TAKING A CHANCE:
the Hard World of distributing an independent film
By David Blackwell
Finding and landing a distributor for an independent movie is like taking a chance on a book or hooking up with that right
someone. It may not work out as well as you want it to or it may exceed your greatest expectations. This is assuming that
the everyone involved with the independent movie has went through the hard process of writing a script, getting the money
to make it, hiring a cast and crew, submitting it to the film festivals, and so on. Now comes the hard part of someone willing
to take a chance on your movie whether it is the film festival or a film distributor.
Let's take one certain movie as an example which hasn't landed a distributor as far as I know. The movie is "CHANCE".
It is written, directed, and produced by Amber Benson which all you Buffy fans most know her for her role as Tara on "Buffy
The Vampire Slayer". Amber also stars in her movie as Chance, a girl who is looking for the one man who is the one. The
movie stars a few people who have starred in Buffy or "Angel" like Andy Hallett (The Host on Angel) and James Marsters
(Spike on "Buffy The Vampire Slayer"). Amber put her own money into the movie and there were fund raisers to get
more funds raised for the movie. Now all "CHANCE" needs is a distributor.
There are many distributors who could take the movie like Miramax, Artisan, Trimark, Lion's Gate, and Fox searchlight
to name a few. I hope the movie steers clear of Miramax because they have been known these days (along with their sci-fi/horror/action
arm Dimension) to stockpile movies in vaults and delaying their release date more than once and releasing some movies direct-to-video.
Every studio has movies that are made and never released, but it is a perilous journey for an independent movie when it is
picked up by a distributor. Lack of promotion or the wrong campaign could land any movie DOA when it hits the theaters. More
movies these days are being picked up by cable channels and movie channels like Starz! before the movie sees life on video.
Some of these movies are movies that aren't as good as some of the movies you see in the theater, but some are better than
the ones you see in the theaters.
There are many ways "CHANCE" could go about securing a distributor or re-coup the cost of the movie. Amber could
always have a trailer edited together and make it part of a big website about the movie. Design a website that creates buzz
about the movie and a trailer that makes people want to see the movie. Then there is always the hard way of distributing the
movie on it's own without a distributor and show it in a few art house cinemas at a time.
Then the thing that remains when seeking a distributor if you want the distributor to own the movie by buying the rights
or just the right to distribute while the maker of the movie holds the copyright to the movie. Many directors don't own their
own movies. It's the distributor. One a distributor, movie company, or production company movie owns the movie, they can distribute,
promote it, and cut it any way they want to. On top of that, they are more likely to reap more or the movie's profits if it
turns a profit than the cast and crew will. Most independent movies are bought by distributors and that sale most likely makes
back the money spent on making it, but the distributor gets the right to make tons of money if they can and keep most of it
with what's left to go to the cast and crew. That even might be the case if the makers of the film own the copyright and the
distributor owns the rights to show it. Examples of a movie's problem with distributor is the movie called "O".
"O" is modern day re-telling or Othello in a high school. Miramax shelved the movie after the Columbine School Shooting
in 1999. To make a long story short, Miramax sold the movie to Lion's Gate which released the movie. After the makers of Blair
Witch sold the movie to Artisan, the film makers had no say in the sequel. Not every filmmaker is going to have horror stories
when he sells his independent film to a studio/distributor. All of this is to be taken with a grain of salt.
What about a campaign for the movie? The movie could play up the fact that it stars Amber Benson and James Marsters from
"Buffy The Vampire Slayer" or it always could focus on what will probably be the film's mantra: Take a Chance. We
take a chance every time we go on date or see a movie. We don't know if the date will lead to further dates. We don't know
whether the movie we see will be good or bad. We take a chance every day and every moment of our lives. The question remains
if someone will take a chance on this movie.