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Producing an Independent Documentary Part 5: Acquisition, Distribution & Delivery


Andrea HeadshotOnce our film was acquired, I (for a brief second) suffered from the naïve notion that acquisition was close to the end. In fact, your film being acquired is just one more stop on the filmmaker’s journey.

Some may actually decide to self-distribute their film. Through the proliferating distribution avenues across the many devices and screens now available, there are more chances than ever of getting your project in front of an audience. In success, self distributed films are likely to be more profitable for the filmmaking team; however, it is extremely time-consuming and requires constant vigilance and hustle. In our case, all of the producers and the director are fully employed. We make films in our free time, so it was determined that MY AMITYVILLE HORROR, our first feature length project, would seek acquisition. Failing that, we would then reassess the self-distribution options available.

Through hard work and extraordinary good luck, we were able to secure terrific sales agents for both domestic and foreign. Our film caught the eye of a few domestic distributors, but ultimately we went with IFC Midnight / Sundance Selects who acquired the documentary for a day and date release in the US. Day and date meaning that we did have a small theatrical release on the same day that it was released on VOD and streaming for rental. After that window, there were several months before the US DVD was released, in conjunction with the film being available on Netflix and streaming / VOD to own. We have since sold the rights in the UK/Ireland to Arrow Films and so the film was released on DVD there October 28th. We are still able to sell the rights in Canada and everywhere else, so I am hoping (like many of you, I’m sure) that the international independent film market picks up, giving the film more of a chance to sell across the world.

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Once you are in discussions for acquisitions, deal terms are initially sent out and shot back and forth, until a long form contract is generated (unless both parties agree to keep it to a short deal memo). I am thankful for my experience working at a big talent agency because it allowed me to learn how to generally read complex contracts. Even though we have attorneys who ultimately handle all of our legal aspects, we always made it a point to read them ourselves. Even if you have to ask questions, it’s better to know what you’re signing. Then…there comes the delivery schedule.

Delivery. Even now, the word strikes terror in my heart. All of the tedious processes and record keeping REALLY show here. A delivery schedule is a list of all of the assets, documents, formats, press materials, everything that the distributor requires from you. Documents can include complete transcription of the film (for closed captioning and subtitles) to all of the physical material that you must coordinate with a post house to create (like an HDCAM master, a DCP and various other formats depending on the requirements). On top of that, you have a deadline and quality checking, so there’s a chance that you may have to go back and redo elements if they are not up to par, as well as any press mentions collected into one document (even if it’s an online review), all contracts, archival material, and much more paperwork than you can imagine.

Delivery and the actual production are the two portions of filmmaking that I find to be the most stressful. The better your preproduction, the better both will go.

Even now, we’re not done. Once we close a deal in Canada, we will have to deliver any materials that they require. Thankfully, since we have a foreign sales agent, all further delivery for international territories will be handled by them. The great thing that came of all of this is that now, with our next project, we know what will be required of us at the end, and can better prepare for it in the beginning. We also know specifically which aspects of delivery or post are more likely to be problematic and are able to watch out for that in the future. Furthermore, we are just now starting to gain receipt reports from our US release, so I can’t really speak to you in regards to that. I do know that it is important to ask any and all questions upfront, so that you are regarded as being interested, aware and committed to paying attention to what the film’s report is saying. Sage advice from another filmmaker.

Overall, both distribution companies we have worked with so far have been extremely accommodating and a pleasure to work with. I couldn’t be happier. Now, here’s to hoping the next one goes as well! While my journey with MY AMITYVILLE HORROR is not over, this five part series on producing the documentary is, so if there are questions you have that I did not answer, feel free to leave them in the comments section below or send me a Tweet at @andrealadams and I am happy to respond!

Thanks for following along and best of luck in your filmmaking adventures!

Andrea Adams

About Andrea Adams

Andrea Adams Spellman is a Colorado transplant who has worked at companies including Anonymous Content, WME Entertainment, Team Todd and Davis Entertainment. She has received credit in Disney’s ALICE IN WONDERLAND, THE ROMANTICS and CHRONICLE. Andrea produced the documentary MY AMITYVILLE HORROR on Netflix, DVD and VOD. Andrea now works for a software company that supports the entertainment industry by day and (attempts to) write by night. Andrea fosters dogs through Much Love Animal Rescue, is a Daughter of the American Revolution and a P.E.O. member. She got married in September 2015 and her current obsessions include her husband's shrimp tacos, Stranger Things and tennis.