How to release your movie in UK cinemas yourself… by the guy who doing it right now!

Guest blog by Bryan O’Neil

After three and a half years of making my film, Booked Out, today it’s being released in cinemas, blu-ray, DVD and online and I organised the release myself, so if I can do it then you can too. I’ll explain how below!

Background to the film
Booked Out is an independent UK film that follows the lives of four characters that live in a block of flats and essentially it’s the story of them moving on together from their own individual pasts. The film was financed exclusively through equity finance from friends and work colleagues, the producer and our executive producers as well as our own savings. So pretty much your standard micro-budget model, self-financed, short shoot (19 days) and lots of hard work and long hours by passionate film-makers.

Why self distribution
There are a few reasons but the main one is that enough though we received good feedback from them, none of the large distributors were willing to take a risk on the film so we could either keep trying that route or go our own way. I decided to go our own way because of the following reasons:

  • I would have full control over the release
  • With a very limited budget I wanted every penny to be spent on the release
  • If the release goes well I would rather keep a larger percentage of the revenue to pay back to the investors who believed in the film when it was just words on paper
  • We could release quicker than waiting for a smaller distributor to organise the release
  • I had read about other films who had self-released and managed to build a following and therefore sales.

Release platforms
I decided to release the film as widely as possible so we are releasing on DVD, Blu-ray, Online and on a limited cinema Q&A tour. The reasons for choosing a wider release platform are:

  • If someone wants to watch the film then I want them to be able to view it as I might never get a second chance.
  • With a limited budget I would rather spend more in a single release rather than spread it out to very little on multiple releases

How did you get your film in the cinemas?
I pulled together a list of all the cinemas in the UK (search online, there are various available) and then analysed them to pick those that suited my film. The first set to go where the large multiplexes as I believed they would be slower and more time consuming to deal with but more because our film is a small indie release and I don’t think it’s suited to those environments necessarily. I then analysed the cities based on size of town/city, did they have an indie cinema there, did bands go there on tour, did they have a univeristy nearby. Based on those answers I drew up a shortlist of cinemas and started calling them up to see if they were interested in screening my film.

Mostly this involved sending a screener to the cinema and waiting for them to decide whether they would programme the film. I wish I had done this earlier in the process as some cinemas I missed out on because they programmed well in advance. I started this process about 3-4 months before the start of the tour with the cinemas that I really wanted to screen at.

We also hired a few of the screens that we are showing at as I really wanted to show the film in certain places/cinemas but for those I asked for the cinemas to still handle ticket sales through their box office so to an outsider you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between programmed and hired screenings. The only difference is that I have to do all the marketing for the hired screens but if the screenings go well then there is actually more chance of making a larger profit from a hired show.

In terms of ticket prices I decided to stick with the standard ticketing of each cinema as I would rather we had a full cinema than have an overpriced show with a small audience. I also think that the cinemas will know what to charge in their area of the country as ticket prices vary widely.

Lastly I tried to aim for cinemas with a screen size less than 200 as I didn’t want a huge screen that was empty and also a small intimate feel suited my film.

On the whole the cinemas that we are screening in have all been really supportive. Some others weren’t interested in screening the film at all or had such a large hire rate that you would have to sell the screening out twice over to break even. I still don’t quite understand why not but I assume they have a deal or agreement with one of the large distributors that they have to pay to break out of.

I also believe that having the first few cinemas arranged helped secure some of the other screenings and more so if the screenings are a cinema with a certain perceived prestige. The other thing that may have helped would have to have had our BBFC certification while going through this process as a few cinemas said that they checked the BBFC site and couldn’t find the film. This wasn’t an option for us as we were still creating our cinema print but if I were to do this again I would try and get the certificate as early as possible. The only other thing I would change would have to have started contacting the cinemas earlier.

Lastly once I had most of the cinemas in place I created a secondary list of cinemas, pulled their emails from their websites and emailed them all to ask if they wanted to screen the film. I didn’t have time to call them all up but this then led to another 2-3 screenings adding to our original list.

