Demystifying Distribution: Real World New Distro Case Study Strategy and Tactics

Guest blog by Greg Hall / Broke But Making Films

In less than a week my new feature film COMMUNION opens in London at the Portobello Pop Up Cinema and begins it’s journey of self-distribution.

I have made three feature films previously (my first being the micro budget film ‘The Plague’, which got some national coverage).

What has struck me over the years was the fact that your films destiny is constantly in the hands of others. Too many times I hear from Directors, when asked what they are planning to do with their films, the stock answer is either (a) enter film festivals and see what happens or (b) send it to sales agents / distributors and see what happens. Unfortunately this is not a clear strategy as you are always waiting on others and it is not an experience I wanted to repeat.

I decided to set my own timetable and build a sense of momentum from the off. Here’s our plan that will unfold in the coming days, weeks and months.

  1. Pre-Screening: Everyone has a Cast and Crew screening, it’s the first point of call when completing a film, ours also included our crowd funders and we used this opportunity in May to get everyone that had invested into the film to get behind the release that we had planned for the summer.
  2. Educational Screenings: Following the Cast/Crew Preview we went on to do a couple of private screenings over May / June at educational institutes (Goldsmiths, Central and Ravensbourne) with an added masterclass to build further support behind the cinematic release.
  3. Soundtrack Party: The score for COMMUNION was completed by post-rockers 52 Commercial Road who have their own unique following, we held an exclusive live preview in July of the score in a derelict music studio to cross pollinate fan bases and generate more interest.
  4. London Release: From the 1st-10th August for eight nights only we are screening the film at the Portobello Pop Up Cinema, a unique space co-founded by our patron and film legend Barney Platts-Mills, we the film makers are running the venue in a direct artist-to-audience platform. Yes you read that right, we will be on the door selling tickets and projecting the film ourselves. London is our geographical strong hold, we didn’t want to spread ourselves thin across the Big Smoke, instead we are lucky enough to have obtained our own cinema space and effectively put on our cinematic release.
  5. DVD Release: Having produced DVD’s for our previous features, which was originally triggered when my distributor on The Plague went bust and I bootlegged copies myself, we are releasing the COMMUNION DVD also on the 1st August but the only place you can buy it is direct from the London screenings. We have produced a Limited Edition run, our strategy isn’t to move units to big retailers but to sell direct to our audience from the cinema.
  6. UK Tour: Following the London release we are taking the film on a UK Tour, a bit like what a band would do with an album, over the course of August, September and October. We have programmed this tour through three branches, firstly local regular film maker led nights (e.g Kino Kulture in Shropshire) secondly independent unique venues (e.g Talk of Tea in Brighton) and thirdly indie film festivals (e.g No Gloss Film Festival in Leeds).
  7. International Release: For me it is really important to screen outside of the films country of origin, it raises the reputation of the film even if it is completed on a tiny budget, on the 19th September we will be opening the Bootleg Film Festival – a festival we have built quite a relationship with – out in New York at the TriBeCa Film Centre.
  8. Online Release: So the momentum we have built from the films completion to screenings has all been heading towards one direction, the final stage of distribution which is the online release on November 1st through Vimeo’s new Video On Demand service.

Having a very clear timetable and set boundaries is really helpful in being able to focus where and how you want to screen your film. I don’t claim to have all the answers when it comes to distribution and I believe each film is unique, therefore how that film gets to an audience partly depends on what is right for the film itself.

With years of experience and a fair few bumps and scratches along the way, I have realised that as an indie filmmaker I’m not going to put my eggs in one basket and make a film that I can sell and buy a house on. Instead it is about career longevity, building an audience behind the work and ensuring the film screens to a paying and captive public in some form or other.

In less than a week I am going to embark on that journey and I am about to learn a whole load more lessons, which is the point of me sharing my experiences and thoughts. I hope you can take something from it when approaching distribution of your film, and if nothing else wish me luck as I test it out.

Greg Hall

9 Responses to Demystifying Distribution: Real World New Distro Case Study Strategy and Tactics

  1. Deanna July 28, 2013 at 11:31 am #

    Saw the trailer at Bootleg in Edinburgh and film looks great. Good luck to you all.

