Much like bringing up a child, a lot of heart, time, and effort goes into the creation of a breakthrough film. So when it reaches completion, you naturally want it to go out into the world and make a mark.
In return, you expect your proverbial child to bring back laurels. And if you’re lucky, the big bucks as well.
However, the film production world is a dog-eat-dog one. Those with big budgets and big legacies score the big distributors. The global audience and a decent return on investment might seem out of reach to smaller budget films.
To put your work out there, you might have to get entrepreneurial and rely on independent means. While that may not promise a blockbuster status, independent film distribution has worked great for many film producers.
Conventionally, filmmakers would submit their works to be screened at film festivals like Sundance, Cannes, or SXSW and hope to get picked up by a large distributor after a bidding war.
With the advent of Video on Demand platforms that method is quickly running out of fashion. Films get picked up by VODs even before their festival debut.
Selling film rights to a brand name VOD like Netflix requires top tier industry connections, in-depth research of your audience market landscape, and a promise of big numbers. All things that are hard to come by if you’re a small budget entity.
So, independent film distribution seems like a viable option for a lot of potentially great films that are hindered by how the industry works.
This blog post is all about mastering the art of independent self-distribution.
After all, nobody puts baby in the corner!
Put a team together
Film self-distribution is definitely not a one man’s job. You’ll need a lot of help along the way.
You need to get people on board that can help you in the following departments.
First thing’s first, your film needs an identity. Building a brand should be the first thing on your to-do list.
A film’s creative branding is the first thing that your audience interacts with and it needs to leave an impression.
Get in touch with graphic designers, animators, and artists to build a theme for your promotions.
You’ll need to create an impact with your movie trailers, posters, and come up with memorable typography for the film logo.
Since most independent film distribution happens via online resources, a kickass design theme for all your social posts is crucial to draw followership.
As an independent film distributor, you need every bit of exposure you can get. This is where networking and industry connections, no matter how small or big, come in handy.
Get a team of publicists that can get you in front of the press. You’ll need people who can get you spots on radio, local or national television, magazines, and newspapers. Getting interview spots on renowned podcasts is also a great way to get to a modern audience.
Nothing drives the audience in as free tickets. Your publicity team should be able to set up offers in collaboration with coffee shops, food chains, arts, and literary businesses, etc.
Colleges and universities, especially those that have film, screen studies, and theatre departments are also hotspots to be targeted. Students from such institutions are always keen to explore indie and independent works.
Your publicity team should arrange Q&A sessions with the cast and producers as they bring maximum engagement with the audience.
If you already have a few well-performing films to your name, chances are you have an audience that would like to see more of your work. Mobilize your marketing resources to get in touch with them and generate word of mouth.
Your independent project needs a home, a centralized place where all the information, trailers, and offers regarding the movie are available. Get in touch with a web developer to set up an intuitive yet aesthetic website that’s in line with your brand.
You’ll also need a social media resource who knows the ins and outs of social media marketing.
As an independent film distributor, money is always tight and you wouldn’t want to blindly invest in demographics where interest is sparse.
Someone who also understands the analytics side of social platforms can get you great insights about your audience and help you optimize your film marketing campaign.
Email marketing is also an effective tool to reach out to your niche audience. Use offer-based sign-ups to build a comprehensive email list. Keep your email audience up to date on the progress of the film, new trailers, sneak peeks, behind the scenes, and other exclusive content.
Crowdfunding is the best way to gather funds for independent film distribution. Many renowned films have been backed by a generous audience through Kickstarter campaigns. So, perfect your film art, trailers and create a kickass pitch for your Kickstarter donors.
Your Kickstarter donors also become a self-running word of mouth machine. Once they become financially invested in your success, they tend to follow the whole process till the release and convince their peers to join the ride.
Your Kickstarter donors can instantly download your film via a private link on Vimeo or YouTube rather than waiting for advanced screenings.
Patron of the arts and privileged people with a passion for film and theatre often like to have their names added to the credits list. It’s good to reach out to as many of them as you can for a contribution.
If you already have a fan following from your previous projects, chances are they would want to see more of your works. Cult followings have fuelled a lot of big-screen projects over the years.
Use your marketing and publicity resources to reach out to them and request them to pitch in your future endeavor.
A great way to get businesses to sponsor you is to subtly place their products within your film. This is a frequently used method by big-budget films.
For independent film distribution, you can ask regional and local businesses to get on board that way.
Select a pathway to distribution
Though a little pricey, third party aggregator services are a great way to maximize your distribution. They charge an upfront fee for their services and distribute your work to major streaming services like iTunes, Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, Google Play, etc.
They’re also in charge of encoding, packaging, and delivering your film to distributors.
Depending on how your particular aggregator works, you may receive all further revenue or they may ask you for part ownership of the film. Whether or not you’re willing to make that deal depends on your budget and your marketing needs.
Video on demand
Striking a deal with streaming giants like Netflix comes with a set of hindrances. However, there are several smaller VOD services with a decent subscriber count that independent film distributors should target.
You should add some form of theatrical exposure to your independent film distribution strategy. Theatre on-demand services like Gathr let filmmakers and fans request and promote a screening. There’s always strength in numbers!
If you’ve built a decent budget, 4-walling your independent film can work wonders to build hype. It entails booking a theatre for a screening for a flat rate.
With effective marketing and promotion, you swing a full house and turn a profit in addition to the booking cost.
YouTube and Vimeo
Free video platforms like YouTube and Vimeo offer maximum audience engagement. If your goal is to gather a large global audience, these platforms can be your go-to.
If your work gets significant attention, you may use YouTube ads to generate revenue.
Moreover, if you’ve already uploaded your work on a subscription-based platform and don’t see a use for uploading it on a free platform, think again.
You can use YouTube or Vimeo to upload a lower quality version of the film and link your original work (hosted on the subscription-based platform) in the description.
Most, if not all, of your audience, are bound to want to see your film in high definition. This way, you not only get maximum exposure but also drive the audience to your original work.
DVD and Blu-Rays
When all is said and done, you may also want to publish your independent film in DVD and Blu-Ray format to maximize distribution options.
However, keep this option at the end of your strategy to avoid copyright infringement and replication issues.
Use scheduling and planning tools
Self-distributing your film is a huge endeavor. You have scores of things on your plate at a time and the whole thing can turn chaotic if you don’t remain on top of your to-do list.
Make use of a scheduling and planning tool like ProCal to manage your distribution activities. It’s a web-based production calendaring software developed with input from commercial, film and television professionals.
And there you have it, your complete breakdown of independent film distribution. Depending on your circumstances, you can always be innovative and find more creative ways to distribute your film!