Film distribution is the process of getting your film seen by an audience.
For independent films, film distribution vehicles include festivals, theatrical showings, and SVOD.
Film Distribution – Overview
Independent filmmaking requires understanding film distribution.
Unfortunately, many independent filmmakers struggle to make it happen.
The issue is that many independent films develop without the end (distribution) in mind.
Rather than making your film and then considering how to get film distribution, I recommend considering the aspects that relate to film distribution during the screenwriting process.
Advice From A Film Distribution Expert
To help us understand film distribution, I asked Sebastian Twardosz, a film distribution executive who works at Circus Road Films. Previously, Twardosz worked at Cruise/Wagner Productions and International Creative Management (ICM). In addition, Twardosz teaches film distribution classes at USC and UCLA.
Stephanie: Can you explain what you do to help filmmakers get film distribution?
Twardosz: I represent filmmakers who have made their first feature films. I also teach about film distribution and I host a show about filmmaking. I look at all three jobs as one overreaching effort which is to help emerging filmmakers to make successful, profitable films.
When is the right time for a filmmaker to approach you? What happens next in the process of working with you?
The best time to begin working together is actually when they are in development on the script.
Another good time is once they’ve secured financing and before they begin casting because we can help with that. In terms of film distribution, it would be advisable for filmmakers to think about finding and engaging their audience before they actually start shooting.
The biggest mistake indie filmmakers make is to think about film distribution after they’ve already made their films.
But most of the time, it seems that we meet our clients when they are in post-production.
What do you do for a movie that doesn’t have wide appeal?
It’s difficult to compete with studios which have budgets of $100+ million for production and marketing. But there is an audience for indie films and there are ways to reach regular people. So what we do is help the filmmaker to maximize their reach by getting into the best festivals and getting the best distribution.
How has the independent film market changed in the last five years?
It has not fundamentally changed as much as some people would have you think it has. What’s changed is that the process has been democratized so that more people can actually make films now. The question becomes how do you engage and connect with your audience?
Once a director or writer/director has a script they intend to make, what should their next steps be?
There are two paths—the studio system and independents which sometimes cross if we’re lucky. With regard to breaking into the studio system, it’s about agents and managers.
The way to get them is through some of the prominent competitions (Black List, Nicholl Fellowship), labs (Film Independent, Sundance), and festivals (Austin, Slamdance).
With regard to independents, it’s about getting educated (film school, books, sites like Good in a Room) and surrounding yourself with people who have the experience, knowledge, and relationships to help you which will all come at a cost. You really cannot do it alone and it’s not free.
How does an independent film make money and what sort of return can the writer/director expect?
It’s a good idea to work with someone to help you navigate the festival circuit and negotiate with the various distributors. Just as you want to hire the best writer, actor, cinematographer or editor for your film, it’s a good idea to hire an excellent distribution and marketing rep.
If you had one piece of advice to give to independent filmmakers, what would that be?
Don’t make promises you can’t keep.
What is the difference between selling a screenplay and selling a movie?
Actually, the process is remarkably similar. There are agents and managers in both arenas. But they tend to specialize. So most reps work with screenplays. But there is a very small community of reps who also sell completed films.
The main difference is that writing a screenplay basically costs nothing. There’s time of course but there are no hard costs.
Whereas a film can cost thousands to hundreds of thousands and even millions of dollars. So when a rep sells a script for even $10,000 the writer is usually thrilled! (Unless they’re a high-end Hollywood writer but I digress…)
However, when a film distribution rep sells a movie for $10,000 with the promise that there will be more to come then the stakes are much greater.
What’s your opinion about whether aspiring filmmakers should work on creating an award-winning short vs. jumping right into making features?
You only need a short film to prove you can direct.
You’re hosting a new show called The Insiders that is terrific. How did it come about?
ST: I represented a fantastic film called Junk which screened all over the country at numerous film festivals. We represented the distribution rights via my company Circus Road Films and negotiated a deal with a solid distributor. You can find it wherever if you’re up for a watching a wildly entertaining indie.
The filmmaker, Kevin Hamedani, was happy with the results. I invited him to my classes at USC and he came up with the idea of doing a web series which would be an extension of the class. Kevin was already directing various shows for TheLipTV which is a popular YouTube channel and he’s now directing and producing The Insiders which I hope will do some good in the world, especially for emerging filmmakers.
What has been something that you have learned from the show so far?
Anyone can do it. But it’s harder than you think.