If you know me, you know I’m all about figuring out distribution before the film is even into pre-production.
If your film is heading into production without a distribution plan in place, then we need to talk.
Planning your film’s distribution route early on is the key to saving $$$ and avoiding the dreaded stop-start process that prevents your film from taking off.
So how do you decide which distribution route is best for your short film?
Distribution options for short films
This is the traditional route for short films. Your film can be screened around the globe, plus potentially win awards and establish you as a filmmaker worth watching.
If you’re looking to establish yourself as an above-the-line creative, then festivals are the traditional way to do it.
This route can be the best way to meet other filmmakers, network, and pitch new projects to investors and producers. Done right, a festival run can also be the route to getting your film picked up by a sales agent and selling your film.
A festival run can last a long time – anywhere between 6 and 18 months. This can be fantastic for getting your name out there, but you might struggle to keep a successful festival run going and raise your next project.
Festivals can also be expensive, and many filmmakers spend a ton of money on submission fees only to be paid back in compliments. (Spoiler: compliments will feed your ego but not your career, they also won’t pay your rent).
So how do you make the most of your hard-won cash when taking the festival route?
Some filmmakers choose to skip the festival route altogether, and release their short film online.
This is a great option if you want to keep your budget low, or would rather spend the money on making your film.
Releasing your short film online is also a great way to cultivate an audience, which will impact your next film in a major way. You’ll have the stats in black and white, and you can prove to producers and investors that people want to watch your films.
You’ll also get to know who your audience is, which isn’t an option at festivals.
But you do miss out on the networking opportunities that festivals give you. It’ll also mean selling your film is no longer an option, as it will have been online and free to watch.
Festivals + online
This is a popular option for a lot of filmmakers right now, because you get the best of both worlds.
You get to establish your career network with other filmmakers and pick up awards, whilst also being able to share your film with a much wider audience and generate stats that you can leverage for your next film.
However, you might find yourself spending almost double. Festival submission fees plus a marketing budget for the online release.
It can also be a struggle keeping an audience interested during a festival run. You may have people desperate to watch your film, but they might have forgotten all about it in the 18 months you spend on the festival circuit. By the time the online release rolls around, they may not even remember the name of your film.
This option can be amazing if you want the best of both worlds, but you might find yourself having to compromise or make sacrifices along the way.
Which distribution route is best for me (and my film)?
Figuring this out can be surprisingly simple.
I want you to ask yourself, ‘what do I need this film to do for me and my career?’
If this is the first short film you’ve directed, then a festival release will introduce you as a director and establish you as one worth watching (and paying). This can be invaluable when it comes to making your next film.
But if you’ve been making your own films for a while, and don’t need/want to rack up any more contacts, then an online release is probably going to be the breath of fresh air you need. It can also give you a way to create an audience that you can leverage, and majorly uplevel your career. If you’re ready to step up to making a feature film, then having the audience from a successful online release is going to make the process much easier for you.
The next step is to look at your budget.
If you’re happy to spend £300+ on festival submission fees then go for a festival release.
But if you’d rather spend the £300+ on making your film (especially if it’s a high-budget genre) then an online release is a far more budget-friendly option.
The last step is to consider your audience.
If you have an audience that wants to see your film, an online release is the best option. They don’t have to spend 12+ months waiting to see the film and you can seriously rack up the views.
But if you’re just beginning to make your own films, and ‘audience’ feels like a totally alien concept, it might not be worth doing an online release.
If you’re looking to start building your audience, then you might want the best of both worlds. You can be growing an online audience during a short festival run, and after 6 months you’ll have plenty of eyes waiting to watch the film online.
When to start planning film distribution
Planning the distribution route can be overwhelming, and this is exactly why producers start planning whilst the film is still in development.
Having it mapped out by the time you’re in production means there’s no crazy to-do list, no wasted time after the film is finished and no surprises about how much you need to spend.
So pick your route, and start planning.