Film Distribution for Indie Filmmakers [Explained for 2023]
Film distribution is the process of making a film available to the public. There are various ways to distribute a film, and it can be a complicated process for indie filmmakers to navigate.
As an indie filmmaker myself, I understand how overwhelming the film distribution process can be.
Making the film is hard enough – by the end of the independent film creation process, it can feel daunting to tackle the question of how to get your movie seen by real, live people!
These days the traditional gatekeepers, such as distribution companies, are less critical, and more often, it’s all about the indie filmmaker‘s ability to sell the film themselves.
This can entail a distribution strategy for social media through online reviews, film festivals, or even more traditional channels.
In this article, we will explain what film distribution means, the different methods of film distribution, and the newer methods for indie filmmakers, in particular, to sell their feature films.
By understanding film distribution, you can make more informed decisions about how to get your feature film seen by the world!
What is Film Distribution?
Film distribution is an essential yet often overlooked aspect of filmmaking.
It involves a complex network of vendors, programs, and services that connects filmmakers with viewers to get their projects seen.
At its simplest level, it involves delivering movies from independent filmmakers (or more traditional production houses) to theaters, television networks, streaming services, video-on-demand providers, home video outlets, and more.
But what makes distribution an especially unique part of the film industry is how it helps bridge the gap between art and commerce by allowing visionaries to have their stories heard and watched on the big (or small) screen and be justly compensated for it.
What is a Distribution Company?
A film distribution company’s purpose is to get films from producers and directors into the hands of viewers.
From small independent productions to big-budget Hollywood blockbusters, these companies ensure that film audiences across the globe have access to various cinematic offerings.
Film distributors negotiate deals for their projects and handle marketing, promotion, and publicity for the titles they acquire, providing invaluable support for filmmakers at every step.
The primary goal may be increased box office success, but these companies are more than money-makers; they connect passionate creatives with eager movie fans, ensuring that stories can be experienced by people everywhere.
The downside to a distribution company is that they may be less likely to take on brand-new indie projects over established producers and studios.
What are Common Distribution Channels?
The film distribution process can be especially difficult for indie filmmakers. There are various ways to distribute a feature film, and each has advantages and challenges.
One of the most common ways to distribute a film is through distribution companies. These companies typically have a network of theaters and theater owners they work with, and they will negotiate deals with these theaters to show your movie.
Alternatively, many have relationships with streaming platforms and home or other media markets.
However, working with distribution companies can be expensive, and it can be challenging to get your film into their hands in the first place.
Another option for distributing your film is through online platforms such as Vimeo or YouTube. This can be a great way to reach a wider audience, but it can be difficult to generate enough buzz around your film to get people to watch it.
Additionally, you will likely not earn much money from these platforms unless you have a large following.
Finally, you can always try to distribute your film yourself. This is often the most challenging route, but it can also be rewarding.
If you can successfully get your film into festivals and theaters, you will have a much better chance of making back your investment and even turning a profit.
However, it takes a lot of hard work and dedication to pull off DIY distribution, which is not for everyone.
No matter which routes you choose, distribution will always be challenging. But remember that every filmmaker has to go through it. If you keep at it, you will eventually succeed.
Types of Film Distribution
As someone who makes films, it’s essential to understand how a movie distribution strategy works. After all, getting your film seen by the world is the whole point of making one in the first place!
Now, let’s explore the various kinds of distribution deals available to indie filmmakers. There are traditional options, such as theatrical exhibitions, television/cable networks, and DVD sales, as well as newer avenues, including streaming platforms, hybrid marketing, and social media marketing strategies.
Each distribution plan comes with its own set of benefits and challenges. Let’s take a closer look at each type of film distribution!
Traditional Film Distribution
The thrill of seeing your movie in a packed theater with an excited crowd is the stuff of every independent filmmaker’s dreams.
The traditional way to achieve this is through theater distribution, but this can be one of the most challenging routes for indie filmmakers.
The advantage of this method is that it gives your film a wide release and gets it seen by many people.
