How to Create Great Film Distribution Deals

– Posted in: Distribution & Filmmaker's Platform Producing Film / Video Productions

How to Make Good Film Distribution Deals

Making great film distribution deals in today’s noisy online market is largely dependent on creating a solid filmmaker’s platform.

In this post I’m going to share what ingredients make up a filmmaker’s platform, as well as why doing this is like having money in the bank.

Everything I’m talking about here pertains to the filmmaker looking to sell films or the filmmaker who’s looking for work. The audience and the end goal maybe different but process is the same.

The Filmmaking Machine

We all know that creating a successful film project takes energy, support, knowledge and time. The process starts in pre-production and must run all the way through distribution.

Let’s do a perspective shift and get you to take off your directing hat for a minute and put on your business (executive producers) hat. I recommend you do this mindfully throughout every project.

Now with your business hat on, think of filmmaking as a manufacturing process that ends with a sale of your product.

It’s essential that your product appeals to it’s market – right? But’ before it can appeal to it’s market the sales and marketing division must find, communicate and win the trust of that market one consumer at a time. The successful selling of these products is the equivalent making films and successful film distribution deals. 

New filmmakers almost never think of filmmaking this way. Successful filmmakers always do!

The Filmmaking Myth 

Many new filmmakers after seeing an independent film and seemingly new director have what looks like an overnight success go out to make their own mark on the industry. They decide that they’re going to make a feature and like the “now” semi-famous filmmaker they are going to be somebody! This is a great dream and it’s necessary to have big goals , but to have big goals without a platform and a plan is a big waste of energy. Following this shoot from the hip approach is inefficient and wastes at minimum eighty percent of the efforts being expelled to make this big feature film that will get them noticed. 

There are so many problems with this approach it would take me writing a book to cover them. Maybe I will someday.

Yes, new filmmakers have been know to make a feature film by simply relying good fortune and a lot of blood sweat and tears. And, if that film happens to be really, really, really good and the filmmaker promotes and networks really, really, really hard, they might have a very slight chance on getting a distribution deal.

It’s rare, but it’s happened – once or twice – maybe?

If that sounds depressing read on for the good news.

More frequently, today’s directors have success because they’ve studied, learned skills, developed a craft, made shorts, practiced and played the long game. These directors have developed recognizable skills, they have a reputation and their work is good, hopefully really good. 

These directors have a collection of work which works to help them to attract a good cinematographer, good actors, competent crew and hopefully an excellent producer. This team and the ability to pay them doesn’t appear overnight. But when you play the long game it does appear. 

Today’s successful, small budget, indie director has cultivated a community of fans, friends and crew that will support a project. These are the people that will contribute to crowd funding campaigns, share posts and tweets. These people will happily go to Netflix or Amazon and pay to watch their film.

And if the film is good they’ll tell all their friends. Wow, now that’s the new model for getting great film distribution deals!

A Filmmaker’s Platform

This complete collection of skills, contacts, fans, funding campaigns are a result of building what’s know as a “Filmmaker’s Platform.”

This “Platform,” is a structure that supports and energizes the filmmaker and all his film projects big and small. It’s also becoming the second most important factor when negotiating film distribution deals. The first is a good film.

The strength of the platform depends on how long the platform has been in existence and how attentive the filmmaker has been to building and maintaining it. A good filmmaker’s platform will eventually create it’s own momentum and grow with minimum effort.

That said, it does takes time to build platform capable of launching big projects.

But that’s not a problem – right?

Not if you’re a new filmmaker playing the long game. New filmmakers don’t need a big platform right away, a small one will do just fine.

If you’re not a new filmmaker then the best time to set up your platform was when you began. The second best time is now.

So, let’s get started!

Getting Started

*If you’re a freelance director, editor, cameraman or starting a production company follow these steps but gear what you do and share toward appealing to your specific market.

Step #1 – Declare Yourself a Filmmaker!

Put your filmmaking stake in the ground and fly your flag high. It’s time to let everyone, on all your social media channels know you’re a filmmaker. You can’t afford to be shy.

  • Talk about why you want to follow this path.
  • Talk about your heroes.
  • Share posts that interest you. 

There are people out there that will be supportive. Some of them you’ll know and they’ll be supportive right away. Others will wait and see if your actions match your words.

You know how to win that bunch over!

Step #2 – Create Short Film Exercises 

If you’re new to filmmaking or just having trouble turning out work I highly recommend you shoot and edit small scenes and camera blocking exercises.

Instead of trying to make stand alone “brilliant” short films right away, shoot edit and post a scene exercise, once every couple of weeks.   

Trust me on this one. I’ve been shooting for over twenty five years and training filmmakers for over ten years. Don’t try to run a marathon until you’ve done some training.

Ya know what I’m saying?

If you want to make great film distribution deals you need a body of work. And, scene work counts.

Think of this early work as building a portfolio.

  • These exercises can take the form of a super short silent films, made up of as little as three or four shots.
  • It could be a two person dialogue scene.
  • It could even be a stand alone shot.

If you’re a brand new filmmaker please keep these exercises super short. People will be intrigued by seeing your experiments. 

Thirty seconds done well is much better then ten minutes of ok. People will not watch the entire thing and they’ll leave with a negative impression.

“Don’t shoot a feature until you can shoot entertaining short films, don’t shoot short films until you master shooting scenes, and don’t shoot scenes until you can create a really good shots. It’s common sense.” 

Did I say keep it short 🙂 Less then two minutes for you’re first bunch of scene exercises – ok?

Share your progress on social media. Let others know you’re committed to practicing and they’ll follow your journey 🙂

Don’t limit your sharing only to finished work. Be Brave!

