Film Distribution System

Independent filmmaking is often considered one of the riskiest businesses in the world. This is due, in large part to the inefficient nature of our business. Think about it. Indie film is one of few vocations where people create a product without any idea how they are going to market or sell it.

Despite this reality, most indie filmmakers still make movies, subscribing to the belief that it’s impossible to enter the marketplace without finding some 3rd party movie distributor to “pick up” a movie. But thanks to modern Video On Demand distribution, this belief is eroding.

As an independent filmmaker, you now have options. You can choose to take the conventional route, go it alone or combine a little of both models to create a hybrid distribution strategy.

While these options allow independent filmmakers to enter mainstream marketplaces, this paradigm shift creates new challenges. Namely, if you chose to become your own distributor, you will need to become comfortable with internet marketing tactics, social media and audience list building.

For most indie filmmakers, what I’m describing is a huge learning curve!


Film Distribution System

My Film Distribution System

I frequently share marketing and distribution tactics. As a consequence, many filmmakers think of me as the “self-distribution guy.” If you share this opinion, you might assume that I no longer value traditional distribution. But here is the irony.

The reason I am able to share marketing and distribution tactics is because I actually spent the last half-decade working professionally in film distribution. For over a year I was the director of operations at Distribber. And after that, I served as the manager of film acquisitions at Chill.

And recently I was hired by a producer to help sell a movie at the American Film Market.

During the market, we were able to schedule over 20 meetings. The reason we had so much interest from distributors is because we DID NOT actually need a distributor. This is because (aside from having an awesome movie) we also had a plan for marketing and selling our movie, ourselves.

Taking time to do our homework and create our own marketing and distribution plan eliminated all desperation and provided us with confidence. Because we didn’t actually need a distributor, we were able to go into each meeting with the patience to work towards a balanced win-win.

Regardless of the route you choose, the first step of the process is to sit down with a pen and paper and answer the following questions:

1. Who is Your Target Audience?
2. How Large is Your Target Audience?
3. How Will You Reach Your Target Audience?
4. What is Your Marketing Strategy?
5. How Many VOD Sales to Break Even?

While this may seem like an overly simple task, taking time to answer these questions is an exercise most filmmakers ignore. And by not having a marketing strategy (that you control) prospective distributors will have no choice but to present you with their standard offer. And because you will have no leveraging power, odds or good you’ll take it.

Creating Film Distribution Leverage

My clients took a different route. The producers did their homework. And as a result, we knew what we had and how we were going to market and self-distribute. By having a plan, we were able to minimize the risk for a prospective distributor and emphasize the potential upside.

In response to our plan, prospective distributors correctly perceived our movie as less risky than most. As a result, we received close to a half-dozen solid offers for the movie. (Some even included a substantial minimum guarantee and advertising spend.)

From there, we narrowed down the selection into final negotiations. While I’m not yet at liberty to talk about the actual deal, I can tell you that things are going well.

If you’re just learning about distribution, here is what the process looks like:

1. You pitch the movie.
2. Distributor expresses interest.
3. Distributor sends proposal / term sheet.
4. You negotiate terms to (hopefully) find a win-win.
5. From there, a long-form agreement is drafted.

It’s Never Too Early To Learn Film Distribution

The truth is, this blog would be a lot more popular if all I wrote about was cameras and gear. That stuff is sexy. Distribution is not. I get that. But here’s the thing… The reason you can’t close your prospective investor or land a dream distribution deal is because your movie project is too RISKY.

You think you’re ready for the pitch, but you’re not.

In fact, you shouldn’t be talking to anybody about your movie project until you have a clear marketing, sales and distribution strategy. This may seem extreme, but knowing this stuff is essential. And I’m not saying you need to become a world class social media marketer.

You need to know a little about a lot.

You need know who to hire and why.

And you need to start planning this TODAY.

If you’re interested in becoming your own distributor (so you can raise money and or sell your movie) you’re in luck. Based on my experience marketing and distributing movies, I have created a system to help you understand the marketing and distribution process.

My system is called The Independent Producer’s Guide To Digital Self-distribution. In it, you will be provided with a step-by-step roadmap to help you get your movies seen and selling in popular marketplaces. I wanted my film distribution system to provide you with a plan you can control. Once you know this stuff, you’ll probably never consider a crappy distribution deal again.

If you would like to find out more about the Independent Producer’s Guide To Digital Self Distribution, check out


How I Got Lucky With My First Feature Film

Your first feature film is usually the hardest and, paradoxically sometimes the easiest to make. What you don’t know often won’t hurt you, and a lack of experience can sometimes be your best friend.

