Wednesday, December 7, 2011

So You Want to Make a Movie - The Nitty and the Gritty

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. The Nitty and the Gritty

Now that you know all of this, let’s gets started with the nitty and the gritty business of finding a distributor. To raise a little money, I suggest the first thing you should do is make a DVD copy of your film available to your family, friends, church community, crew, cast, and investors. It’s not that expensive to have DVDs made. You can find someone who can create the artwork for the cover and do a limited run of 2,000 DVDs. If you price them at $12 or $13, you can raise a few thousand dollars that will help you offset the cost of finding a distributor.

If you believe in your movie and are convinced that it has commercial appeal, then set your sites for a theatrical release. The first place to start is with the six major studios who have the muscle and the whereto to put your film into hundreds if not thousands of theaters. Who are the players? They are Sony, 20th Century Fox, Paramount, Disney, Universal, and Warner Brothers. If you’ve produced a Christian film, you especially want to talk to Sony and 20th Century Fox because they have Christian divisions that distribute faith-based content. Don’t just send out a screener which is industry speak for a DVD copy of your movie. Find out who’s in charge of acquisitions at the studio. Try to set up an appointment to see that person. Of course, that’s going to cost money—airfare, hotel meals, etc. You have to show the studio you mean business and that you are serious about your movie. The best case scenario is if they are willing to screen your film. Now you have a real chance.

What happens if the majors pass? There are literally dozens of distributors in the industry today. So don’t give up. Next, go to the mid-majors like LionsGate and Focus Features. Use the same strategy with the mid-majors. Try to get an appointment with the person in charge of acquisitions. But this time, you might want to consider the direct-to-video option. The studio might not be interested in the theatrical run, but they could see potential in the home video market. The industry also calls this packaged media.

If this approach fails, then it’s on to the small or minor distributors, and they come and go like the wind. One day they’re in the business, and the next day they’re gone. So you are going to have to watch your step. More than likely, this is going to be a straight-to-video deal. Be careful that you don’t give away all of the rights. As I said, distribution is a tricky business. The industry has a term they call windows. Basically, there are windows of opportunity where a distributor owns the movie for a certain length of time. For example, you can make one deal in which a studio distributes a movie for theatrical run and an entirely different deal in which a distributor owns the home video market rights. So if you make a deal with a minor distributor, you might want to hold on to the first window or the theatrical window. By the way, there are seven windows to consider when distributing your movie—theatrical, (VOD) video-on-demand, DVD Blu-Ray, (PPV) pay-per-view, pay cable, basic cable, and syndication.

What happens if you talk to the distributors, and you have no deal? The last thing you want to do is give up, especially if you have a Christian film. You could go directly to the TV networks and negotiate for TV rights. This is called the sixth window. Once again, remember, retain your ability for a theatrical and home video rights. This may not be a big sale, but it could be enough for you to continue to find a distributor.

There is one final place that you can look that is actually booming and has the potential to get you noticed. It’s called the world-wide web or the Internet. You’d be surprised how many people are watching movies on their computers. And, for a fee, they can see your movie. There are plenty of services out there that are now starting to get traction. Of course, we’ve heard about Netflix and iTunes, but did you know that Wal-Mart and Amazon are also offering services to view films online? It’s a new frontier out there for filmmakers to find an audience. Finally, you can build your own website and self-promote your movie and offer your film for a fee. The bottom line is nobody said that distribution is easy. I think there’s a simple principle—those who are determined and work hard for distribution will find it. Those who are not are destined for failure.

Final Thoughts:

I’ve worked on both national and international distributions deals for years. The one thing I have learned is it’s all about personal relationships. Nothing replaces a face-to-face meeting. There’s only so much you can accomplish through e-mails, phone calls and twitter. The bottom of securing a distribution deal, which I cannot state in any stronger manner, is sitting down with somebody across the table and looking at them eyeball to eyeball. I never got a distribution deal through an e-mail or phone call in my entire life. As I said, it is going to take a lot of work on your part to make this happen.

Finally, where do you find a list of all of the distributors for theatrical, home video, and digital media? Any search online using the words “film” or “distribution” will give you plenty of leads. Also check out list company. You will find one of the most comprehensive lists for both domestic and international distribution. I suggest you do your research and find out something about each company before you make contact. Chances are you won’t recognize most of the names on this list. Consider renting or buying some of the movies they distributed on DVD. Check for the quality. Do they look good or bad? Ask yourself if you want to be in this neighborhood. In the film and video distribution business, there are a lot of fly-by-night outfits. Avoid them at all costs. Try to get referrals. Talk to people. Do whatever you have to do to make sure you are working with reputable people. REMEMBER, you can’t make a good deal with bad people.

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