There are two approaches for assessing distributors. One is do an assessment before you contact distributors to decide who to contact in the first place. The other is do this review after you have contacted many distributors, such as through a personalized email query blast where you describe your project and ideally include a link to a trailer, after which some distributors express interest in learning more.
Unless you have personal referrals or have met distributors at an event, such as a conference or workshop, I prefer the email query approach as more efficient, since you use the initial query to target distributors who might be interested. Then, if you get a high level of interest, you can assess the distributors to decide those to follow through with by sending them a screener and promotional materials. You can readily add additional distributors to his initial list. Or simply send all the distributors who have expressed interest the screener and promotional material, and do your assessment afterwards of the remaining interested distributors .
Whatever your initial approach, doing the assessment in advance to decide who to contact or doing it afterwards to decide which still-interested distributors to consider making a deal with, here are some factors to consider in making your assessment and selecting a distributor for all or selected channels and territories.
One approach, especially if you think your film is good enough to go theatrical and you are willing to make the necessary investment for marketing, is to look at the success of these distributors with previous films, as well as whether they distribute your type of film. For example, some distributors specialize in action/adventure films, others in sci-fi, documentaries, comedies, or drama, and some cover most types of films. You want to target those that best fit your film in making initial queries or discussing your film’s prospects after distributors have expressed interest.
One good source for assessing distributors is looking at their profile on IMDB (the International Movie Database) to see how many films they have distributed, when they did so, what type of films these were, and how well these films did. After you review their profile and get a list of their films, you can check the listing for each film to see its description, the cast, and the film’s current rating. You need a professional IMDB subscription to do this, which is around $20 a month, so sign up if you don’t already get this.
That’s the kind of assessment I did in arranging distribution for SUICIDE PARTY: SAVE DAVE. After I sent out an email query and about 20 distributors expressed interest and wanted to see the screener, I forwarded their letters to my director, who had previously filmed and distributed over a dozen films, so he could review and rate the distributors. He then came back with his report, indicating which distributors had the best track record after eliminating those who had only distributed a few films, and in one case, only a single film several years earlier. You can’t always get this kind of information from the directories of distributors, so you need to do this checking.
If you have a choice of multiple distributors, this approach can help you find the distributor who is likely to do the most for your film, due to his or her past performance. However, you still need to evaluate the contract and deal you are being offered to determine if that is still the best distributor for your film.
For example, if a good distributor wants a 50-50 deal, while a distributor with only a limited track record wants 35%, it may be better to give up a greater percentage, since, as my director put it, “Thirty-five percent of nothing is nothing.” On the other hand, many distributor deals are for 35%, especially if a distributor feels you have a strong film, and some new distributors may turn out to be very eager and hungry, so they will be very proactive in pushing your film.
Another consideration is whether a distributor expects any money from you for P&A (promotion and advertising) or E&O (errors and omissions) insurance.
Another approach if you want to go theatrical is to look at which distributors are most active in distributing films playing at theaters, along with the genres, grosses, and the number of theaters in which these films have played. This way you can rank the distributors for your type of film based on their box office performance, taking into consideration both the number of films these distributors have represented and the films with the highest grosses.
While you can get the weekend box office grosses for nearly 100 films a week for many previous months, I would suggest just using the Weekend Domestic Chart for the past month to make your analysis more manageable. While the big budget grosses as might be expected are from big studio distributors and their affiliates, some independent distributors have respectable showings of $50,000 or more at the box office, and some have films which have gotten $15,000 or more. Take into consideration the total grosses and how many days the film has been out, so you can more realistically assess how well a film has done during its box office run.
For example, when I did this for the four week period from November 21-December 12, 2014, I found the following distributors for the most films in all genres, although when you do this, limit it your genres. All of these genres include the following:
– Black Comedy
– Romantic comedy
– Multiple Genres
Based on these listings for this period, these distributors had the highest grossing films, and most of these distributors had multiple films in different genres. I have listed the distributors based on their total grosses for at least one film. In doing your analysis, keep track of the number of films from a distributor, the genre, and the individual grosses.
Gross of $2 Million or More
– 20th Century Fox
– Paramount Pictures
– Walt Disney
– Focus Features
– Fox Searchlight
– Weinstein Company
– Open Road
– Sony Pictures Classics
– Roadside Attractions
– Sony Pictures
– Magnolia Pictures
– Samuel Goldwyn Films
– Lorimar Motion Pictures
– Cohen Media Group
Gross of $100,000-$2 Million
– IFC Midnight
– China Lion Film Distribution
– MacGillivray Freedman Films
– Counterpoint Films & Self-Realization Fellowship
– Area 23a
– Eros Entertainment
Gross of $25,000-100,000
– International Film Circuit
– First Run Features
– Music Box Films
– Dada Films
– Aborama Films
– Drafthouse Films
– Oscilliscope Pictures
– Rialto Pictures
Since this list comes from only one month of box office listings, other distributors may show up if these listings were drawn from other months, several months, or a year.
And what if you don’t have the luxury of choosing among many distributors, since you only have very few offers, even only one? Then, make the assessment based on whether you want to select this distributor at all or either wait for another distributor or self-distribute your film, at least for a awhile.
In sum, if you have one or more distributors to choose from, in making an assessment, factor in the distributor’s track record along with other considerations to decide which one or ones to go with for your film. To make the best choice, the art of picking the right distributor or distributors (including the right foreign sales agents or agents) can be an involved, time-consuming process – from finding interested distributors to finding the right one or ones to work with. But it’s important to make this assessment carefully; it’s like entering into a short-term marriage, and if it works, you want to renew it; if not, you move on and look for other possibilities. Just carefully assess your options, in light of what’s realistic for your film, so you start out with a good marriage for your film.
Gini Graham Scott, PhD, is the author of over 50 books with major publishers, including two on films: HOW TO WRITE, PRODUCE, AND DIRECT A LOW-BUDGET SHORT FILM and FINDING FUNDS FOR YOUR FILM OR TV PROJECT. She has written and produced over 50 short films, has written 15 feature scripts, and has one feature she wrote and executive produced to be released in February 2015. She also writes scripts for clients, is Creative Director for Publishers Agents & Films (www.publishersagentsandfilms.com), and has several book and film industry Meetup groups which discuss members’ books and films and help them get published or produced.