Self Distribution: The Only Game in Town

By Lenny Manzo, posted 2 June 2010

You come up with a brilliant idea. You write a great script. By some miracle you find the money to make the movie. It's finished and it came out pretty good. Now what do you do? This is the toughest part of the process; selling your film.

In the 90's you would make an independent movie and take it to a festival or a distributor. If it was good you would have a decent chance of getting it picked up with a cash advance. There were also less independent films made and less competition.

Technology changed and movie making is much more accessible to the average Joe. There are more film students than ever with the illusive dream of becoming a Hollywood director. Everyone is making a movie today, and as the old laws of supply in demand are still in effect, the distributors are in the cat bird seat.

Most filmmakers find themselves over a barrel. By the time the movie is complete they are broke. After the initial buzz dies down, desperation kicks in; Snidely Whiplash comes along and gives them a line of hope. They end up making a deal with the devil and like Credence Clearwater Revival their rights have been lost in perpetuity.

 Even if the distributor has good intentions when the deal is signed, the wind changes frequently in this fickle business and over night your movie is shelved. In the meantime debt has accrued due to advertisement, DVD costs and other clerical bills. The distributor's expenses must be recouped before you see a penny. If you have a less scrupulous distributor you will be flimflammed with creative accounting. Even with success at the box office and DVD sales you still may not make any money.

There is an alternative for independent filmmakers. Today's producers not only need to know how to make the movie they need to know how to distribute it. This is actually a great opportunity for the modern filmmaker. There has never been a better time where an individual can create something and get it out to the world. The internet is so dynamic that with the right marketing and execution the product can sell. The best recourse for today’s movie maker is self distribution.

It is not enough for a producer to be an artist and visionary. Today's producer must also be a savvy business person, an excellent marketer, and a great salesperson. These are new trades to learn. If you can't do it, you better find someone to bring on your team who can. If not you'll be left with a home movie you can show to your family at Christmas, Chanukah or Kwanza celebration.

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