For every filmmaker, the idea of distributing your film is both exciting and daunting – all at the same time! Inevitably, there’s primary and critical questions that arise once you’ve hit the pavement with your project. We found some of these questions, along with answers, from film consultant expert Peter Broderick. We hope you enjoy!
As President of Paradigm Consulting, Peter Broderick helps filmmakers and media companies develop strategies to maximize distribution, audience and revenues. In addition to advising on sales and marketing, Paradigm specializes in state-of-the-art distribution techniques, including innovative theatrical service deals, hybrid video strategies (mixing retail and direct sales online), and new approaches to global distribution.
As a filmmaker, do I need a distribution strategy in place before production begins on my film?
Every filmmaker should design a distribution strategy customized to his or her film, its target audiences and each major avenue of distribution. In the Old World of Distribution, most filmmakers didn’t have strategies, they just had reactions. In the New World of Distribution, there are so many more options for filmmakers that you need to be proactive and design a strategy that fits your film. When I first started consulting about distribution, most filmmakers asked for my help when their films were almost finished and about to enter festivals. These days, I help more and more filmmakers at the very beginning of the process, before production, and often before any money has been raised.
A persuasive distribution strategy can give potential financiers a compelling vision of how the film will come into the world and make it more likely they will invest. Designing a distribution strategy early will make it easier to build awareness and an audience for your film before, during, and after production. The bottom line is that you can’t design a distribution strategy too early.
When I create a distribution strategy early, am I locked into it?
No. A strategy should be flexible and allow you to refine it as you move forward. Studios usually make distribution plans for films and then follow them rigidly, whatever happens. Independent filmmakers can modify their strategies as they go, taking advantage of new opportunities as they present themselves. You should proceed stage-by-stage, learning information during each stage and then modifying your plan for the next stage. The Internet allows filmmakers to get feedback throughout the process, and this feedback can be invaluable in perfecting a strategy. When you do a crowdfunding campaign, you learn how people are responding to the concept of your movie, which groups are most enthusiastic and the challenges you face positioning the film. If your campaign raises hardly any money, this may be a preview of the amount of interest there will be in the film once it’s finished.
Where should you start when you design a strategy?
The starting point should always be your ultimate goals for the film. Is your main goal maximizing revenue, maximizing your career or changing the world? While these all can be goals for the same film, it’s important to prioritize them. Clear goals will provide a framework in which important choices can be made effectively. Like your strategy, you can change your goals along the way but if you aren’t clear about them it will create confusion and can lead to serious mistakes.
When should I start building an audience for my film?
You should start thinking about audience as soon as you come up with a concept for your new project. It’s very important to have a sense of the initial audiences for your film. I don’t recommend thinking of audience in traditional demographic or psychographic terms. Instead think about how people are organized online. A huge diversity of groups of people are on Facebook and Twitter, are frequenting key websites, and are on mailing lists. You need to figure out the target audiences for your film and start reaching out to them as early as possible. I highly recommend building a mailing list around your film that will include the names, addresses and zip codes of people interested in your project. Ultimately, your goal should be to build a personal audience for your work that you can take with you from film to film.
Should I focus on making an all-rights deal or should I try to split my rights among different distributors?
In the Old World of Distribution, filmmakers focused on making all-rights deals. That was Plan A. If it didn’t work, many filmmakers shifted to Plan B, which was splitting up their rights. In the New World of Distribution, Plan A for many filmmakers should be splitting up the rights and Plan B should be making an all-rights deal. Splitting rights is complicated; it’s very easy to make mistakes where the rights given to one distributor conflict with or undercut the rights that another distributor wants.
I recommend taking a hybrid approach that will enable you to make deals with distribution partners while retaining the rights to sell DVDs, downloads and streams directly from your website. There are many advantages to direct sales: you make more revenue per sale; you receive the money sooner; you aren’t splitting the revenues with middlemen; and you get the customer data, allowing you to build your personal mailing list. Beyond direct sales, you need distribution partners with excellent track records. The goal is to build partnerships with distributors that are win-win. Hybrid distribution allows you to maintain overall distribution control of your film, which is as important as retaining creative control.
By Lee Jameson / Film Education Coordinator
Special thanks to Film Independent