Anyone who reads this blog, sees me in person or in videos online will know that I am a huge advocate of direct distribution. If an artist has put in the hard work and time to reach and cultivate an audience for her work, why give all rights away and a cut of that potential revenue to a third party?
But there are situations where the best option might be to take the deal.
Most artists are either avoiding the work of connecting with an audience or still haven’t caught on to the fact that they should be doing it and for those people, a distribution deal is their only option. In order to successfully direct distribute, 3 things have to be in place:
1) a clearly identifiable audience that the artist/production can easily reach;
2) enough resources, both labor and financial, to release the work into the market;
3) the expertise to navigate the best distribution route with several revenue sources.
The trouble with most independent filmmakers who want to go the direct distribution route (or need to) is they do not have these 3 things in place. They may not be happy with the distribution offers they are receiving (or haven’t received), but they can’t realistically turn them down if there is nothing else in place.
I ask you to consider a couple of things when trying to decide which route to take. Of the distribution offers you have received, are you receiving an advance (MG/minimum guarantee)? If the answer is yes, is it more than what you put into producing the work or is it more than you can conceive of earning on your own without putting in even more of your own money to promote the film? Note that you will almost definitely not receive any further revenue (back end) from your distribution deal. If it is higher than the production budget, take the deal. If it isn’t, realize that in order to come out ahead of what is being offered, you will have to not only earn more than the advance if you distribute directly, you will have to earn MORE in order to recoup the cost of promoting the film on your own which could realistically run between $50K-$100K in domestic marketing costs. Do you think that is possible, based on what you know to be the audience potential of your film? If you don’t know or have serious doubts, you may want to take the deal. While you probably will never see any more money from the deal, you won’t be spending even more of your own. Remember, any money spent by the distributor to promote the film will have to be recouped by them before there is any further revenue to disperse to your sales agent and to you, so you are paying for these costs either way.
Next, is the distributor offering the type of release you had envisioned for your film? If the answer is no, and it often is, will you be happy knowing that you have full control and the ability to release the film in the way you envisioned even if you don’t earn the money back? This question is very crucial because in indie film it is likely that you will have a more significant release if you do it on your own. But if you can’t financially afford all of the components needed to release the film, you will be better off to hand it to a company that could at least help you accomplish reaching a wider audience and insist they put in writing how they plan to release it and what efforts they will do to promote it.
It is very possible that you will not financially recoup either way, so the decision really rests on which way the film will get a release. This is a hard truth to swallow, but someone needs to make you aware of this.
I will be talking about this in depth on July 27 in Atlanta for a very intensive 4 hour session hosted by Atlanta Film Festival 365 on identifying and connecting with the audience for your film and the distribution options that are now available to get the work into the market. I gave this talk in Europe late last year and the response was enthusiastic with much furious notetaking! Do bring your laptops or notebooks with lots of paper because I will be sharing very useful information on the ever changing landscape of indie film distribution.
Early bird tickets are now on sale and the price is intentionally affordable for the independent artist. If you are near Atlanta, join us.
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