Independent Filmmaking: DIY Distribution

By Elizabeth Quinn

Today’s featured panel is Independent Filmmaking: DIY Distribution featuring industry insiders who shared some great insight and advice about the new distribution models for independent filmmakers.

Emily Best talked about her service Seed and Spark, which she calls a “Fair Trade Filmmaking Movement” and has two components. If a film is selected and featured in the STUDIO they will set up a crowdsourcing model where fans can donate money or buy or loan items on the filmmaker’s wish list that are needed to finish their project. Fans who donate can earn Sparks to redeem at a later date. If a film makes it to the CINEMA, it’s featured on their site where fans can redeem Sparks (or pay per rental) to watch the film; 80% of the revenue and 100% of the rights go back to the creator.

Nicolas Gonda talked about his organization Tugg, which I mentioned in yesterday’s post. TUGG was founded at SXSW in 2012 and takes crowd funding to the next level by helping you get screenings of your film at local theaters. TUGG allows you to become the promoter for a screening event of a film from their library. The selection ranges from blockbusters to independent films, or you can get your own film added to the library and arrange a screening of it. Once a film is selected you work with a TUGG representative to set up a screening event at a participating theatre in the city of your choice and spread the word to get people to buy tickets. Once the threshold for ticket sales is reached the screening event is confirmed and if the goal is not reached, no one is charged for the ticket. Given that a cinema’s main concern is having enough ticket sales, your efforts will take that worry away from them. TUGG is connected to about 85% of theatres in the country so there’s bound to be a venue near you.

Barbara Twist from Art House Convergence had some simple yet effective advice for increasing your audience base.  If you can’t afford to travel by air, travel to theatres and festivals within a 100-mile radius of you to promote your film. Additionally, if your cast and crew is spread out throughout the United States, use them to handle promotion and screenings in their area to widen your fan base. It’s also important to find specialized people to help you with your distribution weaknesses. If you have a local art house theatre or one in your home town you should become a member of it. Not only could it be a potential venue for your future film but it’s good karma by supporting independent filmmaking.

The Art House Convergence also sponsors an annual conference and educational program with inspirational speakers, informative sessions and panel discussions that provide productive tips about programming, marketing, fundraising, technology at art house cinemas.

Filmmaker Alexander Poe went the online route to distribute his film Ex-Girlfriends, concentrating on iTunes, Hulu and FilmBuff as the platforms. Financially, the online model worked with his budget and matched the price point that his audience could pay. Asking someone to spend a few dollars for an online film as opposed to spending three times that to see it in the theatre meant more viewers. Plus, it offered viewers an extra convenience to watch it whenever and wherever they wanted to on their computers. By building his audience this way, he was eventually able to get a theatrical screening in New York and a review from the New York Times. Alex knew his audience size and tailored his budget and the type of film he could make to that audience size and it paid off.

While the panel focused on features, they were also encouraging about shorts, suggesting that you look into theatres who will screen your short before features, or, if you have a bunch of shorts can you program it into a 75-90 minute block to screen somewhere

Film schools teach you how to make films and be auteurs but the real world experience of taking a project and making it happen are often overlooked. It’s not the model any more to get your film sold at a festival and hand it over to someone else to take care of it. All of the panelists agreed that independent filmmaking is all about engaging with your community to create something special and build your audience support. Your social capital is the good will/fellowship of your community so you want to treat it with care.

Links and Resources

  • Indie Artery provides a timeline from idea to distribution
  • Cinema Treasures – An online directory of cinemas throughout the world. A nonprofit organization of movie lovers devoted to finding and presenting interesting and unusual programs of exceptional, distinctive, weird and wonderful films.
  • Producers Distribution Agency
  • Patreon – Created to enable fans to support and engage with the artists and creators they love. Empowering a new generation of creators, Patreon is bringing patronage back to the 21st century.
  • Two examples of films that followed new distribution models are Primer and Upstream Color
  • Cinema Research at NYU – A resource for film distribution