The downside is that it can be expensive to distribute a film this way, and there’s no guarantee that people will actually go and see it. Ticket sales and the box office drive this format, so having a large target audience is vital.
In addition, theater distributors are notoriously picky, meaning if you don’t have a production value and star-studded cast that can compete with major studios, then chances are your film won’t get shown in theaters.
Fortunately, there are more options available today than ever, such as virtual theatrical screenings, alternative or independent theaters, and special one-off limited screenings at festivals and special events that can reach audiences who want to watch indie films on the big screen.
This is likely the best method for indie filmmakers who want to see their films on the big screen. It can involve anything from holding small screenings in local venues to organizing a full-scale film festival tour.
And a great festival run can garner enough interest from distributors to take a chance on showing your movie in theaters.
While this option requires more work on the filmmaker’s part, it can be a great way to build buzz around the film and generate distributor interest.
Though options are limited, television and cable TV can still provide a viable option for today’s independent directors.
Through TV networks or cable companies, movies can achieve broader distribution than would ever be possible with a small theatrical release, as your film can reach homes across the country –– and even internationally –– in one go.
Best of all, your picture won’t leave the spotlight for long, as it can stay on TV for weeks or months. Television and cable distribution is something indie filmmakers should consider to help put their story in front of as many people as possible.
A good sales agent may help facilitate such a distribution deal, either following a theatrical window or as a stand-alone plan.
New Avenues in Film Distribution
With the advancement of digital technologies, indie filmmakers have been presented with numerous new avenues to distribute their films.
Indie filmmakers have an array of options at their disposal to bring their stories to a global audience, including:
- Subscription-based (SVOD) digital streaming services like Netflix and Hulu (where you pay a monthly fee)
- Advertising-based (AVOD) streaming services like Roku and Tubi (which are free but have ads)
- Transaction-based (TVOD) platforms such as iTunes and Amazon Video (where you pay per movie watched),
With the right platform, tiny budgets can be effective in reaching millions.
On top of that, newer methods like virtual theatrical releases offer unique opportunities for building audiences, enabling filmmakers to create a one-of-a-kind sharing experience for fans all over the world – all from the comfort of home!
Streaming Platforms for Video on Demand (SVOD, AVOD, TVOD)
For independent filmmakers, streaming platforms offer unlimited potential to share their work with the world. From SVOD (Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, Disney+, etc.) to AVOD (Roku, Tubi, Pluto TV, etc.) to TVOD (iTunes, Amazon Video, Google Plus, etc.) and beyond, streaming services are incredibly efficient when it comes to distributing your film.
You can put your movie front and center of millions of viewers and markets worldwide with just a few clicks. What’s even better is that, in most cases, you’ll be able to track precisely how many people watch your film.
Furthermore, as these streaming services become more popular with users, so does the range of opportunities for indie filmmakers to maximize their profits without investing much effort or money.
SVOD is the most difficult to access with independent film, with some streamers accepting work mainly from a specific set of filmmakers, studios, and distributors.
AVOD has proven to be more accessible for indies, with some specialty streamers having grown over the past few years to cater to genre audiences. And TVOD is the most accessible, as it is the filmmaker who drives the distribution.
In general, the process for TVOD is simple: filmmakers upload their films to platforms such as iTunes and Amazon Video and create unique pages for their films.
Then, viewers can purchase or rent the films from these platforms. Plus, since most of them are available globally, a small indie film could reach larger audiences worldwide.
While there can be challenges with this type of self-distribution, including marketing and promotional outreach, it can be an excellent option for those who want to keep complete control and ownership over their work from start to finish.
YouTube and Vimeo
One option is to release the film online through a streaming service such as YouTube or Vimeo. This can be an excellent way to reach a wider audience, as people can watch the film at their convenience.
However, it is essential to note that online distribution often comes with significantly lower revenue potential than other methods.
Independent filmmakers can gain traction for their films by entering them into film festivals.
Submitting your work offers the opportunity to get seen and create much-needed buzz for potential distributors.
Winning awards and generating positive word of mouth, hopefully with sold-out screenings, are crucial to a successful festival run.
