Adventures in Self Distribution: Three Case Studies

Long after they wrap their films, independent filmmakers struggle to get their projects seen by as many people as possible. A distribution deal with a mainstream distribution company is, of course, the Holy Grail. And in the quest for a deal, a filmmaker’s family ties will often get strained, their bank accounts will dwindle, and their stress level will surge.

One of the worst parts about the distribution game is that getting your film into a lot of festivals is by no means a guarantee of success. Even a film accepted at Sundance only has about a 5 percent shot of landing a deal.

So what’s an indie filmmaker to do? One option—often more of a necessary evil than an alternative lifestyle—is to self distribute your film. This takes hard work, going theater to theater, pleading your case, perfecting your sales pitch, and praying, if you do get a chance to screen your film, that the house will fill before the opening credits role. For this, the fourth part of The Independent’s special report on the state of film distribution, we asked three filmmakers fresh off self-distribution success to explain how they pulled it off. Here are their stories:

Case Study No. 1
The Sensation of Sight

Filmmaker Buzz McLaughlin wasn’t happy with the few distribution offers he received for his film, The Sensation of Sight (watch the trailer), which stars David Strathairn as an encyclopedia salesman in a small New England town. So McLaughlin decided to distribute the film himself in New Hampshire. Could he sell out a theater with more than 900 seats? And even if he could, what would that say about the film’s financial viability? To read more about McLaughlin’s efforts, click here.

Case Study No. 2

When she couldn’t find a distributor for her documentary Buddy:The Rise and Fall of America’s Most Notorious Mayor, a documentary about Buddy Cianci, the colorful mayor of Providence, Rhode Island, Cherry Arnold went to a local art house looking for help. The booker gave her some advice that he meant sarcastically, and that hurt her feelings. But she actually followed it, to great success. To read more about Arnold’s efforts, click here.

Case Study No. 3
On Broadway

Writer-director Dave McLaughlin and producer-actor Lance Greene took inspiration from their own screenplay: On Broadway (watch the trailer) is the story of a working-class Boston man named Jack (played by Joey McIntyre), who writes a play and then has to figure out how where it might be produced. He ultimately settles on a bar on Broadway, the main drag in South Boston from which the film draws its title. Just as their protagonist showed on creativity and tenacity in making sure his artistic vision found full expression, the filmmakers hustled to get On Broadway screened in a handful of Boston-area theaters. Along the way, they turned their cause into a community event. To read more about their efforts, click here.

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