3 Little-Known Factors That Could Affect Your Film Distribution Deal

Landing a killer film distribution deal is all about reducing risk and increasing the potential reward for a prospective distributor. The problem is, most filmmakers never think about this stuff until it’s too late.

As a filmmaker it is important to remember that you are creating and selling a product. Yes, your movie is your product. And like any entrepreneur you must plan for the marketing, sales and distribution of your movie.

Film Distribution Deal

Photo © adrian_ilie825 / Dollar Photo Club

3 Factors That Could Affect Your Film Distribution Deal

Even if you do not plan to distribute your movie yourself, it behooves you to create your own marketing, sales and distribution strategy. The reason for this is simple. Most filmmakers do not do this. As a result, nearly every filmmaker approaches a prospective distributor the same way:

“Well… Here’s my movie. Can you give me an awesome film distribution deal?”

This is the incorrect approach because it gives you absolutely no leverage and no room for negotiation. The better approach would be to go into each distribution meeting knowing that you don’t actually need a film distribution deal. You achieve this by creating your own marketing plan.

While there are a lot of options to consider when sketching out an effective marketing, sales and distribution plan, the following three factors could affect your film distribution deal.

1. Who Is Your Target Audience?
To get started, you need to ask yourself: Who is my intended target audience? If you can look at your movie concept objectively and you can’t answer that question in five seconds or less, then you need to think harder or evaluate your original concept.

2. What Is Your Hook?
In general business, every company has to figure out their USP. In the world of movies, your unique selling proposition is actually described as your hook. What makes your movie different than the gazillion other movies being made. And why should I care?

3. What Is Your Marketing Budget?
As a filmmaker, marketing is probably the last thing you want to consider. But with the demise of physical DVD distribution, things are changing. As a result YOU are responsible for the marketing, sales and distribution of your movie. Allocate 50% of your budget to cover these costs.

This filmmaking lesson is simple. The time to start planning is today. And if any of this seems confusing, check out my newly updated guide to indie distribution.

No-Budget Filmmaking: Rise of The Backyard Indie

Like it or lump it, there are a lot of backyard indies being made each year. Thanks to inexpensive production technology, no-budget filmmaking is not only possible, but has become the norm for many first time feature filmmakers, web series producers, YouTube artists and short filmmakers.

These days any filmmaker with passion and a story can make a movie. And unlike years past, backyard indie filmmakers are not prohibited by cash or creativity.

Yet despite the no-budget filmmaking movement, many of my high profile “professional” friends in Los Angeles, have made a conscious effort to ignore the rise of backyard indies. Why?

Because no-budget filmmaking isn’t real! (At least, that’s what some of the old school pros would tell you.) When it comes to no-budget filmmaking, some common questions asked by these Hollywood hot-shots are:

  1. Who signed the SAG agreements?
  2. Who contacted the Unions?
  3. Who notified the MPAA?
  4. Where is your theatrical distribution deal?
  5. Who do you think you are?

Good questions. Why don’t you go back in time and ask Roger Corman!

But the thing is, if you create a good movie – Your audience doesn’t care if the movie was an official union indie or a backyard indie made for pocket change.

no budget filmmaking

Photo © Jacek Krol / Dollar Photo Club

No Budget Filmmaking: Rise of The Backyard Indie

The demise of traditional DVD distribution coupled with the growing market domination of iTunes, Amazon and Netflix had leveled the playing field. The big difference between a $10,000 backyard indie and a $2,000,000 dollar indie isn’t the budget – The difference revolves around the film that gets the most eyeballs (and sales).

Think about it. Hitting breakeven on a 2M feature is going to require a lot of sales.

As a rough example, to recoup 2M dollars, the filmmaker will need to to sell (roughly) 200,000 video on demand downloads at $10 a pop. These first sales will cover the 40% cost allocated to VOD providers (the real winners here), after which, the filmmaker will still need to sell an additional 200,000 downloads to repay the investors.

400,000 VOD downloads x $10 = $4,000,000 minus $2,000,000 in VOD fees = the initial $2,000,000

Meanwhile, through no-budget filmmaking, a backyard indie only has to sell 2000 VOD downloads to recover the initial 10K costs.

While nobody wants to make movies for pocket change, many filmmakers still believe we can somehow continually produce unprofitable (movie) products and expect the money and the subsequent jobs to keep rolling in.