I have been making movies for decade, but I’ve been trying to make films for 15 years. That five year setback was perhaps the best thing that ever happened to me. Let me explain.

I didn’t come to film until I was in my late 20’s. I’d been an English Major in college, with a personal focus on writing and story. When I dove into movies, there was a ton of technical stuff I had to learn. There was a three year period, in fact, in which I never read one novel – I was too busy diving into books about the 180 degree rule and lens choice.

What I soon realized was, story is everything. The best cameras ever can’t save you if your story sucks. An Arri Alexa is pretty, but the images it gives you won’t help if your characters are inert, flat or devoid of life. Conversely, you can shoot a movie on an iPhone and have it come to life, due to the fact that your story truly moves.

When I teach Directing for Film, I tell my film students that Jimi Hendrix could make a five dollar guitar sound good. It’s not in the equipment – What matters is in your head.

So when I got the film bug, I tried in vain to get several projects off the ground. The good news is that people want to help you. At one point I was talking to David Gordon Green’s amazing DP, Tim Orr, about making my first feature film (I cold-called him and he was very nice).

First Feature Film

How I Got Lucky With My First Feature Film

In my case, the problem was I couldn’t even raise the funds to build it.

Some smart folks are afflicted with what I call “Intelligent Doubt.” This is the intellectual’s approach to selling – you know you have a good solid first feature film in your hands, but you also know that the odds are that your investors will never see their money back. It is simple math. That fact-based approach, though, will kill any sales technique you’ve mastered.

Intelligent Doubt is not good if you’re a filmmaker.

So after trying and failing for years, I grew desperate and did what every book, every film expert everywhere tells you not to do: I decided to fund my first feature film on credit-cards.

When I made my first feature film, Sinkhole, digital was still a long way from being anything. DV was starting to happen, but the resolution and color space just weren’t there. So I opted to play with the big boys and shoot 35mm. Pretty much all of my budget was in camera rental, film, and film processing. So I effectively made my movie for free, if you discount the camera stuff.

1. Find Your Team: I found my team – local actors I’d gotten to know and trust. The worst thing ever is to cast someone who flakes out on you halfway through your movie. Go with someone who’s hungry and dependable, even if they’re less brilliant. Likewise on the crew. Find some serious players who are looking for that next step up in their career. Find people who are serious about what they’re doing. No room for posers. It helps to be nice and likable. People will be generous if they like you. Dicks get no recourse.

2. Shooting Schedule: On our first feature film, we devised a staggered shooting schedule that allowed us to keep our day jobs and not take a month or so off at a time. We shot on three day weekends for an entire winter season – 24 days in all. It was a nice way to mount a mini-shoot, get a lot done, and then go back to our real lives happy and tired.

3. Food Is Compensation: Food is important. And expensive. Feed your people well. The staggered shooting schedule allowed me (really the only producer) to approach various local restaurants and businesses in my off days and ask them to donate food for 12 to 20 people at a time. Ask, and most times you will receive. These businesses are happy to help out their local community – a couple extra pizzas and salads aren’t really that expensive for them – and a thank you in the credits is pretty terrific advertising. At one point we were shooting in a pub, and a local top-notch Mexican restaurant came in and set up a hot bar with so much food that the bar patrons were helping themselves.

4. Find Great Locations: To make a first feature film film with no money, it is key to keep it contemporary. No costumes, no antique cars, no tough props. Make use of existing locations – ju jitsu them into an asset by creating a story around what you can actually get. In my case, it was old trailers, rural areas and dead end roads. Find the production value around you and make it work.

5. Be Bold: We stepped up, and with my DP’s insurance papers, we were able to ask the local police to shoot on the Interstate. We ended up closing I-40 (a major thoroughfare in NC) just because we asked nicely. Insurance is key.

So with these tools, a good story, a solid and serious cast and crew, available locations, donated food – We were good to get my first feature film going. For me, there was the added expense of the 35mm camera, the film (we shot short ends), and processing. This added up to close to $50K. I had no way of going around this, so I put it on my (several) credit cards. It was terrifying and creativity-killing and all that. But I had to do it. So I did it.

Luckily, my day job was in video production – ah, another method, practice your art in your day job – and with some competence it can be a nice paycheck. And so I scrimped, saved, and eventually paid off what amounts to a small mortgage.

Was it worth it? Every penny!

The film premiered at a reputable 2nd tier fest (Dances With Films) in LA, I paid a publicist for some quality publicity (again biting the bullet and spending the money) that got us some attention. A renowned distributor (Shoreline Entertainment) actually came to us, and the rest was history. That movie has now been played on TV all over the world. Not bad for a first feature film.

