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 some secrets movie distributors don’t want you to know. Don’t get me wrong. The GOOD movie distributors will agree with this stuff. But the BAD movie distributors will probably send me angry emails.

It doesn’t matter. By the end of our short time together, you’re gonna be armed with so much movie distribution knowledge, that movie distributors will never try to pull any of those typical shenanigans again. And even if they do try, you’ll be smart and ready to avoid distribution deals that suck.


What Movie Distributors Don’t Want You To Know

But before we go there, let’s get one thing straight. Your audience is YOUR business. And without an audience, you have no business. And given advances in production technology and the fact that the market is overly saturated with backyard indies, YOU are totally responsible for sourcing YOUR own audience.

This DOES NOT mean you have to build your own audience. This means you need to IDENTIFY your audience and figure out where your people congregate online. For example, let’s pretend that you produced an awesome film about purple pine cones and you need people to see your film. Well the people you’re trying to reach are their phone and computer screens. And these people don’t know about your film, until someone reaches out and says:

“I see you love movies about purple pine-cones. Have you heard of Jason’s Purple Pine-Cone Adventure?”

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.

What If Your Audience Is Too Busy To Buy?

This is why smart people invented email. If you send targeted traffic to your movie website, and they don’t buy your film (because they are busy) then at least work on grabbing an email address.

How many people are on your email LIST right now? 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!

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

Good question. Yes. For top tier acquisitions, a distributor will promise a P&A fund. (That is short for prints and advertising.) This means they will spend money on advertising to sell more units of your movie. They will then deduct this expense from your earnings. And in most cases, your earnings after expenses in a traditional deal is — Guess how much?


Movie Distributors Are Spread Thin

Most movie distributors are spread too thin. Your film, or rather, your baby is just sitting there in some catalog of dozens of movies competing for attention. (Or collecting dust.) And outside of selling to television networks and SVOD platforms in international territories…

Much of your movie selling opportunity is going to come from domestic TVOD (Transactional Video On Demand).

Yes. I know many filmmaker want to leverage SVOD and AVOD… And if you’re interested, I cover the other types of VOD in my Professional Distribution Training.

But the reason why I focus on TVOD is because you have UNCAPPED EARNING POTENTIAL.

Special Placement Helps (A Little)

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.”

For inexperienced, first time filmmakers, some of this 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 The BIG Secret

The big secret most movie distributors don’t want you to know is, getting YOUR MOVIE special placement in popular TVOD platforms is the same pitch every movie distributor makes. And because of this, there is lots of competition for special placement. This means there is no guarantee that your movie will ever, actually get special placement.

It sounds good to say. And to the movie distributor’s credit, getting special placement is helpful. As a filmmaker, when all roads lead to the same VOD destination, you’ll go with the promise that sounds the best.

The way many movie distributors determine which movies are worth acquiring isn’t totally based on the merit of the movie. And while 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 much work is the filmmaker doing to promote their own film?

“Are you saying that a distributor wants to capitalize on the filmmaker’s promotions?”

Avoid Movie Distribution Shenanigans

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 the distributor has to do is pay roughly $2000 dollars to cover VOD encoding, get closed captions and pay for the actual delivery to the platforms. Then the distributor will recoup expenses and take anywhere from 15% to 30% (or more) of your movie.

Once your movie goes live, they will ask YOU to promote through YOUR channels! Can you imagine? All they did was deliver your movie to the platform. Maybe they pitched to get your movie special placement. Perhaps you did get placement. And maybe you didn’t. But regardless, it’s your AUDIENCE. It’s your promotion. And the distributor gets the benefit.

When YOU control your own promotion and distribution, you have POWER.

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

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ARTICLE BY Jason Brubaker

If you'd like more tactics like the article you just read, make sure to grab a copy of the filmmaker checklist. You'll get 65 useful steps you can employ to produce your next feature film.