By Mathew Levy
We love our jobs. Please don't get us wrong.
We wouldn't be in this industry without our filmmakers and we thank our lucky stars for the amazing new content you produce every day.
I see hundreds of great stories every year as well as inspiring filmmakers that go the extra limit in terms of risking their image, sanity, and even lives.
As an indie film distributor, we are fortunate to get a front row seat to the behind the scenes tales of these hundreds of stories every year by having great conversations with the creators.
Not only that, I get to experience the fruits of their efforts in terms of the great success they have had getting their message out before it even gets to me.
That being said, when the film does get to my desk, I need to look at it in terms of consumer and buyer interest in order to come up with a game plan for your most effective revenue stream, which unfortunately sometimes may or may not compromise the artistic value of your great project.
I am also the guy that can be the bearer of bad news.
That $25,000 shot or animation sequence you created, may mean absolutely nothing in terms of long term sales.
The actor you were banking on for the year your project has been in production simply won't translate into better placement for your film into bigger outlets like Walmart or Redbox.
Although I am sometimes not telling you what you want to hear, you must trust me as I do meet with the buyers of Redbox, Wal Mart, Netflix, Hulu, etc. and am very aware of what they are looking for and how to deliver content the way they like it.
I have seen a few filmmakers get a bit upset or heated over information they do not want to accept and jump into immediate retaliation mode.
This will not make anyone happy.
With all of this in mind, I give you 3 surefire ways you will absolutely drive your indie film distributor crazy.
1) "No you don't understand. My movie is simply the best film on this topic. Please explain this to your customers and buyers."
I am sorry to break this to you, but we hear this at least a dozen times a month. If I am working with your film, I love it too!
In order to get the consumer to see how great your indie film or documentary is, they have to know about it. Impulse buying, especially in the DVD market, is few and far between and unless our clients have an understanding that the film has mass exposure, then they will not give it a shot on their shelves or on their platforms.
Netflix is especially keen on theatrical releases. The more theaters you show up in, the more likely they will take a buy for streaming. They need to see how popular the film is rather than just take our word on it.
2) "My movie has an actor that was in a movie with a famous person. This is a surefire hit!"
Did the person come see this movie with the famous person because your actor was in it? Or because the famous person was in it?
Just because they may have a scene in Avatar or Iron Man, does not mean they will hold water on a shelf or digital platform. If they anchor the movie or if they had such a key role that they are getting mass press and publicity for the film (eg Melissa McCarthy for Bridesmaids or Barkhad Abdi for Captain Phillips), then we are speaking on a different level of consideration.
Other than that, you may need to use social media, theatrical, or great key art to bring attention to your film in new light.
3) "My film is an easy film for Walmart, Target, Redbox, Best Buy, Barnes and Noble, etc. How come you aren't getting my film into these places? I want to see it on shelves where it belongs!"
Ahhhh sexy isn't it! And it's the dream that after you have accomplished your completion of your film that you can now walk into your local retailer and see your prized project on the shelf.
Well sorry to tell you, but shelf space is limited and cluttered with studio content.
Do we work with all of those accounts, ABSOLUTELY! Redbox aside, do we want to? That's questionable.
As mentioned earlier, impulse buys are few and far between nowadays, so in order to comfortably be on those shelves, you would have to bring your price point down to $7.99 or $8.99.
And after manufacturing and traditional distribution costs, the end share of this sale will be bupkis for both of us unless we sell hundreds of thousands of units, which in 2014 is a very challenging feat for any pure indie film even released by a mini major.
On top of that, Walmart will traditionally take in between 15,000-90,000 units. If those don't move in their stores within 6-12 weeks, guess who is getting those units returned to them?
And no matter what indie film distributor you are with, those returns do always fall on the filmmaker, which will most likely put you in a negative balance with your distributor for life. Still sound sexy to you?
Onto Redbox, I would LOVE to get you a Redbox sale and they are great because unlike the stores, there are no returns.
That being said, Redbox is extremely selective with their content as they have even more limited space.
It's a BOX for goodness sake!
If we agree your title makes sense to pitch, we will absolutely do it, however we can't pitch all of our titles as if we are well aware a title won't make sense to them (a 3 hour documentary on a small plant in South Africa that has zero publicity for example), then we simply don't want to waste their time as those are moments of attention we do need for the films that we are confident will work for them.
In our initial conversation, we will make it very clear whether we will be pitching Redbox or not and what they are looking for.
Ideally it would be great to throw all our content we acquire at them and see what sticks (and some indie film distributors do!), however we have a more centralized approach in terms of giving them what they want and when they want to consistently keep them happy and open minded when looking at our branded submissions.