Can you explain what the hell is going on with indie distribution these days?

Not really, so I had my friend Sheldon Brigman (EVP, Acquisitions from Level 33 Entertainment) over to the pool yesterday and while we were sitting across a picnic table, and then home taking care of our kids, we texted each other as the night went on…and then again in the morning.

Here is our text convo:

Heidi: So, first of all, what the hell do you do exactly…?

Sheldon: We scour the planet to find, acquire, market and distribute independent films.

Ah, sounds a bit like superhero work…
Sort of, just without the tights and cape and we fly commercials instead of through the air.

Like superheroes, do you feel like indie distribution is a myth? Or do you feel indie filmmakers actually have a shot in hell at finding someone like you to take their film out onto the market – even potentially theatrically?
Not anymore because we’ve (along with others) set out to change that myth. That said, indie distribution comes in all shapes and sizes these days. It really just depends on the film and its audience potential. We have an open door policy, so we’re very accessible to filmmakers. For the right film, we certainly can mount a theatrical release.

Does an open door policy mean you’re going to distribution… Oops, don’t answer that – hold on – I texted that too early… Does an open door policy mean you’re going to distribute American Decaf…? Yeah, don’t answer that either. How about, what exactly are you looking for when you’re out there scouring?
Let me answer the rest of this tomorrow. I just heard Osama Bin Laden has been killed by the US.

That’s so going in the blog.


So, now that I’ve watched all the news I possibly can…what on earth are you looking for?
Great films with a unique voice and a commercial hook. We also look for films that have clearly defined audiences b/c that allows us to market effectively.

Can you give an example of what a clearly defined audience might be for indie filmmakers?

Horror, comedy, thrillers, films aimed at teenage girls and families.

A great example of a film that hits the mark is AAAH! ZOMBIES!!, a film that we released last October. That film was aimed at horror fans and had the unique hook of being from the POV of the zombies. Due to the genre, we were able to get to the horror fans easily via all of the horror magazines, websites and blogs. The response from fans has been amazing and we recently premiered the film on NBC Universal’s Chiller Network. So for that film we have successfully exploited DVD, VOD, Cable VOD and broadcast. Clearly a success for an indie and a lot of that success is due in part to the genre of the film and our ability to get this small film onto people’s radars.

In today’s nutty market – can you tell Film Threat readers the best way to find distribution for their film with a distribution company like yours?
It really starts before the script is written. I think it is hugely important to know who your audience is and how big is that potential audience. Once you know that, you can spend and cast accordingly then build your audience along the way, because if you can show to a distributor, who may not have super powers like Level 33 Ent., that there is an audience for your film and that they reachable without erecting billboards around the city, you may have a shot.

I mean like how do you get to the part where they take you seriously enough to even look at your film these days?
Make a film that a distributor looks at and sees an opportunity (i.e. Cash).

Yes, how exactly do you get to the getting them to look at it part? Where do they find these distributors as a group, maybe? (Objection: Leading the witness.)
The easiest way to find a distributor is through major festivals, a sales agent or by contacting distribution acquisition execs directly. All you really need Is a good trailer, a logline and their email, which I’m told is easily found on the black market…or you could stop being cheap and get a subscription to IMDBPro.:)

Ah relief, thank you!
Thank you.

You’re welcome – but you’re not done yet…How many companies are there left now that are doing this do you suppose? And is there any argument for skipping the attempt and self-distributing left?
Maybe 15. Self-distribution can work for some films, but the exposure can be limited. You still won’t be able to access most retailers, Netflix, Family Video, Redbox and the thousands of mom and pop rental and retail accounts, b/c you need customer #s to get in front of those accts. Even on the digital front your access to accts and cable VOD platforms can be limited b/c you are not an aggregator or supplier. I guess it’s not as easy as some make it seem.

K, now the tough question…what exactly am I doing wrong with my film American Decaf?
LOL. No seriously, I’d have to know more about who and how you approached potential distributors. I’d also have to watch it, which I will do this week.

Yeah, exactly. 🙁 Is there anything else you want to put out into the ether that could hemp indie filmmakers understand you people better before we wrap this up? No, not hemp. Why does my predictive text change help into hemp. How telling.
Nope, just remember we don’t bite…we’ll not all of us anyway.

Yep, “we’ll”. Thanks, Mr. Brigman!! You’re still rad, even if you haven’t watched my screener that I gave you in January. 😉
Objection — badgering the witness. Thanks, this was fun.

—- Yeah, so call Sheldon at Level 33 Entertainment if you’ve got a film that meets the above criteria, he and his company seem super cool.

Heidi Van Lier is a filmmaker living in Los Angeles. She has directed 3 feature films, with another one on the way. Her first film, Chi Girl, won the Slamdance Film Festival in 1999. She has written a film school textbook called The Indie Film Rule Book, available on She has been a programmer for the Slamdance Film Festival, and on juries and panels at countless festivals around the country. She has an expensive 8-year-old daughter, send help.

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