Self Distribution or: How I learned to keep my baby and follow Kevin Smith’s plan.

You completed your movie, now what?

Finishing your movie is only half of its success. Once it is completed, you must find a way to make a profit, or at the very least break even in order to stay in this business. For a very long time, talented independent filmmakers screened their films at film festivals with the hopes of catching any distributor’s eye and land a distribution deal. Even though this model still works, the number of independent films produced each year increase and the chances of landing a distribution deal are very slim for a first time filmmaker without any name talent attached. So where does this leave you in terms of making any money? The internet made it possible to reach broad audiences worldwide and this created a whole new platform for distribution. A new trend followed among indie filmmakers to target their audience directly and making their films available online. Self distribution has been around for ages but it has not been as easy as it is today. Nowadays, anybody can distribute their content and reach a large audience. Let’s take a look at Kevin Smith, who believes that self distribution is the way to go for any indie filmmaker.

The Announcement

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At the 2011 Sundance Film Festival indie filmmaker Kevin Smith premiered his latest film Red State in front of 1,200 audience members.  After the premiere of the film Smith took the stage for the usual Q&A that follows each premiere at the festival.  To the surprise of the attendees Smith didn’t go into one of his famous Q&As but spent the majority of the time speaking about film distribution and the cost behind it.  He went on to explain that Red State had a budget of $4 million and it would approximately cost $20 million to market.  Using that example the film had to make at least 4 times that amount to make a profit.  At that moment Smith called the film’s producer John Gordon start the auction during which Smith bid $20 and Gordon sold the distribution rights to Smith.  The announcement shocked the distributors.  Smith took the stage again and laid out a self distribution plan for Red State.  Red State was distributed under his company Smodcast Pictures. But self distribution is actually not a new idea as Smith is claiming it to be. Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” followed the same model and made over 370 million. The move itself is admirable, since he is carving the way for new indie filmmakers. It normally takes someone with his fame and fanbase to pull off.

The Plan

Smith’s self distribution plan was to take the film on tour from March 5, 2011 to October 19, 2011 beginning at the Radio City Music Hall in New York City.  The average cost of admission fluctuated around $60, a Q&A with the filmmaker after the screening was included in the price.  Smith expected the film to take in a projected $1.5 to $1.7 million before the October 19th, 2011 premiere.  When the tour ended the film was released to theaters.

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Results

Kevin Smith’s self distribution plan seemed risky at the time but at the end it proved to be the right decision.  The film made its money back 6 months before the theatrical release.  He used his podcast show and his twitter account that is followed by more than 1 million people to promote the film.  In the end he showed that you don’t need to spend millions of dollars in marketing to recoup the money invested in the film.  As independent filmmakers it is a great way to go but we must acknowledge that most of the indie filmmakers don’t have a podcast, millions of followers on twitter and a loyal fan base.  Kevin Smith deserves a lot of praise for what he did and on the way opened a door for all indie filmmakers to follow.

Kevin Smith’s example is a new trending way of film distribution. Today, thanks to the internet, anyone can build a large following audience and as a filmmaker it creates new opportunities to connect with them as well.  Isn’t our goal as filmmakers to entertain our fans? I think so, and now you can follow Kevin Smith’s footsteps. We are very interested in seeing how other filmmakers take advantage of this model, finding new and creative way to reach the audience. It’s not the only way to monetize your film, however, it is a very good way to build your fan base and gain recognition in the industry. If Universal is not interested in buying your film for millions of dollars, do not panic. Self distribution is always an option. Of course, it is extra work but nobody said filmmaking was easy. The trick is to find your way! I hope this post is helpful to you and wish you the best of luck!

Links to articles

https://gigaom.com/2011/04/14/kevin-smith-red-state-profitable/

https://gigaom.com/2011/01/24/kevin-smith-red-state/

http://www.slashfilm.com/kevin-smith-buys-film-sundance-auction-swears-distributors-announces-full-details-selfdistribution/

http://www.raindance.org/self-distribution-for-filmmakers/

by Balazs Gercsak, Antonio Camuñas and Rafael Molina

 

 

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