Film Distribution: New Rules For Selling Your Movie

If you know a filmmaker seeking film distribution, you’re in luck. We are going to share new rules for selling your movie. Before we talk about modern film distribution, a little context…

Do you remember the old days of film distribution?

I mean do you remember how it was just a few short years ago?

Back then film distribution was controlled by a bunch of companies that safeguarded access the marketplace.  As an independent filmmaker, if you were lucky enough to garner a distribution deal, odds were good the deal was less than satisfying.

This was my experience on my first feature. After receiving phone calls from would-be distributors full of empty promises, I started to dislike the predatory nature of traditional film distribution.

But what could you do?

Back then, the only alternative to this old film distribution model was self-distribution. And if you remember, the term itself was synonymous with loser.

If you couldn’t land a REAL distribution deal, then you weren’t a real filmmaker.

film distribution

For this reason alone, many filmmakers signed away their rights for the mere validation of seeing their movie in the video stores. And every few months these same filmmakers would receive financial statements in the mail. The statement would show movie revenue minus marketing expenses.

And the bottom line? Zero monies paid to the filmmaker. And this was the indie film distribution paradigm accepted as a rite of passage.

At least my movie got on a shelf in the video store…

Thankfully, times have changed. As a result of internet film distribution (and the inevitable demise of DVD retail distribution) you can now reach a global marketplace!

New Rules For Film Distribution

When we released our first feature on Amazon and started making sales, it was hard to believe we could do so without a traditional film distribution deal. At first we did not understand the power of modern self-distribution.

But then our phone started ringing.

As it turned out, a few of the distributors who previously rejected us started calling with better offers. It was at this point, I realized the paradigm was shifting in favor of the filmmaker.

Indie filmmakers now had access to the marketplace. That changed everything for me.

Since then, developments in inexpensive production technology coupled with access to the marketplace means that you can now make, market and sell your movie without permission.

But the problem is, you are not the only filmmaker that knows this. Each year thousands of movies enter the market, making it increasingly challenging to get your movie seen.

You now have the ability to release your movie globally without signing away your rights to an unscrupulous distributor. And even though many distributors would like to pretend otherwise, with a little ingenuity and a strong marketing plan, you can control your own independent movie business.

New rules for film distribution:

  1. My audience is my business.
  2. Without an audience I have no business.
  3. I am responsible for sourcing my own audience.

Let’s be honest…

Sourcing your own audience and executing your own marketing, sales and distribution plan is far less sexy than making a movie or filling your closet with filmmaking equipment.

Gear is tangible.

It’s something you can show your nerdy filmmaker friends.

But having gear is useless if you don’t use it.

Most filmmakers spend at least two years or longer working to get a movie made. But very few filmmakers focus on what to do once the movie is in the can. Making movies is pointless if you don’t create a plan for reaching your audience.

Whenever I give talks, I always ask the audience, what is your plan for marketing and distribution?

This is followed by:

Confused looks. Silence. Someone mutters: “I’ll get into Sundance and sell it.”

Why wouldn’t you dream BIG? Every filmmaker wants recognition – even if you refuse to admit it. But with over 5,000 backyard indies being made each year, I have to ask a tough question:

Why Should Someone Watch Your Movie?

Most people decide which movies to watch based on recommendations from trusted friends. Movie studios spend millions to spark word of mouth. But for some reason, most indie filmmakers pretend marketing is not applicable to us.

I mean, we know that marketing is important.

But between procuring an awesome script, raising money and actually making the movie, we often cross our fingers and hope for a miracle.

And the problem is, marketing miracles rarely happen.

Aside from your mom and kid-sister, nobody knows about your movie. And while I am sure you went to many film festivals and traded post cards with other filmmakers (who in return, provided you their post cards), you probably quickly realized two facts:

  1. Film festivals are full of filmmakers.
  2. And other filmmakers are not your target audience.

The people who make up your movie’s target audience are trying to manage a busy life. These people have kids, jobs, worries, sleepless nights, gym memberships and car payments. So when they sit down to watch a movie, time is limited.