Online release
There are quite a lot of options to release online and this definitely feels like an area that is still maturing quite quickly. I decided to release the film on the distrify platform. Distrify is a distribution mechanism rather than a content curator like iTunes. Basically they provide a player that you can embed anywhere on the web and from the player you can stream the film (5 watches in 30 days), download the film (keep it forever) and also provide a shop front for physical merchandise (DVDs, Blu-rays, posters, etc).

The best thing about Distrify though is that they have a really cool affiliate model where anyone who signs up with Distrify can then embed your trailer, share it on facebook/twitter/tumblr/etc, send an email with a link or any other way that you share things on the web. If someone then rents/downloads the film via their shared link or embed then the person who shared the film gets 10% of the sale. So if you watch the film, share it and then 10 people watch the film then you’ll have paid for your costs or potentially if they could make a lot more money out of sharing the films. My main goal of the release is to spread the film to as many people as possible through word of mouth and I see Distrify as the perfect tool to allowing me to do this.

The other two major benefits with Distrify is that if we make a sale then we receive the sale money on a monthly basis rather than waiting for sales reports and revenues coming in over months or years, the other one being that there is no middle man, I can upload at set everything up myself rather than something like iTunes where you have to give an aggregator a ~15% cut as well as the apple cut (30%) for doing very little or at least nothing that I can’t do myself. As someone who has taken voluntary redundancy and made other sacrifices to get the film made and now released I would rather not give up 15% of a sale to a middle man.

In terms of the other platforms I would potentially look at putting the film onto iTunes just based on it’s share in the market and to provide another revenue stream but I am waiting to see how things go with the Distrify platform first.

Physical (DVD/Blu-ray) release
Probably the part of the release that I thought would be relatively straight forward but has actually been quite time consuming. Naturally as a film lover I wanted to create a DVD/Blu-ray that has some interesting extras rather than just a vanilla disk. I’ve probably watched the film and the extras quite a few times to be able to sign off on everything and when everything else is going on then taking 4-5 hours to review a DVD can be quite frustrating.

The BBFC certification was also quite pricey as well with the additional extras as everything is charged at running time and if you have a commentary track then that is counted as separate to the main film. I also noticed after we had been certified that you can actually get a discount if your film is identical on your DVD compared to the Digital cinema print but you need to submit the film version of the DVD separately from your extras I believe. Don’t quote me on that but worth asking if you are going down this route. The other thing to note is that if your DVD and Blu-ray contents are the same then you only need to get one of them certified as it counts for any media.

In terms of a shop front for selling the DVD and Blu-ray we are selling them within the Distrify player but I am also selling them on Amazon. I set my company up as an Amazon Seller and will be doing my own fulfillment (stuffing envelopes and taking them to the post office) but you can also get Amazon to do this for you. We make less money on the Amazon sales so Distrify is the preferred option but I felt it was essential to be part of the Amazon ecosystem and also to allow a key location for fans reviews of the film to be written. I regularly use Amazon reviews as a reference for buying products, which mostly I buy elsewhere so I wanted them on there.

For these physical items you need to get UPC barcodes to be able to sell them on Amazon. There are lots of companies on the internet that provide these within a few hours so just shop around for the best price available.

Press Coverage
Probably my biggest mistake in the whole process feels like it was around trying to get press coverage for the film. I thought it best to wait till we had a few cinemas booked before announcing the tour to the press and trying to get articles into magazines, etc but by this point I had missed most of the magazines print deadlines as their lead times are 3-4 months in advance. If I was doing the same thing again I would probably still wait till I had a few cinemas on the list but I would start that process earlier so that I fitted within the print deadlines.

