Sunday, July 30, 2006

Distribution Do's and Don'ts...

Andrew missed the deadline, but his question was one that every filmmaker needs to hear, so I allowed it in to the discussion.

When Blockbuster agrees to buy a movie, do they only buy it from whomever the first distributor is that showed it to them? In other words, if you send screeners out to a number of distributors and one of those distributors has a meeting with Blockbuster the next day and they show it to Blockbuster, and Blockbuster likes it, can another distributor actually get the sale to Blockbuster?The problem here is that the distributors, as I understand them, won't want to give the producer a deal until they know they have a sale -- but once they have a sale the producer is somewhat at the behest of whatever deal the distributor wants to give them, because it's difficult for the producer to go to another distributor in order to get a better deal for the Blockbuster sale. Of course, this whole thing might be more complicated than I think it is...
Okay - number one - legitimate distributors generally don't show Blockbuster any screeners they get from producers. It happens, but not so often. Legit distributors generally don't do it because they may not end up acquiring the picture. How do they look to BB then? Like schmucks...If you find out that they have been showing it around, understand they were trying to figure out what they had. It's only going to be a positive for you if BB says, "yes, we'd buy it."
Hell, it may even start a bidding war to get your film. That's not a bad thing here. I'd say no harm, no foul. If BB wasn't going to buy it, the distributor may pass on it. Wow. Big deal. Just go to another distributor...and another...and another...
Distributors have sales staffs who estimate how much their clients will order. All that info is placed into formulas and from that estimate - an offer is made to the producer for acquisition.
# # #
Number two - producers should never send discs to Blockbuster or any other retailer unless you want to kill your potential income. That's because if Blockbuster orders them then you have to become a distributor - and that is a full time job in and of itself. It will cost you more money than you'd make on the deal if you had to set up a legitimate distribution business. There are some folks like JR Bookwalter who have been doing it a long time, but ask them what it was like when they started and after you see the shudder run up and down their spine you'll have your answer.
Better to spend the money on a good lawyer and rep to get a legitimate distribution deal, rather than spend money trying to distribute yourself. BB won't buy it unless the artwork is right either. If you ship to them and there is anything wrong with the shipment - the wrong number of discs, not packed properly, it arrives one hour late - they cancel the order. Also, you won't get paid for 120 days or so after the order is received (not when it's placed which could be months earlier) so cashflow will be a major problem.
If you do decide to sell to Blockbuster, then change your mind later and try to secure a domestic distribution deal - it's too late! The disc is already being distributed! No one will touch it because it has the stink of "old product" all over it. YOU HAVE ROYALLY SCREWED YOURSELF. That's part of the reason why distro deals are usually 5-7 years, so the market has time to forget and the producer can either re-up with his distributor or shop it around to someone new.
# # #
I am repping a couple of films right now, and I'm only sending the films to legitimate distributors with whom I have a relationship. That way I am dealing with someone who knows I can break their legs if necessary.
You want to become a millionaire distributing films? Start with a billion dollars and open up a distribution company...
There are several DVD sales reps who read this blog, and I would invite their comments to the discussion...they can give you the tales from the front lines.

8 comments:

gridlife said...

I once had a meeting with Movie Gallery (a 2,400-store chain, before they joined forces with Hollywod Video) where I showed them a title the company I was doing sales for had acquired. The buyer said "Yeah, we were presented with this a few months back and passed". I later found out the producer had pitched it directly to a few chains without luck and eventually found a distributor without telling anyone about their solo efforts. As a sales rep, you hate to look stupid by being blindsided like that. The producer got a serious beatdown (both verbally and financially) from the president of our company and a bad reputation that will follow them through at least another film or two.

Chopped Nuts said...

For those guys and gals with films at the ready, are there reps/distributors that you can recommend or steer people towards?

Bill Cunningham said...

Yeah, me...

gridlife said...

Depending on the genre of film you have (as well as the budget), Bill can help narrow down your search for a distributor and steer you away from the less scrupulous ones.

Bill Cunningham said...

Take out the words "help you" and insert - "You can hire Bill for a fee and a percentage of the receipts."

And yes, If you've made a movie with a Million dollar budget - you don't need me. Or you shouldn't unless it's a marketing strategy issue i.e. How do we sell this movie with the art?

If you've made a genre movie for $200K or under and you're wondering what's next? Then I'm available to consult (for a fee).

Andrew Bellware said...

My follow-up question would be "Do the distribution windows change in a direct-to-DVD release? In other words, would the publicity of, say, a SciFi Channel premiere help a DVD release, or should one release on DVD first and THEN secure free-cable sales (if possible) just like a theatrical release?"

Sunset Parker said...

Hey- just wanted to say, I've been checking out your blog for awhile and really dig it. And although I know you know what evil lurks in the hearts of men, I wasn't sure if you knew that tonight (July 31st) marks the 76th anniversary of the airing of the first Shadow radio episode... (sorry, couldn't find an email address, so I posted this here)

Bill Cunningham said...

To Andrew - depends on a lot of factors:

$ of the sale to cable.
Cashflow.
Positioning.
$ of the dvd sale.