Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Distribution - Case Studies

Distribution is fundamental for a film to make profit, or even break even on its costs. A distribution company may be attached to a project during pre-production, especially for Studio productions for which the distribution company will most likely be a sister company of the production company. However, in the independent industry getting distribution can be a significant challenge. Sometimes a distribution company will be attached from the outset; this will significantly help the independent production company attract financiers. Often though, the film will be taken to film festivals in the hope that a film buyer will purchase the film. Independent film companies often employ a sales agent whose role it is to seek out distribution companies for the film.

In our contemporary society, so reliant on digital media, online distribution is a growing area, however using media sharing sites such as www.youtube.com to distribute a film attracts no profit (though it may attract distributors if enough hype is built). There is profit to be made in selling and renting the film via Lovefilm.com and iTunes, though the advertising campaign for the film will have to be strong in order for audiences to be aware enough of the film, to know to download it.

The Distributor’s JobThe distribution company is in charge of getting the film out to audiences, this involves organising for the film to receive an age certificate by regulation bodies, such as the BBFC and MPAA; arranging exhibition outlets globally and DVD/Television rights; arranging for prints of the film; and marketing, publicity and promotion of the film.

The Distribution Process
These latter tasks form the process of alerting audiences to the films’ existence. There are several critical things the distributor must consider in order to create a productive campaign:

A. Who is the target audience?

The distributor will think about the demographic and psychographic profile of the target audience.

Demographic profile includes: gender, age, socio-economic class and ethnicity. There are many measures used for identifying psychographic profiles, however that most commonly used by advertisers is Young and Rubicam’s 4Cs (Cross Cultural Consumer Characterisation): www.4cs.yr.com

B. What do the target audience do?

What magazines and newspapers do they read? Where do they travel and how? What are their interests? What other films are they likely to watch?

The distributor will aim to define everything about the audience, in order to maximise profit for the film, by targeting advertising in the most appropriate places. For example, if the audience is unlikely to take public transport, but likely to purchase political magazines the distributor can avoid tube station posters and instead buy advertising space in The Economist.

The distributor will find out about their audience through surveys and data analysis and will divide their data into three areas:

1. Who the audience is

2. What they think

3. Their media

C. Is there a wider audience this film could appeal to?

Major studio projects are so successful because they are mainly family films. Distributors will look for secondary audiences or whether a film has mass audience appeal, they may create a number of different poster campaigns for example in order to appeal to these different audiences. This means they could advertise the film in trailers and posters as Action/ Adventure (mass appeal), then Science Fiction and Romance (secondary audience) if there are elements of these genres in the film.

D. What major cast or crew are involved in the project?

The distributor will consider how to maximise the exposure of key cast and crew, measuring the successful of their most recent productions will not only allow the distributor to see what audience/s particular stars attract and perhaps widen the audience appeal in the marketing campaign, but it will also allow them to see which stars or crew (mainly the Director/Producer) should feature prominently in the advertising campaign.

Case Study Point
Twilight triggered a zeitgeist for vampire and gothic films aimed at teenagers, thus Hammer’s decision to remake the Swedish film Let the right one in as Let me in, an obscure tale about a young vampire girl was pitched at the right time as the buzz from Twilight was still influencing audiences’ tastes.

F. Pre-existing Property
Films based on pre-existing property are not only safer as they come with a ready-made fan base; they also open up more advertising opportunities as synergy between the two products can be created.

The film’s unique selling point is crucial to the distributor’s campaign: what makes the film special? What makes the film worth watching? What are the main selling points of the film?

Case Study Point
Despite being a safe Hollywood fantasy film, which many people have called a ‘remake of Pocahontas’, Avatar was the highest grossing film of all time, yet without any major stars. The film’s USP (As with many of James Cameron’s films) was the use of digital technology and much of the publicity and marketing focused on this with high resolution posters and HD trailers alongside TV, internet and magazines publicity regarding how the film was made. There was also a major emphasis on IMAX and 3D screenings in the marketing campaign and the film was released in several different formats, the releases of these were staggered to encourage people to buy the ‘newer and better’ version.

