8 Facts why you shouldn’t self distribute your own film

Licensing motion pictures is a complex process and should not be taken lightly.

Many filmmakers are tempted to distribute their films on their own.

But there are certain questions that need to be asked:

  • How do these films get found by the masses?

  • Are these films getting the widest distribution possible?

  • Are they getting the most return on investment?

  • What about worldwide sales outside the USA?

  • Who will advance the distribution costs?

Yes there are always few cases of self distribution that succeeded but it does not mean that most will succeed, there are many factors but the most important is that each film is different from the other, no two films are alike, so it is not a one formula fits all and it is not as easy as it sounds.

I am not writing this to impose what I think or argue with those who will disagree with me. I am 100% basing this on my experience as a filmmaker who worked alongside sales agents distributing my own films since 1993 “How I got L.A. Wars finished and sold worldwide”, and someone who started and ran his own boutique sales company “Hollywood Wizard” from 2004 to 2014 − licensing and distributing over a 100 films worldwide at more than 40 international film markets.

8 facts why you shouldn’t self distribute your film:

1. Sales Experience.

To do sales one must possess sales experience and film sales is completely different from any other sales for the fact that each film is unique. I recommend having a sales agent representing your film, they have the experience to license films. They do this day in day out, it’s their full time job, they know the strengths or weaknesses of each of the films they represent, they know which buyers look for which films.

2. Sales Strategy.

Part of the sales strategy is attending film markets to meet with worldwide buyers and distributors and license the rights to your film. As a filmmaker this is a huge undertaking for there are 4 major film markets every year not including TV markets. If you are not meeting face to face with these buyers they will not buy from you.

3. Marketing Campaign.

Implementing the wrong marketing campaign will lose you sales. Marketing is what drive sales and bring in higher revenues. A good marketing campaign will include the best artwork design for your film which first attracts the buyer, then having a well made trailer excites them. Advertising in industry publications and booking screenings at film markets is another important part in driving sales. One must possess the knowledge and deliver on what the market demands to insure a higher rate of success.

4. Buyer/Distributor Relationships.

The Market has changed tremendously, most sellers and buyers now are mainly dealing with whom they know and trust. As a filmmaker, one must know who the buyers are, the ones who pay and the ones you do not want to sell to. Buyers want to make sure the seller will deliver the film to them after they pay the license fee. If they do not know you, it will take time to trust you and buy from you.

5. Ask and Take Pricing Per Territory.

If a distributor makes you an offer, is it the right amount or you are underselling your film? Your goal is to recoup your investment and distribution expenses. You need to know what price to ask for each territory, or what are the bottom numbers to take. To do realistic International Sales Estimates, one must have the knowledge of the conditions of the international marketplace and take in consideration the film’s budget, genre, cast and production values.

6. Market Attendance and Exhibition.

Preparing for film markets is one of the most time consuming tasks of film sales, you need to set up meetings with buyers, prepare all your marketing and distribution materials, book and setup booths at every market, rent equipment or ship yours, arrange for travel, lodging and transportation. Let’s say it will take at least one year to sell a film to all the territories, this is at a minimum of attending 3 major markets. The cost alone could be as much as $75,000.

7. Sales Contracts, Terms, Rights, and Holdbacks.

Licensing rights is complex since there are different buyers for different rights in each of the 50 territories (theatrical, video, VOD, PayTV, PPV, FreeTV, Internet & Wireless). Do you split rights and license each to a different distributor or license all rights to one distributor in that territory? This will have an impact on sales revenues. How a long a term do you grant − exclusive rights or non- exclusive, payments schedule, how long of a holdback to grant for the release of the different rights and how do you protect yourself in case a dispute arises?

8. Collections of Sales Revenues and Delivery of Materials.

After you conclude a deal and before you collect your sales revenues from buyers, you need to have all your delivery forms ready; Notice of Delivery, Invoices, Chain of Title, Clearances, Crew and Talent Agreements, and in some cases E&O Insurance. In addition you need your physical delivery elements, like hard drives or digital tapes, M&E tracks, TV broadcast formats and closed caption. In some cases, sales agents advance these costs.

Film sales and distribution is not a simple task to take on by oneself, it takes years to properly learn and execute all the above successfully.

I truly advise filmmakers to think twice before attempting self-distribution and to find the right sales partner to help bring their films to audiences everywhere and increase their chances of getting the best return on their investment.

Tony Kandah