You’ve had the brilliant story idea. You’ve cobbled together
cast, crew and even some of the financing, and now you’re nearly done with your
first film. What’s the next step? How do you get your films about queer women
viewed by the lesbian and bi women who are hungry for more representation on
Though it may not be evident by looking at box-office
receipts or Nielsen ratings, there are more avenues for the distribution and
consumption of films by and about lesbians and bi women than ever before. Which
avenue a filmmaker chooses to explore depends on her goals for the film and how
much post-filmmaking work she wants to do herself.
Many filmmakers think first about the film festival circuit,
and indeed, having your film screened at a major independent film festival like
Sundance, Toronto or Berlin, or one of the LGBT festivals like Frameline in San
Francisco, Outfest in Los Angeles or NewFest in New York, adds prestige to your
résumé — more still if your film wins an award. This can be a huge asset when
you are looking for places to screen and sell your film in the future.
Then there is theatrical release — what Mark Reinhart, executive
vice president of distribution and acquisitions for here! Films, calls
"the holy grail for filmmakers, to see their film in theaters."
Lesser-known but additional ways to be seen by larger audiences are educational
and other institutional rentals. Other options include cable and broadcast
television airings and DVD releases — all targeted at the home viewer — and,
increasingly, Internet streaming and downloads to mobile devices, such as cell
phones and other PDAs.
How does a filmmaker get access to these venues? If the goal
is to have a film accessible to as many viewers as possible with little work or
effort, online resources are an easy way to go. Anyone can upload a file to
YouTube, for example. But most filmmakers have put out a lot of money and time
for their project and understandably have a desire at least to recoup expenses
and, perhaps, make a profit, too, which can then help them finance their next
Madeleine Lim, executive director and founder of San
Francisco’s Queer Women of Color Media Arts Project, calls filmmaking "one
of the most expensive art forms that still exists, because of the buying of the
film stock and tape stock and the processing involved, and the time involved,
and all of the different hats you have to wear." A number that commonly
gets cited is $1,000 per finished minute. So, for example, a 10-minute short
film would cost a filmmaker about $10,000 to make.
"And this is an independent estimate," Lim adds,
"where you get your cast and crew for free, [and] you might feed them,
things like that." It does not include potential costs like location
rental, the purchase of computer systems, or marketing and promotion.
One way to get a film out there in ways that will provide
some financial return is to contact all the film festivals, PBS stations, cable
stations, DVD distribution companies and online streaming channels in North
America and abroad. This takes a great deal of time, energy and hard work,
especially if you don’t already know and have access to the people in the film
industry, but it has the potential for the greatest financial return, because you’re
not sharing any money you make with another company.
Another option is to sell the rights to your film to a
distribution company. Each company has different contracts specifying what they
will do, but generally, they might submit the film to festivals, sell the
television airing rights, arrange for the DVD production and distribution,
license the content for online streaming, and perhaps even arrange for a
theatrical release. Traditionally, the distribution company keeps a large
portion of the return from these deals, since they have the resources and do the
legwork required to secure them, and the filmmaker gets a smaller percentage.
A combination of these approaches — DIY distribution and
signing with a distribution company for some pieces of the puzzle — is also
possible with some creative planning and strategizing. Networking with other
LGBT filmmakers is one way to learn about what has and has not worked in
particular situations. There are a variety of ways to find other filmmakers: at
classes and workshops, LGBT and other film festivals and screenings, and
Jenni Olson, an independent filmmaker, LGBT film historian,
founder of PopcornQ (one of the Web’s original LGBT film websites), and now Director
of E-Commerce and Consumer Marketing at Wolfe Video, says,
"The most important thing is to talk with other filmmakers and learn from
their experiences. The LGBT filmmaker community is amazing for that."
Olson created the PopcornQ Film & Video Professionals
List in the mid-1990s for LGBT film and video professionals. Olson has compiled
information about the list and other resources for LGBT filmmakers and posted