Round Five: Distribution

Should You Take a Day-And-Date Theatrical/VOD Release? Or a Traditional Deal to Open Theatrically First?

YT: I don’t romanticize theatrical screenings anymore. It’s one of those things you can argue is important for certain reasons, but I wouldn’t turn down a deal because it doesn’t have a theatrical component. Ultimately, for me, the more people who can see it, the better, and for that goal, it seems like VOD is the way to go. A project for which a theatrical release makes sense and achieves your intended results can only be done by a small number of distributors who really know how to do that well.

Unfortunately, those distributors will only acquire your film if they know they can do something with it theatrically. So, if they pass on your film, you kind of have to assume that nothing amazing is going to come out of a theatrical release if you go with another distributor who may not have the muscle to pull it off. Not every company is going to turn your film into some sort of “Weekend Opening!”

SS: I always prefer to watch a movie in a theater, and for that reason, I want to give people the opportunity to watch my movies in a theater. I still do romanticize that—unlike you, the cynical post-modernist. It depends on the deal. If Netflix says, “Listen, it’s not coming out in theaters, but it’s going to be on Netflix and everyone is going to watch it,” maybe. But I would always lean “Yes” to a theatrical release over “No.” I also like being present in the theater, doing Q&As at the public screenings I can attend. But my real goal for the movies I’ve made so far is that they can be found on the Internet, either to rent, stream, or buy. As long as they’re available online, I’m happy. I’ve been lucky enough that most, if not all of them are on iTunes; that’s good enough if you want to refer people to them.

YT: This year has been unique in that acquisitions generally haven’t been great, and I don’t think most films had many options. For our film 1985 we had some offers and we argued the pros and cons of each one, and went with the distributor that felt the most right for us, regardless of whether they had the muscle to pull off a theatrical release. I value the passion being conveyed by the distributor and what they envision for the film; whether they can achieve what’s in their pitch or not is another thing. Initially, I’m responding to that sense of potential—when a distributor is telling me what they love about the film, and their dreams for it. Ultimately, your movie will always come out at a time when you’re competing with something way bigger that can afford more publicity. I’m realistic about those things. But I do believe in this idea that people do their best, and sometimes you don’t get what you want in the end, but that’s OK because we did our best anyway. That’s where I stand when I talk to distributors. I just want to know that they’re going to do their best, even if we don’t get the projected result.

SS: If you can land a theatrical distribution deal, it’s nice. Whenever movies are viewed on a mass scale in theaters, it still gives me the chills, especially when it’s a movie like Moonlight or even The Blair Witch Project—movies that are smaller and spark a phenomenon that wasn’t planned. I do fancy that. It’s pretty awesome when there’s something that makes people get off their asses, go to the theater, buy popcorn, and put their phones away to take the time to watch a movie. MM

—As told to Caleb Hammond

Yen Tan’s 1985 opens in theaters October 26, 2018, courtesy of Wolfe Releasing. Sebastián Silva’s Tyrel opens in theaters December 5, 2018, courtesy of Magnolia Pictures. Illustrations by Gel Jamlang. This article appears in MovieMakers 2019 Complete Guide to Making Movies, on stands November 6, 2018.