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Assessing Distributors

There are two approaches for assessing distributors. One is do an assessment before you contact distributors to decide who to contact in the first place. The other is do this review after you have contacted many distributors, such as through a personalized email query blast where you describe your project and ideally include a link to a trailer, after which some distributors express interest in learning more.

Unless you have personal referrals or have met distributors at an event, such as a conference or workshop, I prefer the email query approach as more efficient, since you use the initial query to target distributors who might be interested. Then, if you get a high level of interest, you can assess the distributors to decide those to follow through with by sending them a screener and promotional materials. You can readily add additional distributors to his initial list. Or simply send all the distributors who have expressed interest the screener and promotional material, and do your assessment afterwards of the remaining interested distributors .

Whatever your initial approach, doing the assessment in advance to decide who to contact or doing it afterwards to decide which still-interested distributors to consider making a deal with, here are some factors to consider in making your assessment and selecting a distributor for all or selected channels and territories.

One approach, especially if you think your film is good enough to go theatrical and you are willing to make the necessary investment for marketing, is to look at the success of these distributors with previous films, as well as whether they distribute your type of film. For example, some distributors specialize in action/adventure films, others in sci-fi, documentaries, comedies, or drama, and some cover most types of films. You want to target those that best fit your film in making initial queries or discussing your film’s prospects after distributors have expressed interest.

One good source for assessing distributors is looking at their profile on IMDB (the International Movie Database) to see how many films they have distributed, when they did so, what type of films these were, and how well these films did. After you review their profile and get a list of their films, you can check the listing for each film to see its description, the cast, and the film’s current rating. You need a professional IMDB subscription to do this, which is around $20 a month, so sign up if you don’t already get this.

That’s the kind of assessment I did in arranging distribution for SUICIDE PARTY: SAVE DAVE. After I sent out an email query and about 20 distributors expressed interest and wanted to see the screener, I forwarded their letters to my director, who had previously filmed and distributed over a dozen films, so he could review and rate the distributors. He then came back with his report, indicating which distributors had the best track record after eliminating those who had only distributed a few films, and in one case, only a single film several years earlier. You can’t always get this kind of information from the directories of distributors, so you need to do this checking.

If you have a choice of multiple distributors, this approach can help you find the distributor who is likely to do the most for your film, due to his or her past performance. However, you still need to evaluate the contract and deal you are being offered to determine if that is still the best distributor for your film.
For example, if a good distributor wants a 50-50 deal, while a distributor with only a limited track record wants 35%, it may be better to give up a greater percentage, since, as my director put it, “Thirty-five percent of nothing is nothing.” On the other hand, many distributor deals are for 35%, especially if a distributor feels you have a strong film, and some new distributors may turn out to be very eager and hungry, so they will be very proactive in pushing your film.

Another consideration is whether a distributor expects any money from you for P&A (promotion and advertising) or E&O (errors and omissions) insurance.

Another approach if you want to go theatrical is to look at which distributors are most active in distributing films playing at theaters, along with the genres, grosses, and the number of theaters in which these films have played. This way you can rank the distributors for your type of film based on their box office performance, taking into consideration both the number of films these distributors have represented and the films with the highest grosses.

While you can get the weekend box office grosses for nearly 100 films a week for many previous months, I would suggest just using the Weekend Domestic Chart for the past month to make your analysis more manageable. While the big budget grosses as might be expected are from big studio distributors and their affiliates, some independent distributors have respectable showings of $50,000 or more at the box office, and some have films which have gotten $15,000 or more. Take into consideration the total grosses and how many days the film has been out, so you can more realistically assess how well a film has done during its box office run.

