Should Indie Filmmakers Also Become Distributors?

Yes, marketing and distribution are an essential part of filmmaking. Indie filmmakers should tackle these issues early on in production.

Kubrick came-up with a specific trailer for each of his films. He did not leave the editing room before they were finalized.

Both Kubrick and Hitchcock were both well aware that regardless of the quality of their work, the success of their films highly depended on a successful marketing strategy.

Hitchcock’s full creative control over his later work with major studios was granted in exchange for him renouncing entirely his salary as a filmmaker.

In other words, he worked for free so he could do whatever he wanted. Just like you, and his revenue, by contract, depended strictly on the box-office revenues from which he took a percentage.

Hopefully, we might end up leveling the playground for successful independent filmmakers, once and for all.

Hitchcock involved himself personally in decisions regarding credits, poster design, and the final cut. It is also well known that obsessive Kubrick came-up with a specific trailer for each of his films and did not leave the editing room before they were finalized.

At the same time, I should note that:

  • This takes an immense energy input

You may ” lose yourself” in the process of making the final script and artistic finalization.

  • You may end your creative spirit. As a result, it could require you to act as well as a distributor/agent for the project in all sense of means.

All in all, we are talking about selling and distribution, which are the skills of a professional agency. Definitely not the primary focus of an Indie filmmaker. I believe this issue is subject to constant debate within the indie film community.

As far as I can tell, it usually boils down to three main questions –

1. What amount of work does this actually entail?

2. Is it really worth sacrificing time and effort creating communities rather than focusing solely on the film’s creative process? 

A daunting time and energy investment

Yes. There is no way around it. Assuming marketing and distribution takes an immense toll on your energy input as a filmmaker.

The truth of the matter is, filmmaking as a whole is a humongous time-investing, energy-draining, and exhausting process.

And an even colder truth is, if you can’t create an audience, all that effort will be wasted.

Indie filmmaking is only 50% of the work, and selling your film is the other 50%.

Nowadays, festival screenings are barely a starting point, especially in the covid-19 era.

Festivals are just a fraction of your audience. They are means for finding a good sales agent or distributor.

Does that guarantee success? It depends, mostly on the skills and outreach of your distributor. But also on how invested, they are in selling your film.

This is where taking the reins of marketing and distribution yourself can ultimately make a difference.

No one will be as devoted and invested as you are in making your film a success.

Fears of “losing yourself” in the process

From my own experience, creating a marketing story is a creative process in itself. Or at least it should be if approached correctly.

Working on marketing strategy from an early stage of production is not only a key factor to successful distribution. From a creative standpoint, it can help you focus and understand your story. It can identify what makes your idea unique and interesting, and ultimately enhance your storytelling.

Furthermore, this work will pay off ten-fold when the film is made. If you really know your story, you’ll able to communicate it easily to your fans. As a result it will ease the load of marketing and distribution work later on.

Can or will this additional load as a distributor/sales agent wear-off your creative spirit?

I must admit every time I hear this argument, it makes no sense to me. It’s like refusing to take advantage of the internet.

However, it is an entirely different thing to argue that this work takes something away from your creative skills.

Marketing and distribution are foremost, and if anything, a creative indie filmmaking process

If you are creative enough to turn a good story and into an excellent film, you will be just as creatively driven to come up with an original strategy to reach your audience and let it find its way to the communities living online.

Don’t dump the responsibility on the argument that you’re “too creative”. This kind of work depends on your creativity just as much as your film does.

Failing marketing and distribution strategies are, often enough, lacking precisely an original creative approach.

All that time and energy invested

In something that –

  • Should not be my responsibility
  • Surpasses my professional scope and skills.
  • Wouldn’t I be better off just relying on a “professional agency”?

Just in case this point is still unclear, yes, marketing and distribution is a lengthy and hard process. So is film production.

Does that mean you need to take production to a “professional agency”? Obviously, marketing takes skills, but like everything else, these skills can be learned.

Ultimately, the tools are out there, it is only a question of whether you choose to learn how to use them, or not.

A professional agency will not be able to do the same quality work you would do for your own film, for several reasons. First, they have more than one film to focus on; second, they lack your motivation and emotional attachment to fully invest themselves in a lengthy creative campaign; and third, no one knows the project like you do.

You built it from scratch, you know it inside out, you are aware of its strengths, its ordeals, its narrative pulse.

Only you possess this valuable and wholesome creative insight into the product itself.

In short, no one can sell it as you can. They lack your unique, creative, and personal relationship with the material. And that is your most valuable asset.

If you can have an assistant, that would certainly be of great help. But bear in mind you must learn the skills.

Should filmmakers also become distributors/marketers?

I believe it is in our best interest to accept that filmmaking has changed in many ways. As the world we live in changes rapidly, creating stories and storytelling. As the means and channels to communicate, are changing swiftly as well.

This is far from a groundbreaking discovery, let׳s do not forget Hitchcock and Kubrick, major film referents in breaking the box-office with practically every one of their films, both demanded full creative control over their work, this is, from production to exhibition, including marketing and distribution. s

They were both well aware that regardless of the quality of their work, the success of their films highly depended on a successful marketing strategy, and they were not prepared to leave such a key aspect in the hands of strangers.

This was more than half a century ago when online tools were not available for them, but they did take advantage and invest themselves in selling their films in every other possible way. And yet here we are, questioning if we should involve ourselves in this ordeal.

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