Media Production

The Big Reason Your Film Will Probably Fail

If you’re a regular reader of this blog you probably love media, and have a passion to produce films, TV programming, or online content. But very often, that passion gets in the way of success, and it opens the door to the biggest reason most films fail:

The producer waits until the movie is finished to find distribution.

You have no idea how many desperate producers send me their film or TV pilot (after spending all their money), and beg me for the names of distributors or for distribution ideas. And in nearly every case, the investors are upset, the producer has run out of money, and they have no options.

It’s an ugly situation.

The perfect option is to find a distribution channel before you start production. That way, you can rest in the knowledge that you at least have a possibility for getting back your money. Obviously there are many reasons to start a film before a distribution deal is in place, but in those cases, never let up on the search.

Every day that ticks by without a distribution deal in place is another nail in your coffin. The only exception is that if your investor or donor has enough money to not only make the film but then take the time to find the right distributor. (But that doesn’t happen very often.)

But in the real world, I realize that independent filmmakers don’t have any distributor relationships so locking a deal in before production is nearly impossible.  It’s a “Catch-22” situation. So what do you do?

Start the conversation. Talk to filmmakers who have been there and get recommendations. Approach distributors early so at least they know you’re on the map. Let them know you’re a force to be reckoned with and your film will be delivered no matter what. As soon as you get enough footage, start showing them a trailer or make a sizzle reel. Create a package that will help you sell the project while you’re still filming.

It’s the best option for keeping you away from the ledge later on.

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2 Comments

  1. I’m a bit confused, Phil. Are you referring to real distribution with theatrical, vod, and all other ancillaries? Because unless you have major above-the-line talent attached, nobody will consider anything until they’ve seen the whole project. No such thing as pre-sales anymore. We’re dealing with this now, we have three solid and one (the biggest) U.S. sales companies who have seen our trailer and are very interested, but are waiting to watch the whole film as we wrap up post to submit to Sundance, Berlin etc. for market.
    The reason most indie people fail is because they have no clue what they’re doing, mostly off but also on set. And then there’s that little thing with a myriad of really bad scripts… but that goes all the way up the food chain (Ben Hur-ts, anyone?). Key to budget is great planning in prep and a rigorous line producer, and all other department heads being aligned in open communication.

    1. Re-read the post and it might not be so confusing Fredrick. Catch the line, “But in the real world, I realize that independent filmmakers don’t have any distributor relationships so locking a deal in before production is nearly impossible. It’s a “Catch-22” situation.”
      And it sounds like you’re doing exactly what I recommended. Start the conversation. Show them footage, a sizzle reel, a trailer as soon as you can. For our recent feature documentary “The Insanity of God” we didn’t have a major star attached, but were in discussions with three distributors throughout the production. So we weren’t caught at the end – which sounds like exactly what you’re doing.
      And your comment about all the other reasons films fail? That’s another blog post… 🙂
      Thanks for your great comment Fredrick!

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