Preparing for independent film distribution

August 4, 2014
posted by sheric
question mark

db Photography

I’ve just completed a series with my colleagues over on The Film Collaborative blog dedicated to helping you prepare for distribution of your film. The series was inspired by the many questions we’ve answered over the years in consultations with our members and with independent filmmakers at industry events like Sheffield DocFest, Independent Film Week and SXSW.

Distribution is probably one of the most misunderstood processes in filmmaking. Plenty of schools prepare students for the intricacies of making the film, but leave off the part about connecting that work to an audience. It is a shame because creation is only one part of successful art. The other part is sharing it with people.


In Part 1, we talk about knowing the market for your work. Obviously, distribution falls into the business end of filmmaking and even though artists would like to think that whatever they create will automatically resonate in the market, it isn’t a bad idea to check beforehand.

Part 2 covers the role film festivals play in generating awareness for films, but also in generating revenue. Did you know festival revenue is one of the biggest sources of income for many of the films handled by The Film Collaborative? It’s true! But, the film needs to meet certain criteria in order to see this income stream. Read the post to find out what the criteria is.

Part 3 combines several topics. First, do you know the difference between a distributor and an aggregator? How about a platform and an application? Do you know the release sequence used in independent films? Does that matter any more? What about your chances for foreign distribution? We covered it all in this post.

Part 4 dives into deliverables. This addendum to most distribution contracts often comes as a nasty financial shock to producers. What will a sales agent or a distributor ask for? Isn’t digital distribution more affordable because there aren’t so many delivery items? We talk about what a typical digital distributor will need in order to put your film out on digital platforms.

Part 5 wraps up the series by talking about the financial realities of independent filmmaking. For the most part, it is about lots of little revenue streams (we’re talking hundreds of dollars from tens of outlets instead of hundreds of thousands from only a few). Joe Swanberg comments that artistic freedom comes from knowing the business side of your work. Creating with confidence is a whole lot better than creating with ignorance and subsequent anxiety.


I will be giving the keynote speech at the upcoming RoughCut New Zealand event on September 4, 2014. Preceding my speech, I will spend the day in consultations with local film producers about how to set a marketing strategy and reach the audience for their films. This is especially crucial if you plan to crowdfund and/or self distribute your film.

If you would like to attend either of these events, please see the Tropfest NZ site. I am so excited about my first trip to New Zealand!

While I am in the neighborhood, I am seeking further speaking or consultation invitations. Please contact me

[info at] to arrange the opportunity.

photo credit: db Photography | Demi-Brooke via photopin cc


Nothing is more disconcerting than filmmakers who spend $100K (or whatever) to make their film, but now have nothing left to make screeners, exhibition masters, hire publicists, set up buyer screenings, hire a team to oversee their web presence, etc. A film in the can is only a tree toppling in the forest, and if you have nothing left in the bank then your tree will certainly fall silently on deaf ears.

Remember that everything AFTER you complete your film will still cost some money, even if it is only Festival submission fees; the postage and assistance to get the film out there; a few key trips to important Festivals and markets where you can promote your film; and distribution deliverables (including MUSIC CLEARANCES). A good guideline minimum is 10% – 20% of your production budget to help you start the distribution process…so if you are thinking your film will cost $100K to make, then make the budget 110 or 120K at least.

Don’t get caught in the ultimate trap that so many filmmakers find themselves in; a film in the can with nothing more they can do with it. You didn’t max your credit cards to end up in this dilemma! Think about distribution expenses IN CONJUNCTION with production expenses. Please!

TOTBO Tip of the Day-Tip 29

May 26, 2010
posted by sheric

Full Frame Video Delivery Still Exists

Even though the world is moving to HD and its 16:9 aspect ratio as a standard, some television and VOD contracts require a full frame 4×3 version. In smaller deals, you can often push your way out of this requirement, but on some bigger sales with bigger companies –just may not take your title if you don’t have a full frame 4×3 version.  This is not a letterboxed version that has black bars top and bottom.   It is the dreaded “pan and scan”.  However it is a pan and scan that you can control – and you can pay to have a pan and scan done. A less expensive approach is a 4×3 extraction. This is a down convert from HD 16:9  in which a machine pulls the center of the picture into the full 4×3 frame.   Remind yourself that you won’t have to be there when people see it. You can also wait to do this until you are forced to deliver one.  When you are doing your DI – make sure that your titles/subtitles/graphics are very title safe – so that they stay in the frame when the extraction occurs – otherwise you’ll have to replace each of those titles individually – NOT FUN (I know from experience)

My workshops are coming to NYC on June 5 & 6th organized through IFP – and Vancouver on June 12 & 13th.   One of the perks of attending is a digital pack of articles and documents including a delivery schedule and blank boilerplate budget in Excel.  I hope to see you there! Check out the book and workshops here.

