Secrets to Film Distribution Success

By , posted 28 February 2012

Ask independent film producers and directors what causes them the most angst, confusion, headaches-or worse-in the filmmaking journey, and the answer likely will be: Distribution.

Lacking knowledge, training and guidance, most independent filmmakers employ a scattered, piecemeal, and ultimately unsuccessful approach to distribution.

Film producer and distribution expert Jerome Courshon says you can't fault them. After all, despite its importance to the filmmaking journey, distribution isn't even taught in film school. And the industry stacks the deck against filmmakers from the beginning with a fear-based mentality where rookies are expected to pay their dues and industry veterans keep their secrets to success to themselves.

Which is why most producers and directors have no idea how to get their films distributed-resulting in most of those films collecting dust on a bookshelf. Or they simply get uploaded to digital platform websites where they sit, unpurchased. So how do filmmakers learn to win at the distribution game? Most don't, with few going on to make a second or third movie.

But Courshon wants to change that. To do so, he has distilled his own four-year, $80,000 trial-by-fire film distribution odyssey into a training program for other filmmakers. A self-described outsider and egalitarian, Courshon has been teaching producers and directors how to solve the distribution puzzle for the past five years. A fan of the underdog, he isn't threatened by sharing his tips and secrets of the trade so that others have a shot at getting their movies and documentaries into the marketplace.

Jerome Courshon teaches master classes on film distribution and recently released a comprehensive 3-Day DVD program, "THE SECRETS TO DISTRIBUTION: Get Your Movie Distributed Now!" At the end of his courses, filmmakers understand the distribution game and can implement a step-by-step methodology to get their movies and documentaries into the marketplace. Courshon covers both traditional and non-traditional distribution, as well as do-it-yourself options, in depth. He provides concrete, specific and proven strategies to break into each of the distribution markets. He also has written articles for MovieMaker Magazine, Indie Slate Magazine, Film Festival Today and many other film publications.

Courshon doesn't lecture on theory; he teaches nuts and bolts, walking filmmakers through a step-by-step approach to successful distribution into each of the major markets for a film. From theatrical to home video, from VOD to cable television, from foreign sales to the digital/internet markets-each of these are covered in depth. For example, here are a few of Courshon's pointers that most filmmakers don't know or understand:

  • Building a "pedigree" is the best way to distinguish your film from the thousands of others produced every year. Generating buzz, press and interest in your film makes your film desirable to distributors.
  • Selling a movie to a distributor or to the public is a psychological 'game.' Buyers must think the product is good-and worth their money-before they'll buy.
  • Unless you're in one of the very top film festivals, there is no real reason to hire a producer rep.
  • Key art (i.e., the movie poster) can make or break your film. Good key art is more likely to result in a deal with a distributor or sales to the public. Bad key art will kill your movie.
  • To put butts in seats, either at a film festival or at a multiplex, filmmakers need to make an emotional connection with prospective moviegoers through: compelling key art, personal contact, giveaways, attention-getting spectacles, and grassroots and social media marketing.
  • To be picked up for a theatrical deal by one of the major distributors, you must premiere at Sundance, Toronto or Cannes. If you don't premiere at one of these top three festivals, you have a less than 1 percent chance of getting a major theatrical deal.
  • To self-release a movie into theaters, filmmakers need to choose the correct theater by looking at: reputation of theater, demographics, typical attendance and neighborhood foot traffic.
  • Most filmmakers think there are only 20 home video companies to approach for a DVD deal. Not true. There are about 100 companies. Securing a good home video deal works best when using a "calibrated submission" approach, instead of the "shotgun" approach. Producer reps use the shotgun approach, which fails for most filmmakers.
  • Always negotiate a contract from a distributor; never accept their boilerplate contract. It rarely will contain the protections filmmakers need, such as a guaranteed release date, expense caps, performance clause, return of rights parameters, arbitration clause, etc.
  • Always perform due diligence on distributors-even on digital platform websites when considering where to upload your film for sale. Contact the producers of several movies that have been placed with the distributor (or digital platform site) for at least one year and ask about their experience and sales. Most filmmakers don't do this, unfortunately.
  • Selling your film online (or offline) requires knowing WHO your audience is, and then finding them.
  • Building an email database of fans and followers is an absolute today. It will give you many options, such as selling your film to them when ready and raising money for future projects.
Of the approximately 5,000 independent films being made each year, only perhaps 200 will ever see the light of day or generate significant sales. While many producers and directors have the skills, creativity and vision to make a film, too few have the proper information and understanding to get it out there when finished. However, filmmakers can master the distribution quagmire with the correct knowledge and by applying the right strategies.

For more information about Jerome Courshon or his 3-Day program, "THE SECRETS TO DISTRIBUTION: Get Your Movie Distributed Now!," visit: www.distribution.la

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