With the cameras put away safely, the actors looking for their next role, and the editing room quiet as the final draft is rendered, an independent movie has just completed post-production. A celebration is certainly deserved, but completing the movie is only another battle won in a long and arduous war. The war to get your heart and soul, your obsession, your baby… out to the world.
Most people with the proper motivation can write a novel, paint a picture, or come up with a song; but that does not mean that the work will ever see the light of day. This is an aspect of creative expression that is often overlooked and can lead to massive frustration and the outright quitting of a passion. As scary as it may seem, distribution of one’s art is the endgame. Like a tree falling in an empty forest, is it art if no one can see it? Luckily for all of us it’s 2021 and the options are abundant and legitimate, more than any other time in the history of movies.
All of us know the obnoxious adage, “it’s all who you know” but the majority of us don’t have an old college pal who is a mega agent or producer. With nepotism so rife in Hollywood that only royal families could compare, the rest of us peasants need to be savvier than ever to get our voices out there. Frustrated it’s just remake after remake when either a friend or yourself have compelling original content? Well, that’s Tinsel Town for you.
The good news is that the peasants have numbers. It’s been quite a few generations of nepotism to get enough of us pissed off that we don’t have the hereditary birthright of Bryce Dallas Howard. Film production went independent a few decades ago but contemporary distribution options, thanks to technological advancements the studio cartels cannot suppress, leave us in a whole new playing field and we should all be very excited about it.
Starting with the basics, festivals are always an amazing way to get your project out there, and in major American cities there’s festivals for even the most obscure niches. The festival route is probably the most reliable in our current times, but it still relies on an antiquated vetting and voting process which can take up to a year until the final competition results. And even with an award, that still does not guarantee a contract or distribution deal with a studio.
Festivals are time honored and still the best way to get your work out there. Some facts about submitting a finished project to a festival: they are typically annual, so if you think you just show up to Tribeca with a dream and a USB drive, you are greatly mistaken. Understand that time is on your side.
Films are planned in years, sometimes decades. From an actor’s perspective, they could have shot a movie five years ago and only now it is coming out (which is why most thespians are robotic in press junkets). The script is an entirely separate artistic process that can often take eons and jump from up to a half dozen writers, some credited and some ghosts.
The majority of serious filmmakers always submit right away for the seasons festivals as, logically, the judges’ minds will be fresh and not burnt-out. There is also a sliding scale for submission fees that ranges from early and cheap to desperately expensive and right at the deadline. You must have excellent time-management and organization skills to helm even the smallest project.
Some excellent local picks here in New York for festival submissions would be the Queens World Film Festival https://queensworldfilmfestival.org/ which will be posting submission guidelines in the next few months. One of Time Out New York’s “Coolest” neighborhoods in Queens, Forest Hills, also hosts the Festival of Cinema NYC https://www.festivalofcinemanyc.com/. Then come some of the heavier-hitters with the New York City Independent Film Festival https://nycindieff.com/, the SoHo International Film Festival http://www.sohofilmfest.com/, the Chelsea Film Festival https://chelseafilm.org/, and the Lower East Side Film Festival https://www.lesfilmfestival.com/. Each borough has quite the eclectic variety and this applies nationwide too. Search your region and genre and it is guaranteed you will find a festival that’s a fit for your work.
All of the patience is essential. That dragging time, awaiting news from your submissions and picking out your red carpet outfit, all should be vitally spent on marketing. You still need to sell tickets and it is wrong to think they will do it all for you. It should not be a cold-sell based on a random movie poster.
The internet and streaming services are in strange places right now. Major outlets like YouTube have lost their favor as an option with all of their content restrictions. Unless it is genuinely G-Rated or barely PG-Rated, you will not qualify for compensation under their ever-restricting guidelines; which is a pain in the ass for the next David Cronenberg. YouTube is most valuable to an aspiring filmmaker for trailers and uploading their project on private and giving the access passwords to interested agents or buyers by request.
Web series are on the rise and have solidified their ability to reach not only the masses, but the big producers and studios. If you produce a web series in Brooklyn you can distribute with Brooklyn On Demand at https://www.brooklynondemand.com/. Your work is then accessible online and also on the Roku app for only $15 per film. Just don’t have The Beatles blaring on your soundtrack without the rights; literally their biggest rule.
IndieFlix, https://www.indieflix.com/knowledge/where-can-i-submit-my-content, is also a great option, also Slated https://welcome.slated.com/, and most of us know the all-in-one video service Vimeo https://vimeo.com/. Vimeo focuses on high-quality streaming and rendering, offering services not normally affordable to the general public. With all of these streaming services, marketing is repeatedly essential and should be synced perfectly with distribution.
Finally, let’s talk about the streaming giants. Unfortunately, you need to take the agent or studio route in order to even scratch at the surface of Netflix or Hulu submissions. They adamantly do not work with individual filmmakers. They will buy a documentary or an indie, but you need the precious agent referral and your work needs to be sponsored and solicited in order to even be read or viewed (per industry rules). Unless you can get a meeting with a corporate buyer and actually pitch, they’re the same odds as Disney or Paramount.
There is a sleeping giant amongst them that people often overlook. Amazon Prime, like their self-published novels, make it easy to distribute your project through Amazon Prime Video. Prime sounds pretty awesome, but like self-published books, it can sit in oblivion without the proper marketing. No one knows it’s there unless you blast social media with a tour-de-force trailer and a few thousand likes.
But this is still great news. Prime is also pretty lenient with content and will distribute pretty much everything, as long as it is entirely original content with no trademark infringement. So get weird with your comedy, raunchy with your thrillers or dramas, and gory with your horror project! Here are some resources:
the General How-To https://www.amazon.com/Amazon-Video-Direct-Upload-Videos/dp/B01GKTD3FS,
Submission Requirements https://videodirect.amazon.com/home/help?topicId=GG5QNX4NA2MEWRAA,
and here is a Beginner Tutorial Video that is an excellent reference https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j2_zz2Dzk9w.
Is your friend’s band really good? Offer to do a music video and get it on Vimeo. Your reclusive relative is talented with animation? Produce a miniseries and put it on Prime with sample clips all over Instagram and Twitter. We literally have the future of moviemaking at our fingertips… get in there and make your dreams come true!