Film Festival Today

Founded by Jeremy Taylor


Written by: FFT Webmaster | March 8th, 2011

The Secrets To Distribution


TIP #4: Develop a Following
In the current social media milieu, one can no longer ignore the power of creating a following. Developing a following for your film on Facebook, YouTube, et al., not only increases the value of your movie or doc, but with a large enough following, gives you more options. From the notoriety for the team behind the “Lonely Girl” videos to the initial success of “Paranormal Activity,” from Joss Whedon to Robert Greenwald, the power of developing a fan base and connecting with them can increase your value — and your film’s value — exponentially.

Even before social media became the current zeitgeist that it is, the power of a fan base has been a fact of life. For example, back in 1998 when I worked at HBO, the television series “Arliss” was about to get the ax. Someone — perhaps the producers — leaked word of this to the media and a campaign to change HBO’s mind began, with thousands of emails and letters coming in from fans. Stacks of these things were actually carried into the President of Original Programming’s office who wanted to see them. After much deliberation, the President reversed course, HBO renewed the show and it ran for several more seasons.

This has happened on a number of shows over the years, before “Arliss” and after, although campaigns by fans don’t always work with the television networks. But whatever you’re creating, whether films, television or webisodes, if you develop a following, you can monetize this to create or sustain a career. And when you’ve built a good fan base, it gives you more leverage with distributors if you wish to make deals rather than go the DIY route.


TIP #5: Exploit Your Niche
This goes hand-in-hand with creating a following. All projects, no matter what they are, have one or more inherent niches. Even if you have a broad-based appeal movie, there are niches that can be identified. If you identify these, and begin building your following from these, this is an easy (or easier) way to begin building your fan base.

When it comes to indie films and documentaries, this is VERY important. Why? First, for the simple reason that you probably don’t have Brad Pitt in your movie to “automatically” drive audiences into your screenings. Star names equal built-in audience, as do “star materials” such as NY Times best-selling books — which most indies don’t have. Secondly, niche audiences are motivated. Something that’s made that addresses their concerns (or entertains them) over the thing they’re passionate about and you have instant sales. Bottom line, niche audiences take less convincing to buy what you’re selling, if your film inherently appeals to them.

Historically, most people in the U.S. have not actively sought out alternative programming, alternative foods, alternative anything. McDonald’s and Walmart wouldn’t have become the behemoths they are if the masses did. The good news for us, however, is that the “great fragmentation” of film & TV that first began with the birth of multi-channel cable systems, then grew with the 500+ channel universes, finally exploded with the internet and social media. Reaching your audience now has never been easier.

So what niches are available to you with your film? Even if your movie is a broad-based appeal one, identify specific niches and target these audiences as well.

TIP #6: Make an Excellent Trailer
Notice that I didn’t say ‘good’ trailer, but ‘excellent’ trailer. This is one of those Achilles’ heels for most filmmakers. Like poster artwork, they either try to do it themselves, or they get someone to throw something together for them and upload it online. The majority of indie film trailers I see range from mediocre to awful. Seriously. And this is one of the worst things you can do to hurt your film’s value.

Cutting a great trailer and making a feature film or doc are two different skill sets. They really are. Being able to compellingly tell the story of a 2 hour movie in 90 seconds is extremely challenging. I would actually call the ability to do this an art. If you don’t cut trailers for a living, you are: a) probably not able to do it superlatively, and b) possibly not objective enough to do it superlatively.

If you need a trailer, I encourage you to hire someone to do it. You work with them on creating the 90 second story, of course, but allow them to be your objective eyes and ears. And when you’re close to final cut on a trailer, show it to a number of people and get feedback. It needs to give your audience a semblance of the story, it needs to be interesting, it needs to be compelling.

If your trailer is not excellent, then don’t use it. You will not get people to buy your DVD or digital download, and you will not get distributors interested enough to watch your movie.

Here’s the basic guideline of when a trailer is/isn’t needed:

a) If you’re going after a distributor in the domestic (U.S.) market, you do not need a trailer. In fact, I recommend you not use one. There are some who may disagree with this, but as I discuss in my Program, you want potential distributors to watch your entire movie before they make a decision. You do not want them to watch 90 seconds before possibly saying ‘No.’ (And domestic distributors will not say ‘Yes’ to picking up a movie from watching a trailer. They will not say ‘Yes’ until they watch the entire film.)

b) If you’re going the DIY route and selling DVDs, VOD or digital downloads yourself, then a trailer can be a key selling tool to get your audience to buy. You’ll need an excellent one, if you want major sales. If you’re DIY’ing your film and you’re using a mediocre to crappy trailer, your sales will almost certainly suck. (Unless you’re somehow compensating with other tools effectively.)

c) If you’re DIY’ing your movie into theaters, it’s vital to have a great trailer playing on screens weeks before.

d) If you’re going after foreign sales, an excellent trailer is a major asset here, as there are buyers from the overseas territories who will buy films based solely on a great trailer.

Bottom line? A great trailer can increase your film’s perceived value and result in higher sales when DIY’ing or selling it internationally.

TIP #7: Win Awards
If you choose to do film festivals, winning awards (if possible) definitely increases value. Please don’t let anyone from Hollywood (or wherever) cynically tell you otherwise. There’s a lot of jaded people in the film business who like to rain on others’ parades.

Of course, winning an award at Sundance is more valuable than winning an award at the Punxsutawney Phil film festival. But even when you win an award at a lower tier festival, this isn’t your best friend saying they loved your movie. This is a peer group (if it’s a jury) or business (if it’s the festival staff) or audience (if it’s an Audience Award) saying your movie is good. And distributors — whether they admit it or not — are influenced by them. Some audiences too. (I say “some” audiences, because whether they pay attention to awards or not — or if awards mean anything to them — largely depends upon their background/demographic.)

In my Program “THE SECRETS TO DISTRIBUTION” is a powerful Section on concrete actions & strategies to employ, if doing film festivals, to increase your likelihood of winning awards.

So these are 7 powerful tips to increase your film’s value and profit potential. If you can do all 7, you are well on your way to serious success with your movie or documentary. If you can only do some of these, you are still well on your way — and further than most filmmakers. Do what you can; some of the above can take a bit of time and effort. But if you’ve spent 1, 2 or even 3 years making your film, it would be foolish not to get to the “finish line” of successful distribution & sales!

© 2011 Jerome Courshon. All Rights Reserved.

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Jerome Courshon
Centaur Productions
Website: www.Distribution.LA
Facebook: Secrets To Film Distribution


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