So the question you have to answer is why. . .

Why should someone watch YOUR movie?

Only you can answer that question. But my suggestion is to do your homework before you take the next steps. If you want more info on how to sell your movie, check out my film distribution system.

How To Create a Film Website (So You Can Sell Your Movie)

Your filmmaker website will go through two stages.

The first stage of your film website is your pre-launch promotional stage. During this time, your film website will consist of your movie title, a synopsis and some fancy images that express what your are tying to accomplish. You should also include a blog.

When we launched the film website for Toxic Soup, we focused on getting environmental activists to join our newsletter. In addition capturing emails, the Toxic Soup landing page had another goal – We wanted to let people know that Toxic Soup was more than just a movie. It was a movement. And we wanted to get our audience to help spread the message.

film website

Share Your Story

In addition to your email registration form, your film website should include a video that tells your prospective fan about your movie. A good example of this can be found at Cow Power, a documentary focused on turning cow poop into fuel.

Cow power film website

I met the filmmaker, Allison Gillette when she attended my panel discussion at WestDoc. And I especially like her email registration form. Do you see how it is limited to just asking for the email? Many marketers agree that asking for less is more.

In addition to emphasizing your movie, your prospective audience will also want to know a thing about you and why you are making the movie. Why should people watch your movie? How will it entertain them? What do you hope to accomplish with the movie?

Indecently, taking time to answer questions in your intro film website video may also set you up for a crowdfunding pitch video.

Add Testimonials On Your Film Website

Just because you do not yet have a movie, does not mean you cannot find at least one early fan excited about the prospect of your movie. An example might be “Hey Jason – I can’t wait to see your ninja zombie movie!”

These early testimonials simply need to demonstrate that someone else knows about your movie. To do this, you will want to contact your subscribers and ask them if they’d be willing to give you a testimonial about why they signed up for your mailing list.

The purpose of an audience list and why you need it!

The primary objective of your film website during the promotional stage is to get people to enroll in your mailing list. To do this, you will want to research several 3rd party email providers.

The two most popular are MailChimp and Aweber. I use Aweber to manage the Filmmaking Stuff mailing list and have been more than satisfied with their service. (Full disclosure, in addition to using the service, I do get paid to promote Aweber.)

After selecting your  preferred email management service, your next step is to actually create the registration form.

As mentioned previously, you should only ask for the most essential information. In my testing, asking for anything more than a name and email dramatically diminishes opt-ins. Both MailChimp and Aweber make this very easy, as they allow to customize registration forms you can embed on your website.

As a filmmaker, depending on the word of mouth potential of your movie, having a promotional film website can help you take advantage of initial movie marketing opportunity.

film website

How To Create a Film Website

The first step in getting your website established, involves reserving website hosting and a domain name for both your production company, as well as separate sites for each of your movies.

If you already know the name of your movie, you will want to reserve it as soon as you can (before somebody else grabs it).

To reserve your domain and set up a film website, head over to my friends at – Like most links I mention, this is my affiliate link for Bluehost. I have utilized MovieSiteHost for many of my websites, for years, without issue. In the few instances when I needed to reach someone in customer service, my calls were always answered.

In terms of setting up your actual site, I no longer recommend building a site from scratch. Instead, consider using something called a content management system – or CMS. With a CMS, you can have your own film website in minutes…


Just in case some of these terms of confusing, let’s recap: Website hosting can be compared to the vacant lot where you’ll eventually build your office building. Your domain name can be compared to your street address. The CMS is the raw materials needed to build your office building, or in this case, a sophisticated website.

And assuming you are utilizing for your hosting, these elements can be implement in a few clicks of a mouse.

When you arrive at MovieSiteHost, you will first need to reserve a domain name for your movie.

Pick-DomainTo set up your initial website, after you reserve your domain name, you will be redirected to your control panel. Once there, click on an icon called “WordPress.”


