Distribution: What Film Distributors Really Want

AIMCEvery day, Australian distributors are contacted by local filmmakers with all kinds of ideas, styles and budgets, hoping that their projects will get picked up. Few succeed. While some elements – an engaging story with the potential to capture the attention of an audience – should be obvious, there are certain things that distribution executives want producers to know in order to make the best out of that first contact. This is their advice.

“As a producer, you need to know what you can realistically expect deal-wise from a distributor, which rights you are giving away and who does what.

Be realistic about your project. Comparing your film to lighting-in-a-bottle successes like Slumdog Millionaire or Lantana isn’t compelling enough. A producer once pitched her project by saying “This is a tiny art house movie and you won’t make much money, but it will be amazing and your risk is low”. And we got involved.” Andrew Mackie, Transmission Films

“You need a specific target audience. The worst thing a producer can say to a distributor is ‘this film is for all people 8 to 80’”. Robert Slaviero, Hoyts Distribution

“If producers are making mistakes, it is in the area of not perceiving how their film might actually fit into the eventual commercial demands of exhibitors and audiences.” Mark Spratt, Potential Films

“We need a cast, story or execution that warrants the huge amount of work and money we have to invest in to get the film into cinemas and seen. Think different or bigger – don’t just emulate.” AM

“Aside from the bleeding obvious – something with an audience – you can’t go past working with people who are open to collaboration and have a sense of humour.” Nicolas Whatson, Palace Films.

“Often the most basic knowledge regarding how the money flows from the consumer back to the production is lacking. This is essential.” AM

“There needs to be a greater level of trust towards distributors when it comes to releasing the finished film. At the end of the day, we are all working towards the same goal.” RS

“Producers need to put themselves in our shoes and indeed, our business. We’re valuing projects from all over the world based on cast, director, script, target audience, how distinctive the material is, costs to release vs. potential returns, etc. It’s very competitive and a strong storyline is just the beginning.” Greg Hughes, Icon Film Distribution

“We need a relationship of participation, but also of standing back and listening and respecting points of view and understanding that process.” James Hewison, Madman Entertainment

“A continual dialogue between the distribution side of the industry and the organisations and producers themselves is critical.” Joel Pearlman, Roadshow Films

“[A common mistake] is sending us scripts that aren’t quite ready. You get one shot”. AM

“We receive projects that have no finance in place, no cast ideas, underdeveloped scripts. Nothing I hate more than being told there is a “new” draft after reading a script.” RS

“Some of the lesser experienced producers come to us thinking that just because they have a script, they have a film. We can’t really value a script, with no attachments, no matter what country it’s from.” GH

“We’re still a country that suffers from lack of script development. We see too many scripts that just aren’t ready and are a long way from going into production.” JP


“It’s incredibly difficult to find great material in this market that you believe has the potential to attract a broad audience. They’re rare and precious, and there can often be quite a lot of competition for those because of their potential.

There are many projects that we think are worthy, but we are only going to back a few that we can effectively bring to market. We make no apology for the fact that we’re seeking films that can be successful in the marketplace; not just blockbusters, but those that can find an audience, even if it’s limited.” JP

“It’s always surprising when producers don’t seem to be able to identify – let alone articulate – their target audience.” NW

“Sometimes I’m a little surprised that the pitching of films is done in a fairly clandestine fashion, like a covert operation where someone rides a motorbike, throws something at our door step and escapes without making any contact.

One forms an opinion not only about the story and the financial structure of how the film might be financed and indeed made, but ultimately this is a relationship that will last for a number of years, so we need to know that they will be able to deliver the film they said they would, and that they will work closely with us to deal with the realities of the marketplace.“ JH

“There are many people I’ve worked with over the years that I’d love to work with again, and thankfully, only a few that I’d pass on.” RS

“Getting that balance right between the personal passion and the rigors of the marketplace, that’s a difficult thing to get right.” JH

“We want a film that will work here, first and foremost, and not necessarily overseas. Distributors look for a film that will garner local critic and public support that delivers a profitable result, whether that is theatrically or after some of the other ancillaries are exploited.” Stephen Basil-Jones, Sony Pictures Releasing


“Anything that can stimulate production is good as long as the end result is good. We judge everything based on its merits, so if there’s more production that we can become involved with, it would be terrific.” JH

“It ensures that the development process has a commercial sensibility, which is vitally important. We need to make sure that we are choosing the right companies to take this responsibility.” Troy Lum, Hopscotch Films

“If we could find a workable model, it would definitely be of interest, but it needs to be effective in terms of financing and in terms of the revenue model for both Roadshow and the filmmakers.” JP


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