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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In this film marketing guide What do you do if you have little or no budget to promote the film? Some case studies I’ll be using: The Blair Witch Project; Desperado (Robert Rodriguez -Sin City/Spy Kids) which are worth mentioning, and I’ll discuss how you can use casting as a PR opportunity. I hope some of these tips will help, both up and coming, established filmmakers, as well as those at film schools. Remember one golden rule, don’t be afraid to be pushy and persistent on the self-promotion front!
Rule 1 – You can’t PR if the story isn’t worth telling
Before we begin I would like to reiterate the above rule because I can’t stress it enough. You will never be able to PR something if it does say something worth saying.
PR- The Short Film
I am going to deal with a short film first, and I am going to assume that you have a day job, but film making is your passion. You have assembled a crew and have a script you are happy with, and actors to play the roles. Word of mouth is one of the most effective tools in this whole scenario, so if you are able to invite any of your local press to the set to watch some of the filming, do try. They will generally pop along if there is a local angle for them.
If it is appropriate, and you need ‘extras’ it might be an idea to approach the local Scout/Girl Guide troupe, or a local Youth Club. Or, if you require older people, don’t be afraid to try and recruit your ‘crowd’ from a Darby and Joan Club/parents’ friends, or even your local pub. Something this simple could provide a local angle for your friendly local journalist – and you could even give them a walk on role if it can be written in and make them part of the story.
Quick Tip: Use Casting of your talent as part of the story. Hire (or borrow) a small theatrical venue for a few hours. Invite the journalist along to see some of the talent auditioning. Get some friends around so that the audition queue seems longer than it is, and take some stills of the busy audition room – allow them to interview some of those auditioning who are likely to be on your short-list. Publicize (through an ad in the local paper/ facebook/ twitter/onefatcigar) the audition to get more people along. Immediately your low budget film has budding actors clamoring to be in it, and the journalist has another angle to their story.
Rule 2 – Get local news coverage
I’ve got news for you – writers and editors of national papers read the local press, and most of these papers have online versions, so this would be a very good place to start. You obviously don’t have the money to pay your ‘extras’ but as long as you promise them endless supplies of hot tea/coffee and sustenance, they will be thrilled and willing to participate. After all, it’s something to tell friends and family – again spreading word of mouth.
All films are different, so all PR campaigns will be different. It really is up to you, the producer, to find the angle. I really do believe that a set of stills that grab people’s interest is the most important promotional tool. With no or low-budget filmmaking you cannot be expected to hire one of the top UK unit photographers. But you could approach a local University or college to see which students might aspire to shooting film stills. Chances are he or she would jump at the opportunity of coming to your set for the experience, rather than the money.
Quick tip: Facebook is also a great tool for this – I just ran a quick search for ‘photographer’ and ‘photography’ and came up with 62,000 results. I’m in London today so I pinged in London and filtered down to over 500 people, finding out that a number had mutual friends. You might ask to see a portfolio from them and perhaps get introduced through a friend.
Rule 3 – Always get a great stills photographer and invite to the most important day of the shoot!
It is vital to choose a key day in the schedule where the photographer can grab as many great shots as possible. You will know what they are, and they should be iconic and not just a picture of an isolated scene. If you are shooting a film about a bank robbery for example, something simple but effective might just be a close up shot of two eyes looking through a balaclava: something stark and eye-catching.
Taking stills is an art in itself. Tell the photographer what you want and how you want to use the images and then leave them to it. If they are good they will give you plenty of options.
Case Study 1
I was reminded while writing this of the brilliant poster for The Blair Witch Project which was so intriguing it had everyone talking about it for weeks before the film actually came out.
Producers of The Blair Witch project succeeded in creating huge pre-hype for their low budget horror flick which centered on students being murdered in a forest. Blurring the boundaries between fact and fiction was key to the early buzz that surrounded the movie. Allegedly the film makers had circulated tapes to colleges which were presented as ‘real video diary footage’. Clips that were presented as ‘documentary’ rather than fiction were shown on the Independent Film Channel. This was one of first feature films to use online and viral PR to build hype. The buzz ensured that Blair Witch was a major success which took over 0 million at the box office.
If your film is in the horror-genre, then go for something a bit edgy and mysterious, rather than an in-your-face close up of a bloody figure. The images must tease and suggest rather than give the whole plot away.
A romance or love story could very simply be a shot of the lovers in an unusual angle. A shot that will make people stop and look, and try to work out what the story might be about.
Tactics and Techniques
Two things to consider: What generates word of mouth? What makes something viral? The answers: Great PR – is about building a backstory of interest; Great Trailers – about visually selling that story.
