Its no secret that may think film distribution is broken. While there are many reasons for it, part of it is due to the rapid change in the amount of money flowing to distributors, and what constituted effective marketing. What works for marketing films now isn't what worked in the past, and the systems distributors built themselves around have fallen apart. Here's an elaboration.
First, some history.
Distribution used to be primarily a game of access. By controlling the access and becoming a gatekeeper, it was easy to make buckets of cash. If you had a VHS printer and access to a warehouse facility that could help you ship to major retail outlets you could make literal millions off of a crappy horror film.
In those days it was also significantly harder and significantly more expensive to make a film, as you’d need to buy 16mm or 35mm film, get it duplicated, cut it by hand using a moviola, and then reassemble it and have prints made. This was a very expensive process, so the amount of independent films that were made was much smaller than it is today.
Then DVD came along, and around the same time some of the early films from the silent era that actual had followings entered the public domain. As such, a good amount of companies started printing those to acquire enough capital to buy libraries and eventually build themselves into major studios. Sure, DVD widened the gate a bit, but it also expanded the market so everyone was happy.
Around this time, Non-Linear Editors and surprisingly viable digital and tape cameras were coming into prominence. As a result, it became much more possible to make an independent film than it was before. Of course, at that time it was still beyond the reach of most people, and since the average amount of content being made went up, the demand was growing enough that there still wasn’t a massive issue with oversaturation.
A similar expansion was expected with Blu-Ray, but at around the same time alternative services like iTunes were starting to become viable as broadband internet was becoming commonplace. As such, the demand for physical media started to dwindle, and as a result the revenue being made dropped.
Here’s a summary of how we got there, and how the process of distribution has changed.
ACCESS used to be enough
It used to be that access was all you needed. Once you had that, you could make an insane amount of money selling other people’s content.
Sell it on the box art
The box art being catch was the most important thing. Stores didn’t let you return movies because you didn’t like them, and other than your own limited circle of friends consumers didn’t have a lot of power to let people know about bad movies, or bad products in general.
Sell it on the trailer
Even if it was bad, nothing would come of it. Once you had their money, that was all you needed. The idea of making your money in the first weekend before bad word of mouth got around was much more viable as people couldn’t just tweet it out or rant about it on facebook or YouTube.
Let’s contrast that with how things work Now:
Access is easy
Anyone with a few thousand dollars can put their film up on most Transactional platforms on the internet. You can also put it on Amazon or Vimeo yourself for free. There are very little in terms of quality controls.
Poster is still important, but reviews more important.
Sure, people still get their eyes caught by a poster. But the reviews matter significantly more in terms of getting them to a purchase decision. The poster may catch their eye, but the meta score from users on whatever platform you’re watching the film on is important.
Trailer still helps a lot
Generally, after people see the poster, they’ll read the synopsis, and then they’ll either watch the trailer or read the reviews. If they watch the trailer, they may have more lieniency on reviews.
Also, if the trailer is really good, it can get a bit of viral spread.
If it’s bad, it will become known.
My name is Ben, I'm an Entrepreneur, Producer's Rep, and Author. I'm the founder of Guerrilla Rep Media, Co-Founder/CMO of ProductionNext, and founder of Producer Foundry. Together, the organizations seek to help make filmmaking a more economically sustainable endeavor. I am dysic, I have capitalization issues, and the blogs are often unedited. opinions all my own.
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