To Film Fest or Not to Film Fest: Creative Approaches to Distribution in the Digital Age

Film festivals used to be the only way for indie filmmakers to find exposure and, if lucky, a distributer. But with the explosion of video on demand (VOD), filmmakers have real choices to make: Should you premiere your project in a film fest? Should you release your film online in tandem with your film fest premiere? Or do you skip the film fest and concentrate your efforts on marketing your VOD release?

Here we offer insights into several alternatives to help you make the right choice for your project.

Option 1: Submitting to the Film Fest

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The film fest is the time-tested route for indie filmmakers to garner accolades and maybe even grab a distributer. NYFA maintains a comprehensive list of film festivals here. However, if you’re spending a huge chunk of time and money applying to festivals and not getting in, or not winning the awards, you may need to switch up your strategy.

Option 2: Getting Noticed Online

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It can no longer be assumed that film fests will deny entrance based on a film’s online status. In fact, this Raindance article suggests some film fests actively look to places like Vimeo to source films for their lineup.

Vimeo (as opposed to YouTube) is the professional choice for filmmakers. Even if a particular festival does not consider previously released videos, many more accept submissions as password-protected Vimeo links. Withoutabox streamlines the process of submitting online.

Option 3: Simultaneous Release

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Ok, so you got into a film fest, now how can you make the most of it? Take a cue from Sundance, who premieres select films on demand and at the festival simultaneously. This ensures a wider audience and a longer life for your film while taking advantage of the festival’s promotion.

Option 4: Straight to VOD

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Amazon Video Demand and Quiver Digital (which bundles on demand across several platforms including iTunes) offer obvious alternatives to the film fest. And, as Beyond the Film Festival demonstrates for the Pacific Northwest, there are also regional outlets that can get your film in front of eyeballs.

Option 5: Distribution DIY

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In the current VOD world, a filmmaker can take distribution into his or her own hands. As howtosellyourmovie.com puts it: “The films that get distribution packages don’t need distribution packages.” In other words, distributors don’t tend to take chances, and will gladly vie for projects that demonstrate their marketability.

A Cannes winner will not have much trouble finding a distributors, but these days, it’s not clear if it needs one. The big festival winners can have almost instantaneous worldwide distribution and fame via VOD. For example, Amazon creates “Demand Stars” by offering a million dollars shared profits (on top of the chosen revenue package) to its most popular television shows and films.

Secret Option 6 – Infinity?

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No matter what route you choose, it’s important to make your product appealing. A distributor is not the magic bullet any more than is uploading your film to Amazon. The difference these days is that you, as filmmaker, can take a lot more control of your film’s destiny and profits. And you have more options.

Do you have creative distribution stories to tell? Let us know your experiences in the comments below. And learn more at New York Film Academy’s Filmmaking School.

To Film Fest or Not to Film Fest: Creative Approaches to Distribution in the Digital Age by

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