Once the distributor has a clear idea of the audience and the film’s assets they can then start to structure a campaign, which will be divided into the following areas:

1. Marketing

2. Publicity

3. Promotion

Marketing includes theatrical poster campaigns, trailers, online and outdoor campaigns. Outdoor will include billboard, bus advertisements and bus stop/ tube and train station posters. Theatrical and trailer campaigns will start with teasers that generally begin with enigmatic images and/or taglines (Cloverfield used the image of the statue of liberty without the head, Transformers the infamous transformer logo) then will build to fuller trailers and posters introducing characters and the plot. The Online campaign will include an official website, downloads, banner advertising (for example on www.imdb.com), viral marketing and use of social networking sites.

Case Study Point
Dark Knight - Viral Marketing
The viral marketing campaign for The Dark Knight was perhaps one of Hollywood’s most spectacular yet and sparked off a major interest in viral marketing in the industry as it exposed the true extent of the format.

Marketing company 42 Entertainment were hired to invent a major viral marketing campaign for the film which centred at first around two websites: www.whysoserious.com and www.ibelieveinharveydent.com (the latter is now closed). I believe in Harvey Dent served as a campaign website for Dent and began to inspire audience members to support him, whilst in contrast, why so serious was a site for fans of the Joker creating instant rivalry between audience members.

Why so Serious lead participants to a game, which started with a secret message, which led to www.rorysdeathkiss.com, challenged people to take photos of themselves in Joker-esque make up in front of recognisable locations. Those who participated were rewarded with physical copies of The Gotham Times, whilst a sister website was created: www.gothamtimes.com. An array of other websites appeared after this, which created the ‘Gotham Universe’ and were related to companies featured in the online newspaper.

The Joker online phenomenon grew to include a larger number of websites and links eventually leading to www.Whysoserious.com/Steprightup that featured a countdown clock to December 4th – the release date for the teaser poster and trailer. This page also contained instructions to pick up packages in 22 American locations at a particular time on that date, the package? – A birthday cake with a cell phone baked into it.

Publicity will make use of the cast and crew. Firstly with a Press Pack sent out to publishing houses with key information about the film, then through magazines and newspaper interviews and articles. A Press junket will be held at which journalists are invited to interview the cast and crew over one day (a great example of a press junket can be seen in the film Notting Hill) and a Press screening will allow reviewers a chance to write reviews of the film before its release. Stars who are considered celebrities by the mainstream press will be followed by the media, adding further publicity to the film. Finally the Premier will gain further exposure for the film.

Promotion involves synergy and cross-promotions such as the release of comic books, novels or games related to the film, magazines and newspaper competitions and promotions with other companies i.e. drinks, cereal and McDonalds happy meals. Apparel and souvenirs related to the film can also be designed, for example t-shirts, bags, lunch boxes and action figures.

Film Distribution, Marketing, Publicity and Promotion Key Terms
360 degree, saturated marketing campaign –a campaign that covers every possible format in as many territories as possible and is extensive.

Auteur - a Director who has a particular signature to their films, i.e. Stanley Kubrick or Alfred Hitchcock.

BBFC - The British Board of Film Classification: the British film regulatory board.

Binary Opposites - a narrative technique- 2 polar opposites which are used to create conflict in a film.

Buzz - hype created about a film through publicity online and in the press.

Convergence - the use of different mediums, i.e. comic books, publishing, TV and Film to create a world outside just the film which in turn helps advertising.

Copy - text on a poster (or in an article).

Demographic profile - analysing audience in a quantitative manner, mainly consider gender (Male/ Female), age (ranges i.e. 5-12), socio-economic class (ABC1C2DE) and ethnicity.

Distribution company – the company in charge of getting the film released. Major conglomerates tend to have their own distribution arms, some of the important art house distributors in the UK include Memento, Eureka and Tartan.

