Event Recap: Jim Browne’s “Film Distribution – What are my Options?”

Event Recap: Jim Browne’s “Film Distribution – What are my Options?”

“Although your film may not be admitted to screen at a top festival, it does not necessarily mean that your film won’t succeed.”

Freshly from Sundance Film Festival, Jim Browne of Argot Pictures swung by NYFA on January 26, 2017 to host an invaluable presentation and an efficacious Q&A on film distribution for many burgeoning filmmakers. With industry expertise under his belt, Jim shared helpful and honest insights into the nature of the U.S. film industry, the current state of the market, and the potential options for film distribution.

Do you have a new (or old) film project and are looking to learn more strategies to get your film in front of an audience? Read on to learn just a few key takeaways from Jim’s presentation.

Film Festivals

Film festivals are where the majority of films are launched and gain attention for distribution. However, as the film industry is constantly changing and the sheer volume of films produced is growing exponentially, re-evaluating your strategy for scoping out specific film festivals may be helpful for successful distribution and marketing. A few options are:

  • Tap into your connections. When applying to top-tier festivals like SXSW or Tribeca, be aware that the selection process is often like “politics.” In many cases, there are six to eight individuals in a room with completely different reasons for their preferences. Moreover, many festivals receive over 5,000 submissions. This would require tapping into the right connections to stand out. There’s just a lot of luck of the draw, so having a relationship with those in the festival circuit can make it easier to get noticed.
  • Look into genre or regional film festivals. Although your film may not be admitted to screen at a top festival, it doesn’t mean that your film won’t succeed. The issue is being able to design a strategy for your film and pursue the film festivals that are right for it. Consider pursuing regional festivals that could provide your film with better attention than that from a top festival. For example, many films that are shown at top-tier festivals are never bought because they are often overshadowed by bigger players. However, submitting a film that was shot in Florida to a Florida film festival may pique its interest and thus provide your film with a high-profile slot on the schedule. This place in the festival could bring you extra attention from the media and overall visibility. Moreover, although regional festivals may be more market-driven, smaller festivals could give you the opportunity to begin gauging your audiences and provide professional development opportunities. A few examples of genre festivals include: documentary, LGBTQ, Jewish, environmental, Horror, or Asian-American, African American, and Latino.

Distribution Options

In today’s digital age, it is becoming more common for filmmakers to self-release films or pursue “hybrid” and non-theatrical routes for film showings. This is a popular route to take when your film is not attracting traditional distribution offers or is only receiving proposals from ones that are seemingly sketchy. In these cases, it may be better to distribute your film yourself. Here are some ways to do it:

  • Service Deals – Experienced film distribution professionals can be hired to assist with releasing your film via what are called service deals. Your audience will never know the difference—previous service deals have included My Big Fat Greek Wedding and The Passion of the Christ. This option can have many upsides, including the ability to maintain more creative and financial control over the project. The producers front the expenses and distributors in these cases work for a fee rather than a percentage.
  • Hybrid & Non-Theatrical Releases – Rather than the traditional theatrical run of showings that play at least once a day for seven consecutive days, you can utilize a more semi-theatrical model for film showings. In this strategy, you would strive to gain as many full theatrical runs as you can as well as run them as one-off showings. Although a theatrical run may be beneficial in landing a critic’s review, “one-off’s” can serve as a unique event and provide the opportunity to gain an audience and earn extra revenue. For example, audiences love to meet the artist and the event can bring in merchandise sales that may serve as income to fund the film’s release.

VOD & Digital Platforms

With the ubiquity of video on demand (VOD), there are opportunities to have your film shown through various digital platforms rather than theatrical distributors. For example, there is tVOD (transactional video on demand), such as iTunes, where users pay a fee to watch your film. There is also sVOD (subscription video on demand), like Netflix, where you are paid a flat licensing fee. These kinds of licenses are for specific periods of time, after which you are able to license the film to a different service. An aggregator or sales agent must be used for many of these large VOD platforms to serve as the ‘middle-man’ to deliver and pitch your films. As opposed to utilizing a traditional distributor, aggregators and sales agents allow you to retain control over the overall business decisions for your film.

– Priscilla Son, Program Assistant Fiscal Sponsorship & Finance

Jim Browne has been programming, producing, and distributing film projects in New York for over 25 years. Jim founded Argot Pictures in 2005, a distribution company specializing in hybrid distribution strategies for documentaries and feature films. He was a programmer for the Tribeca FF from 2006-10, and the N. American programmer for the Abu Dhabi Film Festival from 2010-14. He is a U.S. consultant for the Shanghai International Film Festival. He is teaching a class titled Distribution for Filmmakers at New School in the spring of 2017.

NYFA Fiscal Sponsorship’s next quarterly no-fee application deadline is March 31, 2016, and you can learn more about NYFA’s Fiscal Sponsorship program here. Read more about other exciting projects utilizing sponsorship, in our NYFA Fiscal Sponsorship Directory.

Image: The Strangers Project

Amy Aronoff
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