For example, when I did this for the four week period from November 21-December 12, 2014, I found the following distributors for the most films in all genres, although when you do this, limit it your genres. All of these genres include the following:
– Drama
– Thriller/suspense
– Comedy
– Adventure
– Black Comedy
– Horror
– Western
– Action
– Documentary
– Romantic comedy
– Multiple Genres

Based on these listings for this period, these distributors had the highest grossing films, and most of these distributors had multiple films in different genres. I have listed the distributors based on their total grosses for at least one film. In doing your analysis, keep track of the number of films from a distributor, the genre, and the individual grosses.
Gross of $2 Million or More
– Lionsgate
– 20th Century Fox
– Paramount Pictures
– Walt Disney
– Universal
– Focus Features
– Fox Searchlight
– Weinstein Company
– Open Road
– Sony Pictures Classics
– Roadside Attractions
– Relativity
– Sony Pictures
– Radius-TWC
– Magnolia Pictures
– Samuel Goldwyn Films
– Lorimar Motion Pictures
– Cohen Media Group
Gross of $100,000-$2 Million
– IFC Midnight
– China Lion Film Distribution
– MacGillivray Freedman Films
– Zeitgeist
– Counterpoint Films & Self-Realization Fellowship
– Area 23a
– Eros Entertainment
Gross of $25,000-100,000
– International Film Circuit
– First Run Features
– Music Box Films
– Dada Films
– Aborama Films
– Strand
– Drafthouse Films
– Oscilliscope Pictures
– Rialto Pictures

Since this list comes from only one month of box office listings, other distributors may show up if these listings were drawn from other months, several months, or a year.

And what if you don’t have the luxury of choosing among many distributors, since you only have very few offers, even only one? Then, make the assessment based on whether you want to select this distributor at all or either wait for another distributor or self-distribute your film, at least for a awhile.

In sum, if you have one or more distributors to choose from, in making an assessment, factor in the distributor’s track record along with other considerations to decide which one or ones to go with for your film. To make the best choice, the art of picking the right distributor or distributors (including the right foreign sales agents or agents) can be an involved, time-consuming process – from finding interested distributors to finding the right one or ones to work with. But it’s important to make this assessment carefully; it’s like entering into a short-term marriage, and if it works, you want to renew it; if not, you move on and look for other possibilities. Just carefully assess your options, in light of what’s realistic for your film, so you start out with a good marriage for your film.


Gini Graham Scott, PhD, is the author of over 50 books with major publishers, including two on films: HOW TO WRITE, PRODUCE, AND DIRECT A LOW-BUDGET SHORT FILM and FINDING FUNDS FOR YOUR FILM OR TV PROJECT. She has written and produced over 50 short films, has written 15 feature scripts, and has one feature she wrote and executive produced to be released in February 2015. She also writes scripts for clients, is Creative Director for Publishers Agents & Films (, and has several book and film industry Meetup groups which discuss members’ books and films and help them get published or produced.


Knowing What to Expect and Say in Approaching Distributors

Once are ready to approach distributors, how do you know what to expect based on your type of film?

First, decide what is realistic for your film, aside from making the best presentation you can with your trailer, screener, synopsis, and press materials. In general, if you have a low-budget independent film with no names, you can expect many distributors not to be interested, or only interested in non-theatrical outlets, unless you have a very unique project with strong production values and have gotten a lot of interest through a PR campaign. This is where any showing at a top tier festival or a string of awards at other festivals can help you land a top distributor. There are a small number of films that have risen above the pack by standing out in some way, such as The Blair Witch Project or Paranormal Activity. But these are the one in a million breakthroughs.

As much as you may want a theatrical release because of the added attention and prestige it brings to distributing a film through other channels, it is often not the best approach for most low-budget films. That’s because of the high costs of such a release and the lack of financial return from most theatrical showings, unless there is a big box office success, since there is a low return for each ticket sold. The theater owner typically takes at least 50% and sometimes up to 75% when the film is first shown until it makes a certain amount. So you may not make back the expenses for the release. The main value of the theatrical release is that it’s like a promotional loss leader at a retail store to get customers into the store where they’ll buy more. As such, it helps to create more interest for viewers to buy or rent the video or look for it on Netflix or other outlets, including your website for DVD sales. But the release can be economically unfeasible. And some low-budget genre films, such as horror, suspense/thrillers, and action adventure films, don’t normally get a theatrical release – they go straight to DVD, streaming, downloads, foreign, or other types of sales.

Secondly, when you contact distributors about your film, whether in person, by phone, or email, don’t put information about the stars or budget up front, unless you have at least one name star and a budget of $1 million or more. One good approach is to initially tell distributors about the genre and logline to see if the subject is of interest. If so, briefly describe the highlights of the film, such as the major plot points and any press coverage, awards, or large following you have gotten. If you do have a big name attached, put that front and center, and if the budget is over a million, you might showcase that. Otherwise, it’s best not to state the budget until a potential distributor has expressed interest, and if it’s a very low budget, just say it’s under $200,000.