Film Deliverables

July 21, 2009
posted by sheric

The term Deliverables will come up when it is time to sign a contract with your sales agent in order for him to find traditional distribution for your film (theatrical, DVD, VOD,  broadcast, basically public viewing of your film handled by someone else) or with a distributor directly. Deliverables refer to a list of  requirements such as print materials, publicity materials and legal documentation needed to release a film. Deliverables are the last things created by the production team and delivered to the film’s distributor, but are often overlooked by the novice filmmaker.

A deliverables list is usually extensive and can vary wildly depending on the company handling the sale. It is also an expense that is underestimated, wildly underestimated. The latest figure I heard from a professional in the industry was close to $50K and that is if you have done your post production correctly! It is an expense incurred by the filmmaker, usually up front but in rare cases the distributor will front it and take it out of the filmmaker’s cut. So what is on this list that can be so expensive?

Below, you will find a general example of the things asked for by a sales agent or distributor to release your film to the public. This is not an exhaustive list, just commonly asked items. I have heard of some lists running into 7 pages long! Some items can be negotiated. The most expensive items are the prints which can run up to the tens of thousands alone for a feature film. If your audio and sound track were not professionally cut and separated, this is a very expensive redo as well. Careful now, your head is going to spin!

This information was sourced from the Access Film Markets web site.

