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 Movie Marketing Plan

The Filmmaking Stuff Movie Marketing plan is designed to help you design a low cost, grass roots marketing strategy for your movie project.

While there are no guarantees that your movie will become the next viral, breakout hit, doing something is better than letting your movie collect dust. Our goal is to provide you with a cost effective plan that you can implement over a 12 week period.

movie marketing plan

Photo © Rido / Dollar Photo Club

Movie Marketing Plan Overview

The first step in your movie marketing process involves setting realistic goals about your project. Take a moment to answer the following questions:

  • How many movie views / unit sales must you sell to break even?
  • Who is your general target audience?
  • What do you hope to accomplish over the next 12 weeks?

Week 1 – Define Your Movie’s Target Audience

There is a saying in marketing that everybody is nobody and niches make you riches. With the democratization of filmmaking, it is now essential to define your target audience before you even put pen to paper. Is there an audience that already exists for your movie? If not, you will want to seriously consider your subject matter.

We will provide you with some tips on how to define your market.

  • Make a list of 5 ideal movie fan categories for your title.
  • Figure out why these fans should watch your movie.

Week 2 – Set up Your Movie Website

If you have not noticed, I emphasize internet marketing for filmmakers quite a bit. The reason for this is simple: We are quickly approaching a time where there will be no delineation between your computer and your television. Everything will be on demand and accessible. As a result of these changes, you will need to drive targeted Internet traffic to your desired point of sale and convert these visitors into customers.

In your second week, we are going to cover the following topics:

Week 3 – Know Your Prospective Audience

While there are no hard and fast rules in the brave new world of indie filmmaking, without retail DVD distribution, your most important goal (aside from making the movie) is to grow your audience for both your current project and your career. To many, this type of audience engagement represents a paradigm shift.

Our goal is to change the way you think about your fans. Your audience is your movie business. Without an audience, you simply have no business!

Here is what we are going to investigate in week three:

  • Discover where your fans hang, both online and offline.
  • Create as list of popular publications that cater to your fans.

Week 4 – Track everything

In movie marketing, it is very common for everybody involved in a project to present a gazillion ideas on best marketing practices. But the truth is, the only good marketing idea is the one that works. And the only way you know if your strategy is working is when you test it.

In your fourth week, you will set up tools so you can understand user behavior:

  • Add tracking tools to your website.
  • Modify your website to influence user activity.

Week 5 – Refine Your Marketing

Have you ever noticed when a big studio releases a movie, they sometimes first push it as an action flick. Then later, the advertisements shift to a love story? Why does this happen? These changes take place because movie marketers are consistently testing the movie messaging in front of sample audiences.

And it is usually the audience, not the filmmaker who reveals what aspects of the movie are most interesting and memorable.

During week 5, you will focus on the following:

  • Refine movie messaging based on audience feedback.
  • Create your hook and refine it to emphasize your unique story.
  • Get your movie in front of influencers  in your target market.

Week 6 – Search Engine Optimization For Your Movie

Since you do not have a multi-gazillion dollar movie marketing budget like the big Hollywood studios, you will focus on the internet. Your goal is to implement inexpensive marketing strategies so you can drive targeted traffic to your website (in the hopes these visitors will buy your movie). There are quite a few ways to do this, but one of the most effective ways of attracting traffic is by creating useful content, aimed at your target audience.

In week 6, you will complete the following tasks:

  • Conduct keyword research relevant to your audience.
  • Implement your movie website, with SEO friendly framework.
  • Define your content strategy, based on keyword research.

Week 7 – Create Relevant Content

As a movie marketer, creating relevant content is essential for attracting visitors to your movie website. It is at this point when most filmmakers start to feel overwhelmed, thinking they need to focus on busting out a gazillion blog articles.

While writing keyword specific, relevant content is a useful way to attract visitors, writing is not the only way to create content. Internet content can be created and delivered as audio, video and text. Since each prospective viewer has preferred modality, your goal is to create a content strategy that incorporates all three.