Typically, once the distributor has some initial interest after learning about the project and possibly seeing a trailer, one of the first things they will ask is “Are there any names?” and “What is the budget?” – the questions that most distributors asked me when I pitched them SUICIDE PARTY: SAVE DAVE. Besides asking for this information, distributors will want to see the screener to decide if they still want to distribute the film. Though they don’t ask for this, when you send the screener, it’s best to include it in a box with compelling art work and other information about the film in a press kit, which can often be online as an electronic press kit. When your screener and promotional materials are ready, either mail the kit or send the link, which is what we did for SUICIDE PARTY: SAVE DAVE. Having this professional looking box for your screener is very important. Don’t send your screener in a plain disk cover, which looks tacky and can be a big turnoff. As for what to include in your press kit, I’ll discuss that in a future article.

Do not reveal the actual budget if it’s a very low one, because that can turn off a distributor. Stories like El Mariachi, who has claimed having a $7000 budget for a film that became a multi-million dollar box office success story, are the exception to the rule. And even if you made your film for a very low amount, say $5000 to $25,000, there may be deferred or work for credits deals with the cast and crew that if paid up front would make your budget much more. There might even be specials on locations and equipment used in the film, so you got them for no money or a super low price, but they are worth much more. For example, if you factor in the real value of the work of the cast and crew, the house used as a shooting set, and the cameras and sound equipment used for filming, you might find your budget was actually around $250,000, whereas you paid only $25,000 up front. So in talking to prospective distributors, use that higher number. Later, after you have gotten your deal and gained success for your film, you can talk about the real budget, which can make a great story to get you more press for your film. But initially, a distributor is apt to feel a very low-budget film isn’t going to be very successful and not want to distribute your film.

In deciding on a realistic distribution approach for your film, consider whether you hope for a theatrical deal or not. While a traditional theatrical deal, such as a studio pickup, might not work given the type of film, lack of names, lack of a following, and lack of budget to cover P&A, you might consider a limited roll-out approach. That could lead to future theatrical distribution as well as helping you distribute in other channels, because of the prestige and press value of opening in a theater. This is what some independents do — a “platform” roll-out, where the film is first shown in one or a few theaters. If it does well and gathers press and distributor interest, it expands to additional theaters, or it could be picked up after the opening by a distributor or studio for additional theatrical distribution. Should you go this route, you often have to pay for the theater and local advertising and promotion, commonly about $5000-15,000 for a week’s run, with the cost depending on the theater, location, and any travel expenses for you and/or others from the film to be there for the screening and doing any advance marketing to build the audience. However, it’s best to only go this route if your film is unique in some way, and you have a budget to support a theatrical showing, so it stands out in a crowded marketplace. Otherwise it’s best to skip a theatrical release.

If you decide not to pursue theatrical screenings, let the distributor know you aren’t expecting this, unless the distributor can make a strong case of why to go theatrical. And even if you arrange for a showing in one or a handful of selected theaters, this still might not mean you are seeking a wider theatrical release. Another reason for having a small number of screenings in theaters is to get some press coverage you can use to support distribution in other channels. These showings could also be a way to build your following on the social media, such as LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter, to see your film. Also, you might invite prospective distributors to see your film in a private or public screening, in lieu of or before getting a screener, such as one client who invited several hundred distributors to two showings she arranged for in New York. Should you decide not to go theatrical, look for distributors who are strong in other types of distribution.

Gini Graham Scott, PhD, is the author of over 50 books with major publishers, including two on films: HOW TO WRITE, PRODUCE, AND DIRECT A LOW-BUDGET SHORT FILM and FINDING FUNDS FOR YOUR FILM OR TV PROJECT. She has written and produced over 50 short films, has written 15 feature scripts, and has one feature she wrote and executive produced to be released in February 2015. She also writes scripts for clients, is Creative Director for Publishers Agents & Films (, and has several book and film industry Meetup groups which discuss members’ books and films and help them get published or produced.


