Indie Film Distribution Lessons We Learned the Hard Way (And Lived to Tell About It) - Part Two


Agents Are Your Fairy Godmother

It's a well-known fact that actors of a certain caliber have agents. Writers have agents. Directors, and even producers often have agents. But a movie? That's just weird, right? Wrong. We knew so very little when we went to our first AFM in 2013. We were barely out of post-production and had just screened at our first festival. We decided that rather than spend thousands of dollars on the gamble that festivals can be, we'd skip that step and move directly past go to collect our $200. Boy, were we in for a hard lesson.

We went down to the largest North American Film Market around with no badges, no experience and no idea what we were doing. We were very lucky and still managed to snag several meetings with distributors, including After Dark Films. They all listened to our pitches and every last one of them took the one-sheet and DVD copy we had of the film. Some of the people we met with were actually sales agents, though they often heralded under a company name that sounded a lot like a distribution entity. The major difference here is the role each plays.

An agent is the liaison between the filmmaker and the distribution company. The distribution company is the team that actually puts your film in front of viewers either as a DVD, VOD or theatrical release. We did not meet our agent that we would soon sign with at AFM. We met some great ones, but they were all looking for something very specific. On the tail end of the success of Gravity, the thing we were asked most often was, "Do you have any sci-fi?" They didn't even know what sci-fi was, they just knew that it made a lot of money and was about to win a few Oscars. Suffice to say, we weren't quite what they needed.

Rather than get discouraged, we came back to Seattle and hit the drawing board. We started looking at other films that had been released, even in small form on VOD platforms. We compared them to our film to see if we would be a good match and then our director cold-called all of them. Some considered us, some never returned the call. In the end, Ultimately Ruthless Pictures (our agent) picked us up.

It took our agent two years to get the distribution agency to really consider our film, leading to the principal reason as to why your agent is your fairy godmother: they will do anything for you as long as your contract is valid. Your agent doesn't get paid until you do, so much like an actor's agent, they need to sell you. If your film doesn't suit the distributors' needs, they shelve it or dump it because they don't have the time or the money to stick with you. Our agent stuck by us through all of this and found new ways to pitch the same movie to the same distributor. Every pitch was different until he found the one that finally worked.

Trailers Are A Film's Best Friend

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Have you ever gone to see a movie based entirely on the trailer? Me too! Pretty much everyone I know has. It was our trailer and poster that got our agent's attention. He saw something in what we created originally. He saw that we had done our homework and that we had a project he could work with. Other indie filmmakers who saw it at festivals got pumped to see the film. You know who didn't? Distributors. They yawned and passed.

We had spent a lot of time on our trailer and spent $500 on a poster design from a specialist who crafts hand painted posters specific to vintage '80s horror. It broke our hearts when the agent said he was going to cut a new trailer and make a new poster. The first poster we had was awesome. The second one he gave us was meh. The new one, well... I know if I was searching on iTunes for a horror movie for Halloween, it would stand out and at least make me watch the trailer.

Think about that for a moment. How do you choose a film, especially one you've never heard of before? Your first impression is the poster. Then you base your judgement on the trailer.

Our original trailer with music from our composer was radically different from the one our agent cut (seen below), which featured music from one of the 17 bands we signed for our soundtrack. The major difference between the two is the energy. The trailer our agent put together simply moves. It moves like a horror trailer - it moves like a movie trailer. It hits every beat that you expect a trailer to hit and it makes you want to see the movie. Which is the entire purpose behind the trailer and poster magic combo: get people to watch your product, I mean, film.

Stay tuned for Part Three of Erin Neal's Distribution Lessons.


Erin Neal has been on set since she was 6 months old, crying on camera with Jack Lemon in MASS APPEAL. Learning hands on under the supervision of her mother (it's a family business after all), Erin tried her hand on the sets of HARD EIGHT, DIAMONDS and THE RING. There wasn't a job title she hadn't experienced by the time she was 20, including Visual FX Assistant on ANNA AND THE KING, 2nd AD for independent coming of age drama THE FLATS and lead Camera-op and video Supervisor for the classica car race documentary JUNKYARD TO FINISHLINE. Along side her husband and business partner, Director Collin Joseph Neal, she founded Faith vs Fate Productions. Visit site here.