What Movie Distributors Don’t Want You To Know

If you ever wondered how movie distributors think, today is your lucky day.

I’m going to spill secrets movie distributors don’t want you to know.

The good movie distributors will probably agree with this stuff. The bad ones will probably send me mean emails. (Or you are always welcome to comment below.)

What Movie Distributors Don't Want You To Know

But regardless. . .

By the end of our short time together, you’re gonna be armed with so much movie distribution ammo – that movie distributors will never try to cheat you.

(Well, they might try… But you’ll be ready.)

But before we go there, let’s get one thing straight.

“Your audience is YOUR business. And without an audience, you have no business.”

The other thing I’ll add is this:

Given advances in production technology and the fact that the market is flooded with movies, YOU are responsible for sourcing YOUR own audience.

  • Not the sales agent.
  • Not the movie distributor.
  • Not the PR company.

While all these services can add value to your project, ultimately the one thing that matters is YOUR AUDIENCE.

Is this making sense?

The world is fragmented. People don’t go to video stores to rent movies anymore.

They just don’t.

People are spread across the earth.

They are staring at their phone and computer screens.

They don’t know about your movie, until someone reaches out and says:

“Hey, I see you love movies about purple pine-cones. Have you heard of (insert your movie title here.)”

These purple pine-cone loving enthusiasts then check out your movie website.

They watch the trailer.

Then they click the BUY NOW button.

These people become your customers. And not just for your current movie. But for all movies moving forward.

Here is my question:

How many people are on your email LIST?

Not many, right?

Wait. . .

Are you telling me that you don’t have an email list?

Are you telling me that the single most important part of your movie business is totally being ignored???

That’s cray-cray!

Here is a quick video on email marketing, from our sponsor:

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(Hope you enjoyed the video…)

“But Jason – I just want to make movies. Why can’t a distributor do all this stuff?”


Good question.

Yes. For top tier acquisitions, a distributor will promise a P&A fund. (That is short for prints and advertising.)

This means they will spend money on advertising to sell more units of your movie.

They will then deduct this expense from your earnings.

And in most cases, your earnings after expenses in a traditional deal is — Guess?

Wait for it…


It’s a BIG FAT ZERO!!!

=> Thank you Mr. Distributor

The reason for this is pretty simple. Most movie distributors are spreading themselves thin to sell multiple movies.

Your movie…

Or rather,

Your baby…

… Is just sitting there in some catalog of many movies competing for attention.

Or collecting dust…

What Movie Distributors Don’t Want You To Know

Outside of selling to foreign territories – which still has potential (at least for awhile) – Without video stores, much of your movie selling opportunity is going to come from VOD.

There are bunch of different types of VOD that I don’t have time to get into here.

If you’re interested, I cover the various types of VOD in detail in my Professional Distribution Guide. => http://www.HowToSellYourMovie.com

But for now, know this:

Just because a distributor comes along and promises to get your movie into a popular platform does not guarantee the success of your movie.

In fact, many movie distributors (and VOD Aggregators) will come along and say stuff like:

“I can get you into (Insert your desired VOD platform here.)”

And your response should be:

“That’s great. But how are you going to market my movie?”

And their typical response is:

“I know the guy at (desired VOD platform) and he can get you special placement.”

To most uneducated, first time filmmakers – that stuff sounds awesome.

  • Someone else is validating your filmmaking!
  • Someone else is promising to solve your marketing problems.
  • Someone else is going to make you rich and successful.

Here is a Big Secret Movie Distributors Don’t Want You To Know (and I have many more)

Getting YOUR MOVIE special placement in popular VOD platforms is the same pitch every movie distributor uses.

Serious here.

And on top of that, there is limited space on the special placement web page.

This means there is literally no guarantee that your movie will ever, actually get placement.

But it sounds good to say.

And to the movie distributor’s credit, getting special placement ultimately helps them too.


As a filmmaker, when all roads lead to the same VOD destination, you’ll go with the promise that sounds the best

Here is the kicker.

The way many movie distributors determine which movies are worth acquiring isn’t totally based on the merit of the movie. 

(You might want to read that line again. Go ahead, I’ll wait…)

Sure, many movie distributors love watching a good movies.

Obvious right?

But GOOD doesn’t always translate to success.

When I was at my last company, do you know what we looked for? Check this out:

-> How many Twitter followers does the cast and crew have?

-> How large is their Facebook following?

-> Are the filmmakers active in the promotion of their movie?

-> What is the size of the filmmakers eMail list?

In other words, how large is the Filmmaker’s audience?




“Are you saying that filmmakers spend years growing an audience, just so a distributor can capitalize on this?”


This is exactly what I’m saying.

In other words. . .

If you already have an audience of 10,000 raving fans, this represents a much lower risk for the distributor.

All they have to do is pay the $2000 dollars to cover VOD encoding, get closed captions an pay for the actual delivery to the platforms.

(Often, the aggregator will ask you to cover the $2000 as well as errors and omissions insurance – which means they have, literally, ZERO risk and ALL reward.)

Then they take anywhere from 15% to 30% (or more) of your movie.



Here is the real kicker —

Once your movie goes live, they will ask YOU to email YOUR list!

They will ask YOU to promote.

Can you imagine?

All they did was deliver your movie to the platform.

Maybe they pitched to get your movie special placement. Maybe you did get placement.