Enigmatic images - images which raise questions (or ‘enigmas’) for the audience, increasing intrigue.

Film buyer - an employee of a Distribution company who is responsible for finding films with profitable potential, they usually search at film festivals.

Film festivals - major publicity events, filmmakers can enter their films into film festivals across the world in the hope of winning awards and attracting distribution. Some films at festivals will already have distribution, but are hoping for awards in order to boost profit.

Genre - a way of categorising film, this is a very useful tool for distributors as it helps them to produce sale forecasts.

Independent industry - all films produced outside of the Hollywood conglomerate system.

MPAA - The Motion Picture Association of America is the America equivalent to the BBFC.

Online distribution - distributing a film via the internet, either for free on media sharing websites or an official website or through channels such as Itunes or Love Film as a downloadable product.

Pre-existing property - something a film is based on, it could be a novel, another film, a comic book or even a theme park ride (as Pirates of the Caribbean was).

Premier - a major media event when the film is shown to the public for the first time, this will generally occur in a major central cinema such as in Leicester Square, London.

Press junket – a day when journalists are invited to meet and interview key cast and crew from the film. The cast will speak to each journalist for a set time, i.e. 30 minutes before the next is invited in.

Press pack - a document which gives journalists key information about the film, i.e. cast and crew, 10 frequently asked questions and a synopsis.

Press screening - a screening exclusively for journalists and reviewers before the Premier to encourage early reviews of the film.

Promotion - any advertising which involves competitions or involves the film being advertised through other products.

Psychographic profiles (Young and Rubicam’s 4Cs) – a qualitative way to analyse audiences, Young and Rubicam identified seven types of people in the world: Succeeders, Aspirers, Reformers, Explorers, Mainstreamers, Strugglers and the Resigned.

Publicity - press coverage of the film, this could take the form of TV or print interviews, articles or documentaries about the making of…

Sales agent - a person employed by the production company to help raise awareness of the film and to attract a distributor.

Sister company - under the umbrella of a conglomerate organisation a production company will have access to ‘sister’ companies such as distributors also owned by the conglomerate (who we can consider as the ‘parent’ company).

Special effects - the use of technology to create effects that are impossible in our real world or to enhance images.

Studio productions - any production made in Hollywood.

Synergy - simply when the sum of the profit of 2 products working together equals more than the sum of profit if they were standing alone (1+1= more than 2). For example a computer game about a boy wizard or a film about a boy wizard will not do as well if they existed as separate products, compared to the Harry Potter computer game and film.

Tagline - a brief, enigmatic statement which sells the film, normally seen on posters, trailers and online advertising.

Target audience - the key audience that the distributors are aiming their campaign at.

Teaser campaign - the early marketing campaign which leaves audiences asking questions and wanting more.

USP (Unique selling point) - the aspect that makes the film different from others, the main selling point to push in the campaign.

Viral marketing - interactive, online marketing. This usually refers to something beyond just a standard website.

Zeitgeist - the ‘thing’ of the time.

Marketing - all print, online, audio-visual advertising created for the film.



Film Marketing/Synergy Activity
The basic concept of Synergy can be explained through this mathematical formula:


Whilst this may not make sense to mathematicians, in business it does, when we think of profit value. If you sell two separate products, for example a video game and a film, they could both do very well, giving you a profit of £200 million each.

However if the video game and film were linked, i.e. both Harry Potter projects, this is synergy because the profit value of each will be more, perhaps £300 million each. Therefore the product value of intertied products is more than the value of two separate products.

As film students, of course you do not have to worry about mathematics, but you do need to understand the importance of synergy for the industry and to be able to identify and discuss examples.

Jill Nelmes, in ‘An Introduction to Film Studies’ defines synergy strategy as:

Combined or related action by a group of individuals or corporations towards a common goal, the combined effect of which exceeds the sum of the individual efforts. (Nelmes, 1996: 42)

Synergy can come in a number of different forms:

Product Placement

Companies pay to feature their product in a film, which often leads to a deal in which the film’s protagonist or other characters are featured in their advertising campaigns.


