So, you have an indie film and you want to find distribution.
Never have so many options for distribution been available; never has it been so confusing to decide what is right for you and your film. The industry is experiencing a transitional moment; everyone knows online downloads are the future, but nobody knows exactly how it will play out. As well, distribution has gone online too, offering a plethora of choices for the indie filmmaker and producer. What to do, what to do.
This article is the first of a 5-part series that looks at all of the avenues open to you as a filmmaker and distributor. We’ll offer some tips on how to find your film a home.
Regardless of your film’s ultimate destination, your goal is to find a license buyer for your film. Who are film buyers? We’re talking about broadcast TV (cable, satellite, and terrestrial), home DVD companies, VOD service providers, and mobile content providers.
Let’s start this series by examining the psychology of this rare and overworked professional. Here are five things you should know about Film Buyers and 5 tips for putting the best face of your film forward.
1. Film Buyers want a ‘story’. This little bit of terminology here might create some confusion. We’re not talking about the plot of your film or the subject matter of your documentary, but a story that will sell the film–on paper. You should be doing everything in your power to create that story. To do this, you have to distance yourself from the film you know and love and ask yourself: What will sell this film to somebody who does not know and love it the way I do? The answer to this question is the ‘story’ you will use to sell your film.
The most obviously valuable raw material for a sales story is…star power. Film stars often fail to attract their audience, but nothing makes film buyers feel more peaceful than the presence of some known names in the mix. If you are bereft of any bona fide name power, do not fear, you have other options. Festival play and any press generated are also incredibly important. You should be knocking yourself out to find some kind of festival and press exposure for your film. Even if it’s not a top festival or a top publication, festival and press play will take your film from having no story at all to having a first chapter. Hype is over-hyped, but your film is going to look more valuable to buyers if it has a story. If you can say, “This film already had some exposure. This film has been reviewed. This film has played at a festival. This film has a response. This film has an online presence. This film has the beginnings of an audience or a niche audience,” then you have a story buyers will want to cuddle up with.
If you are looking for ideas you should check out the industry trades. Look at how distributors market their films, and figure out how to do this on a small scale. You want your story to be a comfortable and familiar one. “But my film is original, beautiful, heart-breaking, unique…and my marketing must be the same,” you say. This brings us to the next point…
2. Film Buyers think in dollars, not passion. When selling your film, don’t rely on your own enthusiasm and passion to make the sale. Again, channel your enthusiasm into a narrative the film buyer can understand, a narrative about how and why this film is going to attract people to it. Has this genre of film had any recent notable successes? Does your film intersect with any issues or topics that are garnering attention? Save your passion for your filmmaking, and focus your remaining energy into crafting a professional marketing campaign and learning the highly efficient language of film buyers.
3. Film buyers are overextended, have short attention spans, and don’t want to waste time. Film buyers are professionals. Hook them fast with a comprehensive one sheet (or sell sheet). The circumstances in which you are pitching your film are going to vary, but one thing that everybody will need at some point is a one sheet as part of their promotional package. Here is the crucial thing: your sheet should be short and to the point. This sheet is a cliff notes to the strongest features of your film. Do you have a few positive reviews? Great, use them in the press kit, but on the one sheet just use the best line from each one. Do you have some seasoned talent? Stick their names on the one sheet with 1 or 2 of their best-known films, but save full biographies for later. Any film can create a ton of paperwork, but nobody is going to go through it all. Don’t bury the selling features of your film and assume buyers will get to it. With that in mind, don’t assume a buyer will watch a screener. Most buyers accumulate hundreds and hundreds of screeners every year and many of these remain unwatched. Save your screeners for buyer’s who show interest, or even for buyers who you have a good feeling about.
4. Film Buyers want to work in their comfort zone. To save your time and your buyer’s time, you should always do research beforehand, especially if you are making the first move. Are you targeting a buyer that makes sense for your film? Why do you think so? What else had this buyer/company done that makes you think the company is right for your film. Again, these points can be, if not part of your one sheet, an introduction to the story of your film. You will look professional and on the ball, you will stand out if it seems like you have done the research and are personally addressing a buyer’s specific skills, past successes and proven strengths.
5. Film Buyers are freaked out. By and large film buyers are a worried bunch, cowering in the ruins of the decimated music industry and wondering if their business is going to disappear out from under their feet. Film and music are different animals, and the future of film in the era of online exhibition is still not completely foretold, but the mood is certainly wary. The film industry is in transition and everyone is handling it in their own way, some better than others. You’ll see conservative streaks, but also canny entrepreneurs looking to exploit the changing terrain. Overall, though, most buyers want to minimize advance spending. This practice, in itself is not suspicious, but for your own protection do your homework and make sure you are dealing with a reputable company and a company that is in a stable financial position.