Finding and Connecting with Distributors and Foreign Sales Agents

Now that you are set up for assessing interested distributors and foreign sales agents (which I’ll often call distributors now for convenience), how do you find them to get them interested and assess the best ones for you?

The main ways to find and connect with them include the following:

– Go to film markets, such as the American Film Market, and meet with exhibitors or obtain their names from a list of distributors and phone or email them after the market, since most of the exhibitors are the biggest distributors or sales agents. The other major film markets, according to an article “Top 14 Film Markets” by Minhae Shim in Independent’s Guide to Film Distribution include Hot Docs, held in Toronto, Canada; the Independent Film Week/Project Forum in New York City; INPUT (International Public Service Television Screening Conference); the National Media Market, in Charleston, South Carolina, and NATPE (National Association of Television Executives) held in Miami. The other major film markets are outside the US and Canada – CineMart in the Netherlands, the European Film Market in Berlin, the Hong King International Film and TV Market, the Marche du Films and MIPTV in Cannes, and TIFFCOM (Tokyo International Film Festival Content Market).
Most realistically, the one to go to is the American Film Market, held in Santa Monica in early November. I attended it several years ago, and have since obtained information on the exhibitors who are listed publically, and I am now a member of the AFM365, which provides a way to contact other attendees during and after the festival for the following year. If you go to this festival, you can get a pass for the whole festival for $795 or for the last 3 days for $295. Either pass will enable you to go to the showrooms, where you can meet distributors, though most filmmakers on a low budget buy the 3 day pass and hang out in the lobby on other days to meet people who are there. You have the best opportunity to meet exhibitors on the last three days, since on the first four days, they are focused on speaking to buyers and making deals to sell their films. If you have a packaged screener, it is best to set up meetings with distributors in advance, although you can also go to their showrooms when they aren’t busy. If they are interested, you can leave your screener and any press materials with them, or get their business cards or other contact information and send the screener later. If you don’t yet have a screener, simply introduce yourself and get their business card or flyers with contact information for follow-up later. And even if you only get their contact information because they are too busy to see them, that’s fine, since you can contact them later by phone or email.
However, don’t expect to make any deals at the AFM or other film markets. Unless you have big names attached, the distributor will want to see your screener first.

– Go to conferences, workshops, and panels which feature distributors and sales agents. This can be a way to personally meet a few of the speakers and panelists who are distributors or can refer you to them. You probably will only be able to say hello and maybe ask a question or two. But get the contact information for later follow-up once you have a screener ready, and in your follow-up, mention that you have met the person at the event you attended. In some cases, conferences and workshops will provide attendees with a directory of distributors, such as a film funding conference I attended several years ago in Los Angeles which was put on by the Independent Film Forum. Whether you meet a distributor personally or get their name from a directory at the event, it’s generally best to send a query letter or call first rather than sending in the screener and any press materials unless requested to do so, since different distributors have different procedures for requesting material. Tell them what you have to send them, and they can tell you what to do next.

– Research the names of distributors in different directories and industry listings. Doing this research can be a time-consuming process, but much of this information is available for free or at a low cost. Here are just some of the lists of distributors that are available:
– Independent Filmmakers Showcase’s “Independent Film Distributors List”
– Video University’s “Video and Film Distributors”
– Indiewire’s “Guide to Distributors at Sundance 2014”
– The Numbers “Market Share for Each Distributor 1995-2014”
– Film Journal’s “Distribution Guide” to Domestic and International Companies
– Insider’s Guide to Film Distribution, edited by Minhae Shim, Erin Trahan, and
Michele Meek, Independent Media Productions, Cambridge, MA.
– The Producer’s Insider Guide to Selling Films – Film Distributors Directory by
Amemimo Publishing.
If you put “film distribution directories” in Google search, you’ll find even more. You can use these directories to find distributors for your type of film. Then, write to them about your film and ask if they want to see a screener. If they are interested, send it and go from there.

– Use a query service to send a query for you to distributors. Instead of doing all of the research to create a list of distributors to contact yourself, you might use a query service, such as Publishers, Agents & Films (, since it has already done this research for you and can send out a query to 1000 plus distributors, including AFM exhibitors for the past two years. The advantage of using this service is the company has gone through all of these directories and created an email list, so you don’t have to spend the 20 or more hours to create your own list. Plus the query goes out under your email using their special software, so the responses go directly to you, and they help you write a good query letter.

