By L. Saber
There’s a very important element of filmmaking that’s overlooked by eager, independent filmmakers—distribution. There are as many excuses as there are filmmakers for not taking the time to address the distribution issue. Maybe it’s insecurity or perhaps just the magnitude of the task that’s driving filmmakers to say, “We’ll sell it when it’s done, we have bigger things to worry about right now—production, post, etc.” It’s the build it and they will come mentality. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work out quite like that. If you make a movie and nobody sees it, what good is it? Right?
We’re filmmakers, we want to be recognized for our talent, we want to be praised and congratulated by strangers, family and critics. Therefore, a solid plan should be in place for distribution.
The best possible scenario is to have a distribution deal in place prior to shooting. That means your screenplay is top notch, you have the flavor of the month starlet attached, the hunk superstar will spend a couple of weeks on your set or, your father, uncle or grandma is the president of the studio or distribution company.
If you don’t have all the above in place, what’s a filmmaker to do? Start rattling about your project to local media. Get a few articles written about the uniqueness of your project, or the corky director that’s attached, or find an angle that will get publicity for your project. When I wrote Placebo Effect, I had no clue how I’d raise the money to shoot it and didn’t even think about an angle or distribution. I just knew that the story was in me and had to come out. As dumb luck had it, the film was based on my experiences from a previous career working in law enforcement. After principle photography, I hired a publicist to take my movie to the media. The first question she asked was—“what’s your angle?” Well I didn’t know I had an angle, but when she found out that I actually did the “stuff” I wrote about in the script, that was it. The press releases went out with the headers—“The Real 007,” “Ex-Spy Makes Movie,” “Former Undercover Agent Goes to Hollywood,” and so on. The press releases kept going out and the media kept inviting me for interviews. I was on ABC, CBS, national magazines and dozens of local papers.
At the same time I entered a film festival and got some notable awards, which fueled the press releases again. All this publicity got the attention of distribution companies and I got a small theatrical release, domestic home video and worldwide distribution. Not too bad my first time out.
If I had to do it again, would I do the same thing as I did with Placebo? Yes, BUT I would start a lot sooner in the development and pre-production stages and I would try to get a studio acquisitions executive to take an interest in the project. Get them involved at the script level, take suggestions, send dailies and invite them to the set. By-the-way, if you’re shooting in Hawaii, London, Rome or other cool locations, throw in a plane ticket and a couple of nights at a hotel for the exec to come to your set.
If your budget allows for it, extend the same deal to entertainment reporters. If not, get the locals to come out. Invite them to a free lunch, you never know, that may sweeten the deal.
With the internet, the way it is today, you don’t really have to duplicate your trailer and film on VHS, you can deliver it via the internet, a link to YouTube will do the job. Make the phone call first, talk to the executive’s assistant and ask if they prefer an electronic version or a DVD. Don’t just send the email or query letter, because it will end up in the trash. I made thousands of phone calls. Yes, thousands for those of you that shook your heads. Make the call, but don’t expect a call back. Follow up with a second call and a third and a fourth until you’re on first name basis with the assistant. Don’t be rude or too aggressive. Give the executive a few days to call you back before you follow up. If you’re not good on the phone, have someone else make the calls for you, but keep at it and don’t give up until you get a deal.
More on this subject later. But for now, if you have specific questions about distribution, drop me a line and I’ll address it in the next issue (time and space permitting).
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This post was written by aspiringhadmin