Film Fund-amentals: Have Film, Will Travel

You are a young, first-time filmmaker. By hook or by crook, you actually managed to finish your movie. It’s in the can and ready to roll. And suddenly, you sound like Robert Redford at the end of The Candidate as you enter your very own “What do we do now?” moment.

Good question. In a perfect world, you would take your movie to a major indie film festival. The audience is amazed at the sheer brilliance of your visionary talent. Roger Ebert gives it five thumbs up. Fox Searchlight wants to distribute the movie and Rupert Murdoch is personally standing in the auditorium asking you how many zeros you wish to see on the check. Life is good and you are king of the world for at least one week.

Unfortunately, this will never happen (well, it does happen — sort of — on rare occasions, but don’t hold your breath). What will happen is that you will make it to some festivals and you might get some good notices. You might actually get some distributor interest. If you’re real lucky (and the moon is in the seventh house and Mercury aligns with Mars) you just might get a distributor contract. Then life is OK as long as you have a good contract negotiator who can make sure you don’t get screwed by the distributor.

But basically, you’re stuck with a film and no place to go. There are options. Not necessarily good options, but there are some. Making the movie available via direct Internet download is one of the hottest of the emerging options. Directly selling DVDs of the movie is another. Directly distributing the movie to small independent movie houses across the country is the third. In certain respects, these are all reasonable options. The same could be said about pounding your head with a board until you pass out. Maybe you need to pass out, so it could be a reasonable thing to do.

Download availability is the wave of the future (and pretty near future, I might add). Everyone is heading in that direction, even the major film companies. Its day is coming, it is almost here — but not quite yet. Sure, you can make your film available on some service such as YouTube. You might even get a lot of clicks. But if you’re looking to make a buck off this sucker, forget it. The search for the profit line with downloadables is still underway. I personally feel that the day is coming, but the business model is still thin and not particularly successful at this time (especially for indie movies). This will all change once a working business model is formed. It should be soon.

Some filmmakers simply hawk DVDs of the movie themselves. In some cases, they just go from festival to festival with a box load of copies and sell them directly to the audience after the screening. It’s a little like a carny sideshow rolling its way through every small town during the summer. It sort of works, but only if you have the time and basic resources to travel across a large stretch of the country. It helps if you’re unattached, can be on the road a lot, and don’t mind eating cheap and greasy meals for the next ten months. If you have a problem with any of these requirements, then you’re advised to stay home.

Which means you will use the web. A basic commercial web site can be done on a pretty low budget. Yahoo, Google and many other web and blog service providers are available at low or no cost. There are also such free web services as that offer a reasonable range of web applications for your site. To be blunt, hookers across America have found these services to be useful. So why not put them to a more legitimate use?

The biggest issue is actually getting your money. The easiest way to handle the financial transaction is through PayPal. Too bad PayPal users get hacked and spoofed on a regular basis by every crook on earth. There are various alternatives to PayPal, and a good start in this direction can be found at the DaniWeb IT Discussion Community site. I have no recommendations on this issue, so just do your homework and hope for the best.

Then there’s always the oldest alternative distribution method in the book: self-distribution straight to the theater. It can be done, especially if you have no life of your own whatsoever. It’s a method that can consume your every waking moment for months (heck, even years) to come. Since most chain theaters will not deal with self-distribution, you have to locate the small independent theaters. So the first thing you have to do is compile a list of these joints.

Unfortunately, there really are no complete lists, but you can start with the partial list available at, which provides a state-by-state address guide to most of the main independent theaters. Once you locate the main theaters, start checking for other possible locations in the same general area. There will probably be a few other places that simply didn’t make the list. For example, where I live in Ohio, they only list one theater, but there are actually three other places worth checking into. Again, do your homework.

It is highly unlikely that the theater will be willing to cut a deal to show your film. If they are willing, bone up fast on contract law and the basic points of the distribution business before you sign anything. The Do It Yourself Media Distribution Guide from is a good starting point. It also wouldn’t hurt to know a lawyer. Heck, you might as well marry the lawyer and get the work done for free.

Last but not least, I must repeat: DO YOUR HOMEWORK. There are many ways that self-distribution can go wrong, and what you want to do is to find the ways it could go right. So good luck.