In this post we will be looking at how film distribution works in the 21st century. You will learn about the traditional process of Hollywood movies and how independent filmmakers can get their films distributed and exhibited.
In the past ten years how film distribution works has changed due to the availability of high quality cameras, the internet and Video On Demand services like Netflix. Distribution is the final process in filmmaking, getting the film viewed and hopefully taking in a profit.
This article is a short breakdown of Distribution. All information can be checked via the links attached.
A major film studio (for example Disney) owns the legal rights to a film. The Studio makes a license agreement with a distributor. The distributor then persuades exhibitors (Cinemas) to showcase the film.
The Studio and distribution company take a large percent of the cinema ticket profits 60-90% (The cinemas make the majority of their money from food and advertisements before the film).
Some studios have their own distribution companies so as to take a greater share of the profits. There are also independent distributors who will handle films made outside of major studios.
For more detailed information on Hollywood Distribution I have found this great series of articles via Launching films website Read here
Sales agents Vs distributors
The difference between a distributor and sales agent is that a sales agent is hired by a producer to find a distributor. The sales agent is the middle man who may be hired to help find a good distribution deal for the film. Not all producers hire sales agents they might find a distributor themselves. A major studio might have made a deal with distributor before the films is made (e.g. to take on a certain number of films made by them every year).
For more information on foreign sales agents I found this article from Filmmaker magazine Read here
Film Festivals & Markets
There are hundreds of film festivals all over the world, the main annual events are the big five - Cannes, Berlin, Sundance, Toronto, Venice. At these festivals thousands of film buyers, sales agents and distributors will attend looking to acquire films.
At these festivals there maybe a film market where films are screened. It is at these markets that the distribution deals take place between Producers and distributors.
The Independent filmmaker project has a more detailed article on the difference between Markets and film festivals Read here
The Traditional way for independent filmmakers to find a film distributor is through film festivals. A screening at one of the big five festivals will likely get watched by many global distributors who will consider buying your films rights. A film will also be taken more seriously at these festivals if it is represented by a well known sales agent.
A filmmaker can approach sales agents directly and try to get them to take on their film. Importantly the sales agent must have a good history, recommendations and ideally have taken on films similar to yours before.
You can also approach distributors directly and see if they would be interest in your film. You need to identify distributors who have showcased films similar to yours before in terms of genre or sell ability.
Launching films website lists what distributors are working with what film. Find a list of film distribution companies here
A filmmaker can pitch to a cinema directly. Before doing this you must get an age classification for your film, you will also need to do the marketing yourself including providing a trailer and posters for your film. Independently showing your film at a cinema can be very expensive and a full business plan would ideally be completed before considering this option.
You don’t need to get your film shown at a cinema to have a good exhibition. Distributors for services like Netflix and Amazon will also be present at major film festivals. If you don't get into a major film festival you can hire an aggregator for example a popular online VOD aggregator is Distribber.
Companies such as Netflix prefer it if you go through a trusted middleman to reach them. This great video from Creative North talks about indepedent filmamkers can get their film to Netflix Watch here
If your film does not attract the attention of distributors or get into a notable film festival you can consider further self distribution. You might find an audience online through the use of Patreon and YouTube. Be clever with how you find an audience with your film. You might like my post How to make money as a creative filmmaker Read here.
I hope this post helped you learn more about distribution for filmmakers. The links attached provide more detailed advice.