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Getting Distribution: Secrets & Lies
by Jerome Courshon on Jul 15, 2009
One of the major Achilles’ heels for
producers and directors is the distribution game. Once you’ve made your movie,
what do you do? How do you play the game? What strategies do you employ? Is
there even a strategy??
Well, there’s good news and bad news. The
good news is there are indeed strategies to use and employ. The bad news is
that most filmmakers don’t know what they are and flounder around trying to
figure them out. I know. I was there myself.
It took me several years to find
distribution for my movie, “God, Sex & Apple Pie.” I floundered, I
struggled, I learned. Eventually I did get distribution through Warner Bros.,
but what I learned was how to do it, and I’ve been assisting other
filmmakers in successfully getting distribution for their movies. (No, I’m not
a producer’s rep. I have no interest in taking a piece of your movie.)
In this article, I’m going to share a few
secrets and debunk some prevalent lies (which we’ll call “myths”) about getting
distribution. Hopefully this will give you some insight into the game, should
you be looking for distribution now or soon embarking on this challenging
Myth #1: I’m a director, a filmmaker, a
creative person. Telling stories is my thing and if I make a good movie, I
don’t have to worry about the business stuff or the marketing because someone
else will do that.
Secret #1: This is not so much a secret
as a reality check. There are of course some people who get lucky and either
have a producing partner who does all the business & marketing and is good
at it, or they have the money to hire the right people to do everything.
However for most this isn’t the case,
especially if one’s movie career is in the early stages. You really need to
become a businessman or businesswoman once your feature film is done. At least
until it’s sold. The more you can become a “salesperson” and marketing maven,
the more success you will have on your quest for distribution. Yes, I know this
part isn’t nearly as sexy and fun as making movies and can be downright boring
at times. But as Orson Welles famously said about the film business: “It's about 2% moviemaking and 98% hustling.”
Myth #2: Distributors are calling me and
they’re excited to see my movie! I’ll send it to them and if they like it,
they’ll acquire it!
Secret #2: All major distributors track
the movies that have been listed in the trades under their production columns.
If you were in those columns, you’re going to be phoned. Do not send them a
rough cut. Do not send them a final cut. Do not send them the movie. If
you do, you will not get a theatrical distribution deal, if this is what you
are going for.
You must “unveil” your movie in the right
place at the right time, such as a top film festival, to get the buyers to really
want your feature. Movies do not get picked up for theatrical releases that
have been sent on a DVD to a distributor. So when they call, you’ll say “It’s
not ready, but I appreciate your call. Check back with me in a month or two.”
Myth #3: My movie was selected for the
Sundance Film Festival (or the Toronto Film Festival or the Cannes Film
Festival). Woohooo! All I have to do is show up and I will get a deal!
Secret #3: Okay, you won the lottery and
got a slot at one of these three coveted festivals for your movie premiere.
Guess what? Your work hasn’t even begun yet. You now must assemble a team of
people—a PR firm, an agent from one of the top agencies in Los Angeles, an
attorney, and possibly a producer’s rep. (But beware…most producer’s reps are
You will have to work, strategize and
position your movie—before it premieres—as a very desirable movie that
distributors must have. You have one shot at the top festivals for a theatrical
deal, so don’t piss it away. Unfortunately, most filmmakers don’t know or
understand this. Their movie plays at Sundance or Toronto, they come away
without a deal and then find themselves entirely lost as to what to do next.
Myth #4: I was rejected by the top
festivals, so now I’m submitting and getting accepted by the next tier of
festivals. This is cool. All I have to do is show up to my screenings and I’m
treated like a rock star!
Secret #4: Yeah, okay, if this is you, at
least you’re having fun. But you’re not going to get distribution this way.
There is a real purpose to the festival circuit beyond the top festivals. The
obvious purpose is, of course, exposure. But there is actually a MORE important
purpose: Building a Pedigree.
What is a pedigree? This is a body of
consensus that you must methodically build—press coverage, positive quotes from
critics, awards if you can get them—that says you have a hell of a winning
movie on your hands. Once you have built this pedigree, you are then ready to
parlay this into a distribution deal. There’s quite a bit of psychology
involved in selling your movie. Master it, and you will.
Myth #5: I’ve submitted my movie to the
15 home video companies out there. I’ve talked to my producer friends and
looked at industry reference books. I’ve even perused the video stores shelves
to see who all the home video companies are. If they all say ‘No,’ I’m out of
luck for a home video deal.
Secret #5: This “secret” right here may
be worth tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars to you. I didn’t know this
when I was going through my journey, and most people just don’t. There are
literally over 100 home video companies in the marketplace, all operating under
their own labels. On top of that are additional companies that pick up movies
and programming that have output deals with these distributors. So if you think
you’ve exhausted your search for a home video deal and you’ve only contacted 15
or even 25 companies, you’ve only just begun.
Myth #6: I’m going to bypass traditional
distribution altogether, sell my movie on the internet myself and make a ton of
money from DVD sales and digital downloads.
Secret #6: Unlikely. For every 4000
movies being made every year, there are less than 10 who make serious money
this way. Why? It’s hard work, it takes specific strategies, and you
essentially have to become the distributor for a good year, if not longer.
However, some who go this route do it very
successfully. They’re either great at marketing, or good learners. And they’re
very committed to achieving success, so they really do what it takes to win.
Additionally, the budget of your movie can dictate to some extent if this route
is viable for you. If you’ve made a $10,000 movie, it’s not that difficult to
recoup this amount, with some diligent work. But if your budget was $1 Million,
good luck making your money back using only the internet. You’ll either need
traditional distribution, or a hybrid approach of both traditional and
So these are a few of the popular and
misleading myths out there, as well as the truth about them. With over 4000 movies being made every single
year, that’s a lot of producers and directors working with often erroneous
information. Not to mention an overwhelming number of movies vying for limited
distribution slots. These two factors combined can make for a daunting journey
filled with frustration and failure.
The silver lining to all this? There are
8 basic paths (or distribution models) a movie can take to get into the
distribution stream, and if you know what to do and employ the right
strategies, you can achieve real distribution. You do not need name stars in
your movie to get a deal and your movie does not have to be phenomenal. If your
movie is at least decent—if not good—you do have a real shot.
Jerome Courshon is an award-winning Producer/Writer, whose
critically acclaimed first movie “God, Sex & Apple Pie” was released by
Warner Bros. His challenging journey to achieve meaningful distribution led to
his creating a groundbreaking seminar in 2006, “THE SECRETS TO DISTRIBUTION:
Get Your Movie Distributed Now!”
Since then, Jerome has
assisted hundreds of filmmakers with securing real distribution through his
seminars, speaking engagements, and consultations. He has been profiled in the Los Angeles Times, interviewed on iFilm.com (now Spike.com) and Film Threat,
and has written articles on film distribution for MovieMaker Magazine, Indie
Slate Magazine, and Film Festival
Today among others.
more information on Jerome’s seminar, visit:
http://www.Distribution.LA” Secrets To
April 14, 2021