A new article by Peter Broderick articulates a lot of the points I’ll try to make. Broderick calls it hybrid distribution, and while he offers ten points, I’d boil it down to three:
- Don’t bank on selling it at a festival. Anticipate distributing it yourself.
- Know your audience before rolling cameras.
- Focus on getting people to see your movie, on whatever size screen makes sense.
As Broderick says:
Today many filmmakers are as determined to retain “distribution control” as they are to maintain “creative control.” Distribution control is the power to determine the overall structure and sequence of distribution, select distribution partners, and divide up distribution rights.
Splitting distribution rights used to seem like a Bad Thing: “They only want the movie for DVD.” The truth is that many movies would be better off letting specialized companies handle specialized jobs.
Sony wanted The Nines for domestic home video, and brought in Newmarket to handle theatrical. If I’d really understood that at the start, I might have pushed our sales reps to draw up narrower contracts. As it is, I have no idea when the movie will show up on domestic cable, because it’s part of a much larger package of movies Sony represents.
Grant each distribution partner only the specific rights they can handle well. For example, if a company is strong in retail DVD and digital, give them these rights, but do not also give them VOD if they have no experience with VOD.
Broderick doesn’t completely discount the Old Way.
If you have a movie that Fox Searchlight knows how to market, you’re in a much stronger position. When it works, traditional distributors have reach and power that can’t be matched, not only theatrically but far down the chain. Yes, you’ll have less control over certain aspects, and may not be able to sell DVDs from your website. But you’ll be able to sell them at Target, which may be the better home for them.
The best distributors have resources, relationships, and expertise, which can be essential to a wide theatrical release. They may also have advantageous deals in place for VOD, DVD, and digital rights. If filmmakers do due diligence (by speaking with other filmmakers involved with the distributor they are considering) and are able to negotiate a fair deal, their best choice may be an all-rights deal. Higher budget, more mainstream features are better suited for an Old World approach.
If you’re thinking about making an indie, Broderick’s article is worth a read.