Commentary: In recent years, the marketplace for independent films has become increasingly overcrowded. Several prominent distribution houses for independent films have been forced to sell or close and currently, the general thought is that there are simply too many films for too few theatres. As a result, independent filmmakers have seen it become more and more difficult to obtain conventional movie deals for their films.

For many independent filmmakers, the do-it-yourself model of distribution has become an increasingly attractive option. Although some are forced to go it alone because they have no other viable alternative, for others who do have options under the old model, self distribution can still be the more attractive approach. For example, distribution houses typically require that the filmmaker sign over most of the rights to their film in exchange for small cash advances, and often, they do not expend the funds necessary to sufficiently market the film to the general public. The do-it-yourself model not only allows filmmakers to retain the rights to their films, but it also enables them to retain control over where the film is distributed. It can also enable the filmmaker to exert more artistic control with regard to how the film is marketed, so that the distributor is no longer at the helm. Moreover, it allows the filmmaker to be proactive rather than simply waiting to find a deal.

Nonetheless, there is certainly a downside to self-distribution. In order to take on distribution without the help of a prominent distribution house, independent filmmakers must have a solid understanding of the marketplace. In addition, self-distribution requires the filmmaker to have access to the necessary capital. For example, there can be a huge expense involved in opening a film in major movie markets; filmmakers must cope with the hassle of collecting money from exhibitors; and they must handle the detailed logistics involved in booking a film. To be sure, self-distribution involves an enormous amount of work. But if the filmmaker is willing to put the time in, that work has the ability to reap substantial rewards.


© 2008 Nissenbaum Law Group, LLC

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