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Film Distribution: An Arduous Journey Simplified

Read and understand what you are signing before you sign.

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Opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of Rolling Stone editors or publishers.

Creators need to monetize so they can pay back their investors and make more content. In addition, distribution (which has many different names in the current monetization climate, such as market, streaming, monetizing, etc.) solidifies you as a vetted content creator and allows people to watch your content.

This is an overview to help make the film distribution journey less arduous from my background as a producer. This is not from an attorney’s standpoint.

1. Read your contracts, always.

I can’t even begin to tell you how many platforms we don’t work with because they do not protect your IP, they sell your data, have mandatory crowd gathering clauses or have options to sell off to other unknown parties. Some, in reality, are using your content to build their business or are in beta so they are using your info for their R&D and financial gain. And in this case, it’s likely your contract doesn’t give you any monies in return. It certainly will not give you any IP protection.

1a. Transparency is key here.

Right now, we’re seeing people in the industry that say they work with a company and CC that team in the negotiations, yet in essence, their email extension shows otherwise (Gmail, Yahoo, etc.), so we request transparency into the relationship. This can give you a better idea of the true dynamics and money guarantee (MG) — the potential or not for the creator to recoup the larger percentage.

2. Get the details.

When you read the agreement, find out what the terms and payouts are. Are there any hidden fees or upfront costs? Do they do marketing, and if so, do they charge you for it?

3. Whatever is said in a phone call is just talk.

What is in the agreement you sign is what both parties have to follow. My suggestion would be to spend time searching the history of the company and the people involved. I’ve learned that most people who leave reviews are complaining because their demands were not met or because they thought they were promised something that wasn’t in the agreement they signed. Some people love to scream online, so I don’t pay much attention to those. I do look for business acumen. Agreements are like a marriage: Do you really want to live/work with a screamer?

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4. Remember, people in the business talk to each other.

A colleague recently reached out to me after reading an agreement from a well-vetted company to share his thoughts after reading the agreement. He explained that in the agreement, although the filmmaker retains all their own rights, they give this company all rights too. They also make no assurances of what the filmmaker will receive. They don’t make any of that clear in the “simple” explanation of the terms — it’s just implied through using the service.

To be honest, I wasn’t shocked. But it goes to prove that people in this industry talk.

5. Be cautious and do your research.

In the 12 years we have been distributing, we have experienced many situations. We have seen companies offer distribution, then once you sign the agreement, they say they will not do anything until you bring X amount of audience members. We know from the backend that platforms most creators think pay the most, actually don’t.

What does this all mean? Read your contracts even if you do hire legal. Read and understand what you are signing before you sign. You can ask for changes but not all companies can do so or will want to do so. Do your due diligence.

The information provided here is not legal advice and does not purport to be a substitute for advice of counsel on any specific matter. For legal advice, you should consult with an attorney concerning your specific situation.

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