Apparently there was a time when a young filmmaker such as yourself could make a decent independent film, submit it to festivals and sit back while distributors threw wads of cash at your feet, all while begging for the privilege to give your little indie the theatrical release it rightfully deserved. Well if that time ever existed have no doubt – it’s long since passed.
These days, the fairy tale seems much more Hans Christen Andersen than Walt Disney. Case in point – today I attended a panel discussion on Digital Distribution as part of the Miami International Film Festival, where I sat before the likes of filmmaker Jon Reiss and Arianna Bocco (of IFC fame) as well as reps from Cinetic and the no-longer-in-business B-Side Entertainment. If there’s a simple way to summarize the 90 minute conversation it’s this quote from John Reiss:
If you want to make an independent film and also make money you must “find a superniche that spends money and make your movies for them.”
The idea is that these days the flip side of DIY production is DIY distribution. They go part-n-parcel. If you’re signing up for one of them, you’re signing up for the other. So as an independent filmmaker it behooves you to figure out who wants to see your movie and how they will see it before you set out on the already difficult task of making. This brought up the first excellent idea of the discussion – Hire a Marketing Producer from day one.
In practice, filmmakers never work alone – the job is just too daunting for one person, no matter how big their ego. Instead, films are made through team work. In this example, the core film-making team includes a producer whose role is primarily promotional. While the other producer is scouting locations, contacting SAG and clearing music, this producer is taking behind the scenes videos, hustling up twitter followers, selling t-shirts and maintaining the production blog. The reality is that this job is so utterly crucial to a films success that it can no longer be relegated to an after thought, especially since it seems that company’s like Netflix determine whether or not to pick up a film based on the amount of buzz it has prior to it’s festival run.
Other things I picked up:
- Marketing and distribution is so crucial that half of your budget should be reserved for it. If you only have $10,000 to make your film, spend 5k on the production and save the rest for distribution.
- When releasing your DIY movie the biggest obstacle you will face is not piracy, it’s lack of exposure.
- The time has come to redefine “theatrical release.” Back in the day, a movie theater was a dark room with a working projector and enough seats for a handful of people. We’re going back to that. If you play your cards right, free screenings can raise awareness and push DVD and merch sales.
- There are tons of options available when it comes to online aggregators (people who will help get your movie on iTunes and other credible places). Find one that has great reach and favorable conditions and little upfront cost.
- Treat your films like children – if you nurture them correctly, they’ll come back and take care of you in your old age.
- Buy John Reiss’ book – Think Outside the Box Office. And listen to our interview with him.
- The distribution landscape is everchanging. Be flexible. Be aggressive. Also, check out Dynamo. It’s relevant.
I couldn’t find a way to shoe-horn this into my rambling, but if you’re interesting in the future of digital distribution filmmaker Barry Jenkins talks about his experiences in this excellent interview with NoFilmSchool.