Distribution 202

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.

If you haven't read Distribution 101, please do so now. It provides a glossary of the terms I will be using in this section.

The obvious reason your reading this is get an insight into the do's and don't on how to get your film distributed. I will touch on a number of issues that should be helpful in this regard.

Origin of the Species: First and foremost, even before you decide to make a film you should have a clear idea on who would be the audience for this film, and what type of buyers might be interested in acquiring your film when it's done.

I know that many of you just rolled your eyes because I mentioned issues such as buyers and audience. I know you are all artists, and don't really want to soil your vision by factoring in the commercial realities of filmmaking.

But you better. The sad reality for independent filmmakers is that most independent films don't earn anywhere near the amount that it costs to produce them, let alone get any distribution at all, and if you want to make more than one film in your life and your last name is not Gates, or Buffet, an inability to achieve one or both of these goals will make it very hard for you to raise additional monies to make your next film.

And by independent films I am not taking about the films released by Miramax or Fox Search Light with production budgets of 20 million dollars, starring Tim Roth in which Bruce Willis does a supporting role for scale ('cause he likes the project). These are not independent films. They are non-studio films.

I'm speaking about real independent films, whether they be features, doc's or series made for anything between $30,000 to 5 million dollars.

Whatever the budget, a clear idea on audience and marketability are fundamental to the end goal of getting your film distributed and sold.

All distributors (big and small) ask themselves these two simple questions when they decide if they will acquire a film, so your film should reflect these realities. They also take into account the international market, which has become a key to profitability in the industry.

What I mean in practical terms is the film that you decide to make must be achievable within the budget that you operate under in order to reach the desired audience and be attractive to buyers worldwide.

Example: You may want to make a comedy for a budget of $200,000 starring your real funny cousin and a very talented young women you got thru an audition.You think the script is funny, and it may be.

But the reality is that comedy is one of the hardest types of films to sell, because comedy is so subjective, and the only ones that seem to work and draw an audience are those with proven comedic names attached such as Jim Carey, Eddie Murphy or in a smaller way Ben Stiller. Which are unrealistic at this budget range.

Additionally, comedy doesn't sell well internationally, (remember they don't speak English over there) and our humor is often lost on the audience, particularly in Asia. Keep in mind, Seinfeld failed when sold to Japanese Television.

So what does this have to do with identifying an audience? Very simple. When you make your film you have to have a good idea on who's going to want to see this epic. If you say everybody, your wrong. Unless you produce, Spiderman for $150 million dollars you better focus on an audience niche that you really understand, that you have the budget to reach, and go for that audience.

Meaning, that if you are making a documentary on crime or history the audience for those programs are educated men 35 to 55 with a few dollars in their pocket. This audience can be both a domestic audience or international audience who will most likely be viewing this kind of film on television. So the likely buyer is a TV broadcaster. So cut the film for a television length (we will focus on this later) and make your subject matter of interest to those living both inside and outside of the US. So that a well researched film about the history of an Indian fort in Ohio, probably only has realistically possibilities for a US audience, so you might have to rethink your film if you need to reach a greater audience then that to recoup your budget.

If your making an action film your audience is young, 15-30, male, and is a worldwide audience. They like there action hard, their pacing fast, and their story uncomplicated. So give them action. Don't muddle the film by turning an action film into a moving drama about young lovers, one who is really funny, and the other who is very philosophical and likes to muse about the meaning of life while fighting cancer.

An action film is sold for it's elements, not it's story. I have sold action films to Asian buyers who fast forward thru the film counting explosions and gun play. If it has enough of both, they buy it.

This is what I mean by knowing who your audience is before you make the film, and what your buyer is looking for.

I know that many of you are cursing me and screaming at your monitor. What about Clerks! What about Brother's McMullen! What about Blair Witch. Your odds to have happen to your film what happen to these films are somewhere akin to winning the powerball lottery. It doesn't happen that way for most filmmakers so develop a film with an audience in mind, within the budget and cast you can achieve, and produce a final product that will be attractive to distributors.

This is not an exact science governed by the basic laws of nature, but it is govern by commercial realities. In baseball the best major league hitters never try to hit a homerun every time they go to bat. What they try to do is simply follow certain fundamentals and hit the ball hard as often as they can with the realization that if they do that enough the odds are that more balls will fall for base hits then be caught, and if they hit the ball hard enough it will go over the fence. If they do that consistently, they will always be given more times a bat.

You can read more of our distribution tips by visiting pages Distribution 101 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.