In week 7, we will focus on fulfilling the following objectives:

  • We will create and outline a content strategy based on movie/story/genre specific keywords.
  • Then we will figure out timeline for how frequently we will deliver the content.

Week 8 – Spread The Word and Build Buzz

Here is the thing. Lets say you are making a zombie movie and you  decide to conduct an internet search for zombies. You will very quickly realize that there are thousands of websites devoted to zombies and zombie movies. Unless you have all the time in the world, contacting the owner of each blog or website is going to be impossible.

During week 8, your goal is to sort through the noise and focus on activity that will garner us the greatest potential for results.

  • Build a database of the top 50 publications in your niche.
  • Test several low cost ads to drive targeted traffic to your movie website.
  • Refine your trailer and post it everywhere!
  • You might also want to distribute a press release (ad).

Week 9 – Leverage Social Networks and Blogging Community

A lot of filmmakers are stupid when it comes to social networking. They look at the tool and say “I HAVE A MOVIE. PLEASE (potentially) WASTE 2 HOURS OF YOUR TIME AND WATCH IT!” While you know that your movie is way better than most the other crap out there, the rest of the social community does not. And if you utilize a crappy social networking strategy, the best we can say is: Good luck!

In week 9 your goal is to implement a social media strategy that encourages word of mouth.

  • Engage with potential users via social networking channels.
  • Implement a guest posting strategy on several blogs.

Week 10 – Hit The Red Button (and launch!)

If you spend all sorts of time and effort and money making your movie, the last thing you want to do is wait around. You want to get your movie seen, sold and if possible – maybe you can find a 3 picture studio deal in the process. While marketing is not a science, your results (both good or not so good) will be easy to measure.

In week 10, we will hit the red button and see what works.

  • Divide our launch strategy into several tiers and milestones.
  • Send copies of your movie to popular review websites and schmooze for good reviews.

Week 11 – Utilize The Power of Email.

If you subscribe to the exclusive Filmmaking Stuff Newsletter, you know that I really believe in email marketing. I think it is a great way to stay in touch and to build a relationship with your audience.

In week 11, we are going to focus on creating and executing an email marketing campaign (ad).

  • Write a half-dozen targeted emails and send at pre-determined intervals.
  • Reach out to other filmmakers and see if they would send similar emails to their list.

Week 12 – Grow Your Community!

By now, these words should echo in your filmmaking mind: “My audience is my business. Without an audience, I have no business.” Without retail distribution, you can no longer plan on simply selling 10,000 DVDs to the big box video rental chain, because that doesn’t exist anymore. Instead your audience is your business – not just for your current project, but for all future titles as well.

In week 12, we will focus on creating long term community engagement.

  • Establish a community for your fans.
  • Get fans into a database that you control.

- – –

So there you have it. This is a broad overview of a 12 week movie marketing plan that you can implement for your next title. You might also want to check out my sell your movie system.

 

Who Is Your Target Audience?

The other day I posted this question to our Facebook Filmmaking Stuff community:

“Who is your target audience?”

The responses were varied. Filmmakers chimed in with everything from “tweens” to “adults over 30.” Many filmmakers responded with the word: “Everybody!”

While I love the enthusiasm, without much exception, defining your audience by age or gender is extremely broad. And unlike the major movie studios, you do not have the marketing budget to support this.

target_audience

Who Is Your Target Audience?

Every week at least one filmmaker emails me with something like this:

“I made a movie and we just won best picture at a regional festival you never heard of! Since my movie appeals to every man, woman and child on the planet, I want to sell it for a million dollars? How do I make this happen?”

Can you understand why this sentiment is seriously flawed?

If your movie does not have enough juice to get a an awesome distribution deal, your returns will be limited by your own marketing and distribution efforts.

Let me be very clear.

I have been working in distribution for a half-decade and I can tell you that even great movies end up with crappy distribution deals.

The truth is, most film distribution deals suck.

And without a marketing budget to reach a global audience, you must focus on finding your niche audience.

