A primer on Non-Theatrical Distribution – Part 2

Posted December 2nd, 2008 by ingrid

This is the second and final part of a 2 part post on non-theatrical distribution by Rachel Gordon, a freelance marketing/distribution consultant specializing in the niche and educational usage of documentary films.

Something to be aware of that many filmmakers don’t consciously think about when starting to get their work out is that it will take some time for your film to “hit” a place in the non-theatrical market – often up to a whole year.  You can’t count on this to be your only source of income because, while there are people who have made a year’s salary on one film, that is not the normal shape distribution takes – whether it be partnering with a distributor or a solo journey.

It is absolutely impossible to promise or estimate how much money you will gain.  I get this question a lot and I try never to give an answer because there simply isn’t one.  Some films do better because of controversy or timeliness of their content, others do better because the information they include is unique and nobody else has captured it yet.  There is no way of knowing how a film will fare until you start sending it out into the world.  There is a lot more to choose from than there used to be and sometimes it all comes down to a matter of timing.  The key point being, however, that you have to send out information repeatedly because nobody will know or remember that your film exists unless you tell them.

Educational distribution is a hefty time commitment.  It means researching organizations that might show your film at a conference.  It requires collecting quotes to use in emails and promotional sheets.  It involves taking the time to collect, or buy, email or mailing lists to send out information to parties that would be interested in using the material you have to offer.  It means having the nerve to ask people to be supportive and either provide advice on other people that would benefit from your film, or include a link to your website.

So if it is not easy, why do it?  The non-theatrical world is a wide, enthusiastic, supportive environment for consuming media.  Professors, social activists, non-profit organizations, journalists, etc, talk on listservs every day.  They give each other advice, they program fascinating conferences, webinars and discussions.  They also love media, and they will continue to be repeat customers when they have found reliable sources to obtain it from.  They know as much about a filmmaker’s work as the average film critic in New York City.  Yes, what I just said is true.  Every time I’ve exhibited at an educational marketplace, customers come into my room to specifically view the latest film from one of the independent filmmakers I represent.

Rachel Gordon is a filmmaker and freelance marketing/distribution consultant specializing in the niche and educational usage of documentary films.  Her short film, Loose Ends, is currently at festivals while she finishes writing the feature version of the story about feminine fear of commitment.  She is also in production on a documentary series about alternative medicines.  She can be reached through her website at www.energizedfilms.com

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