indie film distribution

What is the Most Effective Distribution Strategy for an Indie Film?

Independent (or indie) films are notoriously hard to get made, surprisingly even more so than big budget blockbusters; you’re working on a considerably smaller budget (most of which is likely out of your own pocket), and you most likely don’t have access to any of the best equipment in the business.

But above all of this, by far the most painstaking process about indie filmmaking, is distribution and advertisement. You’ve already spent all your budget on the film itself. You don’t have millions of dollars just floating about that can go towards hiring a team of professional advertisers and billboards across the world.  And then there’s actually finding a platform/chain willing to show your cinematic masterpiece.

So, what are your options? Well in this article, we’re going to over some of the best ways to get your film out there, helping it get the attention it deserves by discussing the most effective distribution strategies for indie films. 

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VOD (VIDEO ON DEMAND)

Ahh the internet; from Rick Astley memes, to Donald Trump’s twitter, the worldwide web has revolutionised the way we in the 21st century communicate and share concepts and thoughts. One of the best products of the internet for indie filmmakers is video on demand, or VOD for short.

There are a multitude of VOD services out there that are well known for supporting indie filmmakers. Now which one you choose to aim for is dependent on what type of film you’ve produced. Some services will prefer sci-fi over rom-com or a drama over a horror. But the majority of the larger platforms don’t care all too much about that; the “mixed bag” premise adds to their appeal as a streaming service, as that way it appeals to all tastes. 

Some of the most renowned VOD services include Gravitas Ventures, MUBI, Shudder, FilmHub, and IndieFlix.

Now you can’t just upload your film to their site just like that. For most of these services you’ll need what’s known as an aggregator. An aggregator is essentially the middle-man who handles all the nitty-gritty stuff. They show your work to VOD platforms, and for a set price or a percentage of total revenue, will handle the encoding and delivery for you. And when your film generates revenue, they report and send it right over to you.

Be warned, aggregators can be fairly pricey depending on the service they’re offering, but you can find some decent ones for ~$1000 or less, which is pretty good considering they handle pretty much everything to do with distribution.

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Film Festivals

Arguably the most favoured option by amateur filmmakers or independent filmmakers is getting your feature to be displayed at a film festival.

Now when people hear “film festival” they instantly think of Cannes, Sundance, or Venice but there are plenty of other awesome film festivals that are just as good at getting the word out about your film.

Your best option is to research upcoming film festivals in your city, state, country. You’re more likely to get accepted into those than you are at Cannes. 

Good word-of-mouth is key to a film’s success and film festivals are inherently great at achieving this; even if that buzz only starts out among people in your local area, you’d be surprised how quickly that spreads, especially with the advent of the internet.

Most film festivals will have a few general rules when it comes to submission requirements: run time, genre (there will usually be different categories for each genre), sensitive topics, films not in the English language, etc.

If you’re lucky enough, a major studio/distributor might be watching and might pay for your film to be distributed by them either in theatres or on a streaming platform.

Netflix has been snatching up films left, right, and centre in recent years, buying out any film that gets a good reception. Whether that’s a good thing or not is completely up to you. On the one hand, your film is able to be seen by possibly millions of people. But then a lot of filmmakers are opposed to platforms like Netflix, as they now pose a threat to traditional filmmaking and distribution in theatres, and will refuse to sell to them out of principle. But it’s completely up to the filmmakers on this one.

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Netflix and Other Streaming Services

Leading on from out last point, let’s talk a bit more about the new video giant, Netflix.

Now Netflix tends to distribute films that they have financed themselves and that they have grown from the ground up like a bouquet of beautiful hydrangeas. But every now and then they take a visit to the florists and pick out a nice bunch of orchids instead.

If you didn’t quite catch that analogy there, sometimes Netflix buys out films that have already been financed and produced. This most often, but not exclusively, occurs at film festivals. Yet sometimes they acquire films that haven’t been shown at festivals. In the past, Netflix has picked up films that have already garnered success on YouTube or Vimeo, or sometimes films that haven’t even been released to the general public yet.

Although the chances of this happening are slim, it’s still a possibility. However, it’s not like you can e-mail Netflix and beg them to distribute your film. It’s just luck of the draw, so this one is probably the least useful method on the list.

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Theatrical Release

Getting a theatrical release is by far the hardest method of distribution but is also the most rewarding. The satisfaction you get from seeing your film being played on the silver screen is extremely satisfying, borderline euphoric. Yet this euphoria can only be felt after an incredibly arduous process.

The first thing you need to do is get your film properly classified and licenced. In the UK for example, you can get your film classified by the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC). These associations will usually handle a lot of the other bits and bobs too, such as marketing materials. If you prefer to do that side of it yourself, then the option is always there, but just be aware that it will take considerably longer and cost more in the long term.

You should probably hire a specialist PR/advertisement company so that press and film journalists (remember, it’s all about spreading the word) see your film in advance and review it on the day of its release. Reviews are free advertising and if the review happens to be pretty positive, then this will massively increase the chances of getting your film into more cinemas.

But even before that, you need to set up what’s known as an exhibitor screening. These are special previews in which you have to try and sell the film to cinemas. This is the most difficult and nerve-racking part as not only are you trying to get your film shown, but you’re also competing with other filmmakers who are trying to get their film shown too in a “Pick me! Pick me!” sort of showdown.

If you get lucky, your film will be chosen. Once a cinema has booked your film, all you have to id deliver the final, nicely polished, product and… voila!

Of course, all of this does cost quite a bit. The total cost of distribution in theatres is dependent on the budget of the film itself. Generally, the average film budgeted under $500,000 costs $35,000 to distribute; for high budget indie films, i.e., films with a budget of over $10 million, you’re looking at around $2 million for distribution.

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Conclusion

Given all of the info we’ve just gone over, the most effective distribution strategy for an indie film is…

FILM FESTIVALS

It’s a great all-rounder: Most of the time its free of charge (if not then it’s very low cost), it gets seen by a large group of people who can then spread the word, and there’s always a chance it could get picked up by a large studio.

We hope this article was useful for any indie filmmakers hoping to get the word out about their film. Good luck!

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