Attention, Filmmakers: Read This Before You Negotiate a Distribution Deal

Attention, Filmmakers: Read This Before You Negotiate a Distribution Deal
Attention, Filmmakers: Read This Before You Negotiate Distribution Deal
4 Key Steps to Take to Negotiate a Distribution Deal:

1. Identify the main distribution avenues in North America and overseas.

In the United States there are ten: 

film festivals
semi-theatrical (single special event screenings on a campus, in a museum, or at a theater)
cable VOD
retail DVD
direct DVD (from the filmmaker’s website)
retail digital (iTunes, Amazon, Hulu, Netflix, etc.)
direct digital (downloads and streams from the filmmaker’s website)
Overseas, the main avenues are television and digital, with limited potential for theatrical and DVD distribution.

2. Design a customized distribution strategy that will include plans for each of these avenues and an overall timetable.

Planning your windows is very important when you are splitting rights. Although the windows for studio films have been eroding, independents need to carefully determine the ideal sequence and lengths of each stage of their distribution. Splitting rights among several companies and retaining overall distribution control is often the best way to maximize distribution.

3. Build a distribution team that will include partners with expertise and experience to complement yours.

Possible teammates include: foreign sales agents, producer’s reps, attorneys, theatrical bookers, publicists, outreach coordinators, web designers, social media mavens, and dvd and digital fulfillment companies (which can facilitate direct sales from their websites). 

4. Select someone to negotiate deals for you.

You need a talented and experienced negotiator who understands film distribution. Make absolutely sure that he or she is up-to-date about the latest deals, how they’re structured, and what’s most important. You don’t want to use someone who is behind the curve and can only negotiate a deal that would have been good in 2009. You need to do due diligence on your negotiator. When you find someone with the right mix of experience and skill and are satisfied with their work on your behalf, you will want to use him or her again and add them to your distribution team..

READ MORE: Here’s How NOT To Negotiate a Distribution Deal


1. Find distributors who are effective and honest.

They should have track records that demonstrate this as well as raves from other filmmakers who have worked with them.

2. Find distributors who are flexible and will help you to implement your customized distribution strategy rather than requiring you to fit into a one-size-fits-all approach to distribution.

3. Find distributors who are willing and able to be partners.

Some companies are only interested in being masters.

4. Find distributors whose goals and strategy are aligned with yours.

If your primary goal is maximizing career, then you should be sure that the company will do a proper release with a quality press and marketing effort. On the other hand, if you’ve mortgaged your house and sold your car to make the movie, then maximizing revenue will probably be your most important goal. If so, then you need to be confident that the company can generate substantial financial returns. 

5. Find distributors that will agree to let you keep your direct sales rights.

It’s very important that you retain the ability to sell directly from your website—DVDs, downloads, and streams—because that’s the way you are going to generate more revenue and be able to build your mailing list and your fan base. Building an audience that you can reach directly is a fundamental part of building your career.

6. Find distributors who will make fair deals, including splitting rights and revenue shares.

Give them the rights they are good at exploiting and keep those they are not good at, like educational distribution. If the company is a digital aggregator (that will pitch your film to iTunes, Amazon and other places), make sure that the split is fair. Some aggregators take 50% or more of revenues, while others take 15%, 20%, or 25%. Make sure that the aggregator is “direct” with iTunes and other distributors (rather than going through a middleman). If not, a middleman will take a percentage reducing your revenues.

Almost every deal can be improved through negotiation. Approached constructively, it is an opportunity to build a partnership that will benefit both parties for years to come.

(c) 2014 Peter Broderick

You can read the rest of this article as well as Peter Broderick’s other articles and Distribution Bulletins at

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