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6. Find distribution

This guide aims to provide useful industry insights, resources and advice that can help you get started in the screen industry.

It used to be that the only distribution platform for short content was film festivals or infrequent broadcasts on free-to-air television but there has been huge growth of new platforms, especially online channels, where you can now share your content. If you have done your audience research you will know the most effective distribution platforms for your project. If you want to reach a wider audience - beyond just your family and friends - you have to think about distribution from the very start of your project.

The following information mainly focuses on short content. If you’re interested in feature film distribution our Distribution 101 podcast may be helpful.

First, before signing a distribution agreement or contract, read the fine print and if in any doubt, have it examined by an industry lawyer. Here are some items to look out for:

  • Exclusive v non-exclusive: Some platforms require exclusivity which means that the company or site has the right to be the sole distributor of your film for as long as the contract states. Alternatively, some companies require exclusivity on their platform (e.g. online) but allow non-exclusivity for you to arrange a free-to-air broadcast or festival screenings. Be aware that broadcasters and festivals may not take your work if it has already been screened somewhere else or released on a platform like YouTube. Exposure to the right audience is an invaluable currency in its own right so choose your premiere distributor carefully.
  • Money: Unless you are attracting very strong audience numbers, there’s not a lot of money in web series and shorts, but there are some options so check your distribution contract carefully. Some platforms offer a flat fee payment (such as a broadcaster or SVOD), a cut on advertising revenue (such as social media sites like YouTube), no fee (most social media platforms) or even require that you pay a fee (such as film festival and specialist websites). You need to consider which channels offer the best ‘return’ on your screen work, with your primary goal being to access your target audience.

The following provides an overview of the main distribution platforms:

Social Media: E.g. YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok

Social media channels have become a fertile platform for new voices and stories. You have almost complete control over your channel and content and the potential for direct audience outreach and feedback. Funding bodies, broadcasters and producers are increasingly looking to talent spot creatives that attract dedicated social media followers. It is a particularly dynamic space so keep a look out for new competitors which often bring new opportunities. Learn about the various platforms and their audiences in the Making a successful web series podcast, and check out this Advice from Isolation piece from Aunty Donna - 8 things we wished we knew before lol.

Film Festivals

Many filmmakers aspire to have their premiere screening at a prestigious film festival. Not only do film festivals deliver an audience that is open to new content, the prospect of your film being judged as an award winning entry offers invaluable critical acclaim, industry recognition and sometimes a cash prize. The more prestigious the film festival, the more competitive the shortlisting selection. Check our list of Film Festivals here for the major national and international festivals and submission deadlines. Hear from Causeway Films on its festival strategy.

Free-to-air Broadcasters and Streaming Video on Demand (SVODs)

Broadcasters (e.g. ABC and SBS) rarely accept short content after it’s made and instead commission curated or themed short content upfront that meets their audience development goals. Keep your eye on industry newsletters for these opportunities. SVODs (e.g. Stan, Netflix and Amazon) never accept short content. If you directly approach a broadcaster or SVOD with your standalone content idea you will need a strong pitch about the unique potential of your project.

Indie Filmmaker Sites

To share your work with the broader emerging filmmaking community and with audiences who love short content, you can explore a variety of website platforms internationally. Many of these sites, such as Short of The Week, charge a fee to host and promote your film (usually up to $50).

Niche Audience markets

If your content fits into a well-defined genre, you might want to explore niche-streaming websites or film festivals as a way to deliver your content directly to its most likely fans. A couple of the more popular sites include DUST (science fiction) and Shudder (horror). Filmmakers like Natalie Erika James, who went on to direct Relic, and directors Yolanda Ramke and Ben Howling of the feature film Cargo both made their feature debuts off the back of the international success of their short horror films in festivals or online. Listen to Natalie’s podcast here, and Yolanda and Ben’s podcast here

Production still from Cargo feature filmCargo

Self Distribution

This model involves renting cinema space and showing your film directly to your audience. You might create a private screening to share your work on the big screen with influential screen industry and finance people or sell tickets to your short film or web series that already has a strong audience following.

If you put as much thought into your distribution strategy as you commit to the making of your film, you are on the right track!