What is a film distributor?
A distribution company is responsible for providing a film to its largest possible audience. In other words, every single thing you see or hear about a film, is all thanks to its distributor.
They are accountable for multiple things from creating a buzz (through advertising), to increasing ticket sales for revenue, to getting film’s onto our theatre screens, to setting release dates, creating film posters, organising (our favourite of all) film premiere’s and more! A distributor will become involved in a film by investing money into it, buying the rights to the film or being automatically linked to the parent production company (e.g. Buena Vista is a distribution company associated with Walt Disney Pictures, the parent company).
A distributor’s main goal is to enhance ticket sales, turn their investment into profit and increase the overall box office revenue. How successful a film is promoted can often reflect on how well it performs in cinemas.
How does a distributor make money?
The amount of money a distributor makes, depends on how well a film is perceived in cinema as they will receive a percentage (ranging between 10-50 percent) of overall ticket sales at the end of its theatrical run. This figure varies for each film and is mutually-agreed between the studio/distributor and theatre chain, and is based upon the estimated revenue.
Distribution is a risky business; it can either be a win win or a huge loss in money which is why it’s crucial for a distributor to work super hard at the opportunity of getting as many ticket sales as possible. The more ticket sales they receive, the closer they are at surpassing their investment to make a profitable return.
If they fail at receiving a paying audience, they won’t make profit and hence lose their investment money (which is definitely not the goal). They must strategically market a film to its highest possible standard in order to make a return.
However, a distributor won’t just make money in theatrical ticket sales; they’ll make money by obtaining ancillary rights (from merchandising and home viewing) thereafter. Let’s take The Avengers for example – although the film was a theatrical success, the money making didn’t stop there (and probably never will)! Following the cinematic release, there came collectible action figures, toys, clothing, accessories, video games, homeware – you name it! Combining the sales of all these products, along with DVD and cinema ticket sales, the distribution company (Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures) is now rolling in unimaginable amounts of money. But, none of that would’ve happened if it wasn’t so heavily promoted in the first place and successful at the box office.
Other than money, what else do distributors get?
Distribution companies don’t just get money back for the money they invest; they ultimately own rights to the film and the characters involved and if they decide to sell the rights on, they can make even more profit!
How much does it cost to distribute a film?
The cost to distribute a film will differ for each one but usually requires some serious cash – millions of dollars. The production budget of a film does not include distribution which is why a distribution company comes in handy when the production company needs funding to actually release the film! The question is: How much promotion does the film need?
Deadpool for example, was a film that had a year-long marketing campaign leading up to its cinematic release. Through 20th Century Fox’s multiple Deadpool advertisements, Deadpool became a hysterical character with a likeable factor making the audience eager for the film to hit the big screen. Taking into consideration it was an R-rated movie (which is why it took 10 years for the film to be greenlit), Fox really needed to launch a memorable campaign to go viral – which they did across social media.
As you can imagine, this did not come cheap but despite the surprisingly smaller budget than usual (precise figure is unknown), it paid off in more ways than one. Deadpool is currently the highest-grossing R-rated film ever and holds many more records therefore, the risk Fox took to distribute Deadpool was a risk worth taking!
What are the key things a distributor must think about when releasing a film?
- What is the genre of the film?
- Who is the target audience? Will it appeal to anyone outside of this?
- Does the cast include any critically acclaimed actors whose fans will naturally be appealed to the film?
- Are people already familiar with the film’s title? (Is it based on a best-selling book?)
- What is the age certification and how will this affect the audience?
- When should the film be released? At what time of year, season, holiday?
- Will this film be screened in selected cinemas or nationwide?
- When are where shall the movie trailer be debuted? (e.g. On a talk show, during the Super Bowl half-time show)
- What is the reputation of the director, cast members?
What are the departments in a distribution company?
- Finance and accounting
- Legal and business affairs
What are some well-known distribution companies?
- 20th Century Fox
- Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
- Sony Pictures
- Warner Bros.
- Universal Pictures
By Simran Seehra