Attention, Filmmakers: Know Your Non-Theatrical & Educational Rights

Attention, Filmmakers: Know Your Non-Theatrical & Educational Rights
Attention, Filmmakers: Know Your Non-Theatrical & Educational Rights

Non-Theatrical and Educational rights are critical, yet often overlooked components of any film’s release. Chris Horton from Sundance Artist Services recently told us, “I wish more filmmakers were aware of the audience engagement and revenue opportunities this type of distribution offers. These aren’t the sexy late night condo deals you read about, but for many filmmakers, they’re the most important.”

Thanks to colleagues like Peter Broderick, Jon Reiss and so many others, we can now draw from a reservoir of Non-Theatrical and Educational (“NT/Edu” or “Semi-Theatrical”) wisdom. Just last week, Melanie Miller urged filmmakers, “Don’t Forget Non-Theatrical & Educational” in her brilliant walkthrough of release windows. This piece will do just that and walk you through how to maximize the potential of these rights streams. For a detailed NT/Edu glossary, see this reference guide.

READ MORE: Tugg and New Balloon Partner to Form Event Cinema Fund


Here at Tugg we’ve seen many successful filmmakers combine Theatrical and NT/Edu into a single cohesive campaign. You’ll find many audiences – especially those who are cause-oriented – prefer these communal, eventized experiences to take place where their members already congregate on a regular basis: universities, religious centers, etc.

And trust me, the sweat equity needed to market this opportunity and fulfill screening interest is no small feat. Unless you plan on making this your full time job for the next 1-2 years, I recommend partnering with a NT/Edu platform that can handle your outreach, sales, customer service and shipping. But be careful. Before you park these rights with a distributor, demand to know and understand how they will be used on your behalf. If your distributor doesn’t specialize in NT/Edu marketing and sales, encourage them to collaborate with a company that does.

Beyond the actual revenue that comes in from these sales, NT/Edu event hosts and attendees become an army of supporters willing to purchase and promote your future campaigns and downstream revenue channels, e.g. VOD, DVD, and merchandise. At Tugg, each NT/Edu host can utilize our ticketing platform to manage RSVPs, collect donations, or sell merchandise. Data from these sales allow you to engage, grow and capitalize on your audience base.


We recommend opening up the doors for NT/Edu screenings as early as possible. Remember – these are highly eventized experiences much like your theatrical screenings, so why not allow them to coincide?

Here’s Sundance New Frontier fellow deepsouth director Lisa Biagiotti on how important NT/Edu screenings were to her overall screening campaign:

“NT/Edu screenings were the backbone of deepsouth’s campaign. The majority of our screening demand came directly from communities with no local theatre presence. We had to respond to Non-Traditional venues such as churches, community centers, health departments, colleges, conference halls, etc. in a way that made the film accessible, economical, and exciting.”


Let’s be clear: Anyone can purchase NT/Edu screening licenses. Religious centers, community venues, museums, performing arts centers and libraries are just as eager for original content as our theatrical exhibitors. We’ve sold a single license to a church for $10,000. Yes, you read that correctly.

At Icarus Films, I spent most of my time within the world of university media buying. Media librarians live and breathe the acquisition, collection, maintenance and promotion of audio-visual materials. They work in Higher Education, K-12, public libraries, government and military agencies, museums, non-profits, research centers and think tanks, etc. Before it was cool to watch and make documentary films, they were acquiring them on 16mm for upwards of $1000 to show in classrooms and at campus screenings. Media librarians are truly the unsung heroes of independent and documentary films.


Now that you understand how important these rights are, here are a few specific ways to integrate them into your release strategy:

1. Drive all interest towards a single day or week.

Create or choose a milestone or “Awareness Day” to maximize your impact. Incentivize and empower event hosts with programming ideas, e.g. merchandise giveaways, live Q&As, etc.

“We thought of our campaign as tentpole movies think of opening weekend. We selected a significant date where press is required to talk about the issues presented of the film (World AIDS Day). Screening hosts became part of something so much larger than a film screening – they were part of some collective effort. They took a stand and started critical conversations in their communities.” – Lisa Biagiotti, deepsouth.

2. Partner with national and regional organizations connected to your film.

This is a great task for your PMD (and if you don’t have one, seriously consider bringing one on!). Form and nurture relationships with leaders of organizations that care about your film by showing the value they will gain from hosting screenings. These organizations will not only provide crucial info on how to best position the film to their community, but also will act as gateways to their counterparts in other organizations.

For example, local teams of the national robotics organization, FIRST ® Robotics, used the film “SlingShot” to fundraise and teach the importance of creativity and innovation

3. Create a fertile ground for discussion.

Provide your screening hosts with discussion guides and toolkits that make it easy for audiences to take action. Danny Yourd created a Screening Toolkit that armed non-profits, religious centers, and university groups with key discussion points and specific ways to help the HIV/AIDS orphanage in “Blood Brother.” Films can also be used for training outside the K-12 / university system by health institutions, federal agencies, and conferences of all types.


Streaming video has reached the tipping point. And I don’t mean Netflix! 70% of academic libraries are purchasing and using streaming video. There is now a veritable cornucopia of streaming video platforms that cater specifically to the Educational market. I could spend an entire article discussing streaming, so I’ll leave additional thoughts for a future post…


Make no mistake, this is a call to action for documentary and independent filmmakers: if Educational and Non-Theatrical distribution aren’t part of your film’s strategy, then you are missing out on both the potential revenue associated with a license, as well as the chance to connect with an audience that will not only watch your film, but use it for academic research, integrate it into pedagogical classroom strategies and make it an essential part of a social action campaign.

A recent addition to Tugg, Meredith Miller, Director of Educational Sales, has over seven years of experience in both Non-Theatrical and home video film distribution. She led the Non-Theatrical sales department at Brooklyn-based Icarus Films for six years, during which time she developed outreach campaigns for hundreds of documentary films.

READ MORE: Host a Screening of “Blood Brother” Through Tugg and Help Kids

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