Distribution Is Marketing

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I'm Matt Holzman with The Business Brief, a guide to what's happening in and around the business.

I'll spare you the Oscar talk; I’ll just report that it looks like ratings for the telecast are up and James Cameron got smacked down, so all is right in Hollywood.

Instead I want to talk about movie distribution.

I'm also producer of The Business, heard here on KCRW Mondays at 230. And on today's show we talked about distribution basics and what filmmakers are doing these days if as is increasingly the case they can't get it. But I have to tell you, I think we missed the point.

Distribution, strictly speaking, is getting films into theaters. It's negotiating deals with exhibitors and then delivering the prints or digital copies. Obviously, that's a dramatic oversimplification it really is a complicated business.

It used to be that films that couldn't get a distribution deal were relegated to a dark backwater known as "straight to video." maybe they also got sold to Romanian television. Either way, the movies were largely forgotten.

These days, films that can't get the big theatrical release aren't giving up on the idea of getting seen in a more high-profile way.

On today's episode of The Business, we talked about two tiny films trying to make their way in the world with so-called "alternative distribution." they're selling DVD's or downloads on the web, they have a deal with YouTube, they're selling video on demand rights to cable companies, even making their movies available on video game boxes like Sony's Playstation.

And here's where we missed the point.

The two films in question, Bass Ackwards and One Too Many Mornings, were both selected for the Sundance Film Festival's new low-budget "Next" category. And that set them apart. That made certain deals possible. Frankly, we would not be talking about them now otherwise.

You see what I’m saying?

What makers of indie and low-budget films need is not alternative methods of distribution but alternative methods of marketing of creating "buzz" and "must see" as they say in the business because, if there's a demand, it's relatively easy these days to get the movie into people's hands or onto their computers.

There's a reason that distribution and marketing always go hand in hand. Because you don't need to distribute your movie if no one wants to see it and no one will want to see it if they've never heard of it. If they want to see it that is, if there's money to b made off of it will be made available.

Remember that not too long ago, all the studios had indie divisions buying, making and selling smaller movies from Juno to March of the Penguins. But the many of the studios got out of the indie business. Why?

Not because they couldn't handle the distribution Warner Bros and Disney are pretty good at that but because it didn't make any financial sense to market them. Especially as the budgets of these "indie" films went from small to not so small at all.

So what will truly small movies do to rise above the din in this increasingly commercial-filled world? Perhaps they'll pool their resources to buy ads. Certainly social-networking sites will be key. Film festivals will continue to be vitally important. But, if you love indie films you'll have to get involved. Because if you're waiting to for these movies to take out ads during Leno or get a review in the New York Times, you'll be waiting for a long time. And don't forget to talk up these little movies when you do see them because their best marketing is you.

I'd love to know what you think. You can comment on today’s Business Brief or subscribe to the podcast at KCRW.com/TheBusinessBrief. For KCRW, I’m Matt Holzman.



Matt Holzman