The DIY drumbeat has grown louder and louder during the past few years, with filmmakers taking the entire distribution to their own hands. This includes selling the film, negotiating all the deals and arranging all theatrical and community viewings not to mention grabbing the attention of the press. A lot of work.
Some filmmakers who wish to keep their focus on making films and developing new projects wish to go down the all rights route, simply selling the film to a distributors that will take care of the rest. But a loud group of filmmakers are praising DIY distribution model. Recent successful examples include Indie Game, Helvetica, Papadopoulos and Sons and The Discoverers.
Gary Hustwit, the director behind Helvetica, a documentary about the legendary font, shared his views on distribution to Thom Powers.
“To me it’s all filmmaking. Either i’m trying to chase people down to be in my film or I’m trying to get them to watch the film. It’s all filmmaking”.
Naturally, the success of a DIY distribution depends largely on the film itself, its audience and the filmmakers efforts. In the case of Helvetica Hustwit used the interest of graphic designer communities to expand his audience base and attract the attention of traditional press. It is worth mentioning here that in this new landscape documentaries are in special position. Documentaries have audiences; yes, often niche audiences but ones that are consequently more reachable.
In his book Think Outside The Box OfficeJon Reiss challenges the filmmaker considering DIY distribution to analyze their audiences in degrees. The first degree audience is the most devoted fans of the film’s topic. In Helvetica’s case it was the graphic designers. Hustwit started to blog about the film aggressively nine months before the theatrical release. Once his blog was established enough he got it mentioned in a graphic designer website typophile.com which drove the first wave of visitor’s to Helvetica’s website helveticafilm.com. Once the flow of visitors grew, he began to sell merchandise on the film’s website, grossing 75000 dollars even before the film was even released.
Hustwit was then able to use that money to support his theatrical release; to book theatres and cover travel expenses. He single handedly toured with the film in over 100 screenings in US and was therefore able to sell tickets for higher price. Hustwit did the math and counted that he will make profit for every single screening that he did for the film. As a DIY distributor he didn’t have to pay for the expensive fees that come along the traditional model.
More detailed information of distribution fees can be found here.
A key to Hustwit’s success with Helvetica was that he knew his audience and was able to reach it through the internet efficiently. He ended up using no money for advertising, but used blogs and collaborations and partnerships with local organizations to promote the film.
As Hustwit said
‘The model works if there is a demand for your film. If you have to create the demand, then it’s another story’.
That is why the DIY route is a valid option for documentary distribution. Great documentaries should have a core audience, always.
But still, things can go wrong...Recently the Raindance Institute listed the 7 deadly sins of a self distributors.