One of the first places to find your audience is the local newsstand. If there are print magazines devoted to your movie subject, then those subscribers are part of your target audience. In addition to print, you will want to explore the Internet for online publications.

Open up a spreadsheet and add these publications to your list. Your goal is to create a database of the top fifty publications geared towards your niche audience.

Make a list of 5 ideal movie fan categories for your title

Once you create your list of print publications catering to your niche, your next step is to understand your audience.

To do this, reach out to the top ten publications on your list and ask them to forward information about their subscriber demographics. Since magazine revenue is based on understanding their subscribers, most established publications will have this info readily available.

From there, you will want to study this info and get to know your audience.

Who are these people?

Are they primarily men? Women? Teenagers? Do they have jobs? Are they business owners or unemployed? What is the average income? Are they college educated? Do they live in the city or on the farm?

From this information, you can create audience profiles for five ideal types of movie fans that you want to target within your niche.

Figure out why these fans should watch your movie.

In addition to getting inside the head of your audience, your next task is to figure out why these people enjoy your genre. Why would they want to watch your movie? What makes your movie unique from the other, competing movies in existence? How will your movie to appeal to viewing needs of your audience?

Who Is Your Target Audience: Action Steps

1. Who is your primary target audience?
Ex: Mid-west, male college kids who love zombie movies. 

2. What makes your movie different from competing movies?
Ex: Our movie is about zombies that attack ninjas.

3. Why should your audience spend two hours watching your movie?
Ex: Fangoria says: Funniest zombie movie since Shaun of the Dead!

Taking time to understand your audience will enable you to create an image of your ideal audience member. This information will then be utilized when you create and refine your marketing message.

If you have a movie you’re looking to sell, you may also want to check out How To Sell Your Movie.

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What Is Your Movie Competition

One of the Filmmaking Stuff readers sent the following question:

Jason – I’m trying to put together a business plan for my prospective investors. I need to figure out who my competition is, and I am having difficulty. Do you have any ideas what my movie competition is?

- A Confused Filmmaker

Hi Confused,

Good question. Since the kernel of all industry is an idea, followed by a business plan, you’re not alone. When venturing into any industry, one of the challenges is working to pinpoint your competition and figuring out ways that your business will compete.

What Is Your Movie Competition?

In the world of indie filmmaking, your competition comes down to two main categories.

  1. A virtual video store-shelf full of millions of other movies.
  2. Ignorance in the marketplace… Nobody knows you exist.

On both accounts, you are responsible for helping your movie rise above the noise. The question is, what makes your movie so remarkable that your audience should carve out two hours to watch it? If you can’t find a way to hook someone with your story, your movie runs the risk of floating forever in quiet obscurity.

For all these reasons, it is vitally important that your business plan also includes a marketing plan. I would also go on to say that your marketing plan should allocate at least fifty-percent of your budget towards the marketing, sales and distribution of your movie.

If you would like to create a marketing plan for your movie, check out my how to sell your movie program.

12 Week MovieMaker Marketing Plan

As a filmmaker, getting your movie made is paramount to success. Without a movie, you have nothing to offer your audience. Since your audience is your business, without an audience, you have no business!

If you have been reading Filmmaking Stuff for any length of time, you know that the world of distribution has forever changed. The days of multi-gazillion dollar cash advances are over. Instead, film distribution equivalent of the wild west.

To survive and thrive in this ever changing landscape, I believe that filmmakers must not only make good movies, but they must also become great marketers (or at least partner with someone who is). Since actually making a movie is nearly impossible, the thought of putting on yet another hat can seem overwhelming.

To help you in your filmmaking quest, I have decided to devote the next series of articles to helping you create a 12 week MovieMaker marketing plan. The truth is, ever since my book release, I have been trying to think of a way to make my next filmmaking book more interactive.

So with that said… Here we are. Over the next few weeks, most of my articles will revolve around movie marketing. I will write these articles in sequence and later, edit and publish as my next filmmaking book.

Since I already know this stuff, I am writing to add value to your filmmaking life. I value your constructive feedback and ideas for what should be included. Please feel free to comment.