Film distributors are great if they offer you a decent deal for your movie. And having spent the greater part of my career in distribution, I can tell you there are (still) many great film distributors out there, working to do the right thing.
The problem is, distribution also has a fair share of sleazy, fast talking hotshots more concerned with selling you the dream, versus actually promoting your movie. And as a result, many filmmakers give away their movie rights in exchange for false hope based on empty promises.
7 Lies Film Distributors Like to Tell Filmmakers
In order to help you figure out if you’re talking to a great film distributor or a bad distributor, I am going to share 7 very common lies film distributors like to tell filmmakers. Utilize the following as a guide before you talk with film distributors. Having this knowledge will help you avoid common pitfalls.
1. “It is expensive to take your movie to market.”
Getting a movie into the digital marketplaces is not expensive. Unlike the days of DVD, there are no manufacturing, warehousing, shipping or physical retail costs. A distributor simply has to pay for encoding, closed captions and an errors and omissions policy. And most times, these costs are passed to directly the filmmaker. This model eliminates overhead and risk for the distributor.
2. “We are not an aggregator. We are a distributor.”
For those of you new to the concept, a movie aggregator is simply a volume distributor. These film distributors gobble up as many movies as they can and then throw them into the digital marketplace to see what sticks. And while it was once cost prohibitive for most indie film distributors to pick up more than a few movies per year, due to the inexpensive nature of digital, film distributors can now pick up dozens of movies per month!
Many filmmakers have wised up to how the “aggregation model” works. In response, and to increase the perceived value of the service, most aggregators now describe their volume business as distribution. (See how that works?)
3. “We can get you special placement on the platform!”
With a gazillion movies being delivered to popular platforms like iTunes, Amazon and Hulu (and others) each month, it is increasingly difficult for customers to discover new titles. So it behooves any distributor to ask the platform gatekeeper for special placement. While personal relationships certainly help, due to limited real estate, no distributor can guarantee special placement.
4. “We are direct with the platforms.”
While not a full-blown lie, touting a direct relationship with any platform can be misleading. A direct relationship simply gives film distributors access to sales data and also, a point of contact. But having a direct deal does not necessarily guarantee the success of your movie. And when it comes to actually delivering your movie to platforms, most film distributors utilize the same half-dozen approved delivery labs! Make sure you ask how the direct relationship will help you.
5. “We will market your movie.”
Outside of trying to get you special placement on the platforms, many film distributors will not market your movie. And while it’s true that some tout the wonders of their email list (we have 50,000 people on our list!), many of those people are other filmmakers – not necessarily your target audience.
Whenever a distributor talks about marketing your movie, make sure you find out exactly what they plan to do. A good distributor will disclose a P&A (prints and advertising) budget and explain exactly how promotional money will be spent. A shady distributor will not.
6. “Focus on making movies. Let us handle distribution!”
While this set it and forget it mentality may have worked back in the DVD days, those days are long gone. During the launch phase of your movie, a good distributor can help you make money. But sooner or later even the best film distributors need to focus on new projects.
Since your deal with the distributor will last for at least five years, you want to make sure you know what’s going to happen with your movie after the honeymoon. A good distributor will sell your movie over and over again to various outlets. A bad distributor will forget about your movie. In both scenarios, you will need to have an a promotional plan to assist film distributors for the long term.
7. “All of our filmmakers are happy with us.”
Really? Prove it. Good film distributors will happily put you in touch with their best clients. (After reaching out to the clients and getting permission first, obviously.) Bad film distributors will avoid putting you in touch with any past clients. In both instances, I highly recommend doing your own due diligence. As long as you’re professional, there is nothing wrong going on IMDB and telephoning past filmmaker clients on your own.
The thing to remember in all of this is, your ability to access popular marketplaces is not necessarily the problem. Through companies like Distribber, (where, in full disclosure, I do a lot of work) getting your movie seen and selling is easy. The real problem is getting enough people to buy your movie over the long term.
It is never too early to learn about distribution. If you’d like to start planning your distribution strategy I recommend accessing my film distribution training and learn everything you can.