Distribution & Marketing

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When it comes to a successful commercial film release we are talking less about art and more about commerce.

What is Your Product and Who is the Consumer?

Even when self-releasing, if you want to access mainstream outlets for your film you’ll still likely need to work with a distributor, exhibitor, retailer or broadcaster at some point – none of which cover their overheads by being philanthropic or run a business purely to service an art form.  They need turnover to pay their mortgage or staff wages and that means they need films that attract paying audiences.

At this point even if you aren’t quite there yet you can be sure these key players in the industry are probably thinking more about your film as a ‘product’ and of the audience as ‘consumers’.  It’s called the film business for a reason and when undertaking the costly and demanding activity of releasing a film, particularly in theatres, you need to know:

  • What is your product?  Have a clear idea of your film’s genre, the production values you offer and your point of difference in the market. You should also be aware of the creative and commercial strengths and weaknesses of your film.
  • What other films can you realistically compare yours to?  Consider local releases with similar budgets.
  • Where does your film sit against ‘like’ product?  Compare your project to similar films released in the market recently, their results, and the resources needed to support that result.
  • What is the competition for your release?  Be aware of other films (both local and international) you will be up against against in terms of box office and media exposure around the time your film is ready for market.
  • Who are the core/primary/secondary/tertiary audiences for the type of film you are producing?  Be specific - for example if your core audience is males 18-25yrs you’ll likely be talking a multiplex picture, urban centres etc.
  • What censorship rating will apply to you? Consider how that will impact on your potential audience and release.

Route to Market

Once you’ve established your product offering, serious consideration needs to be given to how your film is going to get itself from the post production facility to places where your audience can access it (movie theatres, DVD shelves, television sets etc.).

  • Who will distribute your film to its audience? Think about whether you will engage a conventional distributor, undertake the job yourself, or use a hybrid model (undertaking some of the core distribution activities like perhaps marketing yourself in collaboration with a conventional distributor who might handle theatre bookings etc.). Will you engage someone with experience as a consultant on the release? Or is it enough for you to play in a local film festival or other special forum that will provide access for your core audience?
  • If using a conventional distributor what is their experience with films similar to yours?  Consider the particular expertise and experience they bring to the table.
  • If self or hybrid-releasing, what relationship do you have with theatres?  You will need to establish how you will get them to book your film; the box office share you can agree with them on; how you will physically provide them with the film in the formats required;  as well as the marketing materials they require.  Similar considerations apply to working with DVD distributors, broadcasters and Video On Demand platforms etc., including how you will manage the various windows for exploitation between them.  For example,  if you have a TV deal when does that begin?  Does it allow sufficient time for DVD, VOD and Pay Television release?

Communicating Your Film to the Target Audience

Once you’ve established your product offering and intended route to market you need to consider how you will communicate it to the consumer.  Even if you envisage using a conventional distributor you should have strong ideas about the marketing of your picture to support their involvement.

  • You’ve identified your audience - now what is their consumptive behaviour?  Have a clear idea of what they watch, how they find it and on what platform,   as well as what it is about your film that will resonate with them.
  • What are your publicity “angles”?  What are your publicity risks?  Have a plan for how you will handle any media interest in your film, and whether you will need a publicist.
  • What media partners could you bring on board to support your release?  There may be potential for product placement, endorsements and cross-promotional partnerships. 
  •  Be specific with your strategy: for example, for social media specify exactly which networks you’d use, how many users subscribe to them, and how you’d engage with them.
  • Develop timelines for employing press media –  are there events occurring around your film release you could tap into that will enhance exposure and interest in your film?  For example, if your film has a war theme would it suit a release around Anzac Day?  When thinking about conventional advertising, specify exactly the publications, channels and networks your audience subscribes to and the potential audience each of those media channels can access.

