“Distribution” is the process through which your picture is exhibited and exploited throughout the world in all media. Distribution is how your picture earns revenues. If you do not already have distribution, you will start seeking it once your picture is completed. The goal is to secure Distribution Agreements with distributors that have the capacity to realize your picture’s money making potential in both the domestic and foreign marketplaces.
A number of producers choose to go the film festival route, believing that the journey will lead a distributor to them. In my opinion, film festivals are fun, but they are costly and are not the most efficient way of finding a distributor. Did you know that 95% of the films that enter Sundance without a distributor leave without one? If you want to have the experience of showing at a film festival, enter the top five and then move on.
You may be able to find distribution for your picture by directly shopping it to distributors, since distributors are always seeking pictures to put into their pipeline. I know that shopping your picture to distributors may seem like a daunting task, but it is not any different than shopping your picture for financing—except that you now have a completed picture and instead of production monies, you are seeking distribution. If a distributor declines to distribute your picture, it is likely because it was not a good fit for them—not that you shopped the picture yourself. When you pitch, focus on companies that have experience distributing a picture like yours. Do not pitch a horror film to a company that distributes Christian or family driven content only.
I suggest that my clients hold distributor screenings instead of sending out screeners, so that the distributor may fully appreciate and consider your picture. Otherwise, your picture is likely competing with assistants, emails, ringing phones, or screaming children. I recommend that you include this cost in your picture’s production budget. Send out screeners only if you cannot afford to hold distributor screenings.
Feel free to discuss the picture’s creative elements, marketing plan, and deliverables. Do not negotiate deal terms with the distributor, since you do not know what to ask for and are not familiar with industry standards. Ask your attorney to negotiate and review the Distribution Agreement for you. Whenever I am retained to handle the Distribution Agreement, I better the offer and incorporate at least 5 pages of changes to it. As you can imagine, the Distribution Agreement is extremely skewed in favor of the distributor. Attorneys will very often undertake this representation on a percentage basis if the distributor is paying an advance large enough to cover their hourly legal fees. You will be out of pocket on the legal fees if the distributor does not offer an advance. Regardless, you should not enter into the most important agreement you will sign on behalf of your picture without legal counsel. You will regret it if you do.
You may have to hire a Producer’s Representative (“Producer’s Rep”) if do not wish to secure the distributor yourself. Producer’s Rep can help you secure domestic distribution and/or an sales agent. Producer’s reps are people/companies who seek distribution for the pictures they represent in exchange for a commission.
You have to ask the Producer’s Rep about their business practices because you do not want to engage a Producer’s Rep that will shop your picture with a myriad of other pictures: You do not want your picture to be one of 15 the Producer’s Rep is pitching to each distributor. You need and want personalized service.
I occasionally serve as a Producer’s Rep. I am very selective about the pictures I take on: I will not represent a picture unless I believe I can find distribution, since whether I get paid for my time depends on it. To date I have secured distribution for every picture I have represented. I shop only one picture at a time—that’s what you want in a Producer’s Rep.
Some Producer’s Reps charge an upfront fee. Whether you should pay one depends on the Producer’s Rep and should be determined on a case by case basis. The Producer’s Pep has to have a great track record and, in addition, has to commit to not bundling up your picture with the others she is selling. You do not want to hire a Producer’s Rep who is making a living from the advances versus the commissions earned by the pictures she represents. The commission range is between 10-15% of the monies earned by the picture (after distribution fees/expenses). The upfront fee should never exceed $5,000.