Not every film is well suited for traditional distribution. Most market distributors have a saying for what they’re looking for, “Bullets and Babes.” So if you’ve made a film that doesn’t fit the hot genres and doesn’t have any notable talent, you’re going to need to plan your distribution carefully. Luckily, there are tools that can help you make the most out of your DIY distribution. Here’s a top-level view of them.
Window 1: Promote and get Partners to help you
Whether we’re talking about traditional distribution or self-distribution, phase one is always to spread awareness of your film. It’s generally best for this to start in the early stages of making your film. However, it’s never too late to get started.
First seek out partners with expertise in traditional distribution, online marketing, and festival promotion. They can help you minimize costs and maximize your efficacy. They’ll also help you build and engage with your community.
Once your film is completed, you should start submitting to smaller festivals and those that fit whatever niche your film falls into. If you made a film about environmental issues, there are a lot of green film festivals, including the SF Green Film Festival. If you happen to be an Asian American there are festivals that were created for you as well, including CAAMfest. If you made an LGBTQ film, then there are quite a lot of festivals available to you. If you’re in SF, the big fish is Frameline.
No matter what, make sure to submit to your local festivals. You can start a loyal fan base and grow hometown recognition by submitting to these festivals. Often, they’re easier to get into. This is less true if you’re in San Francisco or a major hub. If you are, you might want to target the newer film festivals.
These festivals won’t do much for you in terms of traditional distribution. The only ones that will are the top tier festivals, I.E. Cannes, Sundance, Toronto, Tribeca, and perhaps SXSW. If you can get in to any of those, then your chances for traditional distribution go up substantially. Although, it’s not likely you’ll get in. Here’s a chart on Sundance submissions vs. screenings
Feel free to submit to the next top tier festival that’s coming up. The submissions are not incredibly expensive, and if you get in the career boost is substantial. Since they require premier status, you might even want to hold back accepting a place in any of the other festivals. That said, if you don’t get into that first one don’t wait for the next one. Start taking festival spots, once they’re more than a year old, they’re a lot harder to sell. Films are not evergreen.
Window 2: High Touch PPVOD and DVDs in Stores
As soon as you get into a single festival, get your film on Ingram Entertainment, VHX, and Vimeo On Demand. There will be an up front cost for most of those. Potentially as much as about 300 to 500 USD All in.
Vimeo On Demand and VHX are VOD platforms that recently merged. I prefer VHX, but we’ll see what happens in the coming months after the merger. They’re both 90/10 splits, with the 90 going to the filmmaker. Vimeo requires up front fees, VHX currently does not. That said, they’re not available on as many platforms as accessible as something like iTunes or google play. Additionally they’re not great about helping with Marketing. But retaining the 90/10 split is much better to earn some money for your creation. VHX also lets you keep track of people who buy your video and even add their emails to your list.
Ingram Entertainment is a DVD wholesaler. It’s the platform used by booksellers large and small, as well as many other brick and mortar content selling businesses. You’d be surprised where you end up with your content on Ingram. *COUGH*
This window should be done concurrently with the first window. When your project gets into a festival, make sure to call local DVD retailers and bookstores to let them know that your film is in a local festival and they can get your DVD on Ingram. Make sure you include local stores with your DVD on your handouts, as well as the VHX and Vimeo URLs. You’d be surprised what support you can drum up. You could include a QR code, but hardly anyone uses them.
Window 3 –Broad TVOD
About 6 months after your initial VOD release, towards the end of your festival run you should consider hiring an aggregator and getting your film on iTunes and Google Play. Depending on which aggregator you use, you may want to do Createspace yourself, since it’s relatively easy.
It’s nearly impossible to get on iTunes without an Aggrigator. You’ll want to pick your aggregator carefully, since some of them will have connections to get you on Amazon Prime, Hulu, and Occasionally Netflix.
Make sure you do your research on aggrigators, and understand what they charge. Here’s a great start on that from NoFilmSchool.
Window 4 — SVOD
After about 6–9 months on it’s time to boost your brand by getting your film on Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, Fandor [My favorite] and some others. You won’t get much money for this, but you will get a lot of visibility. You’ll need connections through an Aggregator or a sales agent for this one, as they don’t take open submissions. Additionally, this is far from guaranteed, they generally only take 1 in 10 of films they’re pitched.
The real point of this is to build your brand for your next film. If you want to build to something better, telling investors your last film is on Netflix helps them understand that you are experienced and tested.
Window 5 — Loss leader
Once your licenses expire from the SVOD period, you should consider giving the film away for free on your website, and perhaps even youtube or regular vimeo. This window is likely to be 3–4 years after release. Personally, I prefer giving away streams in exchange for an email. This will help you if you want to crowdfund a movie, or when you release your next film for windows 1 and 2.
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