Release Goals and Budget

Form realistic projections for your release and make sure you understand the business model that applies to independent film.  Consider:

  • What is the aim of your release, and what are your goals?  It may be purely about financial returns; it may be more about profile (for your career or for the subject matter of the film). It may be both.
  • What mediums can you exploit with your film?  Is it suited to a theatrical release?  Consider whether a theatrical release make sense for your audience, or whether it would be better suited to straight broadcast or direct to video. 
  •  What are the other income streams available to you?  What are realistic returns to expect from DVD, VOD, pay and free-to-air TV?  Again, find out the comparable numbers for other local releases, including box office, VOD downloads, DVD units etc. and make realistic projections for your own film. 
  • How will you access those income streams?  Think about whether your distributor will look after that, or how you will engage directly with broadcasters or retailers if you are self-releasing.   DVD retailers such as Whitcoulls, for example, may not stock your DVD if your film hasn’t been released in a theatre.
  • What costs and fees will the various parties involved in your release take from any income?  These may include:
    • Exhibitor share of box office
    • Distributor fees
    • Distributor advances against income and recoupment of that income
    • Distributor expenses and other distribution costs
    • Home video wholesale and retail prices, distributor royalties and who assumes costs for manufacturing, marketing and logistics of home video units
    • VOD platform fees etc.
  • Make sure you have an appropriate level of print and advertising (P&A) spend set aside to achieve your income projections. Does income exceed that level of expenditure? Think about where you will need to focus your spend to optimise audience engagement.  The attached P&A template categorises spend you need to consider.
  • You will need to plan for how you will fund that spend and your overall release campaign.  Your budget should take into account the “hard costs” of that campaign?  I.e., the minimum amount of press, radio, television and other conventional forms of advertising you need to buy in order to support your revenue expectations.
  • How else can you fund your release outside of those hard costs?  Consider bringing promotional partners in to contribute to the campaign or provide “in-kind” support.  What synergies exist with potential corporate sponsors?

Marketing Campaign

You should be aware of the potential marketing elements for your film before you start on production.  Points to consider include:

  • What will these elements ‘look and feel’ like?  What will be your film’s branding? 
  • How will you convey the key elements of your film that appeal to your audience in your promotional material?  If using a conventional distributor be prepared for them to have their own ideas and even create these elements themselves - but always be in a position to bring your own ideas to the table.
  • How will the film be positioned for its target audience?  Think about archetypes for your genre, the key messages, what really appeals to your audience and what your point of difference is.  Is it cast?  Is it selling a high-concept idea (e.g. killer sheep)?  
  • What elements do you need to create the key artwork for your film? Think about photographic stills including who will capture them, the brief for the photographer and how you will use them.
  • What is your title treatment for the film, and how can this be employed consistently across your “branded” materials on posters, a website, trailer etc?  How will this replicate in newsprint, etc.?
  •  What is your overall design aesthetic and colour palette for your marketing? Is it loud and in-your-face?  Is it a commercial treatment typified by blockbusters for that genre? Is it rich and elegant artwork as might suit an art house picture?  Again, think about what comparisons you can draw upon and how you can make your film stand out.

Distribution – How, Where and When

Timing and location is paramount for a film release.  Even good pictures can have disastrous results if released on the wrong dates or in locations that don’t serve their core audience.

  • What physical format will you need for screening (print, d-cinema (DCP), e-cinema, HD tape etc.) and what format have you actually finished to?  Think about how this will impact on the release in terms of cost and how many cinemas you can actually service.
  • There are a number of things to consider when deciding where you will screen the film.  These include: How you will screen and pitch the film to exhibitors; which cinemas suit your film (multiplex vs art-house/boutique, urban centres vs. provincials etc.); how many cinemas you can get to play your film; how many cinemas your film can actually support (i.e., does it make sense to be on 60 screens nationwide if you can’t support that with advertising or your core audience merits only 10-20 screens)?
  • You should also have a clear idea of the schedule for your release strategy.  When and where will you release your trailer?  When will you start media interviews and when should these be publicly released?  What’s your talent availability for media?  When will you have media and exhibitor screenings?  Make a detailed plan to build exposure to the release with a view to maximum exposure in the immediate days leading up to its launch.
  • When will you release the film?  What do you want to align your film with and what must you stay away from? For example, if your audience is 18-25 year old males then releasing alongside Avengers 2 doesn’t make much sense.  What impact will school and public holidays have on your release?  Does it make sense to release against the Hollywood summer blockbusters or during Oscar season?
  • What window do you have before the film releases on other platforms? Have exhibitors agreed to the dates you want for theatrical, VOD or TV release?