Gary White concludes his look at what you should be doing with your short film to best get it seen by examining the world of distribution.
If your film has good sales potential, or has won any significant awards, you are much more likely to register on a distributor’s radar. Some types of film are more likely to sell than others—as a rule “family friendly” films have more potential; strong language, nudity or excessive violence make a film harder to sell. Perhaps unfair but inescapably true. If your film has won any significant awards, the Oscar being the holy grail, you are likely to be offered an advance on future sales, but do not expect this unless your film is getting a lot of attention. The filmmaker/distributor relationship is really quite straight forward: You provide a master of the film (the aforementioned file, and possibly some tape formats depending on their needs) and a number of supporting materials. They then sell it on your behalf to international TV broadcasters and take a percentage of the income as their fee.
You might have limited success trying to sell the film directly to broadcasters yourself, but the simple truth is that broadcasters usually do not want to deal with content creators directly. It might sound haughty but it is a very pragmatic issue for them; why deal with a thousand different production companies and independent filmmakers when you can deal with ten distributors instead? There are only so many business relationships that one can maintain. Many of them feel so strongly about this that they will suggest films that they have seen and liked at festivals to their preferred distributor, as they would much rather license the film through them rather than have to deal directly with the filmmakers. When choosing a distributor bear in mind that a distribution deal is an exclusive contract, so choose carefully; you are signing over your rights to your film for a number of years. Some distributors rely more on quantity over quality and so may not be able to give your film the attention it deserves. Ask other filmmakers that have worked with them before to see if they will suit you.
The majority of sales will likely be made within the first year, though many films go on to get occasional sales down the line for years to come, which often makes a nice surprise for the filmmaker who has moved on to other projects by then! The final stage in the life of your film is to go online, and there are debates being had over how early this should happen. There are a few things to keep in mind: The vast majority of festivals will not accept films that have been broadcast publicly (online or TV) as they have lost their exclusivity—this is also why your distributor will not make any sales with a start date before the end of your festival run. While an Oscar win or nomination may seem like the world of fantasy, there have been several wins and numerous nominations for Irish shorts over the years, and your film being available online will rule it out immediately.
While TV broadcasters do not insist on the same level of exclusivity they are still less likely to license a film if it is freely available online, so uploading it to Vimeo can be a serious detriment. With that said, the online world of short films is becoming more and more diverse and prestigious in its own right. Short of the Week, a website that showcases top-quality short films, tends to generate a large amount of attention for some shorts, so there is definitely a trade-off to be made. Many directors view a short film as a stepping stone to bigger things, so may want publicity and attention over sales and income. Ultimately it depends entirely on the specific circumstances of your film and what you hope it will achieve over its life time.
Gary White is Media Content Manager for Network Ireland Television – an international distributor for TV and film, primarily selling to TV broadcasters around the world.