Self-Distribution In Today’s Marketplace

May 28, 2014

Author: Neal Weisman, Co-Chair, Producing Department, New York Film Academy

Netflix is a perfect example of self-distribution

The world of film distribution has literally blown up in the last few years. The traditional distribution system, that was the norm for so long, is going through many changes. No longer are filmmakers required to wait until they have a distribution deal with a studio to market and sell their films. Self-distribution is the wave of the future and the now. Many filmmakers are opting to create their own hybrid distribution plans combining a limited theatrical release with other digital opportunities such as VOD, PPV and the many online and digital outlets (iTunes, Netflix, Amazon, Hulu), in addition to streaming the films directly from their own websites—cutting out the middle men all-together. And the digital wave has opened up a whole new world of marketing opportunities.

The key to self-distribution is building a platform for the film via its talent, genre, and filmmakers. Filmmakers are required to have a solid understanding not just of the craft of filmmaking, but in marketing and the newest distribution platforms as well. Filmmakers also must know who their audience is from the outset and develop a solid marketing and distribution strategy based on that audience. Learning the nuances of social media marketing and more traditional marketing is essential if you want to be successful today. Understanding how to define your demographics and reach your core audiences, and engaging them with unique marketing strategies that turn them from a potential viewer to an active audience participant, is a skill that must be mastered in this new entertainment world.

Creating and defining your brand is also an important part of the self-distribution model. Branding isn’t just for companies like Marvel. Knowing what makes your projects uniquely yours will give you a better focus when it comes time to market your individual projects. And that marketing strategy begins well before your project is completed. From creation of your website to finding ways to cross-promote your project with another product or company, developing a promotional plan is essential to your project’s success.

It is extremely important for filmmakers and producers to determine the viability of the projects they are exploring and the best way to then distribute that project to the marketplace. For some projects, digital distribution may be the only way to make the most of their viewing potential, while sometimes a hybrid theatrical and digital approach is best. Is their project well suited for network television? Or can they generate a wider audience via a web series and if so, what is the best way to monetize their web series to create a return on investment? These are some of the questions one must answer in order to be successful in today’s marketplace.