Film Marketing Guide for Independent Filmmakers Part 3


This article continues from PART TWO of a 3-part series about film marketing for independent filmmakers. You can find PART ONE here.

What you will learn

Functions of a Film Distributor

Generally speaking, distributors distribute your movie to an audience or consumer. But let’s dive deeper into the details of how that actually works.

It’s important to point out that distributors are businessmen. That may already be obvious but, keep in mind that they are in the business to make money. They may be passionate movie-goers, but they are not creative artists. Every decision they make depends on if they will make a profit off your movie, not because they want to be a part of your movie because of how brilliantly it was shot and executed. So with that in mind, always select the BEST business distributor who will get you the best deals, widest release and exposure rather than someone who loves your movie but probably doesn’t have the resources, knowledge or connection to distribute your movie effectively.

Acceptance or Rejection

A distributor will accept or reject your movie for distribution based off the following criteria (among other criteria):

  • Presentation
  • Production quality (picture and sound)
  • Level of violence
  • Level of sexual content
  • Length
  • Format
  • Genre
  • Soundtrack
  • Packaging/print
  • Market conditions
  • Perceived appeal to current audiences

Start of promotional campaign

If you successfully landed a distributor with an agreed upon contract, film marketing will begin immediately. The distributors will begin working on a promotional campaign, developing essential posters, logos and trailers to begin sending out to media outlets. Public relations will kick into high gear as they begin writing, arranging and planning press release, interviews, and press kits up to the premiere of the movie. Distributors will also contact major entertainment companies (magazines, websites, and producers) to arrange exclusive promotional content.

Ancillary Support

Among the basic sales and marketing effort that goes behind a theatrical, video, broadcast and internet release, a distributor also provides additional support to help with the marketing and distribution of your film which may include:

  • Shipping
  • Collections and Payments
  • Monitoring
  • Subtitling and Dubbing
  • Editing
  • Rating

These ancillary systems are dependent on the distributor’s resource capabilities and connections within the industry. With a studio distributor, it’s pretty straight forward. You give them the movie, they bring you the audience. They nearly handle everything for you. Whereas, an independent distributor or smaller distributor may not have the ability to provide such a turnkey operation. If you are considering to distribute your movie yourself, well you just got a good glimpse of what goes into movie marketing and distributing a movie. And you might’ve thought getting the movie financing and producing it would be the hardest part.

Landing Film Distribution

The chances of a distributor calling you out of the blue when you’ve done zero marketing is close to zero. It has happened on the rare occasion to some lucky filmmakers who may have been at the right place at the right time or other forms of luck, but that’s like winning the lottery.

Typically, you’ll have to go head hunting and promoting your movie to land the best distributor you can find who believes in you and your project (meaning, it’ll make them a ton of money).

There’s 3 simple steps you can take in helping you land a distributor:

  1. Collect information about potential distributors
  2. Refine your list of best distributors to land
  3. Design an approach plan

Collecting Information

A good place to start, is of course the internet. Jump onto Google or any other popular search engine and begin searching for distributors. Search for keywords like, “motion picture distribution”, “video distribution”, “film distribution”, “independent film distribution” and the like.

There’s also the library, bookstore and magazines that may contain contact information regarding film distributors. Including specialty directories, that may have a giant list of potential distributors.

Once you got a nice list of distributors, start giving them a call one by one and begin asking key questions. Don’t waste their time and be respectful to them and their time. These companies are typically extremely busy making deals every day of the week.

Here’s a typical flow of what you might expect when you first call a distribution company:

First, you’ll be introduced to the main secretary taking in all types of calls. This is where you want to ask to speak with someone in ‘acquisition’. They may ask for your name and company to learn more about you before proceeding you to the next agent.

Next, you’ll speak with a second-level secretary who will want to learn specifics about your project to see if it’s a good fit for their company. If it does sound like something they would potentially acquire, you’ll get to speak with the acquisition director (this is a big deal).

Lastly, you’ll be on call with a very important person who can make or break one of the biggest deals for your movie. It’s important to be extremely prepared before taking this call.

Use the following as a guide to what you should have available and memorized while speaking to an acquisition officer:

  • Your power sentence
  • Audience profile you created earlier
  • Genre
  • Cast highlights
  • Length
  • Reviews, awards, festivals
  • Marketing support
  • Budget (if asked…)


Collecting Information Continued…

The goal of the call is not to sell your movie, but to gauge their interest level and gather information about their company. Think of it as an elevator pitch, leaving the listener wanting to learn more, creating intrigue. Compare your movie to other successful movies like yours. It can also be hugely beneficial if you have a movie that the film distribution company has successfully marketed and distributed before. This gets them to understand your movie much more quickly, because they may believe your movie could be another big hit for their distribution company.

If you find that the acquisition officer is not interested at all, that’s okay. Thank them for their time and move on. At this point, you are simply doing research and you should have a giant list of other potential distributors to call. On top of that, you’ll gain a lot of knowledge and practice by doing this over rand over again until you finally land that sweet deal.

You’ll find yourself repeating the same thing over and over again to each company. It’s best to have a great script written down in front of you while taking these calls. That way you can quickly and easily ask all the key questions and gather all the important information on the spot rather than winging it each time. This will save you a lot of time and headache.

Here’s a list of questions you can ask:

  • Do they accept unsolicited or unrepresented submissions? (Meaning, will they accept to even look at your project even if it didn’t come from trusted official sources)
  • What type of products do the distributors handle? (Typically, most companies have a website and you can find this type of information online. If not, then, ask away)
    • Ask about genres, in case they accept all forms of genres. Finding out their most successful genres is a key indicator if they are the right distributor for you.
  • Where do they distribute their films? (Theatrical, DVD, TV, Internet, etc.)
  • What type of movie marketing do they offer? (ads, posters, magazines, radio, tv, internet, etc.)
  • Do they have a submission process and policy?
  • What products are they currently promoting? (Again, this can be found online. Being prepared in advanced will make you sound a heck of a lot better)
  • Ask where you might be able to see their marketing efforts.

Refine your list

Once you’ve called everyone on your list and gathered all the necessary information. Refine it down further to the ones who will most likely say YES to your movie and also who may offer the widest release and potential success of your film.

Use the following as a guide:

  • Indicated interest in your project during first (or several) phone calls
  • Currently (or previously) working on similar projects to yours

Designing the approach plan

Here’s the gist of it:

  • Be realistic.
  • Don’t exaggerate the potential of your project.
  • Approach the approachable
  • Most importantly, make a solid first impression. Typically, you’ll only have the one shot.

Gathering as much information about a specific distributor, their history, and their films is very important before approaching them to make a possible deal. They’ll know you have done your research and thought about your movie realistically and contacted the right individuals who can possibly bring you and them success before sparking a deal.

Don’t go after every distributor who showed interest in your movie. Go after the distributors with experience with promoting a similar movie to yours. They already have the experience and systems in place to market your movie effectively that will generate the best outcome. Think about it, your goal is to have your movie seen by as many people as possible, and the distributor’s goal is to make as much money from your movie as possible. And the only way they’re going to do that is by effectively marketing your movie to the right markets and industries they’ve already established.


If you found this article helpful, I highly recommend checking out the following book that goes into more detail about how to market your own independent movie.

The Complete Independent Movie Marketing Handbook

Recommended Resources

Marketing to Moviegoers: A Handbook of Strategies and Tactics

Distributing Your Film Online

Film School on Demand – How to Make & Sell Your First Movie

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