What we have done is to contact a number of press outlets (papers, radio stations, websites, magazines, etc) and sent them a press release and screeners if they requested them. We didn’t hire a press company so spent a lot of time trying to find the right contacts at each of these outlets. I would potentially think seriously about out-sourcing this or at least having a single person concentrating on this area in its entirety as I have been doing everything this is one area that I feel could have done with lots more time and effort but it was lower priority to creating the digital print or being BBFC certified for example as if I didn’t do those then there would be no release whereas this area is crucial but there is endless outlets you could contact. I also think that it’s important to call the outlets that you are particularly interested in coverage from as speaking on the phone is always more effectively than emails but that goes for communicating with anyone really.

One thing we have organised is press shows in London and in Scotland. I organised them through the FDA who have been great throughout the release and took the time to provide me with some great advice and walked me through the process of setting up the press shows. Essentially the national newspapers are invited to the press shows by the FDA who organise shows for all the films releasing during a week. You have to pay a small admin fee (£40) plus the cost of hiring a screening room but I think it will be worth it. The papers still decide whether to cover the film (send their critics along to the press show).

We have a very small marketing budget. In reality we originally had no marketing budget but have since had to buy posters to send to the cinemas screening the film and flyers to promote the screenings. I found it quite difficult to get the posters made as in the UK all the cinemas want Quad sized posters whereas all the printing places I went to didn’t have a clue what I was talking about. I have no idea where the large distributors get their posters printed but some printer somewhere must know what a Quad size poster is. I eventually had to pay over the odds to get them made but decided to get more than I required so I can sell them online.

I didn’t even investigate costing up standard marketing/advertising on bus shelters, tube stations, in magazines and the like as I just assumed it would be prohibitively expensive but I could be wrong there so maybe something to investigate.

The only advertising I have done is on our facebook page as I have spent a lot of time on facebook interacting with the films fans so that seemed like the most logical place to spend the small amount of money we had as that’s where all our other fans already are.

Social Media
We are on all the various social platforms that exist but most activity is on our facebook and twitter pages. Sometimes I feel that I spend to long on here, just refreshing the pages to see if there is any updates when my time could be better spent elsewhere. I do think that social media will be key to our release though and my approach to these sites is to just be myself and approach updates in a way that I would like to be communicated with. I don’t like being pushed a product so hard that it puts me right off so I would rather just put the information out there or ask the fans questions or encourage them to ask me questions.

What will happen next?
It’s a bit of a leap into the unknown at the moment. All I hope is that all the effort of the last few months pays off and whatever happens the one thing that is clear though is that you can release a film on mulitple platforms from your own bedroom.

More Information
For more information on the film and the process of making the film:

Follow me on Twitter – @Bryan_ONeil
Thanks for sharing Bryan.

And you can listen to the score below…

Onwards and upwards

Chris Jones, Film Maker and Author

4 Responses to How to release your movie in UK cinemas yourself… by the guy who doing it right now!

  1. Michael Craig March 12, 2012 at 3:24 pm #

    Date TBC: Sevenoaks: STAG Community Arts [event listing coming soon] Would be great if this is after 12th April. Will be in the UK at the time and living just outside Sevenoaks. What a great post and what a great effort by Bryan O’Neil

    • Bryan O'Neil March 12, 2012 at 7:24 pm #

      HI Michael,

      Not sure when the Sevenoaks one will happen if at all… the person I was speaking to there left and starting over again so will see what happens.


  2. Jodi Nelson March 12, 2012 at 3:57 pm #

    What a great and informative article.

  3. Kevin Baker November 18, 2012 at 3:34 pm #

    Really great advice and thank you for sharing good strategies that you have experience with and also you’ve suggested strategies and possible avenues to explore. Really helpful advice and I take my hat off to you for biting the bullet and marketing your movie yourself in an active and energetic way. I can’t imagine the effort that you must have taken and I’d bet it took a lot more effort than I could even imagine. I’ve bookmarked this page and will now subscribe to your Facebook fan page and check out your work too. I love it that you used raw experience – pushing forward, and opened up and shared the ‘to do’ advice as well as the ‘what not to do’ advice too. Totally egoless and no honey pasted on top too. Impressive advice and I thank you Bryan as I’ve learnt a lot from your advice here. OUTSTANDING!

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