Big picture

Consider Distribution as Early as Development

So maybe it’s a little early to worry about distribution. But then again, is it ever too soon to think about how people are going to see your work? Even if you’re still putting the pieces together, there are things to keep in mind. The type of story you’re telling can affect distribution, which in turn can affect the project’s budget, which itself affects how you’re able to tell your story…well, you get the picture.

Photo: Public Domain

Story vs. Distribution

As you’ve probably gathered by now, the type of story you’re telling matters for a lot of reasons. Well, you can add distribution to that list. Even if you feel that your project’s genre and subject matter should appeal to every person on the planet, distributors tend to think in more concrete terms. Genres like science fiction and horror have built-in audiences, in the same way that activist documentaries, faith based features and sexploitation all appeal to certain interests. Distributors will have an idea of exactly where your project fits, and whether it fits into their specific distribution model. So if you’re making a low-budget science fiction film, which companies tend to release these types of films and how do they do it? Limited theatrical run? Film festivals to build buzz? Straight to streaming and on-demand? Even if your work fits into a broader category like comedy, ask yourself what kind of comedy it really is: family oriented, romantic, quirky, gross out, etc. Each sub-category might mean a different kind of distributor, which means a different level of financing. And if you’re doing a serious drama…well, try to keep that budget really, really low.

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The "Other" Audience

While it’s important to consider your potential audience, it’s also a good idea to think about the other people who will see your project in some form who can help with the distribution. These can range from the agents and managers who read your script, the producers and studio executives who hear your pitch or the financiers who just want to know the basics of your story and how it will make them money.

So in addition to fine-tuning every detail of your story, treatment or script until it meets your own standards of perfection, think about how your project might interest these kinds of individuals. While it’s wrong to generalize, most of these media professionals tend to have very limited attention spans. Is there a two-or-three sentence description – commonly called the elevator pitch – that can interest potential buyers? Is your treatment or script really as lean and mean as it could be? Or to put it another way: figure out what interests you about your story, and why it should interest others as well. Remember, buyers don’t necessarily have to love your project per se – they just have to believe that there are enough people who will.

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Budgeting and Distribution

Distribution also should be built in to your project’s budget considerations. After all, if you and/or your investors intend to make your money back, you will need somebody to pay for it in some form or another. So who is this ideally going to be? Will it be a studio that buys the project outright, or just some patient individuals who sit through ads to watch it online? Whatever level of distribution you aim for determines how much you can realistically spend on your project. In the past, projects could also raise some of their budget by selling distribution rights for certain countries and territories, though the rapidly changing technologies are making this a less common occurrence. Still, the scope of your project’s release and even foreign tax incentives can all have a potential impact on the size of the budget. But it’s always good to keep in mind that nothing is ever guaranteed. So if you hope that Fox or even Fox Searchlight will buy your film for millions more than the budget, you simply cannot plan for this. Try to imagine – or better yet, research – the lowest tier of distribution you could conceivably aim for but still recover the project’s budget. Then make budgets for Plans B, C and D in case that doesn’t work out.

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