Another Solution for Distribution is the Do-it-Yourself Approach

By , posted 1 April 2006

So you couldn't find a distributor but you know your film has an audience? Or you haven't tried getting a distributor and don't feel like waiting out the time it takes and going through the process?

In either case, you can take a do-it-yourself approach and release your movie on DVD or in the theaters, all by yourself.

Let's start with the DVD option. By far the best service to use in get this going is Custom Flix ( They are an 'on demand' DVD distribution service -- which means that you send them the master of your film, and as people purchase it off their website, they burn that copy 'on demand', package it up, and ship it to the buyer. It works great because for do-it-yourself DVD distribution, you don't have to worry about doing any duplication or fulfillment - you just focus on marketing your title and driving people to the Custom Flix site to buy it, and you receive a direct percentage of every sale. Here's an example on how things could go: I know a filmmaker who had a low-budget horror film and who couldn't find a DVD distribution deal. She decided to go with Custom Flix, and was able to make her film an underground hit through clever marketing tactics. Distributors soon caught wind of this - the numbers she was generating in terms of sales -- and she was quickly picked up by a major U.S DVD distributor, and even given a sizeable advance! In the end, her film became a very successful release.

Aside from DVD, the other do-it-yourself distribution option for your movie is called a platform theatrical release. A platform theatrical release is when you take your film and release it in one or two theaters in one or two cities, and then slowly and systematically release it in additional cities (in industry speak: platforming). This is the opposite approach to what the major studios do when they release a film in several cities at once. However, the idea behind a platform theatrical release is sort of the 'slow burn' approach, and the absolute key to making it successful is in marketing the film to your desired audience. That means buying all your own advertising in the local papers where you plan to release it, as well as employing grass roots marketing techniques to get people to go see your movie. If no one goes to see the movie, the theater will drop it after one weekend. So you really need to focus on marketing and getting a steady stream of people to see your film. I'll give you a real live example of a very successful platform theatrical release: The producers of WHAT THE BLEEP DO WE KNOW (Samuel Goldwyn), decided to go with a do-it-yourself approach and opened their film in one theater, in one city, and relentlessly marketed to their niche (yoga students). They were able to sell out every showing on the opening weekend, and therefore the theater picked them up for an additional week. They continued to sell out screenings, and in addition to staying on at that original theater, they moved on to other theaters in other cities - kept marketing and kept selling out shows. Finally, with numbers like that, Samuel Goldwyn stepped in and offered them a distribution deal. The WHAT THE BLEEP producers had proven there was an audience for their film, and a major distributor responded to that and took the film out even wider.

If you decide to do a platform theatrical release, but you don't have the same success as the WHAT THE BLEEP producers did, at least you will have made some revenue off the screenings (the theater splits ticket receipts with you), and hopefully recouped some of your initial investment in the process.

You can read more about the WHAT THE BLEEP DO WE KNOW case study, and see an in-depth interview with one of the producers Betsy Chasse in my book "Insiders Guide to Film Distribution" - which you can now purchase from my blog (

In closing, if you have a finished film that doesn't seem to be getting the attention of distributors, you can always go the do-it-yourself route. Build an audience for your film either through a DVD or theatrical release, and then hopefully get picked up by a distributor later. At the very least, it will allow you to start making back some of the money you spent on making the film in the first place.

Stacey Parks is the author of "Insiders Guide to Film Distribution", a comprehensive manual for filmmakers and producers dedicated to film distribution and the marketplace. Stacey has worked in independent film for over 10 years, and is currently a sales executive at the BBC Worldwide in Los Angeles. She was previously a foreign sales agent for many years. You can purchase her book as well as sign up for a free Distribution eCourse at and get free Distribution tips at

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