Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul

If you have been reading Filmmaking Stuff for any length of time, you know that this site heavily emphasizes ways to help filmmakers market, sell and distribute their movies, without asking permission.

For those of you interested in more ideas on modern movie distribution, my friends Jon Reiss, Sheri Candler and Orly Ravid have put together a wonderful resource, titled: Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul.

The book provides valuable guidance for those of you interested in understanding the new model of film distribution.

Orly Ravid stopped by Filmmaking Stuff to share her experience publishing the book, and how it compares to her experience in movie distribution.

Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul as a model for looking at film distribution

By Orly Ravid

The traditional model of book publishing is to find a book agent and get a deal with a publisher. There’s usually a lot of rejection and if or when you get a deal, the publisher normally gets the better end of it, especially if you don’t have a name as an author. And often one is frustrated that a publisher has not done this or that and usually the author does a better job marketing the work anyway.

It’s the author’s name and creativity that is selling the book, not the publishing house. The fact of how many publishing houses passed on Harry Potter is a great lesson about how the fat cat corporate gatekeepers don’t always know what time it is.

We did for about 5 seconds consider seeing if we could publish Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul in a traditional way, through a publishing house. Then we thought we would either be turned down since the book is for a very niche interest audience or receive a small advance (most first time authors receive less than $5,000 in advance money. There are 4 authors of this book.) and never see another penny. Sound familiar?

Also, if we are going to champion filmmakers who are using some form of self-distribution for their work, it would be pretty hypocritical to go the traditional route with a publisher.

Here is what we did do and why:

We created a production budget that made sense for the scope of the book and the audience it was made for. We could have budgeted more money for it and waited until we scraped that budget together. It could have taken more than a year to do that. We decided to spend a reasonable amount that would ensure the book was available on all key digital platforms and now even in print. BUT, we decided not to do an iPhone App because that would have cost more and put strain on the budget given that this book is very specific and for a very specific audience.

We clearly defined our audience: filmmakers who are interested in DIY or Hybrid or P2P distribution methods. Not everyone and not even every filmmaker.

We set out to find sponsors to help pay for it. With this reasonable budget in mind, a clearly defined audience and a way to reach them ourselves, we knew what kind of sponsors would appreciate this. We also decided that the way to make it worth their while was to make the book FREE at least for a time and at least in one format always. It ensures the likelihood that the book will be shared widely. We also decided the sales price would be low cost in any case so that price was never a barrier to the book finding its audience and its readers seeking it out.

We did not pursue random sponsors, but rather carefully considered the ones that made sense given the defined audience target. This made sponsorship success much smoother and easier.  We could persuasively communicate that our audience was their target audience and how we would reach them (through our many media and personal contacts) and when (launch during IFP Week) and where (New York and all over the world via the internet). We gave them clear information that they could feel good about and see as a perfect fit for their brand.

We published the book ourselves and it’s available today on all key digital platforms where eBooks are sold. It is about one year to the day from when I first conceived the idea to having it out for all to read. The print edition will also soon be in retail stores via an aggregator, much like going through an aggregator to get onto Netflix, Hulu and iTunes (though we managed our own iBookstore inclusion).
So if you are making a film, there is a strong likelihood you can follow this model but you need to prepare for it well:

  1. Who is your audience?
  2. How will you reach them? Specifically as we did, targeting certain press, certain blogs, certain podcasts whose readers and listeners match those for the book.
  3. What is a reasonable budget for your film that is fundable, recoupable and profitable via these methods of self-financing and self-distribution and/or financing via sponsorship?
  4. If you want to try the sponsorship route, you will need to create a presentation deck and go out to companies a minimum of 6 months in advance of your release, but more likely more. Big companies make decisions a year in advance often.
  5. For sponsorship to be attractive to a brand, they will need to know a specific distribution plan in order to see how being involved with your film achieves their marketing objectives. It takes planning and advanced thinking that doesn’t rely on hoping a gatekeeper “buys” your film.

This is how we did it for a book and some films can be done this way too, even if they cost 5 or 6 figures or even 7. It’s really just a question of the right pairing between content and audience and brands and above all things, advance planning and TIME and EFFORT that can and will pay off.

I am proud that we did not have to adjust our content for anyone, that we did not have to rely on anyone to give us access to our readers, that we have full control of the book we wrote and above all, that we are in the black before we have even released the book. How many artists can say that?

I would not have done it any other way.

The book Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul is available starting today. Please visit and pick up your free digital copy or preorder a print edition coming soon. Find us on Facebook and follow our hashtag #syfnotsys on Twitter.

Photo of author

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.