Film Self-Dstribution For Filmmakers - Tips From Raindance Film Festival

It used to be that film self-distribution meant getting a van, a bunch of fly posters, and hitting the road. A few days before you pulled up into a town, an advance person would leaflet the place, and when you arrived you would do some local radio, screen your film at the local rep cinema, collect the box office (minus the venue’s share), sell T-shirts, posters, CD’s and whatever else you thought you could sell, collect all the nickels and dimes, tank up the van with fuel and hit the road again.

Probably the most successful self-distributed movie we ever had at Raindance Film Festival was an ultra low budget comedy/horror/adventure/musical called Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter. Filmmaker Lee Demarbre took this film on the road in his native Canada and the States for over a year and reputedly earned back at least ten times the films budget. You can watch the trailer here. Lee used the profit from the tour to make another movie, Harry Knuckles.

The beauty of self-distribution is that you cut out the middleman – the much loathed and feared distributor. These days it doesn’t mean that you have to do all the work yourself. You can hire publicists, theatre bookers and so on. But it does mean that you have to do more work.

Before you go any further, be sure you read the Cluetrain Manifesto. This genius work, created in 1999, concludes that success on the web demands integrity and originality

Here’s a taster: “Tell us some good stories and capture our interest. Don’t talk to us like you’ve forgotten how to speak. Don’t make us feel small, remind us to be larger. Get a little of that human touch.”
– The Cluetrain Manifesto.

Here are some recent success stories that might help you to make your film a distribution success.

1. Bottle Shock

When “Bottle Shock” played at the Sundance Film Festival, it appeared to possess that mix so tantalizing to well-heeled indie distributors. It had a name cast, including Bill Pullman and Alan Rickman. The director came with a track record and a critically acclaimed short film. And the story, about a small American winery that triumphed over it’s French competitors in a blind tasting in 1976 and changed the world’s view of California wine, was an accessible one for audiences who flocked to “Sideways” a few years back.

But “Bottle Shock” found no love among distributors in Park City, Utah. So the director, Randall Miller, opened the film himself the next week in 12 cities. With their hopes for conventional movie deals increasingly dead on arrival, more and more indie filmmakers are opting for a do-it-yourself model: self-distribution, once the route of the desperate, reckless or defiant, has become an increasingly attractive option for movies otherwise deprived of theatrical exhibition. “Ballast,” “Wicked Lake,” “The Singing Revolution” and “Last Stop for Paul” are among the indies currently or recently taking the maverick route.

Read the complete article here

2. Navigating the Digital Divide

Filmmaker Magazine in the States has some of the very best filmmaking articles around. This one, by indie hero Lance Weller, gives a pretty comprehensive detail of the elements of self-distribution. Get it here

3. Hybrid Distribution

Peter Broderick is well-known for having founded the cool film finance and distribution company, Next Wave Films. He was one of the first to recognise the allure of hybrid distribution. Read one of his many excellent articles on the topic here.

4. Singing the Indie Blues with John Sayles

WHAT she’d really like, said the film producer Maggie Renzi, is “a big check and a lot of help.” So far, getting the help hasn’t been a problem. The big check, however, may depend on how well she and her longtime companion, the director John Sayles, can counter all the changes in the independent film business, effect a few of their own and reinvigorate an audience that most movie distributors write off as AARP, if not R.I.P.

Twenty-seven years and 16 features after they began their mutual career with “Return of the Secaucus Seven” in 1980, Mr. Sayles and Ms. Renzi — still enthusiastic despite the demanding life of independent filmmakers — are prepping for the public consumption of “Honeydripper,” which features an virtually all-black cast and is set around an Alabama juke joint (in about 1950) that Danny Glover’s character tries to keep in business. While the movie takes place in the past, its marketing campaign involves a forward-looking synthesis of digital projection, colleges, blues bars, underserved movie houses and the Internet.

Read the rest here

5. Four Eyed Monsters

I can’t believe there are still any filmmakers on the planet who haven’t heard of or seen this film made for a shoestring and which was seen by more people on the net than many Hollywood blockbusters, Here is Indiewire’s blog. Probably the most successful self-distributed film of all time, by numbers of people who saw and admired this film.

6. Beware the 5 Year Exclusive Contract

At this year’s film festival several so-called acquisition executives representing different websites waved an internet distribution deal at filmmakers. Amazingly, this ‘deal’ from so-called ‘acquisition executives’ offers little or no money up front, and generally handcuffs the film to the website even to the point of not allowing festival screenings or being attached to compilation dvds. I can’t think of a worse position to place yourself in, especially since promised revenue streams are always net of the website’s distribution expenses.

If you decide to opt for an IPTV deal, why not consider our very own

What next?

So there you have it. There are no rules. It’s a nascent opportunity.

Make a film. Understand the process. Get a bit of seed marketing money. Roll up your sleeves. Launch your career.



Photo Credit David Martinez / BIFA 2018

Few people know more filmmakers and screenwriters than Elliot Grove. Elliot is the founder of Raindance Film Festival (1993) and the British Independent Film Awards (1998). He has produced over 700 hundred short films and five feature films: the multi-award-winning The Living and the Dead (2006), Deadly Virtues (2013), AMBER (2017), Love is Thicker Than Water (2018) and the SWSX Grand Jury Prize winner Alice (2019). He teaches screenwriting and producing in the UK, Europe, Asia and America.

Raindance BREXiT trailer 2019

Elliot has written three books which have become industry standards: Raindance Writers’ Lab: Write + Sell the Hot Screenplay, now in its second edition, Raindance Producers’ Lab: Lo-To-No Budget Filmmaking and Beginning Filmmaking: 100 Easy Steps from Script to Screen (Professional Media Practice).

In 2009 he was awarded a PhD for services to film education.

  • facebook
  • linkedin
  • skype
  • twitter
  • youtube