An overview of the current landscape of indie distribution; what are the options and what is on the table?
A time, not so long ago, the world of film distribution still lived its cosy live in the old world. It was a time where strong hierarchical realm reigned supreme and filmmakers must pled the powers of the universe to grant them distribution. Once some lucky ones were able to make a deal, they were forced to sign all-right-deals and hand in the entire control of their film to the one chosen distributor. Furthermore over time the deals got significantly worse and let many filmmakers unhappy and disappointed.
But internet continued to develop, viewing habits were changed, and new platforms opened, resulting in a vast amount of new possibilities for filmmakers to show and make revenue of their work. This is what the distribution consultant, sometimes referred to as indie distribution guru, Peter Broderick refers to as the ‘New World of Distribution’.
In his recent talk at the IDFA, Broderick, reported by journalist Carol Ann Short, stressed the importance of designing a customized distribution strategy to tackle with the possibilities of the new world. The first thing to establish is how much the filmmaker is willing to do their self?
All-Rights-Deal ---- Hybrid Distribution ---- Self Distribution
In an excessive list of filmmakers’ advice about distribution gathered by Thom Powers, a TIFF programmer and documentary curator, the hybrid approach received most of the praising.
Quickly explained hybrid distribution is the new world alternative to giving one company the total distribution control of the film. It encourages the filmmaker to split distribution rights among several third party distribution partners (theatrical distributor, DVD distributor, TV channels, VOD companies and educational institutions), while retaining the overall control of the process. Most importantly the hybrid model stressed the filmmakers to retain the rights for direct digital and DVD sales globally.
Filmmakers praising the hybrid model and retaining distribution rights to the filmmaker, include James Swrinsky the co-director, co-producer and self distributor of Indie Game (2014), an awarded documentary about the lonely wolves of the game industry.
“It allows you to own the long tail of your film and capitalize off of organic search. Once the marketing spend is done and sales chart momentum begins to wane, the vast majority of people will discover your film in much more organic, word-to-mouth ways, many of which end up with a Google search. -- You want to be able to sell your film one click after that point. Roughly a third of all digital sales for Indie Game: The Movie happened on indiegamethemovie.com”
Dan Coga, the co-founder of Impact Partners, a company committed to bring together documentary financiers and filmmakers, also believes in the the hybrid model due to lack of trust that the old world’s distributors would turn all stones to get our films out there.
“If you think there is a very specific audience for your film that will not go to the theatres but will buy a DVD or pay to download the film, make sure you reserve educational/non-theatrical rights yourself. All the buyers of every stripe say they exploit these rights, but very few of them actually do.”
To conclude, there seems to be a mistrust among filmmakers and distribution strategist towards the old model of distribution. Some horror stories from the past include notions of Miramax purchasing films but holding back their release to maximize the bonuses of the company's founder Harvey Weinstein. A famous example is when Miramax left the incredible Chinese indie film Hero (2002) to sit on the shelf while they postponed its release a total of six times (over two years), a case only being resolved with the intervention of Disney executives and even Quentin Tarantino who in the end allowed the film to use his name as promotional material to attract Box Office attention and speed the distribution of the film.
To overcome this mistrust, as well as to cope with the overly crowded market, filmmakers are beginning to see more options to gain power over their own films by taking part in the distribution process. The two options seem to be either retraining rights (hybrid model) or fully emerging into self-distribution. But not to be mistaken, distribution is hard work and requires precious time, that perhaps some filmmakers would rather spend on planning their future projects. That is why the greatness of the new world remains in the options it brings, from all-rights-deals to self distribution or releasing the whole thing free online.