It was during an undergraduate film course on global cinema when I first became fascinated in how films circulate and reach viewers. Picture it: a group of fifteen 20- year olds watching films like Mehrjui’s The Cow and Omirbajev’s Student in rural Vermont, USA. Two years later, as a Film, Exhibition & Curation MSc student, I was even more determined to dig deeper into the mechanics of film distribution and sales. I successfully applied for an internship with Film Movement, an indie film distributor, and left Edinburgh for New York City in early May to complete an intensive four-month placement. Film Movement is a North American distributor of award-winning independent and foreign films. Since its launch in 2002, Film Movement has released more than 250 feature films and shorts from 50 countries across 6 continents, and regularly acquires top contenders at Sundance, Cannes, Venice, Toronto, Berlin, Tribeca and, more recently, Hot Docs and AFI Docs. I wanted to work for Film Movement specifically for two reasons: its business model is truly “full service”: Film Movement releases its films through art-house cinemas, universities, libraries, television channels, Cable VOD platforms, broadband outlets, in-flight entertainment systems and on home video. Secondly, the small size of staff—15 people or so—meant greater responsibilities for even the most junior employees. With only four months, I wanted to maximize what I could learn on the job. As an exhibition intern, I assisted with general office administration but worked as a kind of assistant to Film Movement’s Director of Public Relations and Promotions Genevieve Villaflor, an incredibly sharp woman with vast knowledge of the industry. Under her guidance, I wrote press releases and press kits for new acquisitions and regional theatrical screenings, and tracked press coverage of Film Movement titles across print, broadcast and online outlets. This also entailed keeping track of the best quotes from positive reviews to use for marketing materials. In addition to handling email inquiries from press outlets, exhibitors, filmmakers, and publicists, I also collated sales reports, updated metadata for digital partners, wrote film synopses, physically prepared and shipped theatrical and publicity assets, quality checked new home entertainment releases, curated short films for the Film of the Month club and helped manage the database spanning hundreds of films.
For fear of writing another dissertation-length piece, I won’t go into detail here addressing the competitive landscape of film distribution and what companies like Film Movement are doing to stay competitive. Instead, I’ve listed below a few tips that I think might be more immediately helpful for the next FECer who wants to pursue a career in indie film distribution:
1) Know your Excel!
2) Familiarize yourself with the schedules of leading film festivals as employees plan their calendars around them.
3) Understand that “VOD” is an umbrella term: there’s Cable VOD; subscription VOD; transactional VOD; ad-supported VOD and other types, all of which operate differently.
4) If you are specifically interested in film publicity and marketing, I urge you to study published press kits, press releases and wrap reports that can be easily accessed online.
5) When possible, ask to sit in on acquisitions meetings. It is endlessly interesting to observe how executives decide what films to acquire and the terms of sale.
6) Read the trades: Variety, The Hollywood Reporter and Screen International are the big three.