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5 Advantages of Self-Distributing Your Next Feature Film

Jourdan Aldredge

Deciding how to share your film with the world involves many factors. Here are some insights into the perks of distributing it yourself.

We’d all love to open our inboxes one morning to find a message from A24 looking to distribute our buzzing indie features. However, until that day comes, we’ll all need to face some realities about the film distribution business in today’s crowded digital market.

Distribution companies can be great partners, allies, and friends whose value extends beyond the dollars and cents of contracts. But they can also limit freedoms and try to pigeonhole your film into certain categories or bins with which they’re familiar.

For every Moonlight success story, there’s a Dazed and Confused counterargument to the merits of distribution companies. There’s also the recent case study of Thunder Road, a feature by Jim Cummings that is making its own self-distributed rounds after winning SXSW 2018. (Check out our interview with Cummings on his initial short-to-feature journey.)

When you’ve finished your feature and are weighing your options, here are five advantages of distributing your film yourself, and what avenues it could open up.

1. Enjoy the Tour

The most DIY, grassroots way to distribute your movie yourself is to take it on tour. A relic of the old days of cinema, this rock-band, film-on-a-tour narrative has made a comeback in recent years as a great way for filmmakers to connect directly with fans and travel the globe. It requires planning, but it’s a great way to connect with independent theaters and film communities. You set your schedule; negotiate your screening fees or percentages; and even sell DVDs, digital downloads, and T-shirts along the way.

This is a great first distribution step that can be a fun, freeing adventure.

2. Immediate Monetary Returns

5 Advantages of Self-Distributing Your Next Feature Film — Immediate Returns

Image via Thunder Road.

One thing that many people outside of the industry don’t immediately understand about working with distribution companies and agencies is just how long a distribution cycle can take. In some cases, filmmakers might not see any returns from their feature’s distribution cycle for up to 15 years. That’s a long time to not see a return on your hard work — not to mention repaying loans or investors.

When you self-distribute, whether by touring or through online sales, you’ll get your monetary returns much faster, if not immediately.

3. Choose Your Online Platforms

When self-distributing your film, you get to choose when and where it goes up online for video-on-demand (VOD) purchase or streaming. While you may not have access to every avenue (Netflix and Hulu don’t just open their doors to anyone), you do have the rights to barter for all other streaming options — as well as more VOD sources than you might realize.

Here’s a great list of online VOD options, including up-front costs and what percentage splits come back to filmmakers.

4. Retaining Distribution Rights

5 Advantages of Self-Distributing Your Next Feature Film — Retaining Distribution Rights

Image via Upstream Color.

Furthermore, when choosing self-distribution, at no point do you have to consider selling your distribution rights for any period of time that you’re not comfortable with. You can test some markets and see what types of responses you can expect before making any distribution decisions, either locally or abroad.

5. Promote Your Next Project

If you’re really serious about self-distributing, perhaps the greatest advantage is that it allows you to stay connected with your fans and build your base audience for your next feature or project. Filmmaking has always been a name-brand industry, and if your first or early features are getting enough traction to warrant distribution at all, your best bet may be to parlay their distribution into promotion for your next project.

Cover image by Brian A Jackson.

For more insights into the indie film industry, check out some of these articles.

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