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. The good movie distributors will probably agree with this stuff. The bad ones will probably send me angry emails.
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.)
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. 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. 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!
“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?
Wait for it…
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…
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.
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.
The big secret most movie distributors don’t want you to know is, getting YOUR MOVIE special placement in popular VOD platforms is the same pitch every movie distributor uses. I’m 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.
To the movie distributor’s credit, getting special placement ultimately helps them too.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?
“Are you saying that filmmakers spend years growing an audience, just so a distributor can capitalize on this?”
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.
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 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? 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.