Acquiring theatrical distribution isn't easy. This is a difficult truth that every filmmaker will have to face at some point during their career (usually the beginning). Of course, distribution can be a game-changer, turning an otherwise costly venture into a revenue-generating machine, but failing to acquire it is not a be-all and end-all. In fact, the world of distribution is vastly changing, and although the word itself is fraught with negative connotations, it's really not that scary anymore.
Since the DSLR revolution and widespread accessibility of streaming services, the doors have opened for amateur filmmakers to not only create a quality product at little cost, but get it out to the masses. Much like the Dogme 95 movement -- when Danish directors Thomas Vinterberg and Lars Von Trier pledged to create movies that focused purely on storytelling rather than technical prowess -- the modern filmmaking landscape is moving in a do-it-yourself direction.
We are no longer living in an analogue age. The release windows system that we were all accustomed to throughout the 80s, 90s and early 00s -- cinema, then video rentals, followed by television -- was designed to prevent each platform from hurting each other. But due to streaming, it is no longer relevant. Nowadays there are plenty of ways to get a movie out there and earning that don't involve physical or theatrical releases at all.
Using a Digital Distributor
We, as a society, may be heavy consumers with little patience, but given the means, we will happily cough up hard cash. Video on Demand (VOD) platforms are a true blessing to those of us who have completed projects that have been stuck in distribution limbo. In the past indie filmmakers had little choice but to get their movie screened in festivals and hope to meet an enthusiastic distributor to act as the middle man. Fortunately, this is no longer the case.
During the last few years a number of online aggregation services have popped up, such as Distribbler. These services select specific content for distribution via platforms such as iTunes and Netflix, and have been responsible for breaking some of the best indie films of recent times. But most importantly, they're available for anyone to use. In fact, these digitial distributors have created such as dent in the market that even gargantuan providers, such as Comcast, are basing their future business models around them. Although they still serve as "middlemen" it's far easier to acquire distribution from them as they are mutually beneficial for both parties: filmmakers provide content, distributors provide viewers (subscribers). Vimeo On Demand, Indiereign and Distrify are just a few of the other do-it-yourself options that are available.
These VOD and digitial distribution services are quick, easy and inexpensive to set up. But the real beauty of them is that so many new filmmakers automatically have a number of platforms to choose from, along with the option to use more than one service. Therefore, if the traditional approach fails there are plenty of other ways to fill the void. Instead, the cinema release stage could be bypassed entirely and filmmakers could move straight to digital mediums.
Going Old School
Now for the negative part... the benefits of digital distribution are definitely in favour of indie filmmakers, but it's important for newbies to acknowledge the other reasons why at least attempting to acquire distribution via traditional methods is still important. Any film company can create a website, upload their movie and charge people to download it. But in doing so they are not exposing themselves to all the critical channels that can turn a good film into a great film, such as the rejections, failed business meetings and constructive feedback that would otherwise force them back to the drawing board to hone the final product.
Fundamentally, the Internet has awarded filmmakers more resources and opportunities than ever. Providing we recognize quality and don't use digital distribution as an excuse for laziness, it can only be a positive for the indie scene.
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