"We don't make movies to make money, we make money to make more movies." ~Walt Disney
There's a "4-letter word" on the lips of most indie filmmakers once their film is completed; a secret Sanskrit that can onset the apocalypse; a death curse hurled upon the innocent in a whirlwind of gut-churning suffering that strikes terror into the hearts of the bravest of the brave... and that word is: distribution. In the digital age, distribution has expanded far beyond theatrical releases and DVD sales. With the Streaming Wars upon us, all of us indie filmmakers are faced with some very real concerns when it comes to distributing our films.
We've talked to many indies that still believe that selling their film or trying to make money from them is somehow evil and "selling out." As they are entitled to their opinion, we wholeheartedly believe in Walt Disney's quote above. We're not in this industry to turn a quick buck but to be able to tell more stories and pay every single person that helps us achieve it; not too sure how that's selling out really. We don' blame others for thinking that way as we used to believe the exact same way, that is, until we delved deeper into the overhead costs of everything including the cost of living for ourselves in our own hometown (it is NOT cheap - 4th most expensive city to live IN THE WORLD).
With all of these overhead costs that indie producers take on, including if they own their own production company for their own protection (like we do), it is no wonder that distribution deals lasting 9-12 years with an initial average payout of $10k is minimal when you've got hundreds of cast and crew members that need to be paid; well, if your financiers or investors haven't forked out all the money yet. Even if they did and all your cast and crew are paid, guess who's paying back those investors plus 20% interest. Yup, the producers with the measly $10k and any profits on the back-end. It's a rough deal with or without knowing all the clauses that can screw you in the long run. More indie filmmakers are now beginning to eat their own marketing and distribution costs as a more viable alternative instead of taking the much smaller cut to survive on.
The filmmaker-marketer-distributor struggle is absolutely real and alive today, and those that are not at least acknowledging this movement will be left in a clueless wake among the multitude of new streaming services slated to hit us all this coming year. Those indies that are not educating themselves on contract clauses, distribution laws, or even international sales are the ones most doomed to the culture shock ahead. The first line of distribution we keep hearing new indie filmmakers talk about is Netflix or Hulu. Streaming services are technically the 2nd or 3rd line of distribution (sans pre-sales) in larger studio deals - the exception, of course, being those funded by Netflix or Hulu for original content but you need the clout and sales already completed on another film already to secure that type of funding. There are many forms of distribution, and we need to continue to educate ourselves on them to increase our arsenal to know enough to be dangerous - this is actually what we've been up to the past year.
After our trip down to AFM in November, our team did some hardcore soul searching into what we want to do for our newbie company. We found ourselves wanting information that no one was giving us except for a couple producer friends and one aggregator company turned sales rep (traditionally, an aggregator is a company that buys in bulk and sells in bulk). The first thing we learned was the basic categories of distribution based off of theatrical release and Video On Demand (VOD). Though there are other types of distribution as well, these ones were the ones that concerned us most as indie filmmakers. There is an order of these categories and release dates that are canonically based off marketing, sell-ability, and highest profits grossed over time. However, unless you're being smarter about release windows and the types of distribution, you may be skipping out on huge opportunities for sales that can fund your next film.
To add to the fray, many of these distribution lines require the filmmaker to eat the cost of marketing themselves. This isn't because of a contract clause but rather the style of distribution does not guarantee sales. There is no quick fix or magic formula to signing away to a distribution line that will instantaneously create sales and revenue for you. I will say this, though... if you're only starting marketing for your film during or after post-production, you are WAY too late to the game. Contrary to popular belief, audiences enjoy familiarity when it comes to choosing to watch a film. Audiences must have be exposed to your trailer and marketing more than once or twice but regularly months before its even released to which the filmmaker must deliver on the promise of the payload they've been expecting.
If you'd like to know more about distribution or want to continue to grow with us, contact the Hyde Hooligans on our website: www.hydehooliganfilms.com.
Written by: J Hooligan
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