Self distribution: don’t let these 3 myths hold you back

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Self distribution. If you’re in the indie film world, you’ve probably heard of it. Maybe you’ve known filmmakers who have gone that path, or maybe you’ve been curious about if self distribution is the right route for you and your career. I’m here to give you a big, resounding maybe and tell you some of the nitty gritty details.

You may have heard me talk about self distribution for indie films before, namely because I authored a 29 page e-book that works as a primer and a printable, interactive workbook that guides you through the entire process of self distribution. If you’re hoping to go deeper than you can get in a blog post, consider giving it a download and getting started on your self distribution journey today.

Today, however, I’m going to be tackling three common myths about self distribution to help you get started on this fact-finding mission.

Myth #1: self-distributing your movie means you’re giving up on “real” distribution.

This is a trap so many people fall into. I see it a lot in the art world in general; a DIY art show in a coffee shop is “lesser” than being invited to show in an established gallery, a self-published book is “lesser” than a traditionally published book, a self-distributed indie flick is “lesser” than a traditionally distributed movie. Well, I’m here to tell you that none of that is true. There are no lesser paths, only different paths, and self distribution–just like putting on a coffee house art show or self-publishing a novel–is a valid way to get your art out into the world. Self-distributed movies aren’t movies that failed to get “real” distribution; they’re movies that are better served by self distribution.

Before you decide on pursuing self distribution or traditional distribution, give some serious thought to your goals. Are you trying to win awards? Find investors for your next film? Make some money? Get your movie in front of audiences?

If you’re clear on your goals, it will be clear which distribution method is right for you. If you want to make a million dollars, self distribution is probably not right for you. If you want to win awards and get your film in front of an audience? Then this could 100% be the right path for you and your film!

Also, remember, you can self distribute some movies and pursue traditional distribution for others. It’s okay for your goals and priorities to shift throughout your career. Keep your options open! I know authors who self publish some novels while traditionally publishing others, just because different markets look for different things. Don’t box yourself in!

Myth #2: there are no successful self-distributed films.

I get why you might feel this way, but I want to challenge you to think about this myth a little differently. There are two prongs to this particular misconception. The first is that it’s not that there aren’t successful self-distributed films, it’s that there isn’t a lot of DATA about self distributed films. When you want to know how well a film is doing, you tend to look up things like box office statistics, or you compare a film’s budget to its profits. For self-distributed films, those numbers are almost never available, and when they are, it’s because the filmmaker posted them, not because they’re part of a database or on a major film website. So, it’s not that there are no self-distributed films that have had great theatrical releases, made money, or won tons of awards in the festival circuit… it’s just that YOU haven’t heard of them, and it’s difficult to find the cold, hard numbers that so many people rely on to tell them if a film is a “success” or not.

There’s another prong to this myth that I want to get at, and that is… how, exactly, are we defining a “success?” We already know how a big Hollywood studio would define it. It seems like, these days, they consider any movie that doesn’t make a billion dollars a flop. But we’re indie filmmakers, and we already know that’s not right. There are beautiful, impactful, life-changing indie movies that never make back their budget. If those movies reach audiences and tell an important story well, were they not successful? If someone produces a comedy with the goal of making people laugh and distracting them from their problems for two hours, and they never make a cent off the film but it reaches the audiences it needed to reach, was that movie not successful, either? Capitalism wants us to measure our success in dollars and cents, but that’s not all art is good for. 

Once again, go back to your list of goals. Is it possible for you to help your movie be successful according to your personal criteria through self distribution?

Myth #3: self distribution is too hard.

This is a self limiting belief that an amazing amount of filmmakers have. Now, I’m not here to say that self distribution is an easy path. But is anything in the world of indie filmmaking easy? Every part of the filmmaking process is difficult, even if you have the world’s best team. Funding is hard to come by, writing a script involves countless hours of writing and revising, collaborating with other people can be a challenge, hiring your production staff is nerve-wracking, pre-production takes hundreds of emails and phone calls and spreadsheets and meetings, once you’re actually on set you have to work long, tiring hours… I could go on. My point is that filmmaking is incredibly hard, but we do it anyway. We figure it out, we problem solve, we depend on our team, we make mistakes, we keep going even when it feels impossible. So why would you ever convince yourself you can’t handle self distribution?

My self distribution workbook breaks the whole process down into small steps that you can work your way through the whole book to create a rock-solid plan for your film. Even if you don’t take advantage of all my months of research, I totally believe you can handle this. You’ve already made your movie, so why would you risk not getting it in front of the audiences who so desperately need it when you already have all the tools you need?

Molly Stein-Seroussi

Molly Stein-Seroussi

Author

Molly is an author, screenwriter, blogger, and brand manager for New 32 Productions. They are passionate about sharing content that helps filmmakers live a more productive, informed, and well-balanced life. They live in North Carolina with their spouse and way too many dogs.

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