However, keep in mind that not all festivals are created equal. Merely screening at a prestigious industry heavyweight, such as Sundance or TIFF, outweighs winning the top award at a small local festival.
And with so many festivals to choose from, the onus is on the filmmaker to pick the right ones for their particular film.
Instead of waiting for someone to come knocking on their door, independent filmmakers can be proactive and get the ball rolling by tackling one of these festivals and using it as a launching pad for the distribution process.
Festivals provide a unique opportunity for viewers to discover little-known films, for filmmakers to network with like-minded artists and industry professionals, and extra exposure from the press and publicity surrounding the event.
Success at film festivals can lead to distribution deals with larger companies due to the combined visibility and positive feedback that such events can generate.
Social Media Promotion & Marketing Strategies
Got a movie project you want to distribute? Don’t worry; it’s time to break out the popcorn and start promoting your film using creative social media marketing strategies.
Developing a comprehensive social media strategy can make all the difference in increasing visibility for independent filmmakers.
Crafting engaging social media campaigns can be an effective way to increase visibility and generate interest in your project, allowing you to generate leads that may eventually lead to film distribution deals.
Utilizing creative strategies such as partnering with influencers, streaming live Q&A sessions, or running giveaways are all excellent ways of engaging potential audiences, building credibility in your project’s brand, and ultimately reaching new viewers.
Social media is fantastic as it allows independent filmmakers to find their audience faster than ever!
Common Questions About Film Distribution
What does the distribution of a film mean?
The distribution of a film is an essential part of the filmmaking process. It defines how the film is seen and where it goes to be viewed. There are different distribution methods, from theatrical release, where films are presented in movie theaters across the country, to streaming releases which let viewers access films online.
Other forms include home video (DVD or BluRay) or television broadcast releases. Each method has its advantages and challenges, allowing filmmakers to decide their best approach for getting their films seen by audiences.
How does film distribution work?
Film distribution is an integral part of the film industry that allows films to be released to audiences worldwide. The traditional route of widespread distribution begins with a theater release and then moves out to broadcast television, home video, streaming services, and more. Movie studios can use various methods, including targeted marketing and advanced screenings, to get their films noticed by distributors.
From there, distributors must determine whether it’s financially viable for them to take on the film. If they agree, they will partner with companies like Netflix or Amazon Prime to stream the movie under a subscription (SVOD) or advertising (AVOD) platform, or they may go with companies such as iTunes and Amazon to produce physical copies or streaming options for sale (TVOD).
How do you get distribution for a film?
Distributing a film can seem daunting, but if you arm yourself with knowledge and the helpful resources available to filmmakers, the task of getting your work seen can be achieved in no time. One way to get distribution is submitting your film to festivals which can often lead to deals with distributors or other partners. Further, having an audience-friendly marketing strategy, including a great-looking poster, high-quality trailer, and well-written synopsis for your film, can help attract potential investors or audience members.
Lastly, don’t forget about digital platforms such as Netflix or YouTube – these are reliable sources for getting your work out into the world. With the proper tools and plan, you will soon be on your way to a successful distribution deal!
How much do distributors pay for films?
Film distributors typically pay anywhere from a few thousand to millions of dollars for the rights to distribute movies, while others offer back-end deals with very little upfront. The exact amount depends on factors such as the film’s popularity, the salability of the talent involved, and the movie’s production budget. Film distributors must also consider marketing costs, theatrical release fees, and other investments when determining their final offer.
Wrap-Up: What is Film Distribution?
There are several methods of film distribution, and each has its own set of pros and cons. Self-distribution is one route for indie filmmakers, giving them the most control over their film’s release.
However, traditional distribution can be an excellent option for filmmakers who want to partner with a company with experience in releasing and promoting movies. Digital distribution is also an option for filmmakers who wish to reach a broad audience online.
By understanding the different methods of film distribution, you will be able to make more informed decisions about how to get your film seen by the world!
Interested in learning more about independent filmmaking? Check out these other articles:
Short Film Ideas: 9 Easy Ways to Generate Ideas
25+ Ways to Brainstorm Movie Ideas