I just read a reviewers comments about a local film festival in my area. They particularly liked one of the films and suggested that it “deserved a distribution deal”. But it is becoming increasingly hard for a film to find distribution, whether it’s broadcast, theatrical, or even home distribution. Only 18 films at the 2008 Sundance festival found distribution deals.
But now distribution gurus are suggesting filmmakers do it themselves.
My film was picked up for broadcast distribution by PBS’ American Masters, and they wanted the privilege of premiering the film on television. The broadcast disqualified my film from many festivals, where distribution deals are made, because many festivals won’t include films that are already broadcast.
But my film had broad interest from fans of the film and fans of Zora Neale Hurston, so I was able to find an educational distributor to sell the film to schools and libraries (California Newsreel). I then decided to self-distribute the film to the home market, and undertook the expenses to create the master and DVD copies. I sell it on Amazon, and I book community screenings where I sell the DVDs. While I might not have the potential to reach as broad an audience as a major distributor would, I’m able to keep a much greater percentage of sales than a distributor would allow.
So if your film does not get picked up for distribution, don’t despair. Be creative and find a niche market. Use your viral marketing skills to let people know about the film (Facebook and Twitter, for starters). And good luck!
Who was the coolest of the cool, long before it was cool? In 1933 an unknown writer by the name of Zora Neale Hurston became the very first documented writer to use the world “cool” to imply hip-ness.
In her short story The Gilded Six Bits written for Story Magazine (1933), the conversation between two poor but devoted lovers turns to the local town big-shot who not only has a mouth full of gold teeth but also money in the bank: “What make it so cool, he got money ‘cumulated.” Then in 1934 in Jonah’s Gourd Vine, Zora keeps her “cool” going as she describes a man as not only a good guitar picker but also good looking (“What make it so cool, he de’ bes’ lookin’). Then again in 1935, as scholar Robert Farris Thompson notes in my film JUMP AT THE SUN, a man flirting with his girlfriend dishes up some cool when he tells her he’ll be making her breakfast in the morning: “Whut make it so cool, ah’d fix you some, and set it on de back of de cook-stove so you could git it when yo’ wake up.”
As for that Beat Generation, it wasn’t until 1948 that “cool” was next found in a New Yorker magazine quote about jazz.
I hear occasionally from filmmakers who want to know how to make a documentary. The first thing I tell them is that you have to have an idea. And that’s where some of them get stumped. What’s your passion, I ask them? Many are new to this idea, that they can have a passion. They have a degree, they have a camera, they have hope. But alas, they are not inspired. And I remember back when I was looking for my next project and I read Bob Hemenway’s wonderful book, Zora Neale Hurston: A Literary Biography. Who was this brave woman, I wondered? Where did she get that voice of hers, accusing her arrogant peers of being “malicious snots”, scaring her ex-husband by sprinkling voodoo dust around his home. And I wondered, who did she think she was – and more importantly, how could I capture that courageous spirit on film and tape? I puzzled by the very few holes in Bob’s story that left me with unanswered questions. I knew I had to do my own research because unless I thoroughly understood Zora, I couldn’t write her story. And so, with these loose ends in hand, I launched my film.
So you want to make a documentary film? Then first, find your passion. Read a book about where you live. Research in the library. Read the newspaper. Watch TV and ask yourself what you’d like to see up there other than what’s there. Then you can start your own documentary film.
Bay Bottom News produced Jump at the Sun, a documentary on the life of anthropologist and author Zora Neale Hurston, in conjunction with PBS’ American Masters series.
Bay Bottom News, has created many highly-acclaimed films for local, state, and national distribution. A long time resident of Tampa-St. Pete , Producer-Writer Kristy Andersen takes special interest in productions that concern Florida’s environment, history, and culture.
Please visit our Credits page for a list of other people whose work and talent infused the documentary, and for a list of the funders and co-producers for the film.