Off-line self-distribution of independent film

by Boss Marko

Regardless of how many stories you've been told about the horrors of self-distributing your movie, it is important to remember that indeed successful self-distribution of independent films and videos is possible.

Yes, in all likeliness nobody is knocking on your door to buy rights, and your project hasn't received any publicity or notoriety of any kind at this point.

Self-distribution involves a lot of research, phone calls, letter writing, mailings, waiting, promoting, and mostly resilience.

To self-distribute means that you'll be responsible for many of the functions a mainline distributor would have performed for you, including contacting buyers, packaging, promotion, pricing, sales, shipping and collections.

Successful self-distribution involves seven key areas of work for the independent producer:

1. Understanding the various markets available: Home Entertainment market, wholesale distributors, independent distributors, independent producers who sometimes function as direct product suppliers, broadcast markets, cable markets, pay-per-view/Video On Demand (VOD), Institutional markets (schools/universities, libraries, organizations, corporations, churches, hospitals etc.), foreign markets, other markets like fairs, four-walling (renting a theater yourself to sell tickets and showcase your film to an audience), online markets, event sales like market days.

2. Utilizing the media (free and paid)

3. Locating, qualifying and contacting appropriate buyers

4. Adapting your presentation package

5. Exploiting other promotional avenues: Film festivals, newsletters etc.

6. Making the sale and signing contracts

7. Delivering on promises

The self-distributor must use as many available forms of media as possible for promiting a film or video project.

Sales can only come through leads and information, so collect and accumulate as much as possible throughout the entire self-distribution process.

Packaging and artwork is often a self-distributor's only chance to attract the attention of a customer. Let it look professional.

Premieres can be viewed as the ultimate promotional project, and should be carefully orchestrated with regard to audiences, media, venues and themes to guarantee a positive outcome.

In the self-distribution scenario, all responsibility for contact calls falls to the seller. Callbacks must be timely, courteous and professional.

A so-called "regular"/"standard" distribution contract should never be accepted. Those only benefit the buyer.

Exclusivity means that only one company can represent your film or video in the various markets. Only agree to this term if that company has adequate marketing reach. Try to maintain ownership of your film or video by simply licensing the right to sell it instead of selling all rights to it.

Monetary advances paid at the deal stage are rare in today's independent marketplace. If you are offered one, take it, for it may be the only money you will see from the deal.

Get a commitment from any distributor on the minimum amount they are to spend on advertising and promotion.

Always insist on the right to inspect, audit, or terminate. If a deal goes sour, you want the power to get out of it legally.

Many large retailers and online sellers require UPC's (barcodes) on your products.

A limited liability corporation (LLC) offers the self-distributor the greatest benefits when it comes to organizing your operation into a legal business entity.

Doing business as a self-distributor means swallowing the costs of replacing defective product and return allowances for unsold DVD's.