Getting a Film Distribution Deal in place
Updated: Apr 23
If a tree falls in a forest, and there's no one around to hear it, does it make a sound? The same can be said for your film if no one saw it (or not enough people have seen it) did you really make a film? Of course, nothing can take away the accomplishment of producing either a short or feature film (1*). Filmmaking is a collective art form. When a film is being produced, it is not done by a one-person army, it requires a group of people, familiar or unfamiliar, bonding to create art. It is this coming together of minds for one common purpose that makes filmmaking such a worthwhile endeavor. However, we do agree that the greatest satisfaction comes when the work is being viewed and appreciated by countless strangers.
Way back, the film festival circuit played an integral part in getting a film exposure and the deserving ones the awards, theatrical, and VOD distribution deals (2*). Then the internet allowed you to self-distribute your film without a distributor during the early days of iTunes, Amazon, or Youtube. However, now with major streaming platforms the best avenue for you to reach a wide audience, you will need to get a Film Distribution Deal in place to get your film into those platforms or you will struggle to get enough eyeballs on it to recoup the production cost.
What is a Film Distribution deal?
The universal definition of film distribution is the process of making a movie available for viewing by an audience. The film may be exhibited directly to the public either through a movie theater or television, or personal home viewing (including DVD, video-on-demand, download, television programs through broadcast syndication).
When to start with the Distribution Plan?
Film Festivals will not go away and with COVID-19 rampaging the theatrical industry, film festivals will play a major role in preserving the theatre experience. Since World War 2, theatres have been widely stated to be in decline but will COVID deal the final blow (3*)? I hope not, theatre chains will have to change their business model just like how every other industry is doing so one way or another.
But don't wait till the festivals before coming with a distribution plan, have one already in place before the film is even made. The Distribution Plan is where you construct the strategy of getting your film the best deal possible. It doesn’t mean that the film has to have pre-sale agreements or a papered distribution commitment prior to the making of the film. Few people, particularly in the indie world, are capable of that.
Why is it important?
The mistake I made in my first feature film, True Love was to not have a distribution deal in place before or at least while the film was being produced. As I had mentioned in my previous blog, I was practically doing everything due to the lack of support (4*). While I had a clear and distinct creative vision for that project, obviously it needed to be aligned from a sales point of view. Because if sales can't or don't know how to sell it, what good would a decent film do?
By having a conversation with a distribution agent, getting their feedback. from the development phase of your project, you are setting yourself up for success in scoring a good deal. DO keep in mind, that you are still the creator of the project so take their advice sparsely and respectfully decline and provide alternatives if you don't agree with their feedback or suggestions. Ultimately it's to make sure you are not making your project in a silo.
How to make Netflix distributed your film
Getting your film on Netflix is still considered the holy grail of independent filmmaking as Netflix gives your film the best opportunity to reach the widest possible audience. According to this article by Peter Hamilton (5*), a former CBS executive whose firm, Peter Hamilton Consultants helps established and aspiring media players to successfully create and distribute video content, there are options for indie filmmakers to get their project on Netflix (6*). Though he focuses on documentaries, I believe the process is pretty much the same for feature films. The options that resonate most with me are:
A distributor with a track record
Distributors who have a partnership with Netflix, often meet with Netflix executives to pitch ideas that will help fill up their wide catalog. As you may already know, Netflix has practically every film genre, thus the demand in there. As they wouldn't want to lose decent projects to their rivals, they are always looking for projects to sell to their territories in North American and internationally. Here is a list of their approved partners (7*). If you have a film that is already in production and need completion funds or require complete funding, they will find a way to accommodate
Netflix's mission statement is "To Entertain the world" (8*). Thus it is appropriate that they have content that is available and relevant for their 200 territories worldwide. Of course with politics coming into play, Netflix has to promise to ensure that a certain percentage of its content is locally produced and appealing.
As such, there is always a place for your film on Netflix if done right.
But before you approach those distribution companies, be polite and do things the right way. Please make sure to read my blog on how to approach those distributors with a properly drafted treatment (9*)
The Martini is a free screenwriting app that aides filmmakers in the early stage of their development to gather feedback from their team members. Please do subscribe to my newsletter and my social media accounts, Twitter, and Instagram to follow me on my team's journey in the development of this important filmmaking tool.