Traditionally, film distribution had a certain pattern. You’d make your film and submit it to a film festival’s committee, who would screen it at the festival, where it would be favourably received by the audience, optioned by an independent film studio for just enough money to cover production costs and given a limited release in a few hundred art house cinemas where you would make enough money to start work on your next project. If you were lucky.
These days, the economy has tanked; independent studios are closing, as are the art house cinemas, because the money just isn’t there. So there are fewer distributors to option your film and fewer venues to show it in. Just how are you meant to get your film to its audience now?
New films, new ideas
Age of Stupid from Ak docent on Vimeo.
Never ones to lack ingenuity, independent filmmakers are finding more avenues to release and distribute their films. The makers of “The Age of Stupid”, Franny Armstrong and Lizzie Gillett, turned to Indie Screenings distribution system to set up the world’s largest film premiere . This system allows anyone anywhere in the world to buy the licensing rights to screen the film – and keep the profits – just by clicking through the website.
“Sita Sings the Blues”, an animated film released in 2009 and set in both ancient and modern India, is Creative Commons licensed and free to download, share, copy and alter. Because anyone can view it or download it from its official website, amongst other places, director Nina Paley has relied on voluntary payments, sales of a limited edition DVD, sponsorships and other methods to earn back the production costs.
In perhaps the most technologically advanced method of self-distribution, Kimmo Kuusniemi developed an iPhone app to distribute his exploration of the history and philosophy of heavy metal in Finland, “Promised Land of Heavy Metal”. The full app costs $2 for the 52-minute film, photo galleries, and a digital booklet about how the film was made, whilst a pared-down version is free.
The problem is, self-distribution takes a lot of work. You have to build the website, the internet following, the buzz, almost entirely on your own. You have to think about how it all will work from the beginning of the project. In so many ways, it’s just easier to make the film, follow the conventional method and let someone else worry about getting it out to people. It’s just that you’ll have to rely on time- and finance-poor people being as passionate about your film as you are.
If you want something done right…
If you want (or have) to take the distribution of your film into your own hands, here’s a few ideas to help get you started.
Make a website for the film – Tell the story of the making of the film, add some bios and production notes and add a hi-def trailer. Basically put on anything that will get people to come to the site.
Use social networks – Post the trailer on YouTube and Vimeo, set up Facebook and MySpace pages and start participating in online forums, where you can urge fans to promote the film with you. And stay in touch after the film is finished. Filmmakers like Kevin Smith keep their audience engaged by maintaining the conversation after the project has ended.
Get in touch with local media – In a recent debate about self-distribution, Angelo Bell urged filmmakers to contact smaller media outlets themselves, saying “Films benefit from ANY press and media attention. If I’m smart, I’ll skip sending news releases to Variety and Moviemaker—like several hundred other no-name directors—and engage local and community news reporters instead.”
Contact software companies – Did you make an effects-laden masterpiece? Try getting in touch with the software company who produced the program you used. They might just promote your film, as it shows how amazing their software can be. Plus, they often run competitions that you could submit your work to.
Think about alternative venues – Theatrical releases don’t have to happen in theatres. Events like Secret Cinema, which is based in London, screen independent films in locations as varied as hotel car parks, city farm or derelict theatres.