  2. Alan McLean July 28, 2013 at 5:43 pm #

    I admire the determination of the filmmaker and wish him nothing but the best but can’t help but feel this strategy and has been about for 30 years already and replacing the word VHS for DVD doesn’t add anything new. Where is the VoD, direct download or at very least iTunes?

    Surely the price of festival submissions can’t be as high as the amount of money, time and effort it would cost to even get enough advertising needed towards “building an audience behind the work and ensuring the film screens to a paying and captive public in some form or other” that even a few of the smallest festivals can offer and by not entering them it’s actually narrowing it’s chances in this way?

  3. Chris July 28, 2013 at 8:04 pm #

    Alan, just curios, what do you think festivals can actually offer you? I can tell you they range from a total waste of time, to lots of fun. Rarely does anything real come from attending a festival, maybe a win, maybe a prize, maybe a relationship. BUT… they keep all ticket sales and you give them your film free.

    In reality, festivals are largely there to enjoy being a filmmaker. They don’t really offer much in terms of the business model. And you certainly don’t make money OR keep any relationship with a customer as you would in newer models like these.

    • Alan McLean July 29, 2013 at 1:18 am #

      maybe most festivals are just a way for filmmakers to schmooze a little and a lot of them are just a waste of time but the right festival properly researched can open the door to distribution deals or financing for future productions.

      festivals have been an established market place for films where they are bought and sold throughout the world with success stories for the biggest named directors. quentin tarantino got the funding for dogs through meetings with people at festivals and acting out scenes in bars, chris nolan took his film following and used it’s festival screenings to raise the funds to make memento, if they hadn’t gone to festivals we certainly wouldn’t have heard of them.

      festivals are what you make of them, i don’t think you can have a relationship with one as much and build them with contacts made there, if it’s a decent festival there’s a decent chance that someone working in the industry is going to be there and see it. not using the established business model seems only to narrow the potential audience especially as it hasn’t been replaced by anything like a VoD service.

      as i said, i wish the filmmaker all the best but seems like it’s still the same old model indy filmmakers have used for years except with the subtraction of the small chance of industry contact festivals can gain and no consideration towards the exciting new RED direct digital distribution box and other such tech which has already started to change the game in the distribution world.

  4. Chris July 29, 2013 at 8:22 am #

    Hi Alan, you sound like you have a lot of positive personal experience at festivals? If that’s the case, perhaps you could share it?

    • Alan McLean July 29, 2013 at 10:16 pm #

      Trying to be brief, I don’t know if my personal experiences with festivals can be described as “positive” as much as the negatives are now fully visible to me, I have made some great friends, contacts and gotten some invaluable advice at festivals and know people who have had success in both distribution and funding from screenings, although it’s more down to the hard work and research they put in beforehand.

      The problem with the festival circuit today is that 90% of them are indeed useless and offer nothing more than a chance for those behind it to make a little cash for themselves with low overheads and high charges. For them it’s not about your film, it’s about their festival.

      The thing filmmakers have got to do is figure out which of the fests have the best opportunities for them, do they have an established reputation as a market place or are they merely a celebration of filmmaking. Don’t hope or expect word will find it’s way to the right people but seek them out and make sure they attend a viewing by any means necessary.

      Festivals are what you make of them but can depend on what you’re trying to achieve.

      • Chris jones July 29, 2013 at 10:55 pm #

        Thanks for sharing Alan, that’s all really useful.

  5. Shai July 29, 2013 at 12:29 pm #

    Fail to prepare and prepare to fail. Thanks for the heads up Greg, and good luck!

  6. Stephen Pelly July 29, 2013 at 1:00 pm #

    I’m yet to shoot, but at this stage I’d not really be looking at festivals. It’s the furthest thing from my mind. If I could cram 10 people into my lounge that’d be a start! Twenty people in to a pub meeting-room (with a lock-in!). Thirty people in to a squatted place. That’d be my limit! Crate of beers….some finger-snacks…..(after party!).
    Sounds a bit crass, but if it is good, word will spread as good as muck…

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