Producing independent media is romanticized by many who enter the field of film or television with the hopes of making their mark. Most know the industry is demanding and the effort in ideas, quality, and work usually are the main factors of making the romanticized dream production that will be accepted and recognized by the industry. But one of the key barriers to fulfilling this dream is the concept of distribution and how it affects every aspect of filmmaking and should be one of the major considerations when planning for an independent production.
Joseph Turow of the Media Industries Project for the Carsey-Wolf Center emphasized the importance of distribution at the Net Worth: Media Distribution in the Digital Era Media Industries conference, where he stated “distribution is at least as important as production for players in a media industry, for the audiences that the production firms target, and for the society in which all this takes place.”
Over the past year I have been involved with a feature film project as well as a project for cable TV. One of the things I have learned through developing and producing both projects is that distribution is crucial to the film and television industries. In developing an independent production, you need money for the production itself, but then also money to market the film to jump-start the distribution process.
For the feature film, The Summerland Project, money had to be allocated for: actors with names recognizable to the distributors, cameras that recorded in cinema quality, an excellent music score, and sophisticated special effects. None of this would have mattered if these elements weren’t used in the “right genre,” like science fiction, action or comedy, that would entice distributors to buy the rights for the film. Stacy Parks of FilmSpecific.com states that “distribution in reverse” is simply reverse engineering your film for distribution.
After production, independent producers try to sell the finished product to any major or smaller distributor who would release it first to theaters, second to home entertainment (Blu-Ray and digital download), and finally to cable channels. The American Film Market is a great place for producers to take films and meet with distributor agents in hopes of getting their productions sold. For The Summerland Project, the producers took this avenue, as they knew the production had a solid genre, with named actors who could get distributors interested in carrying the film.
Alternatively, independent producers can self-distribute the film which requires heavy investment in marketing to agents in order to get the film seen. Usually this process involves submitting to various festivals so that the film can be seen by, and hopefully picked up, by smaller distributors.
For the TV show, Auction Insiders, we used the festival circuit to showcase the documentary aspect of the reality series, and then entered the pilot in various television festivals. Auction Insiders was selected as one of the top 16 finalist in the New York Television Festivals (NYTVF) A&E 360 Unscripted Development Pipeline Contest.
After the pilot was selected into the this contest, my company, Bus-Stop Productions, and Fuzz Dog Entertainment, were able to pitch the show to executives from the History Channel. The production is currently in negotiations with the History Channel for a development deal.
As I have worked on the development of these productions I have appreciated how my graduate studies in media distribution are complementing the first-hand knowledge gained from working with people that are established in the industry.