More importantly, it got me in the game.

Suddenly I was invited to the IFP (two years in a row), landed an option deal with a prominent NYC production company, and was literally attaching Oscar-winners to my next movie. The fact that my sophomore film ended up in development hell feels like only a detail. I got close – very close. And in movies, close counts: It’s career capital that you can build up and use to get access, to get attachments, to get a development deal.

Several movies later, with other high level projects in development, I’m still at it. For my fourth feature, American Breakdown, I’m mounting a Kickstarter campaign – I love the full creative control. But note that I’m still playing the same game: Available locations, a hungry cast and crew, and mostly donated food. But this time I’m using other people’s money. It’s a good trade up.

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Paul Schattel’s movies include Sinkhole, Alison and Quiet River. Check out his new Kickstarter campaign for American Breakdown here.

How to Navigate AFM – The Ultimate Guide

With the American Film Market on the horizon, I am getting inquires from a lot of filmmakers about the “proper” way to attend the market and pitch to distributors.

For those of you just getting started, AFM (The American Film Market) is a trade show that happens every fall in Santa Monica. This is a time when established movie buyers and movie sellers set up shop and meet face-to-face. This is also a time when thousands of hopeful filmmakers fly into town (from all parts of the world) with a mission to sell their movie for maximum profit.

Every year I stop by AFM to meet up with my Sell Your Movie clients. Doing this allows me to get to know you personally. And it also helps me keep my finger on the pulse of emerging distribution trends. And over the past few years, one thing has become glaringly certain…

There are a lot of filmmakers who fall prey to crappy deals. So before you max out your credit card, pack your bags and fly to Santa Monica – Take a few minutes to make sure attending the American Film Market makes good business sense for you.


How to Navigate AFM

From a distributor’s point of view, you will fall into one of three categories. You will either be perceived as a hopeful filmmaker, a first-time filmmaker or a veteran filmmaker.

If you are looking to improve the way you are perceived, here are social indicators that may inadvertently lock you into a category.

Hopeful Filmmaker:  The hopeful filmmaker has not yet made a feature film but wants to. They attend AFM to get a lay of the land and make connections. While most would-be filmmakers are earnest, nice people – It is important to note that AFM (like most Hollywood events) also attract dozens of loud-mouthed, BIG talking phonies.

How do you spot a phoney? Good question.

Phony filmmakers usually hand out business cards like candy to anybody that will listen to their pitch. When not talking face-to-face with some poor sap, phonies can be found within earshot of a populated area, yelling into their phone.

“Johnny, we are close to getting green-lit for five million. I have to get going. We have another meeting!”

Whenever I witness this type of theatrical display, I puke just a little bit in my mouth.

First-Time Filmmaker – The first-time filmmaker has just completed his first feature and hopes his movie will be the breakout hit that garners millions of dollars in upfront advances, complete with a three picture deal. The first-time filmmaker arrives at AFM, usually flying in from some small town in the mid-western United States and enthusiastically walks from booth to booth, dropping off screeners and business cards.

Sometime during the third day of networking, the first-time filmmaker realizes that he is surrounded by thousands of other first-time filmmakers, competing for the exact same deal. Towards the end of AFM, this first-time filmmaker is invariably approached by some unscrupulous distributor who offers to “pick up” his movie and put it on iTunes.

While the deal does not pay much money, the validation is more than enough. The filmmaker gets a Hollywood deal. And the distributor acquires licensing rights for pennies on the dollar. The results of this dealing prompts the first-time filmmaker to push aside a group of phonies, pick up his own phone, and shout:

“Johnny, we just sold our movie! We are going to be on iTunes and we get to keep ten-percent!”

Whenever I witness this type of theatrical display, I almost cry for the first-time filmmaker. Did he know that he could get his own movie on iTunes?

Veteran Filmmaker -The Veteran Filmmaker (like my buddy Tom Malloy who has raised over 25M to produce his movies) does not need to impress anybody. These filmmakers have made several indie features, have experienced both good and bad deals and can now smell distributor BS from across the lobby of the Loews Hotel.

These industry pros have personal relationships with distributors who can help them get their movies seen and selling. As a result, veteran filmmakers arrive at AFM, meet the people they need to see and make a deal (or not.)

From there, the veteran filmmaker silently leaves the meeting, drives home and takes a nap. Veteran filmmakers are well over the hype and understand that while sexy, filmmaking is a business.

What You Need To Know About AFM

Before you step foot into AFM, you will want to know your objective. And you will also want to know what value you bring to the distributor. For example, a veteran filmmaker looking to distribute two action movies will have a much different objective than a hopeful filmmaker, full of awesome movie ideas but no track record.

