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Distribution and marketing of movies is the process by which films are released and sustained in the market. Arguably, distribution is the most crucial component of the film industry. It is in distribution that completed films are introduced and connected to the very important consumers. Well established film marketers such as in Hollywood adopts vertical integration of al the phases of film development, that is, production, distribution and exhibition. Such major players are greatly focused on marketing and sustaining their products in their established markets (Scott, 2002). A great deal of innovations has been adopted in Hollywood distribution in an attempt to meet growing needs and beat competition. This has seen the rise of conglomerates entirely involved in distribution and marketing. This study is an effort to analyze some of the techniques used in marketing and distribution with a critical analysis at some of the underlying factors that influence such techniques.

The Process of Film Distribution

A distributor in the film industry is regarded as a subsidiary or independent company, or sometimes individuals who act as the final link between the production company and a film exhibitor with the intention of securing a place for the producer’s film on the so called exhibitors screen (Cones, 1997). Distribution and marketing are used interchangeably in the film industry to refer to the circulation of films and movies in theatres, television or for home viewing through download or DVD. The role of the distributor is to secure a rent with an exhibitor, that is, to convince the exhibitor to book each film. To attract exhibitors, the distributor usually organizes for them industry screenings (Acheson & Maule 1994). He also uses other marketing strategies aimed at convincing the exhibitors that showing their film will profit them financially. Once a distributor secures an exhibitor, he then processes a written contract which legally binds him with the exhibitor (Scott, 2002). The contract stipulates among other things, the amount to be paid to the distributor obtained from tickets sales. This amount is normally calculated as a percentage of the gross sales after deducting crucial miscellaneous costs such as house allowance. The distributor then audits the ticket sales by the exhibitors to ascertain accuracy of amounts declared. The distributor then deducts his percentage from the proceeds and transmits the necessary amounts to the film Production Company or agent. The percentages applied in different levels may vary on films though there are standards generally viewed as acceptable (Acheson & Maule 1994). The distributor is also responsible for ensuring that there are enough film prints to service all exhibitors contracted especially on the opening day. The distributor also ensures that such prints are physically delivered to the film theaters and monitors to make sure that the exhibitors actually screen the film. Traditionally, this has involved a lot of travel but with the invention of technology, the manual distribution is being replaced by digital distribution where distributors can liaise with exhibitors all over the world. The distributor is also responsible for the creation of newspapers articles, television commercials, posters and other type of ads necessary for advertisement. The distributor also ensures a well coordinated advertising effort ensuring that advertising materials for every film he intends to take to exhibitors are available and well circulated. The aim for distributor advertising is to ensure that exhibitors are able to net the largest audience possible. The distributor is at freedom to crate any possible advertising that he deems crucial for the success of the film. He also ensures that international consignments are articulately handled. These may include subtitling for foreign language movies and securing necessary legal authorization for exhibiting such films in foreign lands. In Hollywood practice, movie makers maximize on the vertical integration to effectively distribute their films. This implies that the movie producer, the distributor and the exhibitor are all operated by one company. Traditionally in the US, major film companies used the studio approach distribution method where various companies owned their own theaters where they used to exhibit their new releases. This system was however was dealt a major blow in 1948 in the court case US against Paramount Pictures Inc., which forced many film production companies to dispose their theatres(Scott, 2002). For outsiders, distribution is a silent process with many players unaware of its existence. For private companies which are not in production throughout, their link with distributors is only when a new film is released. This implies that vertical integration does not work effectively in such settings.

Dynamic Changes that Have Affected Marketing in Hollywood

The last two decades have seen phenomenal changes in the Hollywood film industry that have had considerable effect on the nature and direction of present day distribution. The classical system where companies used the studio system has slowly been overtaken as companies adopt digital and high tech methods in their processes of production. Apart from the break up of the studio system, other changes have produced considerable impact in the Hollywood film industry (Scott, 2002). These includes the emergence, penetration and adoption of new information technologies into al the stages of film production. Another change has been the gradual bifurcation of the production system featuring high-idealized blockbuster films on one side and more conservative and modest filmmakers on the other end. There has also been a gradual decentralization of film shooting activities, ensuring that shooting can now be done in a wide array of geographical positions. Hollywood has hence ceased to be the central complex of core film making activities.  There has also been a gradual proliferation of new concept markets derived on the packaging of intellectual property legislation. In addition, there has been the emergence of giant media conglomerates as a result of mergers of major studios.

The Practice of Distribution in Hollywood

The present Hollywood is made up of eight major studios; Paramount Pictures, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer-Twentieth Century Fox, Sony Pictures Entertainment, Universal Studios, Warner Brothers and Walt Disney Company. These giant companies have for a long time concentrated on the production, financing and distribution of motion pictures in theatres (Scott, 2002). The last few decades have however seen an increase in the diversification of their operations and now most of them are into multimedia, home video, television programming and merchandising. This implies that a company will consist of other small sub units specializing in a specialized field such as home video. The result is that the companies have grown into giant conglomerates, with potential to employ thousands of employees in their production processes (Cones, 1997). Hence, the overall Hollywood is currently a large-scale, multifaceted, multi cultural production and franchising entity producing a wide variety of products made for different market needs. To ensure its maintenance of position as the number one producer of motion pictures, the distribution system has been well structure over time (Acheson & Maule 1994). The distribution system is responsible for the dissemination of products to wider markets thereby producing necessary revenue for the industry.  Hence, the aspect of distribution is the primary player in the sustained development and well being of Hollywood. To achieve effective distribution, a massive input of labor is engaged in the distribution branch of the business. Most of these employees are from the wider Los Angeles. Statistics show that in 1999, approximately 50,000 personnel were employed by the distribution nit in the whole of the US with 22,000 employees derived from Los Angeles County (Scott, 2002). The distribution system is organized into wide networks which are centrally managed and consisting of offices the wider regions. The distribution strategy which entails heavy capital investment entails intense publicity events over a short period of time followed by simultaneous exhibition in many different theatres (Acheson & Maule 1994).  The intense publicity and the huge amount of money involved attract major players in close contracting between producers, distributors and exhibitors (Scott, 2002). Generally, there is intense lobbying among major players in finding contracts especially those related by highly anticipated blockbuster films.  The distribution process has in the past grown substantially, with the emergence of conglomerates specifically involved in distribution. This has resulted to a decline in independent distributors owing to the huge financial challenge and prevailing competition.


The film industry today in Hollywood is faced and supported continually by the steady improvement of modern and up to date electronic methods of marketing and distribution. This alludes to the fact that the speed with which information is diffused across international borders and markets have completely change the way the film industry is moving. This can be an advantage on one side to Hollywood or may be its undoing. The fact that small producers are now able to produce their movies and distribute them globally is an issue that the major players need to be concerned with. Adoption of appropriate and effective distribution technology will remain the dominant factor in determining the future of Hollywood.

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