Today on the direct-to-video blog Your Video Store Shelf, author Greg Conley relays this eye-opening quote about the nature of marketing by DVD distributors concerning their low budget acquisitions:
Far too often filmmakers listen to distributors when they talk about the incredible advertising that will be done for their film, not knowing that every company embellishes; some more than others. To these naive low budgeters, there’s no purpose in seeking out promotion from smaller avenues because they feel the larger bases are covered. As a result of this, along with a variety of other factors, there is not a single word written on the internet about many of the movies you can rent at Blockbuster.
This is very telling and seems indicative of the shell game that occurs in this business. Distributors are here to make money (that's why it's called "show business" and not "show art" a film teacher once told me) and they need content to sell to video store chains. Since that first sale of tens of thousands of units is their goal, they don't need to market at all. All that does is cut into their profit margin. Some companies obviously do promote releases, and other obviously do nothing.
Filmmakers, on the other hand, desire marketing because they want lots of people to know about the movie they killed themselves to make. Even if your film lines the shelves of video rental stores across the nation, who cares if no one sees it? I suppose it is a feather in your cap to say you've been distributed, but if you have nothing to show for it, how do you go about making another one?
While I'm a big believer in the self-distribution model, it really doesn't matter how you distribute if you can manage to get the word out. However you do it (and there are lots of ideas here on this blog), buzz creation will lead people to seek out your film and watch it. Get lots of people doing this and they will talk about it, possibly motivating others. It's the domino effect.
Creating good word of mouth can also provide leverage for a better deal when meeting with a traditional distributor. Don't get starry-eyed just because someone has power to put you in a ton of stores. You have what they want and need. If all your efforts mean nothing to them, go somewhere else (and let them know that is your intent). There are lots of fish in the distribution sea. If none of them meet your requirements, do it yourself.
If you are hoping that going traditional will save you a lot of work, guess again. It's more than apparent that if you don't promote your movie, no one else will. Filmmaking is hard work. Don't let it be in vain by dropping the ball when everything is "done." Continue to work hard pushing awareness and you will be rewarded. Stop, and you will have little to show for it.