Distribution : Can I do the job better myself? by Kenny Mann

Kenny Mann

Can I do the job better myself?

I'm a documentary filmmaker. Several years ago, I paid a "filmmakers' representative" a lot of money to find me a distributor. The contract stipulated that she had to find at least two distributors who would cover US and world-wide rights. On my own, through festivals, I found distributors for three others of my other films. My latest doc film has a very reputable distributor who picked it up himself. From all these agents and distributors, I have not made a single penny in a period of about 5 years. Seriously. Not one penny. I did an experimental distribution of one of my doc films by mailing out a flyer to 450 educational institutions, from a mailing list that I purchased. I targeted departments of African history, anthropology, social studies, international relations and others that are relevant to my work. I sold about 245 DVDs this way - about a 50% success rate. I fully understand that my films are so-called "small" - ie they have not won awards at festivals and are therefor harder to market. Yet whenever I personally accompany a screening, I not only get lots of praise and applause, even a standing ovation once, but I also sell many copies of my DVD. I'm thinking of just going out on my own to market my own films. It's a full-time job, and it's clear that as the filmmaker, I am far more invested in the work than any distributor. What do you think?? I have been invited to moderate a panel discussion Film Distribution in Africa at the Zanzibar International Film Festival in July. If you are trying to get your film distributed in Africa, I would love to hear from you. What difficulties are you facing? What successes have you enjoyed? What is your distribution strategy?

Layne McDonald

Getting 50% off your mailing list buy a DVD is exceptionally good! In today's digital filmmaking world, and independent filmmaker's business is their audience. You're right to say that it takes a lot of time to distribute a film. Usually it will take 50% of your time to distribute a film and 50% of your time to make a film. I would saying you're on the right track. Keep a growing email list. Keep a growing mailing list. 50% is amazing job. Most people tell you if you get 2% back you were doing good. If you want to know more, check out my friend Jason at www.filmmakingstuff.com. He says that your audience is your business and without an audience there is no business. Again, I think you're doing an exceptional job.

Kenny Mann

Thanks Layne - very encouraging!

Patrick Freeman

Lady...You...Rock! 50% success rate?!?! That almost makes me want to do documentaries. Anyone who can find her own path to distribution deserves a standing ovation for that accomplishment alone. I know next to nothing about documentaries but the people I've talked to who do them, do them for the love of it, not for the financial gain. Having said that, of course, you do have to have some return on your investment in order to continue making films, unless you're independently wealthy. Going it alone would definitely be like a full time job. But maybe, just maybe you'll find enough success with a method that you can teach someone else to do for you, so you can get back to making films.

David E. Gates

I think that paying someone to distribute your film without any guarantee of returns - as you found out - is something of a con. With my documentary, Ypres - The Battlefields Tours (Available at www.shelleyshow.co.uk) I gave a percentage of each sale to whoever was selling it. This ensured they had a vested interest in making it "sell", though their other priorities took precedence and, as such, sales were limited - but at least they were there! It's only a small film, but I'm very proud of it. Trying to get people to screen it is another thing altogether. Even the British Legion didn't respond to a single email when I offered them free copies to screen at their events. I think if it's your own product, you are much more passionate about it - I certainly am with my books - so are more likely to push it than anyone else, paid or unpaid!

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