Company Distribution versus Self Distribution

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Several filmmakers in this book self-distribute their projects, such as animator Bill Plympton and documentary maker Shuli Eshel. There are advantages and disadvantages to working with distributors, and every filmmaker should spend time exploring their options before making a distribution decision.

"You should never sign a deal without getting it checked," warns Kerry Rock of Potoroo Films. "You can read something and have no idea what it really means, especially the first few times you look at a distribution contract. It is overwhelming. You really need to find a good solicitor who knows the language."

"A lot of filmmakers are very wary of working with distributors because they think they're going to get exploited, but unfortunately the only way to survive for a lot of distribution companies is by retaining most of the profits," says Ruben. "The reality is that with marketing costs and expenses, it's difficult for distribution companies to stay around. So filmmakers have to decide if they're after exposure or money, and once they decide what they're after, they have to seek a deal that accommodates that goal. There are some companies that will give you all the exposure in the world but you'll never see a dime, and for some filmmakers that's a dream. They're not interested in the money; they're interested in showing off their work and getting a picture deal in the future. Other filmmakers just want to make money and often decide to self-distribute, which has been very successful for a lot small production companies. They'll come out with a little sci-fi spoof and sell 10,000 copies through their Web site, make a few bucks, and get some good exposure. I think filmmakers really need to realize exactly what they're after, and once they do, go out and seek it out."

Shuli Eshel of Eshel Productions self-distributes all of her documentary projects. Her recent documentary, Maxwell Street, is her biggest financial success to date.

"I made a brochure and did a big mailing," she explains. "Quite soon I sold over 600 copies. The video is also sold at the museum shop of the Chicago Historical Society, and I also receive money from screenings at different museums and organizations. I charge different prices for colleges and libraries and private people, but so far it has done very well."

The biggest advantage of a company distributor is avoiding the expense and time of marketing and promotion.

"Producers usually want to produce," says Chip. "Self-distribution takes time, energy, and money. A good distributor takes over all the distribution tasks, and it should cost the producer no money to get their projects out there, opening time for a producer to move ahead to get more money to make more projects. Distribution is not easy. It's a lot of work, and it does cost money. We do all the art work for our producers' programs, simultaneously release the programs on DVD and video, write and send the press releases, get the project on the Internet within a few days, get it reviewed as quickly as possible, and have it in the hands of our salespeople immediately. A producer should expect that from a quality distributor. We also report our sales and royalties to the producer on a bi-annual basis, which is a standard. No producer should wait longer than six months to hear the results of a program."

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