From there, you will START a brand new install WordPress on your server.


After a minute or two, WordPress will be installed in your account. You will then be issued with a username and a password. Once you have it, you can log into your new website and begin your customization.


In my opinion, WordPress is one of the most robust and powerful content management systems in the world. And the reason I recommend installing a CMS for filmmakers, over building a traditional website is because once you set up WordPress, you will be able to create and modify your content and change the entire look and feel of your website, with the ease of sending an email.

sell your movieBy making these tweaks yourself, you will save the cost of constantly contacting your webmaster.

If you like this tip, you’ll love this film distribution resource.

5 Movie Marketing Mistakes That Make You Look Dumb

As a movie marketing nerd, I routinely read and study every movie communication and advertisement that comes my way. And over the years, my interest in movie marketing strategy has given me tons of ideas on how to help clients reach their own audiences and sell more movies.

Without mentioning names, a few days back, I received a promotional email from a rather well known movie distribution company. And on this particular day, I regretted opening the email. The truth is, this company should have known better…

Like many traditional distributors, this is one of those companies that claims they “do marketing” for filmmakers. And unless you’re somewhat of a marketing nerd like me, you might get excited when a distribution company touts their ability to do email blasts.

“We will email your movie to our list of 50,000 subscribers.”

Taken at face value, this sounds powerful. But smart filmmakers know better than to fall for these film distribution shenanigans. And in our short time together, I am going help you avoid the 5 movie marketing mistakes that make you look dumb.

Movie Marketing

Photo © sframe / Dollar Photo Club

5 Movie Marketing Mistakes That Make You Look Dumb

Even if you don’t consider yourself a promoter, it is important to know a thing or two about movie marketing so you can figure out who to work with. Here are 5 movie marketing mistakes that make you look dumb.

1. Buying or Renting Email Lists: It is never a good idea to buy or rent email lists. The people receiving your email don’t know you, don’t care about you and may not be interested in your movie. Additionally, you don’t know how those people got on the list in the first place. And unless they “opted in” to receive email communication, you could be violating spam laws.

2. Using a Stupid Display Name: In the email I referenced above, the display name in my inbox was from “marketing.” I don’t know anybody named “marketing” and neither do you. Like most people, when I see this in my inbox, I immediately think “marketing” is trying to sell something. So I delete!

3. Violating The Rule of WIIFM: Real marketing is a conversation that presents value. In the message referenced above, this distribution company violated the cardinal rule of marketing. Every bit of the content was about about “me, me, me.” And while I’m sure this company enjoyed talking about themselves, (as well as touting the fact they hired a new marketing manager – not kidding) the message provided absolutely NO value for me.

Always answer this question for your prospect: “What’s in it for me?”

4. Not Respecting Your Audience: Movie marketing is all about knowing your audience and communicating value. What does your audience want? For example someone who loves romantic comedy will probably not want to watch your horror movie. So why on earth would you think marketing to these people is a good idea?

5. Fail to Measure Results: This should be a no-brainier, but unless you measure your results, how do you know what’s working? Without getting too nerdy on you, a good movie marketing strategy should pay for itself and then provide profit. In the event you are not making (at least) your advertising dollars back, then you’re in the black hole. Make sure you measure.

I spend most days consulting with filmmakers and distribution companies about movie marketing. I help clients figure out how to avoid throwing money into a marketing black hole. If you’d like to find out more about my movie marketing tactics, check out my sell your movie system.

The Great Self Distribution Hoax

Do you want to know what really chaps my ass about self distribution?

I get annoyed when I hear other filmmakers (and industry gurus) drone on and on about self distribution, as if it is a new concept or a last resort. Here’s the deal. Anybody who is still talking about “self distribution” (as if it’s a choice) is old school.

For a little history lesson lets revisit the the old days (like five years ago) when movie distribution survived and thrived as a business to business model.

