The Film Business

How and When to Approach U.S. Distributors Yourself

Distributing your film

Photo Courtesy of Geoff Edgers

Many filmmakers ask me if they should submit to U.S. distributors themselves once they have a completed project.

My answer is always not yet.

What I recommend doing with U.S. distributors is first waiting to see if you get accepted to any of the Tier 1 film festivals (Sundance, Tribeca, Cannes, and SXSW, to name a few). If you end up premiering your film at one of those, you will have much more leverage with distributors than if you were to go to them before that festival.

Be ready to have two plans — Plan A and Plan B. With Plan A, wait and see if you get into a Tier 1 festival. If you have not applied to any Tier 1 festivals, or you do not get accepted to any, go to Plan B. This is when you go to U.S. distributors yourself.

Be sure you do this strategically: start with the mini-majors on down to straight-to-DVD companies and cable broadcasters. It’s key to start with the bigger companies: they are more likely than the smaller companies to want to acquire all rights for your film. If you’ve already sold off DVD rights to a straight-to-video company, then you will no doubt lose out on this much bigger deal. If one of the bigger distribution companies decides to acquire your picture and take all rights, then great! If not, you work your way down the target list you’ve created. Just make sure that you separate out DVD companies from broadcasters, and so on.

Here is a step-by-step list of what to do should you want to approach U.S. distributors yourself:

The right distributors for your film

Photo Courtesy of Geoff Edgers

  • Take an honest look at your movie and decide for which distributor you think it’s a fit. Study distributors’ web sites as well as their past and present slates. Do they distribute only movies with big cast, for example? Do they specialize in foreign films? Is everything they distribute from a star director? If your film doesn’t fit into what their model is, then don’t waste your time or theirs.
  • Investigate distributors that have had success with your type of picture. At this point, you’re probably looking at straight-to-DVD distribution, so head back to the video store and see what companies put out your type of product. Make a list of these companies, then go home and investigate their web sites. You’ll be able to contact an acquisitions executive from there. Prepare an email to them with a link to your web site, trailer, and synopsis. That way, they can decide if they would like to consider your film for distribution. Once you’ve sent the email, wait a week. If you haven’t heard anything back from them by then, go ahead and follow up with a phone call.
  • Research U.S. broadcasters that have had success with your type of movie. Flip through the cable channels and check out who broadcasts independent films these days. Again, go to their web sites and look for submissions guidelines. Send them an email with a link to your web site and trailer. If they get back to you and request it, send them a full screener copy of your movie. I’ve heard broadcast executives say that they wish more filmmakers would contact them directly — so take advantage of this potential opportunity for your project!

Excerpted from The Insider’s Guide to Independent Film Distribution by Stacey Parks, © 2007 Elsevier Inc. All rights Reserved.

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