Build Your Team
Like all things worth pursuing, good distribution isn’t easy. You didn’t make your film on your own, and you shouldn’t pursue your distribution goals alone either.
Previously, this meant your distributor’s team. Strategy, marketing, and, sales all fell to your distribution company (and the staff they keep on payroll) who would take a cut for the work that they did, with filmmakers largely distanced from the process.
A distribution company can still be a wonderful component to a strategy; but they don’t need to be the only component. A distributor is not a savior: the genie in a lamp come to answer all of your wishes. Nor is it an enemy (hopefully): faceless “suits” who ignore the unique creativity of your film. Think of a distributor instead as a tool in your arsenal—a partner that you select as carefully as you do your cast and crew.
While your film is your beautiful darling, a distributor is in the midwifery business, birthing anywhere from ten to thousands of babies every year. Of course they intend all good things for your progeny, but they also don’t always have the bandwidth to shape its emotional development. The best way to have a relationship with your distributor is to have a firm understanding of what they are planning to do for you; be it a huge advance with a large scale theatrical release and an entire marketing department devoted to your film; or solely putting your film up on digital platforms and taking a cut of your revenue for their services. Take this in stride, understand your relationship, and value your distributor for what they will do, and don’t despair over what they won’t do.
You may instead want to add some additional players.
Depending on the film you made, you will likely have different needs. A documentary can do well with an Impact Producer, who works specifically to amplify the issues within the film. A narrative film may profit from a Producer of Marketing and Distribution, who will start to think about distribution strategy from the very onset of production. In either case, the purpose is the same: to build demand for your film from the very onset; creating partnerships with organizations, creating special screenings with relevant groups and schools, coming up with digital stunts that can be done in tandem with a distributor, and helping you sift through your existing distribution opportunities to navigate the best path. Think of this role as a distributionshepherd helping to lead you and your film towards your specific goals, driven not solely by a bottom line but by your own benchmarks for success.
Distribution is no longer a formula; it is a strategy. If fundraising is your first act and production the second, distribution is the third act of your story. Stay with it, infuse it with creativity, work as hard to reach your audience as you did to bring your film to life to begin with. It will make all the difference. MM
Mia Bruno has worked in film distribution from the onset of video on demand. She served as the Director of Acquisitions at Gravitas Ventures, and then the Head of Distribution at crowdfunding platform, Seed&Spark. She currently works as a distribution consultant, advising filmmakers on how to navigate a changing marketplace, shape existing opportunities to fit specific goals, and craft effective, creative campaigns to connect with audiences. Visit her website here.