• Caroline Gordon-Elliott

How Film Distribution Works

“Filmmaking is the ultimate team sport.”

~ Michael Keaton

How do those people in those places get those movie made? There's nothing magical about film distribution. It's negotiating, it's numbers, it's buying and selling, it's middle-men and very-important-men.

But once it gets into the theaters, like the taste of a good New York City street hot dog, you have to block out any of the business that went into making it, and just enjoy it.

Here's a step-by-step, courtesy of

  1. Someone has an idea for a movie.

  2. They create an outline and use it to promote interest in the idea.

  3. A studio or independent investor decides to purchase rights to the film.

  4. People are brought together to make the film (screenwriter, producer, director, cast, crew).

  5. The film is completed and sent to the studio.

  6. The studio makes a licensing agreement with a distribution company.

  7. The distribution company determines how many copies (prints) of the film to make.

  8. The distribution company shows the movie (screening) to prospective buyers representing the theaters.

  9. The buyers negotiate with the distribution company on which movies they wish to lease and the terms of the lease agreement.

  10. The prints are sent to the theaters a few days before the opening day.

  11. The theater shows the movie for a specified number of weeks (engagement).

  12. You buy a ticket and watch the movie.

  13. At the end of the engagement, the theater sends the print back to the distribution company and makes payment on the lease agreement.

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