Understand the what is meant by the term film distribution.
Understand the role of distribution companies in the film industry.
Understand how film distribution works differently for independent and
What does distribution involve?
Prints & Advertising
What is the purpose of a film distributor?
A film distributor is the link between the producer and the
exhibitors (the cinema chains, Television networks); their
aim is to get as many people as possible to see the film.
The distributor markets the film and develops an
appropriate advertising campaign.
To market successfully the distributor has to target the
appropriate audience (this can be easy if there is a star, but
harder in the case of low-budget independent films).
In pairs, discuss the last 2 films you have seen at the cinema.
Try to identify the main reason for your choices.
Why did you choose those films in particular? Where did you see
Who did you see them with?
Were there any other factors that influenced your choice?
Releasing a film
Hollywood distributors will consider their release strategies from (at least) four
• Global: where will the film work?
• Regional: how will we make it work in (say) Europe?
• National: how should we release it in each country?
• Local: are there any particular local conditions that need to be taken into account
within each country?
Many things have to be taken into consideration when distributors choose a release date
for a movie. School holidays in Easter, half term, summer and Christmas tend to be the time
when big family movies are set for release. Big national sporting events, particularly when
England are taking part, such as the European Championships and the World Cup can affect
audiences, so care is taken about releasing male-orientated, action-type movies at that
It is also crucial to know the landscape with regard to film and media related events
happening nationally and most importantly, what else is being released at the time. The last
thing you want is your film being released on the weekend The Lord of the Rings: The
Return of the King (2003) or Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008), are
released, both of which will swamp the media and the national consciousness (unless, that
is, you are consciously positioning the marketing strategy in opposition to these
High concept, high budget-
Social realism- local and
MAJOR AND INDEPENDANT DISTRIBUTORS
The majors are those affiliated to the biggest Hollywood companies and are:
•20th Century Fox;
•Buena Vista International (BVI, owned by the Disney Corporation);
•United International Pictures (UIP, who release films from Universal and MGM studios).
These are companies who release a much wider range of films, and include Artificial Eye,
Pattie, Metro Tartan, Metrodome, Momentum and Contemporary.
Titles will include foreign language films, documentaries, re-releases and non-mainstream
Hollywood/UK titles picked up at film festivals across the world. Entertainment
Distribution is an unusual case in that it is a UK independent that has a long standing
relationship with US studio New Line Cinema (a unit of the Time Warner Corporation).
THE BOAT THAT ROCKED
How many different
distributors would you
expect to be involved
with this film?
A HOLLYWOOD EXAMPLE OF DISTRIBUTION
Bontonfilm (2009) (Czech Republic) (theatrical) (subtitled)
Focus Features (2009) (USA) (theatrical)
Lusomundo Audiovisuais (2009) (Portugal) (theatrical)
SPI International (2009) (Slovakia) (theatrical)
Studio Canal (2009) (France) (theatrical)
Toho-Towa (2009) (Japan) (theatrical)
United International Pictures (UIP) (2009) (Sweden) (theatrical)
United International Pictures (UIP) (2009) (Singapore) (theatrical)
Universal Pictures International (UPI) (2009) (Germany) (theatrical)
Universal Pictures International (UPI) (2009) (UK) (theatrical)
Universal Pictures International (UPI) (2009) (Netherlands) (theatrical)
Argentina Video Home (2009) (Argentina) (DVD)
Finnkino (2009) (Finland) (all media)
Studio Canal (2009) (France) (DVD)
Studio Canal (2009) (France) (DVD) (Blu-ray)
Universal Home Entertainment (2009) (UK) (DVD)
Universal Home Entertainment (2009) (UK) (DVD) (Blu-ray)
Universal Pictures Benelux (2009) (Netherlands) (DVD)
Universal Pictures Benelux (2009) (Netherlands) (DVD) (Blu-ray)
Universal Pictures Nordic (2009) (Sweden) (DVD)
Universal Pictures Nordic (2009) (Sweden) (DVD) (Blu-ray)
Universal Pictures (2009) (Germany) (DVD)
Universal Studios Home Entertainment (2009) (USA) (DVD)
Universal Studios Home Entertainment (2009) (USA) (DVD) (Blu-ray
There are 25 in total if you
include both cinema and
home video distributors.
14 of these companies are
owned by Universal (or part
owned as UIP is joint owned
with Paramount) – a great
example of vertical
THIS IS ENGLAND
How many different distributors
would you expect to be
involved with this film?