Back then, in order to get your movie into the hands of the end consumer, you’d have to make a deal with a distributor. The distributor would then license your movie to a retail business like Blockbuster. And because Blockbuster operated on a business to consumer model, it was their business to get your movie into the hands of your audience.

“My distributor made a deal and sold 5000 DVDs to Blockbuster.”

Blockbuster only did business with trusted distributors. For this reason alone, many filmmakers took whatever deal came their way. And if you didn’t make a deal, you had two choices. You could try to sell your movie directly to the consumer (also known as self distribution, which prior to the internet was very expensive) or you would forget about your movie dreams and go back to your day job.

For this reason, the concept of “self distribution” was derogatory.

Filmmakers only did “self distribution” as a last resort. And if you were caught self distributing, you filmmaking was not considered “real.”

But that was then…

The Great Self Distribution Hoax

The Great Self Distribution Hoax

Over the last decade, the DVD market has slowed down. As a result, big box retailers like Blockbuster and Hollywood Video have imploded. And online marketplaces like iTunes and Amazon are the norm.

Without the fixed revenues associated with manufacturing and distributing physical DVDs, many traditional distributors have had to pivot out of a business to business model, into a business to consumer model. Ironically, this means distributors now have to utilize self distribution tactics to reach the end consumer.

As you can imagine, making this shift is incredibly challenging. Most distributors do not have the resources to market directly to the end customer. And for these reasons, many distributors still pretend that uploading a movie to iTunes is the same as selling 5,000 physical units to Blockbuster.

It is not the same.

Just like you, your distributor must now source and grow an audience around each title. And sadly, many distributors have no idea what they are doing. Sure, many claim to market movies. But upon closer inspection, the social reach, email and word of mouth campaigns mostly target other filmmakers. And filmmakers are not your audience.

This is why many distributors work to acquire more than 10 titles per month. They want to throw your movie into the digital marketplaces to see what sticks. This hope and pray digital strategy is a major reason distributors can no longer offer filmmakers substantial advances or minimal guarantees.

Still, even with this knowledge, many filmmakers will take a crappy deal. The truth is, it is validating to get your movie “picked up.” And it is reassuring to believe the distributor knows what’s best.

But I can assure you most do not. They can’t. Not without a comprehensive marketing plan for each title and the advertising money to back it up.

And without a solid marketing plan for your title, most distributors are left uploading your movie to iTunes, proclaiming that they know the guy who can get you special placement for a few weeks.

For them, special placement is the only, remaining remnant of the good old days when relationships reigned supreme.

So yes. While there are still traditional distribution deals out there – unless the deal is great, you should consider a self distribution strategy.

There are now enough case studies to show that it is more than possible to make money with your movies. But like any start up, growing your movie business does not happen by chance. Successful films like Food Matters and Camp Takota are the result of a carefully planned marketing strategy.

In both examples, the producers knew their audiences. They had a plan for reaching their audiences. And when it came time to execute, the filmmakers were ready. If you look closely at the examples, these filmmakers did not stop with merely making a movie. Instead, they continually market related merchandise, products and similar movies directly their audiences.

Even after reading this, many filmmakers will refer to this model as self distribution. But that is limiting.

You are an entrepreneurial filmmaker. And as such, you have always been responsible for developing your product (your movie is your product) and producing your product. So why on earth would you ever rely on someone else to market and sell your product?

I would ask instead that you start thinking of developing, producing and selling as the three essentials of your complete mini-movie business.

To further clarify the self distribution hoax, let me use my frozen yogurt analogy.

I happen to love frozen yogurt. I’m addicted. But anyway, let’s say I someday decide to realize my dream of owning my own frozen yogurt shop. Making my shop a success will involve providing an awesome product and coming up with a marketing and sales strategy. I will need customers. More importantly, I will need repeat customers.

Let me ask you this: Would it make sense to hire some other company to come into my frozen yogurt shop to manage my sales and marketing? In exchange, would I pay their expenses and give them more than 20% of my margins?

