Theatrical distribution tactics, for the age of digital On Demand
We know that every film that is ever made would want to reach the widest audience that is possible. However, for independent films at least, one has to plan on starting small to build the initial momentum through its core audience and interest groups. Engage directly with the initial group and the so called super-fans, who will drive the movie into outside communities and groups.
Target specific consumer groups who are committed to the cause-driven theme of the movie:
Movie distributors are inclined to pick movies with a title or theme or narrative that promotes a certain cause or speaks to a certain issue or attempts to advance a social issue. It will help to have a star actor in the movie give voice to the cause as well by including the subject during the promotional interviews and may be through his or her own social media channels. This would prompt a specific community to be moved by the cause and come in large groups to attend these initial screenings that could turn into an engaged and exciting event beyond the screening. Such initial success could be used to build momentum through word of mouth, social media and press-releases, which is necessary to go far beyond the initial group for a wider audience.
Build a case for why the movie needs to be seen in the theater during a community setting:
It could one or more reasons why a certain movie should be watched in theater. It could be the technical features such as visual effects, cinematography, hi-fi audio or just a larger than life screening or IMAX screening that could draw audiences into the theater to watch the movie. If the movie has specific sequences, like a chase scene or festival celebration or space walk or deep ocean dive, etc. that could enhance the immersive experience by watching the movie in the theater, it should be highlighted. If such reasons are not promoted during the initial marketing campaigns, the potential movie goers could revert back to waiting a little longer to watch the movie on digital On-Demand.
Planning for the distribution should never be an afterthought:
Lack of sufficient budget for taking the movie to a festival, or even for special screenings for the critics and distributors, or even for marketing, is too often the reason for under-performance at the box-office . The directors, crew and cast put everything they have into the film-making process and will have to then pick themselves back up again to get it some theatrical life. The last thing a filmmaker is thinking about after putting so much into the making of the film is booking distribution, so it has to be done early. Work at building events that will force audiences to come together to watch the film and hopefully build the word of mouth and media coverage from those events. The urgency around an event that's only there for one night is similar to a concert, and that's becoming more and more popular and becoming more economical for bookings.
Location, Location, and Location:
Remember that every community has unique cultural and social needs that they respond to. So, when distributors are picking films, they look into whether the movie will resonate with certain communities. They pick movies based on what some of these communities will respond and/or emotionally connect to. Something that might work well in one community might not do so in another. The distributor will have to choose wisely the location of the premier show and the location of the theaters for the first round of film screening.