Getting a distribution deal for your film can be difficult. Because of distributors being burned in the past by poorly made films (or films that didn’t get made at all), traditional distribution deals are harder and harder to come by. However, do it yourself distribution is more accessible that ever.
One of the central distribution platforms is theatrical distribution. The dream of every filmmaker is traditional theatrical distribution. This is where one of the major players, such as Sony, Universal, Fox Searchlight or Lionsgate, picks up the film and has a broad rollout across the country. This is extremely rare for independent filmmakers, even more so because the supply and demand of independent films since the 1990s has become so imbalanced with more and more independent movies being produced. Instead, focus on do it yourself theatrical distribution.
A do it yourself theatrical release is also typically called a platform release. In this type of release, you get a local theater to agree to show your film for a weekend. You will have to invest in advertising and promotion. Theater owners will not consider your film if you are not, for instance, taking on advertising in the paper. They want to know that there will be an audience for the film. If your film does well the first week, then chances are you will be picked up for an additional week. You have to do whatever you can to drive sales. If your movie tanks, regardless of its quality or its cast, then the theater will drop it by Monday.
A do it yourself theatrical distribution case study is Doug Block’s film The Kids Grow Up. Doug did a theatrical release and partnered with a theatrical company. Despite not doing as well at the box office as he would have liked, the theatrical release paid off in other ways. Shadow Distribution, their distributor, was able to book The Kids at Angelika Film Center and their publicist was able to position the film as a notable independent release. It also helped Block and his producing partner further establish themselves. At film festivals, Block’s aim was to raise the profile of the film, particularly among documentaries. Block also states that having a theatrical release helped to secure DVD and digital rights.
The documentary The Kids Grow Up, is essentially about Block’s only child leaving after high school for college and the struggles he faced because of this. When it came to promotional strategies, he thinks his least successful strategy also turned out to be his most successful. He spent a lot of time and energy putting together a database of the most popular mom and dad bloggers out of the millions of people writing such blogs. Only later did he and his team realize that promoting to these bloggers was essentially a waste of time since most of their target audience wouldn’t be able to see the movie or pay for a babysitter and the high cost of a movie ticket. So instead, they held off for many months and then utilized the bloggers for the HBO release.