In my entire time at MicroFilmmaker Magazine as its dominant book reviewer and production analyst, this is only the second book I’ve come across on independent film distribution. It doesn’t take much to figure out that there is a serious dearth of books on this topic, especially in the low/no-budget Indie world. The realm of distribution is cryptic for several reasons. To say the least, it is a complex arena to learn, much less navigate and, while there are some rules to how things work, there are countless exceptions to the rules—which are always changing anyway. And then there’s the “unpredictability factor”: distribution is a very fickle domain where really good films can go ignored while awful ones are (more frequently than we wish) painted gold with a great PR campaign, paraded down the red carpet, and make it to the big screen. With The Insider’s Guide to Independent Film Distribution, Stacey Parks attempts to lift the veil and help shed some light on this often elusive, sometimes vague, yet always desired aspect of indie filmmaking.
The chapters are organized in a logical manner. The first half of the book gives great ideas on how you as a filmmaker can start to work on distribution before you even start production! Most indie filmmakers (microfilmmakers, especially) don’t tend to think that far ahead—usually because we think our budgets don’t allow us to. But Parks points out that developing and working on a distribution “game plan” throughout the production process is not only a good idea, but will save you time, money, and headaches later on. The second half goes into more detail about things like film festivals and markets, agents, the distribution process (both U.S. and foreign), and alternative methods of distribution, including self-distribution.
Most chapters have several subsections, which makes it easy to follow the writer from one point to another. This also helps give you “bite-sized” chunks of material, so you don’t get overloaded (which can easily happen with this topic). She does an excellent job of breaking down and explaining these necessary-but-confusing concepts. It is also very apparent throughout the book that Ms. Parks speaks from a tremendous amount of experience, thus giving the reader the impression that s/he is privy to “inside information” that can’t be found just anywhere.
Depth of Information
Parks provides information that is not only helpful, but practical as well. She outlines how filmmakers can work toward distribution during preproduction (hiring the right help, intelligent budgeting, etc.), production (shooting format, publicity stills), and post (press kit assembly, proper licensing, etc.). In addition, the writer is also realistic. She explains to the reader what is actually attainable and what is not, and how to work within those boundaries. For example, she explains that changes in the fields of indie film and distribution make it unrealistic for a microfilmmaker to expect the same phenomenon Kevin Smith pulled off with Clerks. Instead, she offers sensible suggestions to help the filmmaker find the right niche for their film, how to target their audience, and what they can do to work toward a distribution deal.
The particulars of film distribution in general are not exactly of a riveting, page-turning caliber. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that, not only was this book easy to keep up with, but it was actually interesting to read! Ms. Parks is knowledgeable without sounding pretentious or tedious, and her writing style is down-to-earth while still being professional. The interviews and case studies help break up the material and add a personal touch as well. Overall, an enjoyable read.
For those of you who are serious about sharing your film with the world, The Insider’s Guide to Independent Film Distribution is great. I would recommend this book for serious filmmakers who have a past, current, or “in-process” film and 1.) really want to try to secure a distribution deal and 2.) think that their film is actually good enough for a distribution deal. You can’t have one without the other. Although the realm of film distribution changes frequently, the concepts and suggestions presented in this book will not soon go out of date. This is a book that you can continue to use with each film you do, and still find it incredibly helpful. I will, however, give the following caveats: if you’re more of a casual filmmaker who makes movies as a hobby, this book is not for you; ditto for those who want to stay in a selective niche (e.g. “artsy” films), as these filmmakers tend to make “art for art’s sake”.
I am reluctant to recommend the book to ultra-low-budget filmmakers, because it costs more money to work toward distribution. The suggestions Parks gives throughout the book are not unattainable on a microcinema budget, but it is harder. And let’s be honest, for most of us, part of the fun of making a microcinema film is the fact that you do it for as little money as possible! For most of us, we rarely have the opportunity to use celebrities, SAG actors, or a casting director; our “production stills” are taken with a friend’s Sony Cybershot; and our press kit consists of the aforementioned snapshots, a 2-page synopsis of the film, a 1-page bio/resume of every major actor and crew member, a CD with the same info on it (plus a trailer), and maybe a poster, all put together in a black folder with a stick-on label on the front. Now, there’s nothing wrong with any of this, but if you really want your film to get people’s attention, you have to make it stand out; that takes extra money. If you’re willing to make it work, this book is a good choice. If you think an alternative method of distribution (personal, DIY, online, etc.) would work better for your film, Independent Film Distribution is a good book to check out from the library.
Value vs. Cost
Taking the aforementioned caveats into account, this book is an excellent value for the money. At just $24.95, you’re not only getting information, you’re also getting to learn from the experience of someone who’s seen multiple sides of the distribution process.
While not for every indie or microcinema filmmaker, The Insider’s Guide to Independent Film Distribution is a great book for those who are serious about wanting to get their film distributed. It’s also a valuable tool for those who want to learn more about the process of distribution. Ms. Parks is clearly experienced in her field, and provides the reader with information that is both practical and realistic; the book itself is easy-to-follow and enjoyable to read. All of this together makes a book that is one that you will be able to use for many future projects. Thanks to Stacey Parks for giving us a great resource in the sparse field on indie film distribution!