10 Film Distribution Tools

By Elliot Grove

We see many films at Raindance, but few get distribution. Of the films that manage to secure distribution, few filmmakers understand the value of the distribution tools necessary to make a distribution campaign really kick off.

Here are some of the basics:

1. Poster

The poster is arguably the single most important marketing tool. The right image can create an enormous amount of interest, both in the media, and in the general public.

2. Media advertising

Depending on the budget of the film, the distributor will book advertisements in magazines, newspapers, television and radio.  As the cost of these ads spiral, distributors usually limit themselves to a few well-placed ads. In London, the ads are placed in Time Out, the Guardian Guide magazine on a Saturday, and the Evening Standard (afternoon newspaper) for a single insert on the day prior to the film's opening. Television spots are reserved for the big budget Hollywood movies, or high concept films.

3. Trailers

A well-cut, succinct trailer can play in cinemas in the weeks running up to a film's release to create interest in it. Even though the trailers are in the exhibitor's best interest as well as the distributor's, cinemas often charge a screening fee for the privilege of showing it.

Hint: Try to avoid making a trailer that is so explicit that he audience feels like it has seen the movie in its entirety.

Lo To No Budget Filmmaking4. Publicity

A well planned release will include a PR campaign to promote the director and lead performers in the months before the release of the film. A good publicist will seek to find any unique hooks that can be played to the local press. Different publications have different lead-in times. The style monthlies, like Dazed and Confused and Tatler will have a three-month lead-in time. The film magazines like Hot Dog and Empire will have a six week lead time, while Time Out and the daily newspapers need a week's notice. A distributor will often need to fly in the lead actors twice: once for the long lead publications, and then right before the opening of the film for the dailies, and possibly the premiere.

5. Promotions and merchandising

Distributors often try to tie in the release of a film with a product release or re-launch and offer a price incentive. For example, Pret à Manger, the British sandwich chain, offered a discount inducement for anyone who bought a sandwich who also wanted to see the Robert Altman film Pret à Porter.

6. Postcards

Postcards are a cheap and effective way to market a film. A good postcard has a visually pleasing image, a great title and logline. The reverse of the card can also offer a brief summary of the film, and still leave room for a mailing label.  They can also be left in cafes, bookstores and cinemas to help promote the film.

Hamish MacAlpine of Metro Tartan used a clever postcard for a UK marketing campaign which the American filmmakers had used to market the screenings of the film Ivan's XTC. By doing a series of targeted mailings before the film opened, the distributor managed to create memorable word-of-mouth buzz based solely on the image.

7. Preview Screenings

Several weeks before the opening of the film, and timed to coordinate with the lead times of various publications, the distributor will arrange for preview screenings for journalists to come and see the film. Even if a particular publication's deadline is not for several weeks, preview
screenings allow a journalist to see the film, write the review, and save it for publication just before the film's official opening.

The trick is to get journalists to attend the screening, and distributors will usually offer light refreshments, including ample amounts of alcohol.

8. Premieres

Official premieres are another chance to create attention, especially if the stars can attend. Big Hollywood movies usually use this occasion as another chance to get coverage and build hype for their movie. Premieres usually hit the news bulletins on the evening they happen. Often the distributor will partner with a charity. Tickets are sold at a premium, with the proceeds used to defray the cost of hiring the cinema, flying in the talent, and with the profit going to the charity.

In London, the latest James Bond premiere was held at the Royal Albert Hall and tickets sold for £1000 each. The event was sold out, and after the huge expenses of bringing in a 35mm projector, turning the Albert Hall into an ice palace, flying in the stars and feeding the 5000 strong audience, the charity Cinema and Television Benevolent Fund raised over £500,000. The distributor was delighted with the front page coverage as well.

9. Festivals

Prestige festivals like Cannes, Sundance, Toronto and Berlin offer another celebrity opportunity for distributors to create hype for their films. These festivals have highly publicised gala screenings where the stars attending are interviewed by scores of journalists and the screenings themselves become news around the world. Raindance Film Festivbal is another venue noted for launches of first time filmmakers.

10. Internet

Distributors often mistrust the Internet as a way to promote their films. Done correctly, and with sensitivity, the Internet offers unlimited opportunities to promote a film.

The classic example is the Blair Witch Project, which used the Internet to create a whispering campaign about the fate of the three filmmakers. The makers of Six String Samurai discovered that the word 'samurai' is one of the main key words in the search engines and created a huge interest in their film (which sadly failed to deliver at the box office).

Secretary, a film full of sexual oddities, was promoted on the net in the UK using a series of viral emails in which letters on the keyboard got the secretary spanked or pinched.

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About Elliot Grove

Elliot GroveCanadian born Elliot Grove founded Raindance Film Festival in 1993, the
British Independent Film Awards in 1998, and Raindance.TV in 2007, the Raindance Postgraduate Film Degree in 2011 and Raindance Raw Talent in 2013.

He has produced over 150 short films, and 5 feature films incuding his latest feature film, Deadly Virtues: Love.Honour.Obey. He has written eight scripts, one of which is currently in pre-production. He teaches writers and producers in the UK, Europe. Japan and America.

He has written three books which have become industry standards: RAINDANCE WRITERS LAB 2nd Edition (Focal Press 2008),  RAINDANCE PRODUCERS LAB (Focal Press 2013) and 130 PROJECTS TO GET YOU INTO FILMMAKING (Barrons 2009). His first novel THE BANDIT QUEEN is scheduled for publication next year.

Open University awarded Elliot and Honourary Doctorate for services to film education in 2009.
He is regularly interviewed. Here is an interview for Canadian television

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10 Film Distribution Tools