A FILM 4 EXAMPLE OF DISTRIBUTION
The film has only 8 distribution
deals – one of which partly
financed the film (Optimum
IFC Films (2007) (USA) (theatrical)
IFC First Take (2007) (USA) (theatrical)
Madman Entertainment (2007) (Australia) (all media)
NetFlix (2007) (USA) (DVD)
NonStop Entertainment (2007) (Sweden) (theatrical)
Optimum Releasing (2006) (UK) (theatrical)
Red Envelope Entertainment (2007) (USA) (DVD)
Sandrew Metronome Distribution (2008) (Finland) (DVD)
Independent companies often find it difficult to find a
Unlike movies made by Hollywood Studios or their
subsidiaries, who already have a distributor in place
before production even begins, many independent films
are completed and then must find a distribution deal.
Distributors will buy an independent film, either for a set
fee (after which the producers receive none of the
profits) or offer the film-makers a cut of the film’s profits.
The process of a distributor buying a film is called
Each distribution company takes on a certain number of titles each year
and creates an individual release-plan for those films. Their
• deciding on a release date
• receiving an age certificate by regulation bodies, such as the BBFC
• deciding how many prints to produce
• arranging exhibition outlets globally as well as negotiating deals for
the film’s release on DVD/Television/cable and satellite channels
• advertising campaigns; marketing, publicity and promotion of the
• designing art work for adverts, posters, flyers and billboards;
• organising premieres and talker screenings;
• booking talent (i.e. the stars or director) for press interviews and
• Select a new Hollywood film of your choice (IMDB.com).
• Research the distributor – Who are they? Why are they distributing
• Identify the main target audience, their interests and media use and
any secondary / mass audience appeal.
• Identify key cast/crew/ pre-existing property and the film’s USP.
• Identify the success of similar films and recent films by the director
and key cast.
• Advertising (above the line cost)
• Publicity (below the line)
• Promotions (below the line)
Definition: The interaction of two or more agents (institutions/companies) to ensure a
larger effect than if they acted independently. This is beneficial for each company
through efficiencies in expertise and costs.
Working Title know how to make films and they have formed a business partnership
with Universal, a massive US company, who have the experience and size in the
marketplace (cinemas, stores, online, etc.) to distribute them. (They create the
marketing campaign to target audiences through posters, trailers, create the film’s
website, free previews, television and press interviews featuring “the talent”, drum up
press reviews, word of mouth, and determine when a film is released for the best
possible audience and the type of release: limited, wide, etc.) Channel Four’s Film
4 and Celador Films benefited by pooling their know-how, experience and expertise to
jointly produce Slumdog Millionaire. These companies formed a business relationship
with France’s Pathe to distribute this film. In the UK Pathe helped create the poster,
trailer, website, etc. In the USA the film found another distributor after being
nominated for the Oscars.
Normally after opening weekend, box office sales
drop by 40%, Donnie Darko only dropped by
Definition: A marketing technique aiming at reproducing "word of mouth" usually on
the internet and through existing social networks. YouTube Video pastiches, trailers,
interviews with cast members, the director, writer, etc. You can find interviews of “the
talent” trying to gain publicity for your case study films on YouTube.
Definition: The use of unconventional and low cost marketing strategies to raise
awareness of a product. The aim is usually to create “buzz” and “word of mouth”
around a film. Unusual stunts to gain publicity (P.R.) on the film’s opening weekend,
Sasha Baron Cohen created “buzz” before the release of his film “Borat” by holding
fake press conferences. The studio also accessed the popularity of YouTube by
releasing the first 4 minutes of the movie on YouTube, a week before it’s release,
which can then be sent virally across the nation. At a special viewing of “Bruno” Cohen
landed on Eminem “butt first” from the roof MTV Awards venue, dressed in as an
angel outfit with rents in the rear end.
How might a distributor advertise a film?
Online magazines (Empire)
Star tour/press junket
Marketing & Promotion
In a world where money spent on the budget of a film often sees 50 % going on
promotion as opposed to what you actually see on screen, the idea that we have a
world where the consumer can exercise authority is absurd. This industry is like any
other. Of course it has to sell things, but it doesn't rely on waiting, listening,
responding to what audiences want and then delivering that to them. It relies on
knowing which parts of the world and the media need its products and will pay for
them. (Toby Miller)