How to Get Your Indie Film DistributedWhat it takes and where to get your film seen, according to an industry insider.
“Every film is different.”
Lights Online Film School recently had the opportunity to chat with the Founder and CEO of BOND360, Marc Schiller, about indie film distribution in the digital age, as a part of our ongoing effort to demystify the topic for our readers.
BOND360 is the film distribution initiative within BOND Strategy and Influence, a leading strategy and marketing firm for independent cinema that has collaborated on more than 100 titles, including Indie Game: The Movie, Helvetica, and the 2014 Sundance Audience Award Winner for US Documentary, Alive Inside.
Build Your Audience
To set the stage, Marc shared that the digital age has ushered in unprecedented accessibility of content.
“Many films, especially in the independent and documentary spaces, were really not available to people [before digital technologies],” Marc observed. “Today, the ability to buy or rent or stream most films that have come out… opens up a whole range of new strategies that can help to get the films out there, in a business model that works for everybody.”
The specifics of that business model, Marc explained, are contingent on the specifics of the film in question.
“Every film is different… There really isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ strategy to leverage the new digital platforms. There’s obviously the major players, which would be Netflix, Amazon, and Apple, to start with. These are major marketplaces for people to discover new films that they want to watch. There’s also a new host of specialty outlets that are growing that really cater to very specific niches and tastes, so you have platforms such as Fandor.”
But getting your film on these platforms is not enough, Marc stressed. “You need PR and marketing and a whole range of things to support it… What you really need is a strategy to build audience.”
This begins with a film’s existing fans; with drumming up interest among family and friends and promoting the film through social media channels, including Facebook and Twitter. For example, Marc noted that filmmakers Sam and Faythe spent a lot of time taking their film Sign Painters around the country, arranging screenings and engaging the community of designers and artists that are plugged into the film’s topic.
In so doing, the filmmakers invited their fans into the film’s release. Even so, “any good film should be interesting to people who are not just the core target,” Marc clarified. “Our goal [at BOND360] is to make sure that we can create… a marketing strategy that allows films to be successful outside of that initial niche.”
To create such a strategy, one must consider the variables involved in a film’s release, not the least of which is the question of windows sequencing – ie., when a film should be made available on a given platform (we discuss this concept in depth in our introduction to digital distribution).
“I’ve been comparing [windows sequencing] to constructing a three-dimensional puzzle,” Marc mused, “Where every piece is dependent on every other. Certainly part of it is the commitment that you have to theatrical… The next thing you look at is the timing. There’re certain films that you might want to hold out on digital before the holidays because of the way the calendar is laid out. With Sign Painters, it made sense to really focus in on the digital release.” With Particle Fever, BOND360 released theatrically and digitally at different times.
“Every film is different,” Marc repeated.
Leverage Data and Keep Flexible
One way that Marc and his team make sense of these differences is by leveraging the data to which they have access.
The internet empowers filmmakers to keep tabs on how their work is performing. Think Vimeo’s built-in statistics for starters, measuring hits and, with Plus and Pro, geography breakdowns and differentiation between total loads, plays, and finishes. “We look at what the conversion is and what’s working and what isn’t working,” Marc specified. “The key is to be agile and to be in a creative environment where you can react to what you’re seeing in the data, so you can make adjustments and lower your costs and increase your revenue.”
Of course, part of being agile is being honest about what kind of film you have on your hands. “There are certain types of films that fit the models of [traditional, big name distributors], and if your film fits that model, then absolutely, it should be your focus and the way that you try to proceed.
There are a lot of films, though, that are very different from that. That have a different opportunity; that are based more on the communities that exist than on going out and marketing broadly to the general moviegoer. Those films don’t always fit well in the strategies of the larger distributors.”
How to Get Your Film Distributed – “There Are No Shortcuts”.
When we asked Marc if he felt there was a taboo on films that embrace these indie, alternative methods of distribution, he pointed to the success of titles like Indie Game: The Movie and Helvetica: “I think films that have succeeded outside of the system are celebrating that fact.”
Indeed, Marc’s conviction is consistent with our findings here at Lights. We’ve had the opportunity to interview many successful filmmakers, from Sam Macon of Sign Painters to Nicole Teeny of Bible Quiz, all of whom have been excited to find distribution for their films, even if they don’t open at the TCL Chinese Theatre.
So how do indie filmmakers go about connecting with distributors like BOND360 who will champion their films?
“We find our content through a mixture of a lot of different ways,” Marc shared. “Festivals certainly are great to attend and discover a film with an audience for the first time, and then look to acquire it” – the recent Alive Inside is case in point. Recommendations from trusted sources also lead to deals; for example, a producer recommended Sign Painters to one of Marc’s colleagues, which prompted him to watch and fall in love with the film.
Ultimately, though, success simply requires making great films.
“It may sound naive, but I still believe in great films,” Marc said passionately. “It’s hard to make a great film. It takes time, and you need to make some bad films before you make a good one. Because the filmmaking process is becoming more accessible, people think that you can jump the queue, but there are no shortcuts.
There’s never shortcuts for anything. There’s no shortcuts in business, there’s no shortcuts in the art world, there’s no shortcuts in any industry. Just create a great movie. And my hope is that great movies find their audiences! We’re here at BOND360 to help great movies that might not work in other models find a model that works for them. And that’s what this is really about.”
Quality content cuts through the noise. Today more than ever before, indie filmmakers are positioned to find their audiences.
To start your search and dig deeper into Marc’s insights, give Lights’ article about indie film distribution in the digital age a read! If you first must make a film to distribute, hop on over to our online filmmaking course – more guided than a blog, more interactive than a textbook, more flexible than traditional film school.
For more from BOND360, visit their website.
Michael Koehler, with
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