Distribution 101

Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Art Skopinsky. I am the President of Monarch Films, Inc.   I started in the film distribution business over 20 years ago, working in theatrical distribution for Troma Films. From there, I became Vice President of Donald L Velde, Inc. a distributor of theatrical promotional materials for major studios, independents, and for advertising agencies to theaters through out the USA.  Within Donald L. Velde, Inc. I created Monarch Films, Inc., and theatrically booked numerous features to over 200 arthouse theaters, museums, and colleges in large markets and small all over North America. Eventually Monarch developed into a distributor of programming for the international market. We currently distribute over 250 hours of non-fiction programing to over 75 countries worldwide.

In my career I have distributed low-budget action films, shlocky horror movies, foreign language art house films, award winning documentaries, and reality series. I have lectured singularly and as the part of many panel sessions on international distribution at IFFM and other film festivals

Consider these pages and the others included here, as a kind of college seminar series on Film Distribution, My attempt here is not to encourage the reader to become a distributor (there are too many of us as is now), but to educate the producer as to have a knowledgeable and realistic view of the realities of distributing a film, or series either on the domestic or worldwide markets. In the interest of brevity I will refer to feature films, documentaries, series, specials, etc... as films. So assume unless I specify otherwise that each definition refers to your film no matter what it's format.

I think the best way to start is to cover a brief glossary of terms used in distribution. Other people may have different definitions, but these are mine.

Distributor

The strict definition of a distributor is a major like Universal or Paramount who distributes a film under their company name or under another company owned by them in all media worldwide.

But in reality the world is too big, the marketing of films to different medias to complex and costly, so that no one company, whether it is a major, or mini-major like Miramax, can do it alone. Most companies operated as what I would call Distributor/Sales Agents. Meaning typically that they may release their pictures themselves theatrically, license the video rights to another company, sell the TV rights to a broadcaster, and then repeat that procedure in every country worldwide. Or they may choose only to license the picture to TV and Video because the film may not be able to succeed in the theatrical market. A distributor may take all rights or only partial rights.

Broker

This is usually either a specialist in the licensing of programming to one media only, such as TV or more likely specializing in one country only. Brokers are particularly common in France, Germany, and Italy. They are essentially middleman who only look to past on rights to the highest bidder, and really don't seek to hold the rights to a program for very long.

Producers rep

I don't have much use for producers reps. Don't get me wrong, there are some very good ones like John Pierson, and John Sloss, who have carved out there own places in the industry. But most producer's reps are hangers on and party goers who's knowledge of the industry comes from reading Variety, and who's industry contacts consist of knowing what the acquisition person from Miramax looks like. They may have a hi/bye relationship with distributors, but not much more. Remember if they really had experience selling films they would go where the money is, and work for a real distributor or set up there own shop.

I would recommend that unless your very green in this business, and need someone to show you around because you just got your picture in Sundance. Avoid these people and save that percentage. You are best off learning the basics yourself.

Negative Pickup

That's what all filmmakers run around and say they want. A negative pickup is a straight sale of all your materials, and all your rights on the film, including the copyright.

Distribution or Representational Agreement

This is the kind of agreement that most producers end up working under. What this is, is that in exchange for the right to sell the film, the distribution indicates contractually what percentages he gets and that the producer receives, how many years the rights are held for, and what expenses that occur in the distribution of the film can be charged against all monies generated from the sale, or distribution of the film in whatever media's you have contracted for.

Expenses

Expenses are an area that producer's like to pretend doesn?t exist until they get there first sales statement. There is no free lunch! Everything is expensive. To go to a film market like MIP or AFM or Cannes the average costs for a distributor can start as low as $10,000 and go as high as $200,0000 depending on the size of the distributor's operation. And then there are other costs, promotional, delivery and production of materials, printing, phone calls, faxes, and on and on and on. Not to mentioned advertising and travel expenses. This is not an inexpensive business, so have a clear idea in all deals that you sign what your distributor can charge back against your film.

Film markets vs festivals

Many places such as the Toronto Film Festival and IFFM bill themselves as film markets but in my mind they're not really. Yes, films can be acquired and rights can be purchased there, and something a territory is sold by a distributor at these events, and sometimes a distributor places a film in a festival to gain exposure to theatrical buyers, but on the whole these are really only events where a producer can exhibit their film to gain distribution. The really markets are those that draw only sellers and buyers of films such as:

NATPE: Domestic and International TV market held yearly for three days around January 22th. Geared to the sale of TV series, documentaries, and feature film packages directly to worldwide television. The event is held either in Las Vegas or New Orleans.

AFM (American Film Market). Is a worldwide sales market held yearly around February 24th for one week.. Geared almost totally toward independent feature film sales, in particular action or star driven films for theatrical, TV, and Video release. This event is held in Santa Monica, California.

MIP: A Worldwide Television Sales market held yearly for 6 days around the first week of April. Geared turn the sale of TV series, documentaries, and feature film packages directly to worldwide television. The event is held in Cannes, France. A two day event called MIP-DOC has been added for documentary TV sales only, and occurs right before MIP starts.

Cannes Film Festival: A worldwide sales market held yearly around the first week of May for three weeks. Geared almost totally toward feature film sales, in particular action or star driven films for theatrical, TV, and Video release. The event is held in Cannes, France. It is the market that everyone knows, but in reality the AFM is a far more important event in terms sales for independent films.

MIPCOM: A worldwide Television Sales market held yearly for 5 days around the first week of October. Geared toward the sale of TV series, documentaries, and feature film packages directly to worldwide television. The event is held in Cannes, France. A two day event called MIP-JUNIOR has been added for children program sales only, and occurs right before MIPCOM starts.

MIFED-A worldwide sales market held yearly around the first week of November for one week.. Geared almost totally toward independent feature film sales, in particular action or star driven films for theatrical, TV, and Video release. The event is held in Milan, Italy.

There are specific events that are geared to the sales of particular kinds of programing such as the Sunny Side of the Doc and the Amsterdam Documentary market for documentaries, or Claremont Ferrent for shorts, or Sportel for sports programming, but the markets I have indicated above are the key events for most of the industry.

You can read more of our distribution tips by visiting Distribution 202 and Distribution 303.

Mr. Skopinsky is available to speak before your organization or appear on your film festival panel. If you would like to have him appear, email a formal request to monarchfilms@aol.com with details, such as the dates requested, the event, and the compensation or travel package if any provided.