Regardless of where you are in your career, there is something you need to know. And what I’m about to tell you is one of those big secrets that traditional distributors don’t want you to know.

Ready? Here we go:

The majority of modern distribution deals DO NOT pay much money. 

Think about it. If the only offer you get involves putting your movies into iTunes, you have to ask yourself – Is the deal worth it? Especially because you can get your own movie on iTunes…

But Jason. I’m above all this stuff. My movie is better than most…

Look. I get it.

Ask most “distribution gurus” how to land a BIG deal, and many will proport that it only takes is a great movie and a bunch of schmoozing. Seriously, this blog would be way more popular if I simply sold the sex appeal of Hollywood.

But I won’t do that.

I have worked with way too many filmmakers who have gotten seduced by sexy movie selling shenanigans, only to contract a painful bout of distribution chlamydia. (Not a typo.)

Incidentally, this is how my buddy describes this blog. He says everybody pays top dollar for the sex. Nobody wants to admit they need a shot of penicillin.

Case in point, last year a first-time filmmaker approached me at AFM and enthusiastically told me about his deal. Turns out he agreed to sign away a percentage of his movie just for the privilege of embedding the distributor’s player on his Facebook page.

He said it was an easy way to sell directly to HIS audience.

And while I congratulated him, I couldn’t help but puke a little bit more in my mouth. Here was yet another first-time filmmaker, seduced by the dark side. But he seemed happy. At least he could go back to Ohio and brag about his big Hollywood deal…

But if he had just done little homework, he would have realized there are tons of embeddable players in existence. And most do no require an exclusive deal.

It is important to never make a rash decision with your movie. You want to think long term and always ask yourself – is this the best deal for my movie?

Five Tips For Navigating AFM

  1. Have an objective. Create a list of people you want to meet, and why.
  2. Refine your pitch and make sure it sounds interesting.
  3. Only pitch your movie to people looking for your type of movie.
  4. Have a nice business card. But don’t give it out unless someone is interested in your pitch.
  5. Don’t do a deal without due diligence. This helps you avoid the bottom feeders.

Let’s face it, aside from slamming down a few cocktails with Hollywood hotshots, the primary reason for attending AFM is to meet someone willing to distribute your movie. But be cautious. Out of the “1500 buyers with billions of dollars in buyer power,” AFM is also sure to attract a lot of slimy bottom feeders who will promise you the world and never deliver.

If you have gone through my Sell Your Movie System and you plan on attending AFM, let me know. I would be happy to meet up and find out how things are going with your movie projects. And if you are seeking more information about distribution, reserve your spot in my next distribution webinar.


How To Overcome Doubt And Make Your Movie

As a filmmaker, sometimes the biggest obstacle to overcome is your own negative self-talk. In today’s guest filmmaking article, independent filmmaker Dimitri Morantus provides tips for ignoring naysayers and pushing forward to make your movie.

Making Movies In An LA Minute

My father once told me that he wanted to be an actor and that he didn’t pursue it because his father didn’t help him. It took me some time to find the flaw in his statement. And then I decided that I too wanted to pursue entertainment. Realizing a choice I made, probably just to make him proud – I went to him and told him my goal was to make movies that will make people laugh.

My father turned to me and said “Your not funny enough.” I told him that I could do it. He smirked and sarcastically responded by saying “Good Luck” and just walked away.

I guess the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

I shook this off and decided to pursue my goal. I was 10 years old and my father never really understood how that statement affected me. It haunted me and created so much doubt. I mean if your own flesh and blood didn’t believe that you could do it, then why would anyone else? And what would make me believe I could?

I’m not sharing this story to put my father down, because it is not his fault. And while it is true that he hasn’t won any father of the year awards, at least I have my father in my life. He wasn’t born in this country. And back then African Americans did not become successful filmmakers.

Now years later, I am excited for the opportunity to prove to my father, and more importantly, myself that I can follow my passion and be successful. I am not saying that making movies is going to be easy. I’m saying that I have accepted the consequences of seriously pursuing this goal and I am ready for the challenges.

I am now working on my first feature film, called “L.A. Minute.” The only obstacle that will stop me from completing my film is my death. It’s reassuring to know that is an obstacle we all have to face.

The biggest piece of advice I can give to aspiring filmmakers, is to TRY and keep on trying.

Thankfully, there are several crowd-funding platforms like indiegogo and Kickstarter. It is important to build your network and fan base prior to launching a campaign. That is a must! In addition you want to make yourself and your project stick out from the rest. I feel like my campaign does that. Yet only time will tell the outcome.

