A New Narrative for Indie Film Distribution
I am a Distributor turned Filmmaker. I have a finance degree and a law degree and I spent the first 22 years of my film career in Distribution. Then I got the bug to become creative. I have since made and successfully self distributed 7 feature films, 3 of which are presently airing on Netflix worldwide (FULL OUT / FULL OUT 2 - YOU GOT THIS! / KISS & CRY).
I provide consulting services to hundreds of indie filmmakers and the initial conversation usually goes like this:
Jeff to Filmmaker: “You need to think about distribution BEFORE you make your movie because it could affect the style of movie that you make.”
Filmmaker to Jeff: “First I need to focus on making a great movie and then I’ll worry about distribution.”
Jeff: “But what if you don’t get distribution?”
Filmmaker: “Haha, don’t worry, I’ll get distribution.”
Jeff: “I’m telling you, it’s not as easy as you may think to get distribution.”
Filmmaker: “Hey, I’m an artist. Let me do what I do best and that’s make a great movie. Then some business person will figure out how to get it distributed.”
Poster for "Full Out", a film I produced that is now streaming on Netflix
As Albert Einstein is credited in saying, “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result”.
Indie Filmmakers continually expect that their films will get distributed. But yet how many indie films actually get a proper distribution and marketing campaign? How many indie films get a real theatrical release? How many indie films get on a big Subscription Streaming platform like Netflix? How many indie films make money? The truth is, not many.
Yet indie filmmakers continue to do the same thing over and over again. They put all of their time, energy, and resources into MAKING their movie and they leave nothing in the kitty for distribution and marketing. They assume (or hope) that a big Distributor will miraculously acquire their movie and spend lots of money marketing it. WRONG. That’s not the way it works anymore. Gone are the days that Filmmakers can expect their films to get distributed. Gone are the days that Distributors will spend lots of money marketing indie movies.
Instead of first making a movie and then hoping for distribution, the new narrative is reversed. BEFORE you make your movie, plan out your distribution and marketing strategy.
Identify who your niche target audience will be. Plan for how you will create awareness with this niche audience. Figure out where you will send this niche audience to watch your movie.
And finally, consider whether or not the audience will be willing to pay for it. This is called marketing. Executing an effective marketing campaign is as important as making a great movie. And I repeat; do this BEFORE you make your movie. If you wait until after the movie is made, it might be too late to figure it out.
Poster for "Full Out 2: You Got This", a film I directed & produced that is now streaming on Netflix
Most importantly, tuck away funds for marketing. Whether it be for print, TV or social media, it costs money to create awareness with audiences. You cannot expect marketing to happen on its own. The big Studios spend as much on marketing as they do on production. Perhaps indie filmmakers should learn from that.
Even if you are lucky enough to get a good distributor for your movie, you as the filmmaker need to support your distribution partner in their marketing efforts. Remember, this is your baby, not theirs. You need to be involved in helping to create as much audience awareness and “word of mouth” as possible. I know, “you’re an artist who makes movies; you don’t do marketing.” Well guess what, if you want your film to be successful you better help in the marketing of it.
The Indie Film distribution landscape changed a decade ago but indie filmmakers weren’t paying attention. They kept doing the same thing over and over; spending all of their time and money on trying to make a great movie and expecting that their films would get distributed & marketed. But that formula no longer works. You cannot take for granted that you will get distribution.
It’s now time for the insanity to stop and for a new narrative to take charge; Filmmakers have to think about distribution & marketing BEFORE they think about production.
About the Author
1. Producer/Writer/Director – FULL OUT 2 – YOU GOT THIS! – feature film, 2020 2. Producer/Writer/Director – ISM – feature film, 2018 3. Producer & Exec Prod. – THE SAMUEL PROJECT – feature film, 2017 4. Producer & Exec Prod. – KISS & CRY – feature film, 2016 5. Producer & Exec Prod. – FULL OUT –...