other end.
When vetting a distribution company on my list, I called and received a very weird vibe. The person who answered was borderline rude, ULTRA-careful in finding out EXACTLY who I was and WHY I was calling. Was I an irate filmmaker calling to find out what was going on with my film perhaps? There were long pauses between questions. I learned a lot about that distribution company during the call. Ask questions. Listen to the tone of their voice. Trust your gut.
Rule 4: Ask yourself if you really need to work with a distributor at all. Maybe working with an aggregator is best for you. Aggregators facilitate getting your film on big platforms (Amazon, FandangoNow, Google Play, iTunes, etc.) but will not necessarily promote your film actively.
Indie Rights (an aggregator) took on our film 3 OF A KIND and placed us on a dozen streaming platforms very quickly. I'm glad to say that the relationship has been terrific. For one, they don't charge expenses. They only charge a straight percentage from the film's gross revenue. The filmmaker gets the rest. From day one we have been making money with them.
Other aggregators to consider are; Distribber, Quiver Digital, The Orchard and FilmBuff to name a few. I have no experience with these companies, so do your homework before committing.
My advice? Be careful and realistic as you approach the distribution of your independent film. Above all, you want to financially protect your film.
On the positive side, options for independent filmmakers have never been better. For example, 3 OF A KIND is available to literally millions of people every day on Amazon and other platforms like FandangoNow, Google Play, etc. thanks to our aggregator Indie Rights. The flip side to this are the countless indie films that are not making money for their filmmakers, because they signed their rights away to a predator distributor.
One last thought. Whatever they say, the indie film predator won't promote your film for you. Aggregators are upfront and state from the beginning that they will not promote your film actively. Promotion will fall on your shoulders in both cases. So if you're going to be doing your own promotion anyway, choosing to work with an aggregator may be the right choice for you. It was for us.
About Greg Green
Greg Green is the award-winning writer, producer and director of the psychological thriller, 3 OF A KIND - now on Amazon Prime. He won BEST PICTURE and BEST DIRECTOR at the WorldFest Houston International Film Festival for this picture.
His company Greg Green Films develops and produces feature films for a regional, national and international audience. Greg and his wife, Juliana love living in Boise, ID - far away from the madding crowd! Born in Oshkosh, WI, Greg Green started making films at the age of nine and hasn't stopped since. He was accepted to the Warner Bros. National Film Workshop, and received his film degree from the University of Iowa. He has worked on many feature films such as THIEF (starring James Caan), WHO AM I THIS TIME (starring Susan Sarandon and Christopher Walken) CHAPTER PERFECT (starring Wilford Brimley) and television shows such as 60 MINUTES, 20/20 and CBS REPORTS. He also worked on many TV movies and a network TV series, CHICAGO STORY (starring Craig T. Nelson).
In addition to his awards for 3 OF A KIND, Greg has earned four regional Emmy Awards, a national Clio Award and a national Pro Max Award.
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