That’s what we did in distributing SUICIDE PARTY: SAVE DAVE, and 20 distributors expressed interest after our initial query with a link to the trailer. Then, we will send another query once the screener is ready to follow-up with those who have already expressed interest as well as to others, since they may be interested now. Some other filmmakers used this service several times to invite distributors to a series of showings they set up for private screenings in Manhattan.



Gini Graham Scott, PhD, is the author of over 50 books with major publishers, including two on films: HOW TO WRITE, PRODUCE, AND DIRECT A LOW-BUDGET SHORT FILM and FINDING FUNDS FOR YOUR FILM OR TV PROJECT. She has written and produced over 50 short films, has written 15 feature scripts, and has one feature she wrote and executive produced to be released in February 2015. She also writes scripts for clients, is Creative Director for Publishers Agents & Films (, and has several book and film industry Meetup groups which discuss members’ books and films and help them get published or produced.


Creating a Realistic Distribution Strategy for Your Film

Once you know the different players in the distribution space and the different possible channels of distribution, the next step is creating your distribution plan. To this end, consider the audience for your film, the size of this audience, and how to best reach them. Also, consider the realistic potential of your film and its likely appeal to a distributor or festival audience, so you don’t let your dreams of great success overwhelm a realistic assessment of what your film is likely to do in the marketplace.

Additionally, consider the cost of different types of distribution or entering certain festivals to seek distribution, such as the P&A (promotion and advertising) costs for a theatrical release or entry fees for festivals, along with travel expenses if you win and want to attend. Such expenses are in addition to the expenses for deliverables that every distributor and sales agent will want if they take your film, such as creating different digital and DVD formats for distribution, along with preparing DVD covers and cover art, posters, press releases, and more.

Some people may think, “Oh, I’m just going to crowdfund for the additional money I need,” and that approach can be fine for many films, most notably those that already have a fan base of friends, family, and supporters, so you can raise at least 25-30% of the needed funds from this inner circle. But if your circle is largely composed of other filmmakers, who are seeking to raise money for their own films, hoping for funds from them may be unrealistic, as may be gaining the funds from strangers contributing to your campaign. Moreover, the crowdfunding space has become very crowded these days, with so many people thinking they can gain the money they need this way. But the stats from crowdfunding sites tell a different story – only about 40% of Kickstarter projects get funded, and only about 13% of Indiegogo projects reach their goal, although they may get some funds along the way. Further, you have to factor in the cost of commissions and payment fees on whatever money you raise (about 8-15%), as well as the cost of the perks you are providing to funders. So often it may not be realistic to expect to fund your film through crowdfunding, though some projects do succeed or gain a major proportion of their film’s budget this way.

Secondly, be realistic about what film festivals you can get into, and whether it’s worth waiting to first build up your platform through festival showings and awards in order to seek a better distribution deal than you might get before entering the festivals. Often at my Film Exchange Programs and other film events, I have heard filmmakers who are completing or have just completed their first film say with perfect confidence that “We thought we’d start by showing the film at Sundance” or fill in the name of any of the top film festivals. However, the reality is that you have low odds of getting into these top festivals. For example, Sundance averages 5000 plus submissions for about 200 slots, and in most festivals, the festival staff and directors are apt to give priority consideration to filmmakers they know or to films with big names that bring prestige to the festival. So that leaves about 10-15% of the slots available for new filmmakers, and if you have a low-budget film with no names, you are unlikely to get in.

Even if you do get into one of the big festivals, where distributors go, such as Sundance, Toronto, and Cannes, to get a distributor to see your film, you need to build up excitement about your film in advance. And that usually requires hiring a publicist to promote your film, which costs several thousand dollars. Plus even getting into a top festival doesn’t guarantee you will get a distributor, since the distributors only pick up a handful of films at these festivals. It can help you get a distributor if you can build up enough excitement to get distributors to go to the first showing at a festival, since that’s where more of the deals get done, while a smaller number of distributors commonly show up at later showings. Yet, even if the distributors see your film, there are no guarantees that a festival launch will result in a distribution deal. Thus, with a low budget no name film it can be especially unrealistic to consider getting into the big festivals, and even if you do, you might still not get a distributor. Moreover, with these long odds, you have to wait before releasing your film anywhere else, so you can premiere it at the festival.