Promotional Partnerships, where the film or its characters will feature on existing products. This may be in the form of competitions.


Products based on the original, i.e. the Film. A film may be a spin-off of a television series, or a television series may be created as a spin-off of a film. We can also think of this as media convergence.

Pre-Existing Property

If a film is based on pre-existing material (for example a video game, novel or comic book) the pre-existing material is often re-released featuring imagery from the film on its cover, or a special edition is released in synch with the film’s scheduled cinematic release.


Companies created products specifically for the film, for example toys, calendars, video games. These products not only help market the film, but the audience’s knowledge of the film brings their awareness to the merchandise.

Vertical Integration

When distribution and some forms of exhibition are kept in-house, meaning other subsidiaries of the conglomerate (who owns the production company) distribute the film and create DVD releases of it.

We do not consider publicity (i.e. press appearances and interviews) as a form of synergy though.

Synergy is a common action of the multi-media conglomerates who own the Hollywood studios. Often they will incorporate products from their different subsidiaries. For example, one of their Studios will produce a film, one of their TV studios will create a spin-off series, and one of their games manufacturers will produce a game. This will benefit the conglomerate as their products will be cross-promoted by each other, multiplying the profits for the conglomerate. Remember conglomerates are horizontally and vertically integrated meaning they have several companies in a number of different multi-media fields, which allows them easy access to synergy opportunities.

Looking at the synergy of particular case studies allows us to analyse the structure of Hollywood, how major high concept releases get the funding and profit they do and how they are able to dominate, through their distribution campaigns, over independent films. It is an important facet of Hollywood because it enables the conglomerates to continually accumulate large sum of profit, thus enabling them to continue to make major releases and dominate over the global market.

Another key issue with synergy is that it is in part responsible for the repetitive nature of Hollywood films. To encourage corporate partnerships, merchandise deals and other pre-sales, enabling large budgets to be sought means the films Hollywood produce have to be viewed as low-risk by the partners.

Safe films are those which seem to be almost guaranteed to succeed (remember there are never any guarantees in the film industry!). Partners and investors will want to see evidence that similar films have done well in the recent market, that the directors and stars’ recent films have been profitable and any pre-existing property or clear genre conventions help this.

Therefore, if you look at your local cinema listings, or a film magazine like Empire and Total Film for upcoming releases, you will see there are many similarities between the major Hollywood films. Filmmaking at this level is a business and films have been potential for synergy, therefore more potential for profit if they are safe investments.

Whilst we often say a film’s profit is dictated by the opening weekend box office figures; in today’s global society film’s often make as much, if not more profit, from the longevity of the film’s brand as a presence in the public sphere - this happens through synergy.

So to sum up:
•Synergy is an important part of a film’s marketing campaign- making the public aware of the film’s existence.

•Synergy is an integral reason for the success of the major conglomerates, who own Hollywood, and for their dominance over independents worldwide.

•Synergy is also a key reason for the studio’s preference towards safe films, because the safer the investment the more likely it is that they will be able to attract corporate partnerships.

•The synergy opportunities developed for a film can often be more profitable than the film itself and keep the film brand in the public sphere constantly- ideal if the studios are planning a sequel, which is more than common in contemporary Hollywood!

Marvel Comics and Disney-Buena Vista (who now own Marvel Comics) have decided to release a new film on their character Ms. Marvel (see her profile here: http://marvel.com/characters/bio/1010338/ms_marvel).

Look at a range of existing comic book examples, http://www.moviemarketingmadness.com/ could be a helpful resources, research the different inter-linked products they have i.e. merchandise, spin-offs, cross-promotions, etc.

Mind map synergy potentials for the film Ms. Marvel remember to consider the different potential audiences you could appeal to and how you could develop pre-existing property.


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