  • Share ideas you’re having and the preparation work you’re doing.
  • Share the books and tutorials you’re studying.
  • Share techniques, concepts you’re learning.

The bottom line is become transparent and make sure everyone knows what you’re doing.

Goals of Your Small Filmmaker’s Platform

Goal #1 – Get Noticed and Build Your Network.

The goal is to become noticed and known as a person who’s committed to the craft of filmmaking. You want to separate yourself from the casual hobbyist. If you want to make future film distribution deals you need to stand out now. 

In the beginning your work won’t be good enough to attract people, but your work ethic can be.

When people think of you they should be thinking “here’s somebody who’s going places.”

You want people to move from noticing you to eventually coming to know, like and trust you. When that happens a portion of these people will become fans and supporters and ultimately be part of the fans the will help you get better film distribution deals. 

This process will also help you impress and attract people with similar filmmaking interests. Getting on the radar of someone who will help you on a future project can be like finding gold.

Now, not everyone you meet is going to become a fan, but trust me, if you do this for a couple of months you’ll see results. You don’t need to win over everyone just enough of the ones who count. 

If you follow this path, actors, crew, family and friends will come out to help.

Why doe this always work?

It works because people want to connect, support and ride on the coat tails of someone who’s going somewhere. Your platform is creating momentum.

It will happen, and when it does your projects will get a little easier and you’ll have even more fun.

Your message is “This train is leaving so get on-board now.”

Goal #2 – Increase Your Knowledge.

You want your work to become noticeably better. To some extent this will happen by simply shooting and editing more. But, the best way to grow is to combine shooting and editing with real learning.

You want and need new skills, so it’s important to spend time each week with a book on directing, watching a tutorial on the same subject and when available, taking workshops. 

Too many new filmmakers believe they can achieve great results without structured study.

You can’t. We’ll…, it’s so hard, it’s almost impossible.

Every filmmaker I’ve meet and worked with, who’ve achieved real success will acknowledge that eventually they spent time and money learning. They may not have started with their nose in a book or body in film school, but they did get educated. The demands of the craft are such that you have to.

The same way most filmmakers don’t know the business side of filmmaking they also don’t know the film school side. It’s best that we admit that “we don’t know, what we don’t know” and work to find out what were missing.

It’s usually this “missing knowledge” that holds us back. 

I’m not saying Film School is the only way to go, but I am saying a film school education is a must for those who have feature film and big project dreams. The people you’re competing with are going the extra mile.

This is also true for those looking for work in the industry. 

Yes, there’s plenty of opportunity out there, but the cost of entry is good work and my friend, that takes time and skill.

If you’d like to know more on this subject grab my ebook – DIY Film School. I dive into this subject much deeper.

Goal #3 – Get Film Distribution Deals

It’s probably obvious. But, unless you’re clear about your goals early on, it’s likely you’ll go off track. If you want to sustain yourself as a filmmaker you’ll need to sell films. Yes, you can make small films for fun, but when it’s time to make something more ambitious you’ll need money and you’ll need to devote significant time.

Do you have six months of vacation time built up?

Growing Your Platform

I hope by now you’re realizing the creating great film distribution deals doesn’t start when you’ve got a film ready for distribution, it’s starts when you decide your serious about the filmmaker’s path.

The beauty of this is, if in the beginning you take these platform building steps seriously, growth will happen naturally. You’ll develop better skills, your films will get better and more and more people will notice you and appreciate your work. 

Once you get into a rhythm of consciously building your social media followers you’ll want to start a basic website and a Youtube and or Vimeo channel.

Your website will allow you to do three important things.

  1. Create a meeting place where your followers can learn more about you and become fans.
  2. Develop your voice and make stronger connections to visitors and followers who want more access to you and what you’re doing.
  3. Create an email database of people who want even more of you and the films you’re making. 
  • Mail Chimp offers a free way to set this up on a WordPress site. Keep in mind, this list will be a direct extension of your social media outreach and it won’t grow immediately. But, eventually if you keep making better more entertaining short films these fans will help you launch a bigger project.

Film Distribution Deals

The structure and process of film distribution deals are rapidly changing. That’s good news for two reasons. 

  1. Today a good independent film has a better chance of being picked up for distribution then the same film did just five years ago.
  2. Distributors are looking for filmmakers who have already established platforms. Why?  Because a filmmaker with a platform has fans that will pay to watch the film on Netflix, Amazon or some other streaming entertainment provider. It only makes sense – right?

At some time in the near future it will be almost impossible for a film to get distribution if the filmmaker doesn’t have a platform. It’s already happening to authors in the publishing industry. 

A Platform is an Investment in Yourself.

When you make the decision to build a platform your saying you realize success is a process and not something that’s attained, like “boom” you have it. That’s to abstract. It’s not a static thing.

The reality is that if you get serious about building a platform you won’t be waiting years for success, you’re success will begin right away!

One day in the future, you’ll be able to look back and see that success was in the doing. Project by project, day to day. 

The preparation and execution of each project was a success if it helped you build you platform bigger. 

You were preparing for the your future film distribution deals while you were growing.

Do you see the magic here?

It’s magic because if you’re constantly building your platform you’re always growing and doing better work while having fun. Success isn’t attained when you arrive at the one big project, it’s experienced each step along the way.

You’ll be successfully developing fans, attracting talent and meeting people who will help you as you will help them.

You’ll be successful because you have value to offer.

When you start with the end in mind it will become clear that building a platform is a no brainer 🙂

I’ll be posting more on building platforms in the near future, so if you’d like to stay connected please sign up to my email list.

I promise not to spam and will work hard to make sure anything I send is valuable to you “The Motivated Filmmaker!