And unlike years past, filmmakers can no longer approach investors with the cliche pitch: “Filmmaking is a risky investment – if we are lucky, we might win Sundance and get a deal.”

Now, with transparent distribution options available to all filmmakers, that line of give-me-money reasoning is reckless, no longer applicable, and in my opinion, unethical. And for these reasons, no-budget filmmaking makes a lot of sense.

Aside from the initial challenge of sales and marketing, the ripple effect reveals an even greater conundrum:

How will you raise enough money to pay your cast and crew AND still pay back your investors?

I mean, what’s the new sweet spot?

How can we once again make independent filmmaking profitable?

“I CAN’T AFFORD TO PAY MY CAST AND CREW. WHAT DO I DO?”

Here is the modern moviemaking model on how to save the movie industry.

(And you thought this was going to be your typical no-budget filmmaking article.)

To survive in this ever changing world of indie filmmaking, we have to change our strategy.

Instead of focusing on making that one big awesome indie, we now need to focus on building a genre specific movie library and spend all of our downtime building a ginormously targeted email list.

Step 1: Find your top-ten closest filmmaking collaborators. Form a company.

Step 2: Write a business plan, but instead of putting all of your focus on making one movie, concentrate on making 3-5 feature films.

Step 3: Make sure that you include a sales and marketing plan for each movie. To do this, take your proposed budget for all movies and work backwards. Start asking yourself, “How many units do we need to sell to recoup our investment?”

Step 4: In this model, instead of paying freelance day rates, you’ll have to hire long term employees and provide each with a salary and back end points (sort of like stock options) on each title.

Step 5: When the title wins, you all win. Over the years, your titles will add up. And the real compensation will come back in the form of residual movie income.

While this is not a fully refined model, it’s a start.

In my opinion, creating a sustainable business model is better than ignoring no-budget filmmaking and pretending backyard indies are not real movies.

We are experiencing a time of change.

This is the indie movie distribution equivalent of the automobile replacing the horse drawn wagon.

You can choose to ignore this movement, and you can probably succeed for a few more years. But there will come a day when all entertainment will be on-demand and cheap to produce and cheap to consume.

The question is, will you ignore the no-budget filmmaking movement and continue to play your distribution lottery ticket in hopes of winning the dream deal, or will you  join the movement and help us filmmakers figure out a way to make indie movies profitable?

If you liked this article, you’d probably benefit from these professional filmmaking tools.

How To Promote Your Movie Fan Page On Facebook

As a filmmaker, you need to be promote movie on Facebook.

I am assuming that you already have a personal profile. And if so, you know the platform allows you to stay in touch with friends, have conversations with co-workers and find pictures of your ex-girlfriend. (Not that I ever do those searches.)

But from a promotional perspective, Facebook is a powerful tool for filmmakers. With nearly a billion monthly users, Facebook is one of the most awesome ways to reach your movie target audience.

If you are part of the Filmmaking Stuff community, you probably noticed how nearly 37,000 filmmakers participate and share ideas about filmmaking from all over the world.

How To Promote Your Movie Fan Page On Facebook

If you are wondering how to promote your movie on Facebook, the first thing you need to do is create a page. To get started, open a new tab and log into Facebook. Once you are logged into Facebook, follow this link create a Movie Fan Page.

Step 1 – Set Up Your Movie Fan Page

When you click the link above, you will be redirected to a web page that asks you to pick your page type. If you’re promoting a movie, choose “entertainment” and then pick “movie.” Facebook will then ask you for the name of your movie.

Promote Your Movie On Facebook

From there, Facebook will ask you to log into your account. If you do not have an account, (and you should), you’ll have to create one. Once complete, your Movie Fan Page will be set. All you gotta do is fill in pertinent information about your movie, including a description, photos, links to your movie website and possibly, your movie trailer.

how to promote your movie on facebook

Step 2 – Invite Your Friends to “Like” Your Page

Your next step is to reach out to your Facebook friends and invite them to “Like” your Movie Fan Page. Depending on your genre and storyline, not all of your friends will respond to your request.

Don’t take it personally. Many of my movie projects have been ignored by friends, probably because they are over-inundated with various requests from Angry Birds, Farmville and other distractions.

Assuming you can break through the noise, the advantage to utilizing Facebook to promote your Movie Fan Page is your ability to connect with your audience. Unlike BIG Hollywood power-players, your fans have access to you. This allows you to add value to their experience, beyond simply watching your movie.

