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How do I get my film into distribution?

The ICO is frequently approached by filmmakers who wish to see their films distributed and screened in cinemas.  There is no single route to the cinema screen and with over 300 theatrical distributors of all shapes and sizes, from Warner Brothers to self distribution models, in the UK alone, it can be daunting for filmmakers to choose the method which is right for their film.

The traditional route for a film seeking distribution to be shown in cinemas is to enter a major international film festival such as Cannes, Berlin, Sundance or Toronto. If a film is lucky enough to be selected for these A list international festivals, they provide an invaluable shop window for the global distribution markets.  A film selected for these festivals will be seen by the world’s distributors and if you’re lucky they will bid against each other for the right to distribute your film in their respective countries (both theatrically and in the home).  In any major film festival showing 200 or more feature films, at least 40% of these will never get distribution in the UK and will not be seen again on a cinema screen in that country.  In the UK in 2012 over 600 films were distributed theatrically which means intense competition for screen space.  But put that number against how many features are made every year globally and at best 10% of features produced will see the inside of a cinema.

Equally important as distributors are international sales agents.  These companies will assess new films and buy worldwide rights which they then sell on to distributors across the planet.  They often have excellent relationships with festivals and distributors of all sizes in all markets.  They are invaluable for getting the best deal in territories most filmmakers may not even have thought of.  A distributor will be much more likely to take a film seriously as a commercial proposition if it has been presented to them by a recognised sales agent.

So the traditional steps are to show your film to as many relevant sales agents as possible in the hope they will take you on, enter your film in keys festivals, market them to distributors (an expensive business) and sell your film for you worldwide.  Once your film has been seen and hopefully bought by a distributor it will likely find its way to cinemas in that territory and from there to TV, DVD and online markets too.

However if your film is perhaps not strictly a commercial genre film, what can you do?  You can still approach festivals directly but also individual distributors in your country, and beyond, which have a track record distributing films of a similar nature/genre to yours and see if they will do the same for you. If they do, then wonderful. If not, then you can consider self-distribution.  For further information see our FAQ How do I get my feature film distributed?

Self-distribution is where you produce your own marketing materials (posters, trailers, prints etc.), book and pay for your own advertising (depending on your resources this can be a vast expenditure or a single ad on the day of release in a major national newspaper such as The Guardian).

You will need to hire a specialist PR company to ensure the national film press (print and online) see your film in advance and write about it/review it on the day of your release.  Reviews are free advertising and a good one is a huge aid to getting your film into cinemas.  You will have to certify the film with the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC), screen it for cinemas usually three months or more in advance, and sell the film to cinemas.  Selling the film to cinemas can be a tough job.  You need to convince them that your film should be chosen over the other 10-15 or so releases opening every week in UK cinemas.  This is a combination of communicating what is great about your film, but also convincing exhibitors that your film will have the visibility it needs to find an audience.  This visibility comes from advertising, festival exposure, reviews, word of mouth on preview screenings and is one of the hardest things to secure and to convince others you will have.  A Studio will typically spend 7 figures in ensuring the visibility of their big blockbuster releases, an arthouse independent will spend 5 figures.  A filmmaker needs to think how they can achieve this visibility through other means - editorial is free so work the press.  What is it about your film that is unique and will drive an audience to see it?

Finally, you will have to ensure that once a cinema (and hopefully a good number of them) have agreed to show your film, that you provide it in good time on a professional format such as a DCP.  It will be your responsibility to ensure they receive the physical film, that it is collected to move on to the next cinema, that posters and stills are in place for marketing, collect the box office data (number of admissions and income earned at the box office per screening) from the cinema, invoice them and chase payment.  Good luck!

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Independent Cinema Office

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