Thursday, December 1, 2011

So You Want to Make a Movie - Distribution

You’ve caught the bug, and you’ve decided to make a movie. But where do you start? The good news is today there are fewer barriers to overcome in order to produce a film. Thanks to digital filmmaking, the costs have dropped dramatically. In reality, practically anybody can become a filmmaker. There is no shortage of books, videos, and online resources to help get you started. No one article can answer all of your questions or take you through the entire process; however, I want to offer you 20 key steps that will at least steer you in the right direction. Think of these steps as the big picture or the 30,000 foot view.

20. Distribution

I’m sure you didn’t make your film for just you, your friends, and family to watch. You want an audience. The entire reason that you spent the time and money to enter your movie into film festivals was to find a distributor. Let’s face it. You don’t have the money or the ability to get your film into theaters. And do you think you could collect the money from the theater owners anyway? What a distributor does is to help you find an audience. They finance the P and A, which is an industry term for prints and advertising. You don’t have a movie until somebody is willing to pay $10 to see it in a theater. Distributors have the means to market and promote your film. In other works, they convince the public that your film is a “movie”.

For every dollar Hollywood spends to produce a movie, they spend an additional 51 to 57 cents to promote and market the film. And you thought making the movie was hard. The truth is the real battle is finding a distributor and, hopefully, an audience. In some cases, the process could take up to five years. You really have to be committed and believe in your movie if you have any chance of finding a distributor.

You’d be surprised how many movies, and I mean good movies, NEVER get a distribution deal. There’s no logic, rhyme or reason for why certain films get or don’t get distribution. It’s going to come down to a lot of hard work and determination on your part. And sometimes it’s just dumb luck.

So what happens if you don’t get a distribution deal at the film festivals? What do you do next? The first thing you must absolutely do before talking to any distributor is get expert advice from an entertainment lawyer. If somebody offered you a deal, how would you know if it was a good deal for you? The entertainment industry is notorious for distributors who have taken advantage of filmmakers, promised them the moon and delivered absolutely nothing. In some cases, they stole their film and left them at the altar, never seeing one red cent.

You don’t want that to happen to you. That’s why you need someone on your side. Don’t rely on what I’m writing or on any other book when negotiating a deal. This topic is too complex without expert opinion. For example, there is a multitude of different types of distribution deals such as the 50/50 net deal, the flat fee deal, the net deal, the gross deal, the first dollar gross deal, the first dollar split deal, the adjusted gross deal, the sliding scale deal, and the 70/30 major deal. The question is which one is the real deal. Here’s the thing you need to know. Most of them are designed for you to never see any profits.

I’m not going to go into detail for each of these deals; however, I do want to highlight the 50/50 net deal which is basically a standard distribution deal within the industry. It pretty much goes like this. You and the distributor form a partnership. They agree to distribute your movie for a standard distribution fee plus all expenses. Then they will split the profits 50/50 with you. The problem is nobody can define what the standard distribution fee is because it’s always a moving target. And the funny thing is the expenses always seem to eat up the profits. So when they get to the 50/50 split, there’s nothing to split. The expenses magically go up.

Here’s the deal you should take. If the distributor is willing to write you a check to buy the film straight out, take it. You walk away and you’re done. Let’s say you made your movie for $200,000, and they offer you a $350,000 to $400,000 check. Why in the world wouldn’t you take it? You now have the money to pay off your expenses, repay your investors with interest and profits, take care of everybody who helped you get the movie made, plus put a little money in your pocket. And the icing on the cake is your movie now has a chance to find an audience.

The only problem is this deal is rare. A few years ago, distributors were willing to take more risks. Now they want you to take all the risks. They expect you to do the work that they used to do. Distributors want you to find your audience, and market and promote your film. And, if you are successful, they collect all of the rewards. Doesn’t sound fair, does it?

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