What might be more realistic is entering the second and third tier festivals, where you don’t have to premiere, either before or after you get a distributor or obtain multiple distributors for different channels and territories. Your odds of getting into these smaller festivals are greater, especially if the film’s director or top cast or crew personally know the festival director or staff members. Then, you can use that acceptance and any awards to help build your film and company’s platform, and you can incorporate those awards into your press releases or query letters to the media to increase your chances of getting a distributor or press coverage – or getting into more festivals.

As to whether to enter and publicize any festivals where you are accepted or win awards before or after you get a distributor, either is fine. If you don’t already have a distributor, inform the distributors considering your film about any festival acceptances and awards, which might help you get a distributor or sales agent. Attaining a number of festival showings and awards might also give you more leverage to get a better distributor with more clout or obtain an even better deal. Alternatively, if you already have a distributor or sales agent, any festival acceptances and awards can help them market and publicize your film.

One way to decide whether to line up distribution before or after the festival or start with some distributors and get more afterwards for different channels or territories is to approach distributors and agents before the festivals. Then, you can decide what to do, based on the number of offers you get before the festival and the quality of these distributors and agents. If you have an offer from one or more good distributors and agents, great! You can make some decisions in advance and use your festival participation and any awards to support your distributors and agents. Or you can delay your decision until after the festival if you aren’t sure and hope to find other distributors or get a better deal through your festival participation.

As an example, that’s what we have been doing with SUICIDE PARTY: SAVE DAVE. Once the trailer was available for viewing on YouTube, I did a mailing to invite about 1000 distributors, sales agents, and AFM exhibitors using the query service, Publishers Agents and Films ( to tell them about the film and invite them to view the trailer and let me know if they were still interested in distributing the film. About 20 distributors and agents expressed interest, though they wanted to see the screener first – which is typical, unless you have big names in your film. Then, the director and I researched the background of each prospective distributor and agent on IMDB and other sources to see how many films they had previously distributed and how these films had done. Probably, if we have a reasonably good deal from the best of these distributors, we will at least sign some distributors or agents for some territories and channels. But if we aren’t satisfied with these distributors’ or their offers, we will go to some festivals and decide among the interested distributors and sales agents after the festival.

Likewise, you can work on getting distribution before or after these festivals. Just be realistic about what kind of deal and distributor or sales agent you might expect for your film, so your dreams don’t outpace a likely distribution scenario.


Gini Graham Scott, PhD, is the author of over 50 books with major publishers, including two on films: HOW TO WRITE, PRODUCE, AND DIRECT A LOW-BUDGET SHORT FILM and FINDING FUNDS FOR YOUR FILM OR TV PROJECT. She has written and produced over 50 short films, has written 15 feature scripts, and has one feature she wrote and executive produced to be released in February 2015. She also writes scripts for clients, is Creative Director for Publishers Agents & Films (, and has several book and film industry Meetup groups which discuss members’ books and films and help them get published or produced.


The Many Channels for Distributing Your Film

Today, there are more channels than ever for distributing your film. Since many distributors specialize in certain channels, you may want to consider dividing up the distribution among different distributors, as long as their territories don’t overlap if you have exclusive deals. In other cases, distributors will ask for all rights in all channels within a certain market, such as domestic (US and Canada), foreign (all countries outside of the U.S. and Canada, or certain countries or regions), or worldwide.

Thus, it can become very confusing to sort through who wants what channels in what territories, besides looking at the range of deals offered in terms of percentage split, types of deliverables required, such as DVDs and digital files, and the amount of money needed from you, if any, for P&A (promotion and advertising), or whether you will get any upfront money on signing the deal (which is generally no if you don’t have any recognizable names in your film).

One way to help sort through the varying offers is to create a matrix where you list the required and desired channels for each distributor, along with the territories required and desired. Your matrix might look something like this:
Across the top: All Channels, Theatrical, Home Video, DVD, and so on.
On the side: Worldwide, Domestic, All Foreign, Latin America, Eastern Europe, Asia, etc.
Then, in each box, list the name of the distributor who has expressed interest in that channel and territory, and note if the distributor requires (R) or desires (D) that channel and territory for the deal. You can also indicate of the distributor wants an exclusive (E) or non-exclusive (N).