Maybe you didn’t.

But regardless, it’s your AUDIENCE.

The distributor gets the benefit.

Do you see?

Do you now understand why it’s essential that YOU build a ginormous AUDIENCE?

This your starting point.

But here is the question you need to ask yourself.

If you already have an audience, why not just sell directly?

If you are interested in bulletproofing yourself against bad distribution deals, I encourage you to check out my newly updated: Indie Guide to Distribution.

What Movie Distributors Don't Want You To Know



  1. says

    Hi Jason. Great info. I produced a rockumentary entitled “Bad Religion: The Riot” Bad Religion with a worldwide fan base. I produced the film to VHS in 1996 after securing the rights and clearances with Brett Gurewits owner of Epitaph records. I would then become my own distributor going from music store to music store all over L.A. Las Vegas and Orange County. I was selling 50 units a day for $10 a pop, five here and ten over there. I was using American Sound and video in Burbank Ca, as my manufacturer. In early 1995 I was online doing research via email for all the Bad Religion message boards collecting emails from all over the world. I became my own marketer and hit them all direct with one ad. Checks from around the world were landing in my mail box. I then became my own fulfillment department filling these orders.

    In July of 1999 my film was in the top 500 titles out of one million titles on Amazon. During this time I had received rejection letters from all the major distributors telling me I had no “sales history” I argued that the Band themselves has a worldwide market and audience. This did not count. I would finally be contacted by MVD (music video distributors) where we inked out a great national distro deal. Then an international deal on a new platform called DVD’s. I asked; “how did you guys find me” They told me at Amazon in the top 500.

    Now I’m looking for an Executive to go to post on my 3rd rockumentary release with the Red Hot Chili Peppers a production I shot from 1988 thru 1991. You can find it here: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Red-Hot-Chili-Peppers-are-you-authorized-a-rockumentary-1988-thru-1991/708208222523943?ref_type=bookmarA

    You can find my detailed story at my blogspot just google The Raw420 then “Confessions of a rock n roll cameraman” will pop up.

    Hope you all enjoyed my Cinderella distribution story.

    Kind regards,


  2. Chris says

    Yes perhaps for small time movies, but what about a film with over 2 million budget! And you want it to get out to a world wide market? The only way is with a distributor, and not just one! you will need several! And what about trying to get the movie into the theaters? Again you need a great distributor
    your Facebook or Twitter audience is not gonna help you there!

  3. says

    Hi Jason – brilliant post. Being founder of a technology startup that relies on venture capital, I could flawlessly replace “distributor” by “investor”. Check it out…

  4. Vassily Fedyaev says

    If I am building the audience, promoting my movie, making deals, etc –why would I need a distributor? I guess, If am that far on my own, I can hire the lawyers and make my own deals with exhibitors too–

  5. John Crye says

    I have been in film distribution for over a decade (MEMENTO, DONNIE DARKO, WHALE RIDER, MONSTER, PASSION OF THE CHRIST, HESHER, et cetera) and I can promise you that this is all true. Well, almost. Most distributors DO want you to know that it is your responsibility to build the audience, if only because it gets them off the hook for doing so. And they DO want you to know that the only way for a film to succeed is on its own merits. Again, it gets them off the hook. The chicanery involved in the accounting is why I left my previous companies and started consulting for the filmmakers directly via my new outfit, SharpCrye.

  6. Richard Lewis says

    I have a twitter account, but never really used it at all. It’s pretty foreign to me. I guess it’s time to hop on the 21st century train and take the ride! We are in development now and will take this very valuable advice and run with it. I was looking into some distribution deals but will focus for now on our own audience. The more I learn, the more I learn that I need to learn more.

  7. @pierreconti says

    One other brutal revelation is – YOU shouldn’t do it all by yourself, but rather design strategies with like minded people that want to see interesting content being distributed to the right people.
    Do you have a content strategist on your team? Do you have a developer to code your website – on your team, not some dude you hire to scrap the job? You should.

    In order to build an audience, you need to unfold a marketing story. You need a team for that. A new team, made of people that understand web culture. Don’t do it yourself. Find the right people to collaborate with. Not the one that have the keys to the lock, the people that can break the lock.
    Time for film people to mingle with the techies!

  8. Darko says

    good post. it’s really something what everybody should to take into consideration. but one thing is new for me, and that is how to build an email audience? do i need to make my own site or have some other way?

  9. says

    Jason I’ve been telling others that VOD is the way to go!! Thank You!! This post is Brilliant and I’m happy I’ve been building my viewership. The more you know! :)

  10. James says

    You missed the two big back doors to producer profits: Cross-collateralization and undefined expenses. With cross-collateralization, a distributor can bundle your movie with films of lesser quality and charge off some of the lesser films expenses against the more popular product. And undefined expenses are a big one. I have seen some distributors tell their producers they are only taking 10 shows to MIP, and they charge 10% of their expenses against each film… however, they actually took dozens, even hundreds of shows and each film that sold earned a 10% expense fee just for the show. Many more examples are available…

  11. says

    Great post Jason…but here’s another real kicker. The distributor will ask you to give THEM your list, so they can market OTHER titles they own to those people.

    Please, do not do this if you plan to keep having an audience for your work. Your email list that you labor so long and hard to build is like gold dust, bagged for your future. Don’t let anyone take that gold from you.

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