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Distribution vs self-distribution

I have written a novel. I don't have a publisher yet, but I won't self-publish.

I tried Self-distribution with Vimeo on two films. We had a shoestring budget, which meant either designing the poster, trailer and marketing myself, or asking someone to work pro-bono. So, I tried it myself. I could have perhaps had the producer do it, but anyway.

I won't list all the issues I had with Vimeo here.

We were told by the local arts centre we could four wall. (Or rent the cinema.) I rejected the idea. As a writer, I can imagine the outcome of situations without actually going through them. I've researched four walling, and no.

Some people, who didn't want to pay by paypal, asked us for DVD copies of the film. We printed a few, not many, and I stored them at home and then an office I rented for a while.

I looked into distributing one of my documentaries (and perhaps others) with the Amazon print on demand (I forgot what they called it). I uploaded a file, and they sent me a sample DVD, which I didn't think worked quite well. I didn't really like the terms and conditions either.

I will be making a microbudget film for fun and to keep in practice soon, but I really don't like self-distribution.

Proper distribution, the way I see it, is through members of the distributors' association. It's explained in this free course on futurelearn:

Distributors are better at marketing than filmmakers are. They earn their share. Perhaps some have ripped off filmmakers in the past, but venture capitalists have ripped off innovators too. And, experienced producers and accountants have ripped off investors. But, it is possible to get a good distribution deal, and that is my goal.

We might try some VOD in the future, for microbudget films, but not four walling. (One reason to make microbudget is a showreel.)

Anyway, this introduction is basically an explanation of what I mean by traditional distribution methods. Traditional distribution is opposed to self-distribution. It can be straight to VOD, straight to video, straight to DVD, tv, but often starts with a small cinematic run. The thing is, the distributor normally puts down an advance, a down payment, toward the producers. Sometimes, this is a pre-sale. (Again, this is based on research. I research, I write.)

Again, I'm not totally talking from experience. If I only learned through my own experience, I'd be roadkill by now.

I believe that, if traditional distributors don't put money into a film, perhaps it's not commercial enough to self-distribute either. Corporate and NGO clients will normally have their own distribution plan, anyway.

But, I understand that I don't make films alone. So, if you were to make a film with me, and it failed to get traditional distribution, what would you (as an actor, cinematographer, editor, etc) want to happen to the film? Would you be happy with a trailer for your showreel, or would you want a screening of some kind?

  • If I were an editor or actor on your film and you couldn't get traditional distribution then your other option is to self distribute.
    I personally don't much care for a screening of the film.
    Hiring one screen in a cinema, in my experience, is more of a vanity thing that wouldn't benefit me if I were the actor or crew member.
    I would expect the producer of your film to distribute it through any means so I could capitalise on that in the hope of generating myself more work, especially on a micro-budget film where I gave up my time for expenses, or a small nominal fee.

    If you are going to spend the time at the very start to put a plan of action in place to achieve traditional distribution in the way you explained it for your film, then I would also spend a good amount of time crafting a self distribution plan too.
    The likelihood of getting traditional distribution for a film is a lottery anyway, meaning it's unlikely, so you may as well prepare a 2nd plan of action if the 1st route fails, especially if you're dealing with other peoples money.
    I'm only saying this as I've tried twice getting traditional distribution and failed both times, that's just my very limited experience on the matter. Unfortunately back then there were no streaming sites and no online ways to self distribute, all I could do was sell DVD's.

    I'm sure you know this anyway but self distribution is so much more than just putting it up on one platform like Vimeo, my research of Vimeo is I've been getting a resounding Thumbs Down for that platform.
    It's a whole lot more work from the very beginning. You just have to decide whether you can be arsed with all that extra work or not :-)

    Good luck

    11 months ago
  • Thanks Philip,
    I suppose I'll just have to ask the people who work on the projects and invest in them. When I last had a film on Vimeo, I remember giving viewing credits so they could show their agent or family the finished film.

    I think there is a huge range between wide release and four-wall self-distributing. I know people who make their living from eBay, and I've seen news stories about people who make a living from Youtube, but I've yet to meet anyone who makes a living from Vimeo. If anyone on this list does, I'd like to hear about it.

    In self distribution, you need to deal with pirates too, without the studio resources. I had a film that had no imdb page, and people were claiming to have a free download of it.

    11 months ago
  • You certainly won't make a living just from sales on Vimeo, there would need to be much more of a self distribution plan than just one outlet.
    In fact I don't think I know anyone who makes a full time living from their own indie films full stop.
    I think the best you could hope for in my opinion is - an additional income, if you're lucky.
    You may be able to make a full/part time income from your films if you have an audience, that would help. You'd also need to make several films per year so you could attempt a steady flow of income, so you need a lot of product and not all will make money... But unfortunately you'd have better odds on the lottery.

    People who make a living on YouTube (not so much eBay) are basically very savvy marketers. If you're self distributing then you'd need to be savvy at marketing too, or find someone who is.

    11 months ago
  • Hello, We have very neat and unique Self-Publishing platform which has great rates and there are no setup costs. Please check it out our Disc On Demand- Self Publishing, which is available for the DVD and Blu-Rays as well.

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    Many thanks.
    Best wishes.


    11 months ago
    • Hi Madis, funnily enough I ended up on your website last night working out my costs. I will send you private message.

      11 months ago
  • Self distribution I imagine is useful if you have at least one recognisable actor in it (so they have outreach to their fans), at least 10k for advertising/marketing budget, your film is different but might be relevant down the line. Traditional distribution is a lottery, if you can be lucky enough to get in on that then that would be best.

    11 months ago
    • I wouldn't use the word lottery. In a lottery, you can't improve your chances.

      Nothing in life is a sure thing, but you're more likely to get lung cancer if you smoke, more likely to get hit by lightning if you hold up a metal object in a storm, more likely to get distribution if you research the market (and not from websites and weekend courses, but by paying attention to what the actual distributors say.)

      Anyway, distribution starts with the script.

      11 months ago
    • @vasco de sousa You can always buy more lottery tickets to improve your chances, no matter how slim. I think you may have took the word 'lottery' too literal when we mean odds and probability etc. But I think you got that.
      Like a lottery, you have to be in it to win it :)

      11 months ago