By cultivating these relationships, your audience is more likely to promote your movie to their friends, which helps you build your fan-base and make more sales, without spending much money.

Step 3 – Link Your Movie Fan Page to Your Movie Website

When you’re looking to promote your Movie Fan Page, it is important to understand Facebook works best when you supply your followers with relevant info and updates. Where does this info come from? Your movie blog! (Affiliate link.) I’m assuming you have a blog, right?

If you study how successful filmmakers utilize Facebook, you’ll often notice they write content or create videos for their blog. Then they share the info on their Movie Fan Page. The content is usually a behind the scenes production diary. Or in the case of documentaries, it is usually info related the subject matter of the movie.

Step 4 – Promote Your Movie Fan Page

In the event you would like to promote your Movie Fan Page further, Facebook  provides you with some very targeted advertising opportunities to reach your target audience. For example, if you are promoting a zombie movie, you will actually have the ability to reach out to zombie enthusiasts and get them to “Like” your Movie Fan Page.

One of the coolest aspects of building a Movie Fan Page is the ease at which you can build buzz and community around your title.

Step 5 – Update Your Movie Fan Page Frequently!

Marketing is a conversation. Goofy sales pitches and silly “Hey… Look at me…” stuff never works. You need to always think in terms of value. Will your next update add value to your audience? Again, the content needs to be relevant. It should spark a discussion and allow you to meet the people in your audience.

In turn,  your fans will respond favorably. This will be able to monitor word of mouth and find out what people are saying about your movie. And in the event you get a few spammers, you can moderate comments to ensure that the content doesn’t become stupid. (Nobody benefits from stupid content.)

In addition, some filmmakers allow fans to post photos to the fan pages. This sort of activity reinforces community and encourages word of mouth. For example, if your movie is in the festival circuit, you might ask your fans to post pictures of the screening. Then once the photo is posted, friends of these fans may see the picture – which may cause them to “Like” your Movie Fan Page too. But the hidden benefit of user generated content is – you don’t have to worry about generating additional content!

If you’d like to market your movie on Facebook, take a look at my Movie Fan Page system.

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?”

HA!

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…

OK.

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.

BUT…

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?

Wait…

…Wait…

WTF???

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

YES.

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.

WOW!

Right?

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

 

Film Industry Insights

Hollywood is a well-known area of Los Angeles ...

Seven years ago I drove out to LA and dove into the mainstream film industry. Since that time, I have come up with three major insights I would like to share with you.

1. Nobody is going to produce your movie (unless you do it first).
Just about everybody in Los Angeles says they have a movie script. These people also say, “I don’t know if I’m going to produce this thing or just sell it.” The reality is, BOTH routes are equally challenging. And most people end up wasting years waiting for someone else to produce their stuff. Stop it! Grab a camera and make something. Seriously. Don’t you dare wait for a producer!

2. Your movie idea is great.
Not all movie ideas are great. But everybody has one, including my doctor, dentist and taxi driver. The problem is, most of these people won’t take the time to get their ideas on paper. The thing is, everybody in the film industry has a movie idea. But ideas are just that – ideas. It is the implementation that matters. So if you find yourself trying to sell an “idea” you are wasting time. Write something. Or get someone else to write something. Then re-read film industry insight #1 above (and take action!)

3. Movie distribution is the barrier to entry.
This one goes out to the veteran filmmakers in our community. Those of you who have actually taken action and made your movie. Firstly, pat yourself on the back. At least you’re not stuck lingering in film industry insight #1 or #2… But you probably discovered something you wish you would have known then – without a clear plan for movie market sales and movie distribution, you are dead in the water. Some good news? Things have gotten better. Companies like my www.MovieSalesTool.com (they pay me) and resources like www.HowToSellYourMovie.com can help you access the marketplace.

Why is this important? Because if you can figure out your strategy for marketing, sales and distribution, you can work backwards and have an clear strategy for overcoming film industry insight #1 and #2 (like most people) – Which means you will finally stop waiting for someone else to give you permission to make your movie business.

Bonus insight for single filmmakers…
Working in the film industry does not improve your dating life. Neither does running one of the most popular filmmaking blogs in the world. So just in case you think the film industry is going to improve your dating, think again. Everybody in LA is in the “film industry.”

Obviously I am not the only person with film industry insights – what are your thoughts? Comment by clicking here (scroll down.)