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 http://www.meadkerr.com

Clare Kerr, producer, Mead Kerr.