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7 Ways to Distribute Your Feature Documentary

You came up with a concept, shot a documentary, and edited it, so now what? The beautiful thing about filmmaking in 2017 is the plethora of…
7 Ways to Distribute Your Feature Documentary

You came up with a concept, shot a documentary, and edited it, so now what? The beautiful thing about filmmaking in 2017 is the plethora of places you can share your work. We’ve compiled a list of seven ways you can distribute your documentary film that range from DIY to broadcast TV.

1. Online Self-Distribution

The first step in distributing online is targeting your audience. Who do you want to market your documentary to? Build your audience online before releasing the film. Find NGOs and support groups that relate to your film’s message and reach out to them about your film’s release. Create a Facebook page and Instagram account to post updates and behind-the-scenes photos of the film to get your followers excited about the project. Make sure to post a release date and follow up to countdown the days as well. Sites like Vimeo and Youtube are a great place to actually release the documentary.

If you want your film to get on big streaming sites like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon, consider using a film aggregator like Quiver. You can also work with do-it-yourself (DIY) services that distribute your film to a number of streaming sites and then take a cut of the streaming revenue. A couple examples include CreateSpace, which provides you with tools to help you self-publish on-demand videos for Amazon; Filmhub, which matches your film to video streaming sites; and IndieReign, which equips filmmakers with tools to self-distribute and sell directly to their fans. You can find more avenues for DIY distribution at PBS.

2. Online Documentary Channels

There are a number of documentary channels on YouTube that may accept documentary submissions. Since these channels post regularly, they already have subscribers who are ready to tune into the next film. For example, you could contact First Documentary, DW Documentary, or Real Stories to see if they’re accepting submissions.

3. Film Festivals

Getting a documentary into a festival is one of the best things you can do to get industry eyes on your film. Submitting to festivals is simple enough and the results can be ground-breaking, especially if your work is showcased in an international festival. Festivals also provide you with a great networking experience with panels, Q&As, and screenings where you can meet fellow filmmakers from all over the world. We compiled a list of 10 documentary film festivals accepting submissions this year.

4. Awards

What would look better next to your film title than a array of prestigious awards? The Peabody Awards are currently accepting submissions. A program must receive unanimous approval of all members of the Peabody Board of Jurors to win. Another award to consider is the Aurora Awards, which celebrate the industry’s top filmmakers in varying avenues of storytelling. And finally, you could shoot for the stars and apply to The Academy Awards documentary submissions next year. There are specific submission guidelines, so be sure to do your homework before submission deadlines.

Ready to create a documentary? Hire a freelancer or production company.
The documentaries nominated for the 2017 Oscars.

5. Broadcast Television

If you’re interested in pitching your documentary to a network like PBS, BBC, or HBO, you will have to submit a proposal outlining what your film is about and why it is relevant. Attending festivals is a great way to pitch ideas to television executives. An in-person meeting is always the best way to pitch a project, so networking with industry professionals could open doors for pitch meetings. If you are unable to lock down an in-person, try emailing the network with a brief description of your project. If they’re interested, they’ll send you to their distribution heads.

6. Theatrical Release

Go to your local theater and ask if you can screen your film for a small ticket price. If you are able to sell out the venue, you can present your success to a larger theater in the area. Continue hosting presentations of the film from city to city and if the turnout continues to do well you will be able to reach out to larger venues.

7. DVD

If you want eyes on your documentary and an immediate profit, consider selling DVD copies at events relevant to your story. Find local meet-ups, support groups, or organizations with people who may be affected by your film’s message and ask if you can sell copies of your DVD after their event. This is a great way for you to get involved with your local community and guarantee people will have access to the film on a personal level.

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By Lena Drake, Storyhunter Writer