What Are the Different Methods of Independent Film Distribution?

T. Carrier

Independent films are unique in that they do not have the financial backing of a major studio, and they often target a specific audience. Due to the financial challenges, independent film makers must often pursue both traditional and non-traditional methods of distributing their movies to audiences. More conventional independent film distribution methods usually involve securing the movie's release in theaters, usually by limited release or through an independent production company. Film festivals present another opportunity for exposure and potential independent film distribution. In addition, self-distribution represents an expanding pathway to securing an audience, and these methods include online avenues and DVD creation.

Major feature films are usually first distributed through traditional movie theaters.
Major feature films are usually first distributed through traditional movie theaters.

Securing a theatrical release is perhaps the most desired method of independent film distribution. If a movie has a demonstrated ability to create a profit or to generate buzz, then movie theaters may be convinced to show the film on a widespread scale. Certain independent production companies may have a better reputation and thus a better shot at securing this type of deal.

Independent films are typically cheaper to produce than commercial movies.
Independent films are typically cheaper to produce than commercial movies.

For independent films that are typically unproven and do not have a large financial backer, securing a limited release will likely be the most sensible route. In this type of deal, the movie will show at only select theaters in a given region, and will typically only run for a short amount of time — such as one weekend. If the movie can deliver respectable results in this trial period, it may then secure a more widespread release.

An independent film — or indie film — often gains traction and demonstrates theatrical potential by making a prominent showing at film festivals. At these gatherings, filmmakers have the opportunity to secure a screening slot for their venture. Other filmmakers, critics, actors, and movie enthusiasts often attend these events, so the potential for word-of-mouth promotion is enhanced. One of the most respected venues is the annual Cannes Film Festival. In order to be considered for a film festival, a prospective entrant must usually submit an application package and edit the film to meet certain length or format requirements.

Opportunities do exist for independent filmmakers on a smaller scale as well. With knowledge, perseverance, and a little marketing ability, a film-maker can take advantage of online potential. Many beginning and aspiring filmmakers develop a website that can promote and even distribute their film. Social media sites, website message boards, and Internet video sharing sites present opportunities for these artists to advertise their work and lure potential fans. Certain sites also offer assistance with various modes of online independent film distribution.

Movie makers may also wish to distribute content in more traditional media platforms. Numerous software programs exist that help individuals create multimedia projects and store these projects on long-term devices like DVDs. Specialty companies can help individuals produce these duplicates on a mass scale and some companies also provide aid in locating libraries, video stores, or other outlets that may wish to offer the products as a means of independent film distribution. Although self-distribution often eliminates the legal and technical barriers an individual may encounter with more traditional platforms, a greater flare for marketing and business acumen will likely be needed for the project to achieve financial success.

Many film festivals focus on independent films.
Many film festivals focus on independent films.

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Discussion Comments


Nice article. There's a growing list of distribution options for indie filmmakers, many specializing in particular genres. The CineSpin site maintains a growing list of distribution, funding, and marketing options in a forum format, great for discussing with other filmmakers.

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