The Press Release
To start with, write the press release (we’ll deal with how to right a great press release in my next article). As mentioned earlier, there is nothing wrong with sending out three releases to cover the one film. Here are my key steps:
1. Build a Database
Start building your database, with friends, family and friends of friends; posting the title and a ‘Look out For’ and updates posting on Facebook, Twitter, One Fat Cigar.com etc.
2. Get some great still photographs and footage early in the shoot
3. Try to cut a short teaser trailer
If you are able to cut a short teaser trailer early on in filming, post it on You Tube and MySpace and send the link to everyone you know. If it grabs them, whether it shocks them, or makes them laugh or cry, the chances are they will pass it on…..but don’t rely on them, make sure they do.
4. Learn to write an engaging press release – aim for 3 press releases:
The first press release will announce the start date, include a short synopsis, and list the actors and their brief credits, the producer and the director. Here you can mention locations if appropriate. The title should be eye-grabbing and short.
The second press release could relate to what I was saying earlier, about hiring ‘extras’ or ‘crowds’ from a local organization. This could well make local news, and don’t be afraid to call the local TV or radio station either and invite them down. You are now slowly starting to build awareness of your movie, and little by little you will find the word spreading.
Your last press release could be about the completion of filming on time and on budget, and should be sent out with an image. Important to note that some behind-the-scenes pictures – pictures that contain cameras and lighting rig – are the best ones to use here. You may well be limited to the number of actual film stills you have, and you don’t want to start using them yet. Save them for when you are promoting the film in earnest. But just keep up the flow of information, in any innovative (and free) way you can.
Case Study 2 – Bend the rules
Desperado by Robert Rodriguez. Having made El Mariachi in 1992 and winning at Sundance with a budget of only ,000 Rodriguez realized the importance of a good trailer. He had a relatively low budget of m, but did some great promotion behind the scenes. His key elements to sell the film:
1. Talented and ‘hot’ cast in Antonio Banderas and Salma Hayek – made sure there were scenes in the film where they ‘looked good’ – which he could use as publicity, especially on the back of El Mariachi
2. Attention grabbing Trailer http://www.imdb.com/video/screenplay/vi3315663129/ which although now dated made sure that if you loved action films you would want to see this.
3. Added interesting extras, such as his Robert Rodriguez 10 minute film school to help with the DVD sell – where studios make most of their money – built an immediate affinity with filmmakers
4. Robert Rodriguez told everyone he could find that he was operating outside the Hollywood system – Fantastic PR again, everyone likes a loose cannon, an underdog!
Your angle might be, the studios wouldn’t fund it so you mortgaged your house, stole from friends, sold your pet dog on eBay, to make this film happen, because, naturally its a story that just had to be told.
Rule 4 – The most important point of the whole process – you should be thinking all the time about the marketing angle
There has to be an interesting angle somewhere, after all if your film isn’t interesting why are you making it? Exploit that.
And if I had only 0 to spend on UNIT PR?
1. Hire the best stills photographer I could afford
2. Design a ‘Sell’ Poster – don’t print the poster and give it out – just use it in emails to journalists (it costs too much to print and look good)
3. Set up a Twitter, Facebook Page and One Fat Cigar Account – invite your friends – and put the poster on the front
4. Get a Business Card, and put your name, telephone number and email on it. You’re a Producer.
5. Write attention grabbing press releases and at the bottom direct then to your accounts
6. Get local journalists involved. Give them your business card, an access to the set.
7. Make a trailer that makes people want to know more and do it early as a teaser.
A few quick notes on how to use Twitter/Facebook and One Fat Cigar to PR your film:
Twitter – Tweet from set, what are you doing now? Did something interesting just happen? Tell people. Just done seen our first stills photos, why not come take a look. What do you think of our new trailer? See it here…
Facebook – A more meaningful engagement with the public. At the beginning you’re going to know most of your fans, filter your twitter feed into your Facebook fan updates, and upload images and stills, invite people along to screenings or to be extras – you’ll soon have more fans and word will spread so that when the film goes out there they can be part of it.
One Fat Cigar – Although very new this site is for everyone like you who loves film or are filmmakers/actors/writers. They’re keen to follow your production from day one, and you can cast and crew through the site and build a fan base. Blog about your film here, do video updates from set, release the trailer, exclusive interviews with key team members, engage with fans who can comment and be involved in your production. I recommend signing up to the mailing list if you haven’t already to find out more when it launches and reading the blog which has a lot more information about the site.
Three different mechanics- but all equally valuable to build word of mouth.
For a larger scale production/ feature film
Exactly the same rules apply for a short film and for a larger production, it just means that the range and scope of possibilities are different – you can approach more easily national journalists and it is possible to achieve more press with a feature film. PR is, of course only half the battle – the film also has
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