Distributors often speak to filmmakers like a parent explaining the facts of life: They know they have to give you some basic information, but they realize you’ll only figure out how things work once you’ve had the experience. “Distribution is the wild west,” you might hear. Or “Distribution is like making sausage. Best to not know too much.” These messages make you feel “in the know,” but ultimately leave you as confused as ever.
We are living in a time when the rules are evaporating. Whatever worked two years ago for that filmmaker you really admire, probably won’t work today. But if you understand that, and accept it, you’ll be ahead of the game. The question is no longer “Who is the distributor who will bring me the most success?” but rather, “How do I effectively build a distribution strategy for my film that is in keeping with my unique goals?”
If the old formula for success was Good Distributor + Digital Platforms + Celebrity Endorsements; the new equation allows for you to have more control: Specific Goals + Audience Building+ Knowledge of the Marketplace. (Although celebrity endorsements never hurt anyone.)
The notion of “self-distribution” was once thought to mean “no better options.” It can now be replaced with “creative distribution.” The Sundance Institute now has a fellowship specifically for this, to help films find more innovative ways of reaching their audiences. We see more examples of filmmakers taking their fate into their own hands (like this, for instance), eschewing traditional offers by brokering their own deals directly, constructing their own marketing strategies, and building their own teams.
But how do you do this? And where do you start? Here are five things you’ll need to incorporate into your release strategy.