Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Find a Home for Your Film

Several filmmakers I've talked to said that the most stressful thing was not making the film, but getting someone to distribute it. I work at a movie distribution company that specializes in indie, documentaries, and foreign films. Among all my jobs, one of them is preliminary acquisition. I'm the chick you have to impress before your film can reach a higher up.

While doing my job, many obvious "don'ts" the filmmakers or producers make while trying to submit their film surprise me. But then it occurs to me that I'm looking at things from a very different point of view, so here's a look into the mind of a gatekeeper. I hope this post will help anyone who's trying to find distribution for their film.

Call in: Like most movie distribution companies, we have information on our website about submission via email. Call in anyway. There're about 200 emails in my junk email box per day. There's a good chance that your ACQ email never even reached me. However, I do scan through my junk emails before I delete them, skimming for keywords. If you had called in and said you're sending in your film, named FILL-IN-BLANK, I would have a better chance of catching the email. Also, on the phone if the film sounds immediately interesting, I would give my personal email address (verses the standard acquisition email address), ensuring that I actually get it.

Don't leave a voice mail: I'm sorry, but the only reason why my job is very secure is because I'm super busy. I don't have time to call you back to hear about your film. Reaching me is your job. Call until you reach a real person.

Sound like someone you want to talk to! This is really important. When I have 2 dozen other things that needs to be done, I don't want to talk to anyone. But if you sound pleasant, you just upped your chance of my not cutting you off. I get a lot of callers who sound like they've already decided to pick a fight with me before dialing the number. And I completely understand their frustration and apprehension. Calling in to sell your film is scary, it's annoying, it's highly upsetting getting turned down or no replies. I know all this and I'll still give you all the information, but you're not helping your chances by sounding like you're already defeated! And honestly, don't be pushy or condescending. People think they can get what they want this way, but honestly, I deal with these calls everyday, so no, the scare tactic doesn't work anymore, and it doesn't make me want to help you get a contract so I can deal with you for years to come. Go for the sympathetic angle. It's worked. I've pushed DVDs forward to the VP's desk and asked especially for it to be viewed asap, because the director made me want to help (also because the film sounded good). I completely understand how stressful it is placing the call, but before you do it, just stop for a second and think about your tone and voice. Sound enthusiastic about your film! Tell me why your baby is kickass. Make me want to see it too. Down a shot of espresso or vodka before you pick up the phone if you have to.

Don't get too fancy: If you really hate the phones, just sending in an email is fine, but like resumes, don't make it super fancy looking with colorful background and weird fonts. You'll make your email look like a junk email, and my delete key finger moves faster than my mind.

Have a website: I don't like to waste the higher-ups time so I check out every ACQ that comes through the door internet-stalker style for 5 mins. Most people provide me with their website, even myspace pages. But some simply has nothing online. That makes my decision to send you up much harder when I can't see one movie still and have to make a judgement base off of your synopsis (which sometimes are so sparse I can't even tell if it's fiction or a documentary).

Really invest time in the trailer: More than anything, a trailer helps me decide on the film. I can see the quality, if the director/editor can tell a story, if the actors can act. This is the biggest sell point for your film! Really make sure it's good all the way through, and not just the first minute.

Got Reviews? Like any movie out there, the only reason why people will see it even if the trailer looks just eh, is if it's got good reviews. Awards? Festival runs? Newspapers reviews? Internet news? Anything to back up the fact that someone else out there likes your film gives you a step up. I don't know why people don't mention this up front to me, but a lot (and I mean a lot) of them don't say a word about how they got an audience award.

Finally, don't send in a screener unless you're invited to. First, you didn't get a contact name to follow up on. For all you know the screener might have never reached the company (this has happened, more than once or twice). Second, it's wasteful, if I don't think it's something we're interested it, the screener goes straight to trash. You could have saved a copy. Third, because it's uninvited, it gets stacked onto the "when I have time" pile, and I rarely have time. (And this applies to smart-ass emails that starts with "just letting you know I'm sending you a screener" before even telling me what your film is even about.)

In the end, no matter what, the quality of your film is the ultimate determiner whether a distribution company will pick it up. But no one will know how good your film is if you don't get through the first door! If you are rejected, don't get discouraged. There're so many factors that you simply can't control, many of them ridiculous and mundane and has nothing to do with whether your film is good or not (the most common one is "we're not looking for something like that right now.") Stay strong, don't forget why you made the film and why you love it, and keep submitting.

1 comment:

Cake Man said...

Great advice, DOA. Sometimes it's the simple, common sense things that we can most easily forget when submitting material for consideration. i think that a lot of these tips also apply to querying lit agents/managers for representation. Don't just send the full script. Don't bog them down with too heavy a query letter - short and sweet, no unnecessary info. Make yourself clear, though, and don't leave them guessing which way is up with your idea; is it an action/ A comedy? A documentary? and, yes, CALL. Call. Call. Call. don't bug them, but get a name. Even if they tell you to submit to 'Story Department" you look better than submitting to "To Whom It May Concern." If that's who you send to when you have the opportunity to find out something more specifically, it probably won't concern anyone.