In 2013, I self-distributed my movie Papadopoulos & Sons into theatres with a print and advertising budget of just £40,000. The film achieved the second highest screen average in its opening weekend, beaten only by Oblivion with Tom Cruise.
These are my top 10 tips for indie filmmakers also considering self-distribution.
1. Whether you're planning on distributing a blockbuster or a micro-budget indie movie, getting a physical release in cinemas is your best way of attracting the attention you need for broader distribution. A cinema release will give you press in the form of reviews and interviews and if you do it well you'll make TV companies, Video on Demand services such as Netflix and iTunes and DVD distributors sit up and take notice.
2. What is the myth of your movie? Myth is what gets audiences out. This is the reason why certain actors like Brad Pitt are hired. They have a built in myth. Myth can be created by getting into festivals and doing well. Myth can be created with a stunning array of reviews. There are many ways to create myth. I managed to get the film screened before its release in the European Parliament, a first at the time. Meanwhile, the Greek Prime Minister was below negotiating Greece's bailout. I was on the floor above screening a film about Greeks losing money in a crisis! That's myth.
3. Think of the theatrical release as the platform for distribution. Make the theatrical release an event that forces buyers to consider you. Remember, this isn't just for big budget movies. Think of yourself as a mini Paramount or Universal. You have the added advantage of being the film maker. You'll know your film better than anyone and that means you'll know who the market is for your film and how to reach it.
4. To get into movie theatres you need to hire a cinema booker. A good cinema booker will know all the movie theatre programmers and will work with you on the best strategy for your movie. You pay them a flat fee for this service. You can 'four wall' a cinema - which means you can hire it out completely and keep all the box office revenue, or you and the cinema booker can convince a cinema chain to split the box office revenue (as I did).
5. Think carefully about what is best when working with a cinema. The range of options is larger than you think. You could, for example, hire one large cinema in a central location or you could screen your movie on a Tuesday afternoon (traditionally very quiet for most cinemas) across 50 screens. For Papadopoulos & Sons, we started off in 12 Cineworld screens across the UK for just one week but managed to expand to more (after a stunning opening weekend) and in some sites we ran for over four weeks.
6. To convince a cinema to work with you, you have to do what a distributor would do and demonstrate that (a) you have a film that can appeal to an audience and (b) you have the ability to bring that audience to the cinema. For Papadopoulos & Sons I built a five page plan that convinced Cineworld I could reach the Greek and Greek Cypriot community using a mix of traditional media (London Greek radio and Greek newspapers) and social media (Facebook, Twitter and YouTube). We even cold called every Greek Orthodox priest in Britain and asked them to mention the movie in the Sunday service before our opening weekend.
7. Think niche. Whilst Papadopoulos & Sons is a universal movie that has played to audiences in Germany, France and the US and has even been bought by an Iranian TV company, for the theatrical release I needed to just focus on core markets. For me, this was anyone who was Greek or Greek Cypriot and anyone who worked in fish and chip shops! Social media and traditional direct marketing will allow you to directly target a core audience for your film.
8. Spend at least three months before the run into your release building word of mouth and support for your movie. For Papadopoulos & Sons we had a network of over 30 'Papa Ambassadors' who volunteered to flood the Greek community wherever they lived with flyers and information about the film. They all had a target to get 100 people each to their local cinema.
9. Now that you've done your theatrical release and you've generated good press you're in a better position to approach buyers for your movie. If you work with a progressive sales agent then there's no reason why you cannot do this together. Whilst I took on all the risk of self distribution in cinemas, I worked with a sales agent to do traditional sales. On the back of the UK cinema release that I did, my sales agent sold Papadopoulos & Sons to the BBC, Netflix, ARTE (among others) as well as in-flight and DVD distribution.
10. Throw as much energy into how you sell your film as you did in making it. Today, being a independent filmmaker in a world flooded by the visual image also requires you to do more than just make the film. It's your baby. See selling it as part of the same independent process you employed to make it. And good luck!
Marcus Markou wrote, directed, produced and self-distributed 2012 comedy Papadopoulos & Sons. An alumnus of Met Film School, he will be judging the School's upcoming competition to determine the essence of British comedy. More details, including information on the competition's prize of a £10,000 course voucher and how to enter, are available here.