Swallowing the Shrinking Pill of Digital Distribution
My phone buzzed to let me know that the movie I had been working on for several years was now available for download on iTunes. Yeah, I pre-ordered my own movie. ‘Damn,’ I thought, ‘there it is.’ I followed the link and the movie began playing on my 5-inch phone screen.
One year earlier I sat alone in the center aisle of the 380-seat Bullock IMAX theatre waiting to do a tech QC. In a few hours, The Sound and the Shadow would make its Texas Premiere as part of the Austin Film Fest. The lights dimmed and the sound swelled through the massive system. As the title card emerged on the six-story screen, I thought, ‘Damn, there it is.’
That evening, much of our cast and crew sat in that theater and watched the film on the monolithic screen, many of them for the first time. These people were responsible for bringing this story to life. Their talents and hard work made the film what it was. But when we finished our festival circuit, the co-producer Sam and I were the sole stewards of this ship in the unfamiliar waters of distribution.
It took us some time to map our route. We talked to several friends who had done it and got what advice we could. We were cautious, maybe overly so, about jumping into any deals. Ultimately, we opted to work with a representative through the entertainment law firm we had hired rather than taking on a sales agent. It was a tough call, but seemed to be the right one for us financially. Still negotiations with distributors, jumping through legal hoops and checking off laundry lists of deliverables took months. But we finally got there.
On the day of our release I sat alone in my apartment typing away at social media posts and doing my best not to incessantly cycle through the digital sites to check on user reviews. I allowed the movie to continue playing on the iPhone. Occasionally glancing at it to make sure it was still there. I expected some great feeling of relief but instead was met by a murky mix of worry, doubt, disbelief, and wonder. The Sound and the Shadow is a film about loneliness; the psychological walls we build to insulate ourselves from the world and how we often need others to help tear those down. An irony existed in that this film was finally free, the walls torn down and there for the world to see, and yet on the day of the release I felt…lonely. Yearning to be with the cast and crew again, sitting in that audience and watching it on the big screen.
I’m happy to say that the feeling has now passed and been replaced with a sense of pride and accomplishment in what is on that screen not which screen or how many it is on. 5 stories or 5 inches we made a real damn movie. The work of the team is now available to everyone. And I can simply point to it and say, “there it is.”
5 pieces of advice for first-time filmmakers getting to distribution
- Don’t expect to be discovered. Be active early in finding distribution.
- Legal stuff matters. Learn what you can of terminology and appropriate elements.
- Talk to every person you know who’s done it. But don’t overly compare yourself.
- To the best of your ability have your contracts and agreements in order before wrapping production. It’s a pain to go back and get things signed.
- Learn what distribution deliverables schedules (aka lists) look like before you finish post. It helps to know what format items will eventually be in.