Film: DIY distribution

TALK to any group of producers and filmmakers and they will tell you of wonderful, small films that were loved by film festival audiences but shelved by distributors or marketed badly upon their release.

In fact, the great percentage of UK films never even see the light of a projector.

Having received wonderful responses from festival audiences and having won the BAFTA Scotland Audience award in 2005, I was determined this would not happen to our film, Night People.

It’s risky backing a film with new talent: distributors get leery about spending marketing money on untested talent, and I don’t blame them. We’ve all seen how, even with big names and huge marketing campaigns, films often fail to find an audience for more than their opening weekend.

Having lived with Night People through a year of festival and competition screenings, we had a very clear understanding of who our audience is and where the film will play well. So, we decided, rather than hand the film, and any potential earnings, over to a small distributor, we would take control and distribute in the UK ourselves.

The main incentive to self-distribute in the UK has been the development and installation of digital technology. Night People is one of the first UK features to fully exploit the digital filmmaking process. Shot on high definition (HD) video, finished to HD Cam, and then screened from a hard drive, the pictures and sound quality are stunning and have been praised by audiences and critics.

With high-quality digital projectors being installed in cinemas throughout the UK, this does away with the cost of producing and transporting bulky, 35mm prints.

The costs of distributing a film like Night People have plummeted over the last two years.

Consequently, we could see no reason not to approach cinemas directly and use the film and digital prints we already had from the festival circuit.

A cinema release is essentially a marketing tool. In many ways, Night People would do us just as much good with or without a cinema release.

We’ve already developed significant relationships with the financiers of our next films, based on them watching the DVD of Night People. These are highly experienced people who have made bigger budget films and have first-look deals with the likes of Miramax.

They think Night People is great but what really gets their attention is when we say we’re in charge
of distribution with two bookings already secured. People with real experience know that this is a triumph.

Many, many films are released to one or two screens and then either moved around or more prints are struck if the audiences are good. It’s a bit like managing a new band. You go out on the road, pick venues carefully, play some key dates and then release the CD – only, in our case, it’ll be a DVD.

Now, if this model is good enough for the music industry, why can’t it work for movies, especially low budget movies? When you don’t spend millions making and marketing the film, you don’t have to make billions to be in profit.

So far, it’s been a fantastic learning experience and everything has gone to plan. With support from stv’s press office, we’ve had plenty of coverage and good reviews.

Night People opened this weekend in Edinburgh Cineworld at Fountain Park and Glasgow’s GFT, with a wider release planned after Christmas.

For more info see

Clare Kerr, producer, Mead Kerr.