As someone who works with self-distributing filmmakers, this may seem like a biased viewpoint but I will be just as blunt about the struggle of “doing it yourself” as I am about everything else.

Self-distribution is easier than people think in that distribution, in general, is not an exact science that you take a class in to succeed. There is nothing about distribution that can’t be learned relatively quickly by someone new. It does take excellent time and money management and having some business skills is truly useful. It takes research, a few bucks, and the use of any excess time you can manage, but nothing about distribution is inaccessible. Any vendor that works with a distributor will also work with an independent filmmaker, it’s all the same to them, just another client. Getting your packaging together, weighing production quotes of DVDs, creating a website and setting up your fulfillment and payment options can take time, patience and follow up. All of that before even starting to get review copies out to people.

Then there’s the pinpointing of interested parties – professional organizations with conferences or newsletters that would use your film in programming. Getting copies of your film to publications that would include a review. You have to connect with these people, illustrate for them how your work goes along with their purposes, and then be sure not to wait too long before kindly reminding them of who you are and why they should use your film. I spend hours in follow up each week finding out what happened to preview copies of films I work with.

It is possible to do it yourself but it is a large time commitment. It means researching the types of organizations that might show your film at a conference. It means collecting quotes from people to use in emails and promotional sheets. It means taking the time to collect, or buy, email or mailing lists to send out information to parties that would be interested in using the material you have to offer. It means having the nerve to ask people to be supportive and either provide advice on other people that would benefit from your film, or include a link to your website.

So if distribution is not easy or quick, why do it? I’ve been working with educational distribution for 7 years now and the first thing you realize is how connected the non-theatrical world is. They talk on listservs, they give each other advice in email rings, they program fascinating conferences, webinars and discussions. They also love media, and they will continue to be repeat customers when they have found reliable sources to obtain it from. They know as much about a filmmaker’s work as the average film critic in New York City. Yes, what I just said is true. When I attended the National Media Market last year, a customer came into my room to specifically view the latest film from one of the independent filmmakers I was representing.

In return, you obtain information by selling DVDs or corresponding with people who are just as passionate as you are. They also tend to pass your information along, tell people to check you out, and will often offer you advice on others who could use your film. It can be a slow process to gain a support base, but they will also be very loyal and you’ll find they care when the next project rolls around.

The basic choice of distributor versus self-distribution comes from how you want to, or are able to, spend your time. If you can’t escape the routine of going from one film set to the next, a distributor is probably the avenue you will want to venture on. But if personally connecting to an audience is preferred, and you don’t mind spending the time trying to do so, self-distribution can be very advantageous. Neither way is necessarily better than the other, it’s simply a matter of perspective and desire.

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Tags: Distribution, guest-blogger, Reframe