Getting in Bed With a Film Distributor
Mia Bruno is the Producer of Marketing and Distribution at Seed&Spark, Pyragraph’s favorite crowdfunding and distribution site for indie films.
You’ve been seeing a lot of each other for a few weeks now. He calls you all the time, takes you out to nice meals, specifies Grey Goose when you order a vodka martini. He tells you all the right things, says you’re like neo-Fellini with a leitmotif of Cassavetes, yet still distinctly unique: a real find. He always tells you what a great match the two of you would make—how he’s the only one for you. You know what he wants, but are you ready?
He is pretty dreamy. You’ve heard mind-blowing stories about his prowess—how deeply he can penetrate the marketplace, how skillfully he works in your genre, how powerful he can create a release. But on the other hand, he has a reputation. He’s been seen around town with a lot of people, makes a lot of promises he can’t keep. Does he really want you, or will he drop you after you sign on the dotted line? Onto the next one with bigger cast, easier marketing potential, tighter plot?
Making the decision to go with a distributor is a big choice. On the one hand it can be a joyful union, full of thrilling pleasure, empathic compatibility, and front page iTunes placement. On the other hand, it can leave you feeling low and compromised, your film flung out into the ether without any marketing or strategy, something sacred and treasured now gone from you for the next 10 years.
If he calls you a deceitful tease for holding out on him, then maybe he was never a fit anyway.
The bottom line is that you and only you are the one to choose what happens to your body of work. When you sign a deal with a distributor who plans to take all of your rights, be sure you are aware of what you are agreeing to and know that you are asking the right questions. For example, do you actually have avenues into all of the platforms and operators that you claim to? Does signing a deal with you cut off my ability to sell the film from my website? If I absolutely want to be on Netflix no matter how paltry the license fee, will you listen to my wishes? When it comes to the way me and my distributor will proceed together, will my voice be included in all the decision-making?
This is not to say that you should completely abstain from distribution. There are many wonderful partners out there, and collaboration between a consenting filmmaker and empathetic distributor can be a beautiful and heartening connection. But the most important element is clear communication. Are you both on the same page of how the film will be released? Will there be a point of contact at the company to whom you can refer questions? Does it make sense to hold back certain rights in case another opportunity comes along?
If you don’t feel comfortable going all the way with a distributor, there is another option. Increasingly, more channels have been opening up to filmmakers so that they can exploit their options in what are known as “Direct to Consumer” rights. Places like Vimeo, VHX, and Seed&Spark all cater to filmmakers who have built up an audience, believe in their own ability to engage their fans, and have complete control over their film without a distributor taking a cut. You can also work with a distributor for the more traditional avenues, and keep direct-to-consumer rights for yourself. Some call it hybrid-distribution; let’s call it third base. If he calls you a deceitful tease for holding out on him, then maybe he was never a fit anyway.
A pretty face is nothing compared to strong strategy and open channels of communication. There are dozens of distribution companies and distribution options out there these days, and you have the power to make that decision. Have self-control when he compliments your mise en scéne and whispers to you of gross corridors. Will he actually pick up the phone a month after your film releases?
Stay strong and pure, filmmakers. Make sure he’s the right one, before you agree to open up your rights to him. When it comes to distribution, you never have to get screwed.