What You Should Keep When Selling Your Documentary Film
By Anna Darrah & Jilann Spitzmiller
With film distribution evolving as quickly as technology is adapting to meet consumers’ needs, it’s a tough time to keep up with the best way to get your film out to the world. The great thing is that any and every film can find its audience today, regardless of budget, large company interest or marketing dollars. Even older films can find new distribution on digital platforms. As filmmakers, we are more empowered than ever. But you really need to know how to navigate this new landscape of distribution to maximize your power and profits. And each one of your films might take quite a different path.
One of the most important things to keep in mind as you begin to distribute your film is the list of rights that you should carve out for yourself when making deals with distributors. Sometimes as filmmakers we give away our power and our rights too easily, just grateful that we have any kind of distribution deal at all. We forget that we are the ones with the valuable property, and that therefore, we have leverage, too.
Here is a list of must-have rights that we recommend you negotiate to keep in your court:
- The Right to Sell Digital Streaming and Downloads from your film’s web site.
- The Right to sell DVDs, BluRays and Special Packages from your film’s web site.
- The Right to Sell DVDs, BluRays and Merchandise at public appearances.
There are also three other rights which are a bit more complicated and take some negotiating finesse, as they involve windows and other licensing considerations.
These three other rights are:
- Public Television Rights – when handled properly, this can be lucrative for you.
- Educational and Specialty Markets can be Non-Exclusive.
- Semi and non-theatrical can be Non-Exclusive.
Most distributors will work with you in allowing you to retain the rights listed above. And you will find that they can be critically important to your bottom line. These are all areas of potential profit that you can pursue on your own, and they can be quite lucrative for long periods of time if you play it right. Keeping these rights is also a fail safe, in the event that your distributor doesn’t perform well for your film.
As technology and entertainment evolves, the power rests in the hands of the content creators. Getting clear on what to keep while you’re selling your film is the first step to insuring that you will be profiting from your own work, and thereby creating a sustainable and satisfying career for many years to come.