  • NTSC Digital Betacam master of film
  • DA88 5.1 stereo final mix master for DVD – this must be conformed in perfect synchronization complete with matching continuous time code to the Digi BetaNTSC 16/9 masters above.
  • DA88 6-track 5.1 stereo digital music + effects master (configured as left / center / right / left surround / right surround / sub-woofer.) Effects must be comprehensively filled. Any contentious dialogue/vocals/songs etc that may be required for foreign dubbing should be on a separate track alongside a separate guide dialogue track.
  • DAT stereo mixdown of all source & score music recorded in the film. This must be in its raw original form – i.e. without any fades / dips etc. PLUS a fully detailed inlay card listing music titles; number; running times, etc.
  • DA88 copy of the 6trk dialogue; 6trk music & 6trk effects stereo digital f/mix ‘stems’.
  • Digi Beta NTSC master trailer
  • DA88 6-track stereo digital final 5.1 mix master of trailer
  • DA88 6-track stereo digital 5.1 music + effects master of trailer
  • The Producers grant to the sales agent access to all original source picture and audio materials for Film and trailer, and certify that the items are actually available and are sufficient to manufacture first class technical quality materials.
  • Publicity photos. A minimum of 50 different, varied and approved selected original images to be delivered on 35mm colour transparencies and on CD as High Resolution TIF files, these images to have been photographed and developed by a professional and experienced stills photographer. An itemised caption list relating to the transparencies, naming the events, action background, character, actor or crew depicted in the shot. The selection shall contain mainly major scenes and the main cast of the film as well as a few of the director and production activities. The still photographs delivered or accessed by sales agent must have full use approval, otherwise be clearly indicated as not available.
  • One line/ Short Synopsis (2 paragraphs)/ Long Synopsis (3 pages)
  • Promotional/production materials as available, copies of any and all artwork, publicity and promotional material which may have been created for the film including but not limited to production notes containing full cast/character and crew position listing and biographies of principal cast and crew, interviews, flyers and/or brochures, press books and/or press reviews, final main and end credits as they appear on the original negative.
  • Statement of all contractual screen credit obligations for the theatrical, television and video complete versions of the film to be given in paid advertising, together with a layout of the advertising copy in the form of a billing block.
  • For film and trailer, fully timed and spotted post-production dialogue continuity script containing all dialogue, narration, song vocals as well as the image and sound description corresponding to the final composite release print including the main and end titles and any sub-titles or other text that appears. If the dialog of the film contains any local colloquialisms, mannerisms or any other language other than English, the continuity is to contain a literal English translation.
  • Music cue sheet (for film and trailer) detailing all music contained in the picture (including title, composer/arrangers, publishers, copyright owners, performers, pre-recorded source references, usage category, duration and cues).
  • Electronic Press Kit (EPK) on NTSC Digital betacam with Stereo Full Mix on tracks 1&2 and Stereo Music & Effects on tracks 3&4; fully cut mixed and assembled promotional tape containing no less than 30 minutes footage of cast and crew interviews, behind the scenes footage, and ‘making of’ footage pertaining to the Film. The EPK should also contain some selected scene clips from the film, the final trailer and any available TV spots that can be used for promotional purposes. Access shall be provided to the source tapes and audio from which the EPK was edited and created.
  • DVD extra material including but not limited to any deleted scenes, actor or director’s commentary, camera, VFX, screen and audio tests etc.
  • Sample poster
  • Certificates Of Origin/Nationality.
  • Copies of all documents evidencing Chain of Title including proof of ownership, proof of payment and transfer of rights and, if Sales agent so requires, an independent legal opinion from a reputable lawyer qualified in the relevant jurisdiction confirming that the Chain of Title is satisfactory and adequate.
  • One fully-executed copy of the applicable Dolby Licenses in force and effect between the Producer and the sound laboratory(ies) in connection with the Feature & Trailer, (if applicable).
  • Copy of censorship rating (if obtained). 
  • Final shooting script.
  • Contact list for principal cast and crew.
  • Copies of all fully executed music synchronization, performance and mechanical licenses pertaining to all music contained in the film.
  • Copies of all principal cast and crew’s contracts.
  • One typewritten statement setting forth any and all nudity restrictions with respect to any actor’s services with the applicable language relating to such nudity restrictions.
  • Copies of all fully executed licenses, contracts, assignments or permissions pertaining to all musical, literary, dramatic, film clip, archive footage or photographic materials contained in the film.
  • Original signed statement relating to any and all relevant dubbing restrictions, editing restrictions and subtitling restrictions excluding advertising restrictions.
  • Original signed statement of the precise theatrical running time in feet and frames, minutes and seconds and any other relevant technical data in relation to the theatrical composite release print (reel lengths, aspect ratio, sound format).
  • Original Certificate of Producer.
  • Original Certificate of Authorship.
  • Original signed Producer’s affidavit, sworn by a duly authorized officer, confirming that all costs associated with and incidental to the production of the Film, that may in any way affect the ability of sales agent to market and distribute the Film  have been paid and that there are no liens, encumbrances or claims in respect to the Film.
  • Final Certified Cost Statement. One fully-executed original copy certified by Producer’s Chief Financial Officer as being true, correct and complete accounting of the final negative cost of the Film. This item to be delivered within two months after the date of delivery of the Film.
  • Standard Producer’s Liability Insurance (Errors and Omissions Policy) covering the Film for a period of three (3) years from delivery hereunder and with Sales agent Limited and its subsidiaries, affiliates and financiers, as requested, to be named as additional insured. Sales agent acknowledges that such insurance will only be purchased in the event that it is required by a distributor.
  • One fully-executed US Form PA Copyright Registration Certificate(s) and renewal certificate(s)for the Film and for the Screenplay. Plus evidence of filing with the US Copyright Office and evidence of payment of filing fee. These items to be delivered as soon as the same is available to the Producer, the Producer having used reasonable endeavors to obtain the same as early as possible.
  • Title Material. All non-photographic material used in the photography of the main, credit insert and end titles of the Film.
  • Original signed statement of all prior distribution and exploitation rights including under another title or with additional or cut footage in any and all media and copies or summaries of agreements currently in force with regard to any such distribution.
  • Complete copy of all residual, re-use and future payment obligations, including the final cast list as prepared by the Producer’s payroll company from which all residuals are to be calculated.
  • Guild Approvals. Written statement setting forth any and all Guilds and/or Unions which may have jurisdiction over the Film, and any and all letters of approval, notices or waivers from said Guilds or Unions.
  • TV version records and documentation. One typewritten copy of a statement setting forth in specific detail all cover shots taken for the TV version of the Film, including all dialogue changes and film cuts.
  • This post is not meant to scare you away from following your artistic dreams of making a film and having it traditionally distributed. However, the film business is a business like any other and you must be prepared for the realities of it. Every deal is different and there is no set in stone contract. Make sure your deal is assessed by a knowledgeable entertainment attorney and let them advise you on what can and should be negotiated.