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


In a Land Far Far Away...

Most filmmakers fantasize about seeing their film on the big silver screen in their hometown. If you're smart, that's something you can accomplish on your own. We rented out a theater at AMC Pacific Place for our backers, cast and crew, but we didn't make a dime off that screening. We spent a lot, but didn't get anything back. So how do you get it to a screen near you? The answer: you may not.

You may never see your film distributed in your home country. We accepted that after many tears and bottles of whiskey. Sometimes, you simply can't sell what you have made in that market.

The truth for all films is that foreign distribution is where they can ultimately make the bulk of their money back. We're talking studio films, so let's get back to indie film. Every territory is broken down by region and sometimes territory.

Run. Hide. Die.

Run. Hide. Die.

The UK is its own territory. Germany is its own territory. Taiwan is its own, Japan is its own, Brazil is its own. But then there is the "whole of South America" which doesn't include Mexico. Confused yet? These are all potential places you can sell your film, and I bet that wasn't something that even crossed your mind yet if you're in the market. Each market has a different buyer and a different set of rules. Germany for example must have a dubbing, but France, Japan and South America can use subtitles.

Horror film, which again, is a very specific type of product, is super popular in European markets. And the more abstract your film is, the better. The first territories we secured were the UK and Germany. But as I mentioned just moments ago, we had to have it dubbed into German. Which means an additional cost that was taken out of our initial return. The distribution company paid for it, leaving our payment to be much less than initially estimated. Then, if Germany likes it, they can renew the contract and maybe next time around we will actually see something out of it.

Your foreign territory is every it as important as your domestic audience. Neglecting them means neglecting any potential your film can achieve. It may not be millions, it may be only thousands, or hundreds, at a time. But the next time you go to pitch yourself as a filmmaker, how much more seriously do you think people will take you when you can say you have a feature film in distribution? The answer is very.

Two critical tips for preparing your film for foreign distribution:

1. Have the music and effect tracks (also known as M&E tracks) separated from dialogue. It is incredibly difficult to dub a film in German if the music track is attached to the English dialogue.

2. Have a script that is verbatim what you cut into the film. If you reworked a scene so the word order is flipped, the script must reflect. This is all to ensure that the dubbing and subtitle team are translating exactly what happens on screen.


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.