Here is more about our movie: L.A. Minute.

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Dimitri Morantus is a Brooklyn born guerrilla filmmaker. His first short film “Charlie” won the prestigious “Audience Choice” award in the Santa Monica College Film Festival, with his second short “The Power Of Elle” taking home “The Official Best of Fest” award. He studies film at UCLA, and is currently in production for his first feature film “L.A. Minute.”

Don’t Lose Your Movie : How to Avoid Data Loss

Don’t Lose Your Movie : How to Avoid Data Loss
by Filmmaker Guest Blogger: Allison Gillette, Producer and Creator of “Cow Power”

Everyone’s worst nightmare is getting that call from your editor: “Something is wrong with the hard drive and I cannot view the footage.” No filmmaker takes data protection seriously until it happens to them. I was one of those people until I got that phone call, now I am here to help to make sure it doesn’t happen to you!

I was editing my first feature filmCow Power,” and was working with a tight budget, so backup drives were out of the question. I thought it was better taking a chance than having to pay an extra $300 on backup drives. That was until my editor told me that the only hard drive holding all of our footage had mysteriously stopped working.

The drive was new and there had been no physical damage to the drive. It just refused to mount on the computer. Several phone calls, angry emails and $1,200 later we received a new drive from LaCie with all of our original footage on it; good as new.

Troubleshooting Your Hard Drive

There are some preventative measures every editor should take when editing off of an external hard drive. All drives should be kept in a cool (not freezing!), dry environment. The best thing to do is to keep them at your locked office at all times. If you have to transport them, keep them in the box that came with the drive.

They should be on a desk or other stable piece of furniture, but always backed up against a wall. Never have food or drink in the vicinity of your drive. If your drive is powered through an AC wall adapter, make sure you are always using a surge protector. It is common for drives to get shocked, especially if you are working in an office space where several people are using computers.

If you notice something is wrong with your hard drive, there are several things you can try before calling in the professionals:

  1. Turn off the drive and let it sit in a cool, safe place overnight
  2. In the morning, power the drive using a surge protector and in a different location. If the light on the drive turns on and the drive starts to hum, it is not a power connection problem.
  3. Try using all interfaces to connect to the computer
  4. Try using both a Mac and a PC. If the drive is on but does not mount on the computer, this usually indicates that the drive will need to be replaced.

For more information, visit the website of the company that makes your hard drive.

What You Should Know About Your Warranty

Don’t let hard drive companies fool you with their “3 year warranty” or “unlimited tech support” promises. We purchased your typical 2TB LaCie hard drive. It turns out that LaCie drives are prone to power damage. That means that without you doing anything wrong, LaCie drives can give themselves an electric shock that will disable the drive permanently.

While LaCie has acknowledged this is a know bug, they have not agreed to front the costs to retrieve lost data. With most hard drive companies, your warranty will not cover data loss. With LaCie in particular, they run their data recovery through a third party and charge their customers all of the fees. I am happy to report that LaCie gave us a new hard drive for free, but the third party company had to rebuild the broken drive from the ground up, which cost us an additional $1,200.

Buying a Good Hard Drive

When you are shopping around for a hard drive, as painful as it is stop looking at the price. A good hard drive costs more for good reason. Instead of dealing with the pain of losing your footage and paying quadruple for data recovery, buy multiple drives. I would suggest the GTech GRaid drive.

This is a duel drive, meaning every time you save, you are saving to two drives inside one casing. Additionally, it has firewire and USB interfaces and can work with Mac or PC. It retails at $400, and you can find similar drives by other brands for cheaper. A drive like this supplemented by small backup drives will save your film and your pocket down the road.

If you are only looking to save money, you should purchase a 1TB firewire hard drive for easy editing and purchase three USB hard drives as back up. In total, this should cost you about $400.

The moral of the story is, spend the extra cash to get a great hard drive and a few back up drives. If your drive is already broken, don’t fear! You may have to spend a lot of money, but you will get your data back. To see what a replaced drive can do, check out my film at

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Allison Gillette is a recent graduate from Emerson College’s documentary film program. Her first feature film “Cow Power,” tells the story of turning cow manure into renewable energy: saving farms and the environment. The film has been picked up by FilmBreak and GoDigital, and acclaimed by U.S Dairy. Gillette has worked for PBS’s NOVA as well as the Harvard Forest. Additionally, Gillette is the game play director for the International Quidditch Association; a sport with 600 teams spread across 30 countries. Her passion for nature and adventure drive her to use media to change the world.