Recap | Film Distribution and the Educational Market

Recap | Film Distribution and the Educational Market

“The education system supports documentary filmmaking.” – Livia Bloom

Are you a documentary filmmaker in search of distribution opportunities? Could your film be a source of rich, academic material for the classroom? Consider tapping into the educational market.

According to Livia Bloom, Vice President of Icarus Films, the education system supports and sustains the world of documentary filmmaking. It’s a kind of a niche market that filmmakers can ease into to bring in greater revenue as well as seriousness to their work.

As a recap to an event on Thursday, May 25, 2017, Film Distribution and the Educational Market, this article provides insight into the educational market, and the characteristics of a film that are considered by teaching institutions when they seek learning tools for their burgeoning thinkers.

Why the educational market?

Unlike individual DVD or home video sales, which come with a license for a viewer to watch the film at home, in the educational market, an individual (usually a school librarian) buys films in a way that gives them rights to show the film to their students in perpetuity.

In this way, as opposed to an individual sale price between $10 and $20, a sale to an institution can generally amount to between $250 to $400 per DVD. Making just a few such sales adds up quickly. It would take many home video sales to reach the profit levels made from just a few educational sales.

The perpetuity deal extends beyond the life of the physical DVD. If the DVD breaks, many times the institution can pay a lesser fee to replace it.

Do institutions only purchase physical copies of the film?

The educational market does include both digital and physical formats. You may have never heard of the following websites since they are not geared toward the typical consumer, but,, and are all digital platforms specifically used by teaching institutions.

These digital devices are subscription-based services where the school pays a license fee for a specific number of titles (e.g., a collection of films on African studies) and for a specific duration of time. Moreover, the filmmaker will receive royalties for the number of views. Often, these subscriptions come with transcripts of the film, making it easy for professors to use the films in their curriculum.

How can you tap into the educational market?

It might take time to get picked up by a distribution company. Bloom’s advice for filmmakers interested in educational distribution is to wait it out, and don’t sell your film to the consumer market first. More importantly, don’t stream it! Once the film is sold to the consumer market and is available for all to view, there is no incentive for an educational distributor to sign it. The educational market evaporates. For instance, if the DVD is on the consumer market for $14.99, educational consumers and institutions may unintentionally buy that version, instead of the version that provides rights for perpetuity.

What increases your chances for educational distribution?

There is really no correlation between a film’s success in the box office and what sells successfully in the educational market. If anything, the typical fabled, character-driven documentary films that are popular in film festivals usually do not sell as well in the educational market. The educational market is much more straight-forward and considers films that are instructional.

Moreover, the more your content bisects and touches upon various academic subjects, the better your film will sell in that market. For instance, if your film is only relevant to coursework in Mexican history, it may not sell as well as a film that touches upon Mexican history, LGBTQ history, environmental studies, and human rights. A librarian has greater reason to purchase a film if it can be utilized across a spectrum of academic curriculum.

In terms of the length of your film, imagine how the film will be used in the classroom. Breaking down your content to be episodic may be ideal, as it gives the instructor freedom to choose an episode and assign it to students. In addition, shorter films such as TV length and broadcast versions, of the usual 52-minute duration, tend to work better for classrooms. This doesn’t exclude feature length films, though, as definitive films may be something an instructor will want to assign. It all depends on your film!

How can you interest a distributor in your film?

For your film to be considered, a straightforward and clear email about your film to the distributor that includes the name of the film, a one or two line synopsis, a list of relevant academic areas, and a link to watch the film will often get you a response.

Distribution firms typically only consider films that are 100% complete, unless they also specialize in production. However, most do not.

The pool of films is competitive. For instance, Icarus Films represents approximately 50 films a year out of 300 submissions. Bloom recommends perusing the distributor’s website first to get a sense of the kind of films they represent. Although your film may be a 10 out of 10 craft-wise, it may not be considered a ‘good fit’ for the institutions that the distributor targets.

What is the contract with the distributor like?

Every contract is different. If you are in discussion with a distributor, they will provide you with a proposal that provides a breakdown of percentages specific to each market, such as TV sales, theatrical booking, or educational booking. Typically a distribution relationship will be exclusive, and they will ask to handle all markets for your film.

Wait until you receive the contract before you attempt to negotiate percentages, Bloom advises. One strategy for negotiation could be to introduce marketing goals. For instance, after a certain sale amount is reached, such as $25,000, you may be able to push for your portion of the profits to increase.

A typical list of deliverables for distribution may include: a trailer, a standard definition file for producing the DVD, high-resolution on-set photographs, reviews the film has received, a list of of film festivals that have included the film, and closed-captions.

How does the distributor sell your film to institutions?

For Icarus Films, the distributor sends out postcards to their own physical direct mail and email lists. Icarus Films also occasionally buys mailing lists that include general or departmental librarians of specific institutions. The selling relationship is typically between the distributor and the librarian of the institution.

Livia Bloom is a film curator and Vice President of Icarus Films, a documentary distribution firm representing work by directors including Chantal Akerman, Patricio Guzmán, Shôhei Imamura, Chris Marker, Bill Morrison, and Jean Rouch. Bloom has presented cinema programs at institutions including the Film Society of Lincoln Center, the Maysles Documentary Center in Harlem, and the Museum of the Moving Image. A graduate of Cornell and Columbia Universities, she currently lives with her husband in Brooklyn.

Icarus Films is a distributor of documentary films that works with independent producers from around the world to help their films find audiences. They distribute over 1,500 titles to theatrical, non-theatrical, educational, home entertainment, online, and television markets across North America. As well as licensing programs on DVD and Blu-ray to the educational market, they offer a subscription video-on-demand (SVOD) service focused on meeting the needs of colleges and universities for online access to documentary content.

– Priscilla Son, Program Assistant, Fiscal Sponsorship & Finance

This event was presented by NYFA Fiscal Sponsorship and by NYFA Learningwhich offers professional development for artists and arts administrators. Sign up for NYFA’s free bi-weekly newsletter to receive updates on future programs, and check out NYFA’s Business of Art Directory to read more articles on this topic and others.

Image: Fran Antmann, Maya Healers: A Thousand Dreams (Sponsored Project)

Amy Aronoff
Posted on:
Post author