Movie Making Manual/Film Distribution & Marketing Overview

This Module is part of the Movie Making Manual

End of Post Production edit

Once you are ready to send your movie off to a film festival, you are finished with Post Production. Now, you must start film distribution & marketing.
So now what happens? And more importantly, who does it?

Film Distribution and Marketing edit

Producers who treat film as a commercial enterprise start the distribution before they even raise the funds for a film. Distributors want good films to distribute.

Distributors want exclusive licensing rights to carry a picture in their territory for the formats that they support. A territory may be regional, spanning multiple countries. A format may broadly consist of theatrical, pay television, broadcast television, home entertainment (VHS, DVD, or Blu-Ray Disc), and Internet video download media. A distributor may acquire licensing for many formats or just one.

Producers with worthy projects can approach distributors with their screenplay and ask them to provide a letter-of-intent-to-distribute to at least a minimum release of their film. The producer can then use these distributor endorsement letters to attract investment capital, above-the-line cast members, and key production crew.

A typical scenario for independent film and television producers looks like this (highly simplified)

1. You create a motion picture marketing campaign to sell distribution licenses to distributors at a film and television market recognized by the International Federation of Film Producers Associations (FIAPF), at major film festivals attended by distributors through either self-representation in person or through the contracted services of reputable sales agencies and producer representatives. Additionally, you should create either a motion picture web site or a movie profile with a video trailer hyperlink on a high-traffic web site such as and's IMDb Pro. Note: When you budget your production costs, try to factor in that distribution licensing sales will be responsible for a minimum return of a 183% of your production costs. It is very important that your marketing campaign will sustain your distribution licensing sales target.

2. Before you find a distributor, you must have a schedule of deliverables to give to the distributor. Including the film master in an acceptable media and format, the deliverables schedule will also include marketing elements that you have collected as you created your film (such as movie trailers in different cuts, poster-sized key art, photographs, a behind-the-scenes featurette, press articles, technical production fact sheets, music cue sheets, dialog transcripts, etc.) Even though you finished post production before your movie was sent to the film festival, this step may require both additional post-production (major, not minor) and potentially lots of legal paperwork with respect to preparing releases and securing rights for intellectual property, such as music and brand identities, used by the film. Gathering the deliverables is the key to success for you as a filmmaker: A distribution license sale will only close if the deliverables are accepted by the distributor in good order. The more quality in the deliverables, the more likely the licensing sale will close.

3. Then, the distributor creates a totally new local-territory marketing campaign from your deliverables. This may include a localized movie poster and the movie trailer translated into a local language. Be prepared to support language translation questions from your distributor. The local marketing campaign may provide release windows for the title to roll out in different formats on different dates. Note: Distribution nowadays does not necessarily mean theatrical distribution as digital downloads have begun to take over the market. Because of digital piracy, traditional distribution release windows by territory and then by format have become complicated: Recent titles have used simultaneous territory releases to get a jump on the effects of digital piracy on future sales. The more experienced the distributor, or the stricter the local copyrights enforcement, the less likely digital piracy will impact the revenue generated by each distributor's territory.

4. The distributor may create prints - 35 mm film copies of the motion picture from your master deliverable. The prints will then be delivered to the distributors contracted theater chains and supported with advertising campaigns in local media outlets.

5. Depending on the licensed territory, the distributor may create local language versions of your motion picture from your deliverables under your license. Local language versions will either appear as subtitled motion pictures or as voice-dubbed motion pictures - depending on the sophistication of the distributor. The dialog transcript and music cue sheet both support this function. When the local licensing rights expire, the local language edition of your film should revert back to you for future distribution and archiving. The elements used to create the local language edition should be delivered to the production company or its delivery agent on expiration of the license.

6. Depending on the licensed home entertainment format, the distributor may create the local DVD versions of your motion picture from your deliverables. Sometimes, this requires developing a separate local home entertainment marketing campaign from your deliverables, which can result in an enhanced or extended version of your motion picture, replete with Internet hyperlinks to contracted local product and service promotions. Then, the distributor ships the DVD-video to retail outlets within his territory.

7. The distributor then accounts for the sales of your movie against costs for prints, advertising campaigns, and other distribution expenses, such as returned home entertainment units (eg. DVD breakage), local financing costs, taxes, customs duties, and tariffs. Per your distribution license agreement, the distributor can then return any actual positive net revenue from the distribution license to the production company directly, or to a legal trust entity created to receive net revenue for the production company and for its beneficiaries, such as equity investors, creditors, sales agencies, and talent guilds. Distribution companies will return positive net revenue to encourage producers to provide early exclusive access to their next motion picture: On the other hand, negative net revenue accounting reports are very common in the early years of a multi-year distribution license, and generally reflects the start-up costs for marketing a new motion picture. Such costs can be reduced if a motion picture is one in a story franchise of multiple motion pictures: The first picture will bear the brunt of the market introduction costs - and the subsequent pictures will benefit from brand familiarity and mass media awareness with the story characters and its elements.

8. If you do not use a legal trust entity to manage net revenue, the production company will be responsible for the producer's net revenue distribution accounting. If there is any positive net revenue to share, then the production company will be responsible for distributing revenue to your investors and creditors. It is recommended that an international entertainment accounting firm be contracted to provide this service over the lifetime of all territorial distribution licenses issued on behalf of a motion picture.