By Hammad Zaidi | July 10, 2012

Hi everyone! I hope all of you had a great week. If you’re reading this column on Tuesday evening, just know that at this very moment, I’m planted in my seat at the Major League Baseball All-Star Game in Kansas City. I grew up in the KC area, so going home is always fun. While I considered making this week’s column about baseball films, I’ve decided to deliver something far more useful to filmmakers: a column about choosing the right platform to premiere your project on.

Sure, every filmmaker under the sun would kill to have a 5,000 screen theatrical release, with a $100 million dollar advertising budget that includes a McDonald’s Happy Meal campaign. But, in the “reel” world, most filmmakers would be happy with any type of distribution, just as long as it advances their career. That’s why most indie filmmakers today are destined to become card-carrying members of what I like to call the “Alternative Platform Society,” a group committed to getting their work seen by the masses, regardless of the format its viewed on. So, today we are going to discuss key elements to consider when choosing the platform to distribute your project on. These elements take into account both your career and the potential success of your film, because in many cases, you’ll have to decide which one in more important to you. Thus, without further ado, let’s take a swing or two at finding the best home for your beloved creative masterpiece.

Decide On The Appropriate Screen Size
One of the first things to consider when choosing to join the “Alternative Platform Society” or not, is deciding upon the appropriate screen size for your project’s release. While 99.9% of all filmmakers will say their film belongs on the silver screen in front of a sold-out crowd of 600 people; the truth is that most indie films look better on a smaller screen. The last thing you want as a filmmaker is for your lack of production value to turn into a deterant, instead of enhancing your film by being a part of its esthetic fabric. So, getting a cable or TV deal may better serve you than waiting to get a theatrical run. Furthermore, if your film is widely regarded as being a great idea saddled with a poverty-level production value, then it might even make sense for you to focus on a web release, or mobile phone release. Of course, these routes usually earn less money, but they are still valid forms of distribution that can jumpstart, restart, or start your career.

Distribution Time Frame
The slowest form of distribution is the theatrical release, because it takes the most money, time, and energy to plan. Thus, if you’d rather not wait 18 months to find out your film isn’t going to get a theatrical run, you should join the Alternative Platform Society! Please don’t get me wrong. If your film is deemed to be “theatrical,” then a huge distributor will find you early on and offer a theatrical release that you can brag to your friends, family and colleagues about for decades to come. However, if all of the major theatrical distributors pass on your film, then it makes no sense to waste one minute longer on trying to convince them otherwise. Think of it this way: A Porsche is a Porsche, because it’s a Porsche, and if your film is seen as a Porsche 918 (a rare, limited release 78 MPG, 210 MPH super car with a $845,000 price tag), then it will bask in the sunshine of a theatrical release. But, if not, it’s your job to find it a home as quickly as possible.

A television and cable release may take a bit less time and money to pull off than getting a theatrical release, but it’s still going to take several months at best, and that’s only if the buyer slots your film for broadcast immediately. Additionally, a web release or smart phone release can happen lickety-split, but you still need a quick-witted, utterly genius marketing campaign to let people know your project exists. Remember, your completed project gets older by the day, so getting it out as quick as possible should be your goal.

Investment Vs. Return
While all forms of distribution take money to do, some take a lot more than others. That’s why you should weigh how much money you are willing to spend, versus the projected return for your chosen route. For example, putting a clip of your film on YouTube and earning 2,000,000 hits in the first week will clearly get you far further than renting out a theater and inviting 11 distributors to come to your screening. Thus, spending more money does not always equal more success, especially for smaller films. Thus is because (usually), fewer people are drawn to indie films, regardless of how much is spent on advertising.

Time Frame Of Return
One thing to consider is how long you are willing to wait to get paid, even if your film is successful. Payments from your theatrical release won’t find their way to your wallet or purse for at least two to three years after your film’s release date. What’s worse than that? The fact that in most cases, you will never and I mean NEVER actually get paid your “theatrical profits.”

Audience Reach Capability
The last thing to consider on my list of things to consider today, is the potential reach of your audience. Surely, a 5,000 screen theatrical release can reach millions of people, but so can a webisode series that goes viral. Conversely, selling your project to a cable channel that has a limited national reach may sound like a better deal than the Internet, but in actuality, it will reach far less people. Thus, you could opt to get paid $2,000-$10,000 for a cable screening, or you could forgo guaranteed money for the chance to reach 1 million plus on the Internet, with the hopes of triggering a much bigger deal for your film. The key to deciding which path to take is to know what you need to get out of the deal – publicity or payments. Getting both would be nice, but if you can only land one of them, go after the one that best serves your current needs.

Okay, friends. That’s what I have for you today. Thank you again for lending me your eyes, and I look forward to borrowing them again next Tuesday.

I can be followed on Twitter @Lonelyseal.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. AKUMA MBA says:

    Am delighted each time i recieve news letters from film specific,i have benefit a lot from your rich wisdom on film making and distribution and i must say thank you.

  2. GLEN MANEY says:

    I’m thinking what an excellent piece an our experiences so far marketing The Limelight mirror virtually everything touched on in the piece.

    We did a major festival and people loved the story and it got a standing ovation BUT we all knew how bad it looked on the big screen.

    I’m told that’s common.I think we all have to be honest with ourselves and place our project where others would place it.

Join our Film Threat Newsletter

Newsletter Icon