The Distribution Challenge
As with every other aspect of filmmaking, getting a film distributed can present a substantial and frustrating challenge. There are never any guarantees, but the upside to this challenge is that if you've a created a really good film — especially one with commercial potential — you'll be able to get it screened by people who can get it distributed. A film in the can is infinitely more valuable than a concept or a screenplay, and it's difficult for any major cinematic player to turn down the opportunity to “discover” you after you've done all the work.
Probably the best way to get your film noticed is to enter it into a film festival. Major festivals are heavily attended by studio representatives, agents, managers, and the press, who are all hungry to discover new talent and potentially profitable film projects. Very few commercially viable films slip through the bigger festivals without attracting attention.
Film festivals provide some of the few remaining venues in the world for screening 16mm prints, which for a filmmaker can save tens of thousands of dollars in postproduction costs. For a film with good commercial possibilities that receives positive exposure and publicity in festivals, major distributors will happily pick up the cost of transferring 16mm film negatives to 35mm film prints for general theatrical release.
A number of films such as Robert Rodriguez's 1992 indie film
There are scores of regional film festivals in the United States that can provide good publicity and audience response. While regional festivals usually don't attract nearly the same attention in professional filmmaking circles as the major festivals, they can still provide invaluable exposure. You can try to invite as many distributors and buyers to your screenings at festivals as possible, but be aware that many of the major players are loath to being accosted by overeager filmmakers. Even at festivals, you can't force, or necessarily even expect, anyone to watch your production. If your film is good, it will generate its own publicity and buzz.
If you're planning on submitting your work to the
Sundance Film Festival:
Slamdance Film Festival:
Dances With Films:
If you're convinced that your film has the chops to stand up to vigorous competition, it's well worth the time and effort to get it screened at one of these.
The Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, has become the best-known and largest independent festival in the United States, and one of the most elite in the world. Since 1978, the festival has been screening and analyzing all varieties of independent films and documentaries. A prominent figure in the annual event is actor Robert Redford, who helped bring Sundance into the public eye. In 1985, the Sundance Institute took over as managers of the festival, and it has now become a much anticipated journey that entertainment industry professionals make every January.
Hundreds of films are entered into the Sundance Film Festival each year, and judging and audience expectations are both demanding and sophisticated. Having your film accepted into this festival is a major accomplishment. (See Appendix E for more information.)
The Slamdance Film Festival is also held in Park City, Utah, and has filled a gap vacated by the increasingly elite Sundance gathering. Slamdance is designed specifically for independent filmmakers and is a great domestic venue for premiering a good low-budget production. Slamdance entries can experience invaluable industry buzz, publicity, and audience response.
The Cannes Film Festival in France is the premier high-profile international festival, one that annually attracts entries from all over the world. Major film distributors and producers flock to Cannes with their most lavish and expensive productions, and show their films amid true Hollywood glamour. Having a low-budget independent film accepted for the Cannes film festival requires excellent production values and a fair amount of luck.
The Toronto Film Festival in Toronto, Canada, is North America's second-highest profile festival next to Sundance, with an emphasis on worldwide independent entries. Audience and judging sophistication are also very demanding, and acceptance alone is a high compliment to any production.
The Telluride Film Festival in Telluride, Colorado, showcases only a few dozen feature films and shorts. Telluride launched many well-known independent films, such as
Dances With Films
Dances With Films in Los Angeles, California, mandates that
The primary and ongoing mission of the Moondance film festival is to reach out to female writers and filmmakers from six continents and from a wide diversity of ethnic and linguistic groups. Based in Boulder, Colorado, the festival organizers seek to inspire and invigorate the creative potential of filmmakers to perceive, conceptualize, and produce their works for the benefit of the world society.