Film Distribution for Indie Filmmakers [How To Sell Your Movie!]

film distribution

Key Takeaways for How to Distribute a Movie:

  1. Film Festivals: Festivals can provide exposure and potentially lead to distribution deals.
  2. AVOD (Ad-supported Video On Demand): Platforms like Tubi, Crackle, and Popcornflix allow viewers to watch films for free with ads.
  3. TVOD (Transactional Video On Demand): Platforms like iTunes, Google Play, and Apple+ where viewers pay for what they watch.
  4. SVOD (Subscription Video On Demand): Platforms like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and Disney+ where viewers pay a subscription fee.
  5. Theatrical Release: You can do a limited theatrical release to build buzz.
  6. Self-Distribution: Upload your movie to YouTube, Vimeo or FilmHub.
  7. DVD/Blu-ray Sales: Sell physical copies at screenings, online, or through retailers.
  8. Social Media: Sharing clips or short films on TikTok, Instagram, or Facebook can build an audience.
  9. Local TV Stations: Some local stations might be interested in airing indie films, especially if they have local relevance.

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.

As an indie filmmaker myself, I understand all too well how overwhelming the film distribution process can be! In fact, my team has recently secured distribution for my debut feature film, Spin The Wheel, and we are in the process of putting together the deliverables!

Making the film is hard enough – by the end of the independent film creation process, you still need to learn about how to get your movie seen by real, live people!

These days, the traditional gatekeepers, such as distribution companies, are less important, and it’s all about the indie filmmaker‘s ability to sell the film themselves.

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 better decisions about how to get your feature film seen by the world!

What is Film Distribution?

infographic defining film distribution

Film distribution is an essential yet often overlooked aspect of filmmaking.

It involves a complex network of vendors, programs, and services that connect filmmakers with viewers to get their projects seen.

At its simplest level, it delivers 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 movie distribution company aims to get films from producers and directors into viewers’ hands.

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.

demonstration, projector, film projector

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, each with 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 getting your film into their hands in the first place can be challenging.

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.

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 (it wasn’t what my team chose to do).

No matter which routes you choose, distribution will always be challenging. But remember that every filmmaker has to go through it, and there is always a way!


Here’s a great video on the different types of film distribution methods for indie filmmakers!

Types of Film Distribution

infographic on 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

movie theater, movies, entrance

Theaters/Cinemas

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, which 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.

Sometimes, an independent theater in your town or city will let you rent out that theater for a private screening – this self-distribution channel is pricy but can be worth it!

Fortunately, more options are 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.

A great festival run can garner enough interest from distributors to take a chance to show 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.

Television/Cable

Television and cable channels remain promising avenues for indie filmmakers, even in today’s digital age.

By partnering with TV networks or cable providers, indie films can gain exposure far beyond what a limited theater run might offer. This means your film has the potential to be showcased in households nationwide and possibly even on an international scale, all at once.

A significant advantage? Your film’s presence lingers. Instead of a short stint in theaters, it can remain accessible on TV for extended periods.

For indie creators aiming to maximize their audience reach, exploring TV and cable distribution is a smart move. To navigate this route, consider teaming up with a seasoned sales agent. They can help secure a distribution deal, either post-theatrical release or as a primary distribution strategy.

DVD and Blu-Ray

Getting your indie film onto physical formats like DVD and Blu-Ray might seem old-school in the age of streaming. However, there’s a dedicated market of collectors, enthusiasts, and those who cherish tangible media.

Start by researching distributors that have a penchant for indie films. When approaching these distributors, it’s crucial to have a well-prepared press kit. This kit should encompass a synopsis of your film, a director’s statement, bios of the cast and crew, production stills, and any accolades or festival appearances your film has garnered.

Another avenue to explore is attending film markets. Events such as the American Film Market (AFM) or the European Film Market (EFM) serve as platforms where filmmakers can directly engage with distributors and pitch their films. But remember, the quality of your film is paramount. Ensure that every aspect, from sound and visuals to packaging, exudes professionalism. A polished product is invariably more enticing to distributors and end consumers.

If traditional distribution routes don’t pan out, self-distribution is a viable option. Some companies cater specifically to indie filmmakers looking to take this route. They offer services that can help you produce and distribute DVDs and Blu-rays on your own terms.

Once you have your physical copies, it’s time to engage your audience. Use social media, email newsletters, and your film’s official website to announce the DVD and Blu-Ray release. Offering pre-orders can gauge demand and might even help cover some initial production costs. Additionally, forging retail partnerships can be beneficial. Local video stores, bookstores, or even coffee shops might be open to stocking your film, especially if there’s a local connection.

Lastly, to make your physical release stand out, consider adding special features. Behind-the-scenes footage, interviews, or commentary tracks can add significant value to your DVD or Blu-Ray.

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.

Father and Children Looking at a Laptop

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 can 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.

black flat screen tv turned on displaying 11

Film Festivals

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 for 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.

Creating engaging social media campaigns can increase visibility and generate interest in your project, allowing you to generate leads that may eventually lead to movie distribution deals.

Utilizing creative strategies such as partnering with influencers, streaming live Q&A sessions, or running giveaways are excellent ways to engage potential audiences, build credibility in your project’s brand, and ultimately reach new viewers.

Social media is fantastic as it allows independent filmmakers to find their audience faster than ever!

macbook pro on white table

Final Thoughts

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 the release of their films.

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.

You can make more informed decisions about how to get your film seen by the world when you really understand each option that is available to you!

Pin for movie distribution

Common Questions (FAQs)

What does the distribution of a film mean?

Film distribution is how and where a movie is shown. Different distribution methods exist, from theatrical releases, where films are presented in movie theaters, to streaming releases, which let viewers access films online. Other forms include home video (DVD or BluRay) and television broadcast releases.

How does film distribution work?

The traditional route of widespread distribution begins with a theater release and then moves out to broadcast television, home video, streaming services, and more. 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?

One way to get distribution is submitting your film to festivals, which can 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. There are also digital platforms such as Netflix or YouTube, which are reliable sources for getting your work out into the world.

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.

Interested in learning more about independent filmmaking? Check out these helpful articles!

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