Written by Orly Ravid
Now that Sundance has announced its new line up, it seems appropriate to discuss the issue of a film’s distribution after premiering or acquisition at festivals.
It is often the case that films do not get released until 6 months to a year or even more from when the film had its festival premiere…At least this is the case when traditional distribution is pursued as opposed to planning the distribution and marketing to coincide with the premiere and work off that plan accordingly.
Here are 10 reasons for the delay in time between a premiere launch at a festival and traditional distribution into the marketplace:
1. The time it takes to find buyers. These days the market cycle is longer than it’s ever been. Sometimes even a year after a festival or market, sometimes longer to sell titles. It’s a buyer’s market, so few films enjoy the pleasure of contested bidding that forces prices up and faster closings. Sundance, of course, is one of the few festivals that commands such a dynamic and more films than at most other festivals will secure distribution, at least domestically, as a result of premiering there.
2. Once a deal is closed, then there’s the contract and delivery which takes time… months sometimes.
3. Long lead times for press are required, at least four months, and that planning usually does not happen until after deal closure.
4. The distributor needs time to find open slots/appropriate slots in the calendar for theatrical – and it’s competitive out there so getting a booking takes time, and getting the right one for the film takes even more time, again, months. Sometimes even 6 months is needed to book the right theatre for the right time.. Some of the best screens are locked in well in advance.
5. Cash flow is needed to launch marketing campaigns. This can be an issue for some distributors. Recouping some revenue from previous releases will be needed in order to fund future ones.
6. Major digital outlets take several months to upload and make a film available. Cable VOD has solicitation windows. DVD and digital also require set up times and announcing the title and marketing it ahead of time so again months of planning and slotting. One wants to be strategic about release time.
7. The time of release is sometimes specific to the film. It may be theme driven and demand specific timing or it may want to avoid direct competition. Also inventory shifts in retail stores dictate the optimal time for DVD release (ie. certain times of year, like Christmas or Halloween, call for more of a certain kind of film).
8. Internal scheduling of the distributor. As you know, distributors will have other releases that they need to navigate given what their key outlets have planned.
9. Grass roots and other marketing also demand lead time.
10. Overall, the difference between DIY and traditional distribution is that in DIY, you can plan months in advance to set up the outlets and use the press attention at a festival premiere to catapult the film into the market, even if you aren’t 100% sure which festival will be your premiere. Having everything in place to pull the trigger when you get that acceptance puts you in a good position to release. In traditional distribution, the distributor cannot do advance planning and so the planning starts after the initial buzz has been created at the festival.
I know some of you have been confused or frustrated by the lag time between a festival premiere of a film and the release. Hopefully this helps to explain the matter.
Orly Ravid November 30th, 2012
Tags: cable VOD, DVD release, film distribution, film promotion, film sales, independent film premiere, independent film release, Sundance Film Festival, theatrical release, traditional film distribution