There is no audience for this film

September 28, 2012
posted by sheric

Many indie filmmakers, especially documentary filmmakers, hear this phrase from potential sales agents and distributors as a reason the film isn’t picked up for distribution. Let’s dissect what they are really saying.

It will take us too much time, effort, and money to reach this audience.

You may know, through spending many years making the film, that there IS an audience for it, but is that audience big enough to rake in the revenue needed by these facilitators? Distribution companies deal with a catalog of films for many years and each one needs some sort of attention if the title is to sell. Many times they use the same methods for every title because those processes and staff have been in place for a long time. They aren’t going to hire new staff and formulate new processes just to deal with one title.

The less time, effort and money they can spend on getting an audience or a subdistributor interested in buying, the better for them. They also have normal business overhead to pay like their employees, their office space, legal costs, utilities etc, which you,  the filmmaker, may not have, to the same financial degree, on a daily basis. So the revenue from each film they need to sustain themselves in business, not to mention your cut of this, needs to add up with minimal outlay. Challenging films or films with a limited audience are not attractive for this reason because too much effort will be involved to reach those people for the small amount of revenue that audience represents.

Often, I read news stories of films that are raising money and heading into direct distribution because mainstream distributors passed on the title and the stories are usually tinged with indignance, “they didn’t believe in our film” kind of sentiment. It is simply a business decision that the film doesn’t make financial sense for the distributor. It may make great financial sense for the filmmaker to self distribute though.

With this knowledge, filmmakers who have prepared their distribution strategy, allocated a budget/staff and do have a clearly defined core audience will be in a better position to incorporate direct distribution because they know exactly who supports their work, how to reach them and the outlets they should use for sales. Those outlets may be organizational/educational screenings and merchandise sales, specialist websites for affiliate sales, their own website, digital outlets that can be accessed either directly or through an aggregator on a non exclusive basis, and incorporating tools like Tugg or Gathr to book conventional theatrical screenings. These will all generate revenue that goes to the filmmaker without excessive percentages taken and waiting months (or years) for a check. Planning and preparation is needed for this during the preproduction/production phase at least.

Most films of quality do have an audience, but they may not have the masses required by a distribution company.┬áThere is no longer a need or an excuse to put a film on the shelf because a company didn’t acquire it.