As you get expressions of interest from different distributors, you can enter their name in the matrix. Also, review their track record and offers. As you do, you can rate the distributors to create a priority list (such as ranking them from #1 to #5, with the top rank being #1, or rating them from 1 to 10, where the higher the number, the more you like them). Use whichever system you prefer – a ranking or rating system. Then, put that number in the box for each distributor listed, along with whether this channel is required or desired and whether the distributor wants an exclusive or non-exclusive. The result should look something like this for one box: Distributor Smith. #1, R, E; Distributor Jones, #3, D, N.

In making these deals, you will commonly retain the direct sales rights, which means you can sell DVDs from your websites and at screenings, and often you may have the right to sell downloads and streams from your site, unless the distributor wants to restrict such sales. Ideally, it’s best to retain direct sales rights, because you will have a greater profit margin, a faster payment, and don’t have to split your income from these sales with a middleman; you only have to pay the manufacturing and fulfilment costs. Also, by retaining direct sales rights, you can sell other products if you have merchandise associated with your film, such as T-shirts, hats, posters, mugs, soundtrack albums, or a book based on your film. Plus you can sell related products from others that might appeal to your audience, such as books and DVDs, which you buy at wholesale and sell retail. But if you aren’t set up to handle sales and fulfillment yourself, it may not make sense to keep these rights if the distributor wants to do this and give you a share of the proceeds.

According to Peter Broderick, author of “The Twelve Principles of Hybrid Distribution,” in a recently published book: Independent’s Guide to Film Distribution, the major channels of domestic and international distribution can be listed as follows:
Domestic: Festivals, Theatrical, Semi-Theatrical and Nontheatrical, Cable VOD, SVOD, Television, Direct DVD, Retail DVD, Direct Digital, Retail Digital, Educational, and Home Video.
International: Festivals, Television, Direct DVD, Retail DVD, Direct Digital, and Retail Digital, and occasionally Theatrical and Educational Distribution.

Splitting up the rights among different distributors handling different markets can be complicated and time consuming when you get a number of offers to consider. But an advantage to splitting the rights is that you can get better distribution when different distributors are especially strong in a particular channel or channels, so you can have another distributor handle those channels where another distributor is weak. Then, too, as Broderick notes, this approach avoids cross-collateralization, whereby the expenses from one area of distribution are applied against revenues from other areas of distribution.

Also, in splitting up rights, decide if there are certain areas where you want to retain the distribution rights, because you feel you can successfully handle that type of distribution on your own, such as contacting the educational market or selling direct DVDs or digital copies from your own website or from a dedicated site for the film.

In assessing the distributors for different channels, find out which channels they handle well by asking about their track record. That can help you decide which distributor would be best in handling a certain channel. Also, as possible limit not only granting an exclusive, but the term of distribution and the level of performance expected, so you can assess how well the distributor is doing with your film during a certain time period (such as 6 months or a year). Then, if the distributor is doing well, great; you can mutually renew the agreement. If not, you are not stuck in an agreement, and you can either end the contract at the end of the term or for non-performance. These agreements can get complicated, so do have an attorney or someone familiar with distribution agreements review them and make suggestions about what to add or change, as necessary.

Finally, be careful that the rights you give to different distributors for different channels don’t conflict, but are complementary, and that the rights given to a distributor for different channels and territories don’t restrict you from making deals for other channels or territories. Ideally, make all the deals at the same time and try to keep them to the same term, so you can better keep track of when deals expire or are up for renewals.


Gini Graham Scott, PhD, is the author of over 50 books with major publishers, including two on writing and publishing books: FIND PUBLISHERS AND AGENTS AND GET PUBLISHED and SELL YOUR BOOK, SCRIPT, OR COLUMN. She has written and produced over 50 short films, has written 15 scripts for features, and has one feature film she wrote and executive produced scheduled for release in February 2015. She also writes scripts for clients, is Creative Director for Publishers Agents & Films (, and has several book and film industry Meetup groups which have meetings to discuss members’ books and films and help them get published or produced.

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