Movie Making Manual/Film Marketing

This Module is part of the Movie Making Manual


Note: This section should be called "Film Distribution & Marketing".

What happens to your motion picture once you are finished? How does your movie get into the hands of a distributor? How does the distributor get the movie into the hands of the exhibitor or in the case of video tape/disks, into the hands of retail stores? And how does the distributor/theater owner convince the public to attend your movie and to buy the tape/disk?

All of this is called "Marketing".

Finding a DistributorEdit

Probably 99% of all the motion picture which are distributed use a distributor. If a filmmaker cannot find a distributor, the movie will probably never be distributed. Probably 40% of all movies made never find a distributor. So don't assume that finding a distributor will be automatic.

The distributor uses the economics of volume to market motion pictures as cheaply as possible. Even so, the successful motion picture will cost 33% of the final gross just for marketing and distribution. If you try to distribute the movie yourself, the cost can be far more than the income.

Back when you began to make your movie and you went looking for funding, one of the major options you had was getting a distributor on board early. Be sure to read Roger Corman's books and notice that he always had a distributor before he began a movie. It make life so much easier.

A good way to interest a distributor is to have a major star attached to your project. Currently, the market for motion picture is "Star Driven" which means that the public is attracted to movies which have stars rather than good ideas.

If you cannot get a distributor while you are still in the pre-production stage, your only other practical option is to complete you motion picture and show the movie at film festivals to attract a distributor.

Self DistributionEdit

If you want to try to distribute the movie yourself, you must consider your options which are booking directly at a movie theater (either by negotiating a box office split with a theater owner, or renting it for a length of time - also known as "four walling"), Distributing Direct, Selling Online, Digital Cinema Distribution, Submitting to a broadcaster, Putting videos online, Burning a DVD. The process of self distribution is time consuming, requires an additional financial investment, and is a separate business from filmmaking. However, it permits the filmmaker maximal control over how their work is marketed and the highest return on the dollar. An initial successful self distribution of a film can increase the filmmaker's leverage in securing a distribution deal.

Delivery of the Film to the DistributorEdit

When you complete your movie and project your movie at a film festival, you movie is not finished yet. You still do not have all the elements that are needed by the distributor before the distributor will accept your motion picture. These items are known as deliverables. Now, you have to worry about technical deliverables (such as separate tracks of music and sound effects, known as M&E Tracks) and legal deliverables (such as obtaining an "Errors and Omissions" insurance policy.) If you have not planned for this day, you can be in deep trouble. All of this might cost you more than the cost of filming and editing your motion picture.

Developing the CampaignEdit

Finally, we get to the most controversial part of film marketing. To sell a motion picture (with its huge advertising budget), a campaign must be created to introduce the movie to the public. The basic questions are, "What is this movie about?" and "Who will want to see this movie?"

In general, many filmmakers and critics at large, do not like the ad campaigns. But then, they are not paying for any of the millions of dollars that will be spend on the ad campaign. So they complain and gripe and produce meaningless dribble like this:

Get on the CluetrainEdit

Markets are conversations. Their members communicate in language that is natural, open, honest, direct, funny and often shocking. Whether explaining or complaining, joking or serious, the human voice is unmistakably genuine. It can't be faked.

Most film blurbs, on the other hand, only know how to talk in the soothing, humorless monotone of the clever line, marketing brochure, and your-call-is-important-to-us busy signal. Same old tone, same old lies. No wonder networked markets have no respect for Studio marketing hype unable or unwilling to speak as they do.

But learning to speak in a human voice is not some trick, nor will studios convince us they are human with lip service about "listening to audiences." They will only sound human when they empower real human beings to speak on their behalf.

Marketing the Movie to ExhibitorsEdit

The distributor must somehow interest the theater owners to exhibit the movie in their theaters.

Marketing the Movie to the Local AudienceEdit

With help from the distributor, the local theater owner will publicize the motion picture before the opening of the movie at the theater.

Marketing the Movie To Tape DistributorsEdit

The film's distributor does not normally sell the tape or disk of the movie directly to the Mom & Pop video store. Rather, the distributor must get a specialized distributor to put this in their catalog. In the USA, there are three major tape/disk distributors for movies to video stores.


There are many ways to publicize a motion picture or a television drama. The most common are a movie trailer and a behind-the-scenes documentary. The movie trailer is the least expensive and the behind-the-scenes movie can be very time consuming if not expensive.

Publicity is done by both the production company and by the distributor. The still photographs (called appropriately, "stills") and the behind-the-scenes documentary are paid for by the production company. But the movie trailer and movie posters are normally paid for by the distributor. Some production companies in search of a distributor will create their own trailers and posters but once the movie is picked up by a distributor and the advertising campaign is determined, the distributor might still hire one of the many companies in LA which produce trailers for most motion pictures today.

Income Distribution Considerations - PublicityEdit

Should a production company help in the publicity for a motion picture? This is a surprisingly difficult question.

In most cases, the distributor pays the production company a small fee up front for the right to distribute the movie. Then the production company receives a royalty after sales reach a certain amount. Therefore, it is beneficial for the production company to help in the publicity. Also, the cost of the distributor's advertising can often be charged against the income due the production company. So is it better for the production company to do as much of this as they can. But once the distributor creates a marketing campaign, they don't want the production company creating a different image for the movie. And worst of all, all of the rights to most of the publicity material created by the production company is now owned by the film's distributor so the production company can no longer use this material in many cases.

The Forms of Publicity/AdvertisementsEdit

First, you have the tradition forms of publicity and advertisement.

TV AdsEdit

Television advertisements are simply the movie trailer. Therefore, the cost is only for the air time. This is often the bulk of the cost of publicity for a motion picture.

Newspaper AdsEdit

Newspaper advertisements (either paid for by the distributor or by the theater owner) are almost always created by the distributor.

Publicity tours are paid for by the distributor and the actor's contract usually specifies the amount of pay that the actor will receive for doing the tour. This is particularly useful for film festivals where the movie has won an award.


All movies now have websites.

Editing Workshops = A New Kind of PublicityEdit

Now there is a new way to publicize a motion picture which is half way between a trailer and a behind-the-scenes documentary. This new form of publicity is a tour of the movie set and the editing room for just one (1) scene of the movie. To create this, the film dailies for one scene are turned into a movie which shows the filming of the scene in chronological order showing all the circle takes. That way, the audience can follow along with the script. Then a rough edit of the scene is shown followed by the adjustments to the edits and finally the finished scene with a film score. Once people have seen how the scene was filmed and edited, they can participate in the making of the movie by actually editing the scene on their personal computer.

Currently, there are over 40 million people who have personal computer which are capable of editing digital video but they have nothing exciting to edit. But this new form of publicity will not take off until computer companies such as Apple Computer get behind it since half the benefit of the Editing Workshop is for people who use the personal computer.

To look at this new way to publicize your upcoming motion picture, visit the Star Movie Shop and purchase their Technology Demonstration disk. This is a fully working example of this new kind of publicity for motion pictures or television dramas. You can never have enough publicity for your movie. This is one way which is easy to do, specially if you are editing your movie with Final Cut Pro or similar type of editing program on your computer. You already have all the elements and you just package them in a user friendly way.

Film Scoring Workshop = A New Kind of PublicityEdit

It is also possible to create an entertaining product for people who use GarageBand (which is free will all new Macintosh computers) which is edited scenes without music set up for scoring with GarageBand. At least 5 million people have GarageBand but still no one has done this. Look for it in the next year or two.

Resources for Marketing Independent FilmsEdit

4Film has detailed articles on the steps to selling an independent film.