Over the past few years, filmmakers have had to become ever more creative about the way they fund their films, right from the earliest development stage through production, postproduction, distribution and in the case of some films, outreach. Development consultant Nicola Lees gives DocGeeks readers five tips to find their right distribution partner.
I recently interviewed dozens of different funders and discovered that distributors are increasingly getting involved in TV and documentary projects from the earliest stage of development.
As well as providing a distribution service they now often advise on how to make a project more appealing to international buyers, provide top-up funding to plug the final 20% of the budget, or cash flow presales. (As money from a presale isn’t released from the buyer until after the film is completed, it can be difficult to actually make the film without a short term loan or upfront distribution advance against future sales).
Whenever you are pitching a project to any potential funder you have to make sure that your project is a good fit for the buyer, and vice versa. In the case of distributors, the following tips can help you find the right partner:
1. Think about whether you want a big global distributor or a smaller boutique operation; a bigger distributor has more clout but your documentary might get lost amongst thousands of their other titles, wheras a company with a smaller catalogue is more likely to devote more effort to selling your film and offer a more personal service.
2. Look at a potential distributor’s catalogue to see if your film is similar in style or content and would be a good fit for them – a distributor that specializes in natual history programming isn’t likely to be interested in a film on human rights abuses.
3. If you have a certain market or particular buyer in mind, find out which distributors they do business with, and would recommend, and approach them first.
4. Try to speak to other filmmakers who have used your shortlisted distributor(s). Find out how easy they are to deal with, if their accounting is transparent and whether payment is prompt.
5. Like any other relationship, your relationship with your distributor is one built on trust and hopefully one that will last for years, so take your time to choose on and then nurture the relationship.
Nicola Lees has more than 15 years experience of developing science, history and lifestyle programmes for the UK and US markets and continues to develop programmes for a range of international production companies. She is the founder and editor of tvmole.com and the author of Greenlit: Developing Factual/Reality TV Ideas From Concept to Pitch and Give Me the Money and I’ll Shoot! Finance Your Factual/TV Film Project.