And if I decided not to go that idiotic route, would I then describe my activity as Do It Yourself?

Could you imagine explaining this:

“Well, I opened this yogurt shop and decided to do all the sales and marketing myself…

Why would you think about your mini-movie business be any differently?

You created your movie. And as a result of the internet, you can now access the same VOD marketplaces as the BIG distributors (iTunes and Amazon) – so why on earth would you lock up your VOD rights for 7 years or more?

And if you like this stuff, you’ll love my “Sell Your Movie System.” Click here.

3 Tips How To Make Money In Filmmaking

The other night I puked a little in my mouth.

It was just a little puke.

It was the sort that burnt a bit, resulting in bad breath I couldn’t quite brush out…

And the whole mess came after I read some BS article from a “filmmaking guru” (who will remain unnamed here) talking about some old fuddy duddy way to make money in filmmaking.

The information was outdated, impractical and further perpetuated the myth that I’ve heard many times… That all you gotta do is make a great movie, work with a distributor and let them handle the business stuff.

I blame Field of Dreams. “If you build it, they will come.”

That sort of crap is responsible for creating a horrible epidemic among indie filmmakers.

The epidemic is this: Most filmmakers never take time to learn how to make money in filmmaking!

“I’m an artist. Money is dirty.”

Make Money In Filmmaking


How To Make Money In Filmmaking

You may have thought about making money in filmmaking. You may have hoped (or you may be “hoping”) that all you gotta do is  make a movie and the world will discover your talents.

And let’s face it, it is okay to think this way. The truth is, you and I both know your stuff is better than 90% of the crap that comes out every summer. But the problem is, there are a TON of poorly produced backyard indies flooding the market each year.

This makes it hard to find your movie.

And this means you can no longer simply make a movie and wait.

I have awesome news for you!

After helping hundreds of filmmakers get their movies to market, I have seen quite a few successful filmmakers grow really successful movie businesses.

Do you want to know how successful filmmakers make money in filmmaking?

Distilled down, successful filmmakers create and then execute a marketing plan.

Successful filmmakers do not wait around for a distributor to do all that business stuff.

Conversely, I would say the number one reason filmmakers fail is because most filmmakers NEVER plan to make money in the first place. I am going to be blunt here.

Most filmmakers lack a plan for how to make money in filmmaking.

Case in point, I have heard the following line dozens of times:

“I just want to get my movie on Netflix or iTunes or Amazon or Cable VOD. I don’t care if my my movie makes money. I just want people to see it.”

See what I mean?

Whenever I hear that (and I hear that sort of thing a lot) I get another grey hair.

Because you’re killing me softly.

Even if you don’t care if your movie makes money, I can assure you that every platform, distributor and sales agent in existence is in the business of making money. And if you don’t care about how to make money in filmmaking, nobody else will either.

And your movie will suffer.

And your career will suffer.

Let me be clear, making money as a filmmaker is not easy. I can think of a gazillion other businesses that work much more smoothly than trying to produce projects, source an audience and get a return on your investment.

Yet despite these odds, serious filmmakers push on.

Assuming you are serious – And assuming you want to make money in filmmaking – here are 3 simple tips that most filmmakers never consider:

  1. Do not make a movie unless you know your niche audience.
  2. Do not make a movie unless you know how to reach your audience.
  3. Do not make a movie unless you have enough money to market your movie.

I know you secretly hold onto the myth that “if I make my movie, Hollywood will buy it for a gazillion dollars.”

But here’s the thing. The reason why successful movies get a golden ticket is because someone can answer those three questions.

And the good news? If you take time to answer these questions, you will be ahead of the majority of filmmakers who do not care to make money in filmmaking.

sell your movieIf you’d like to find out how to build an audience and sell your movie, then you might enjoy my upcoming “Sell Your Movie” system. In it, I provide my seven-step, modern system for getting your movie seen and selling. Click here.