NSI Features First – Top 4 Distributor Needs

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Wow. Day 4 was enlightening in vastly different ways than our previous days at NSI Features First. Today we met with Broadcasters, Distributors, Telefilm and Marketing Strategists. It was definitely a day for the Producers, though Screenwriters should absolutely be paying attention to these lessons.

  • Why Should Screenwriters Care About This Stuff?

    Because a smart Screenwriter knows he has to sell this film to a Producer… And a smart Producer knows he has to sell this film to a Distributor…  And a smart Distributor knows he has to sell this film to an audience.

    And audiences are bombarded with advertising every single day. Buy my product, eat at my restaurant, wear my clothes, and see my movie.

    It’s a tough nut to crack, but it’s the world we live in.

    As a screenwriter, your audience is a bit removed from your process, but they shouldn’t be. All filmmakers need to keep them in mind when you’re developing your script, your development package, casting, marketing strategy, production, post-production and beyond.

Here are the four most important things Distributors need filmmakers to consider when approaching them with a project.


Genre. Title. Star Actors. High Concept. The things that are important to your audience, the things that will get butts in seats, are the things that will get a distributor interested in your project. It’s not complicated: they’re trying to make money off of your product, and an easier sell to an audience is a lower risk investment for them.


Who is your story for? The worst pitch has the words “this film is for everybody”. There are SO FEW films that are true “4-Quadrant” (for everybody) films. You have to market those to the whole world! That’s crazy expensive. Distributors love focused films that know who their niche audience is and who know how to reach them.

FSP Full Theatre

It’s all about them!

Distributors also want to see filmmakers bringing an audience with them. That’s why it’s important to start building your own fan base, or cast someone who comes with a built-in audience, or work in a genre that has rabid accessible fans. The more safety you can bring to this investment, the easier the “yes” will come.


Simply put: what other movies are like your movie? Filmmakers hate thinking about comparables or talking about them, but they’re so important. Why? Because you’re not making something absolutely unique and fresh. If you think you are, you’re a terrifyingly huge risk and your movie probably isn’t working.

And nobody will go see it (remember the simple things?)

So embrace the fact that your movie shares themes/tones/styles with other movies. The sooner you can figure out “comparables”, the easier you will be able to sell your movie. If it’s Golden Girls meets The Hunger Games, that helps people GET your movie. They know what to expect, who it’s meant for, what sort of appetite there is for it in the marketplace. It says a lot about your movie, so choose your comparables carefully, and for different reasons (tone, budget, genre, themes etc.).


Distributors don’t fund the production of your movie. They’ll kick in marketing dollars to be recouped, but generally you need to have some funding in place to get a distribution deal.

So how do you find the money? There are funding sources like Telefilm, but that’s a whole different blog post. As for private non-governmental sources…we’ll let you know when we figure it out!


Maybe this?


  • Consider your distributor before approaching them. They’re all very different. Find the right distributor for your project.
  • Build your international sales into your development/distribution plan, don’t “worry about them later”.
  • Everybody is trying to attract the 25-40 year old audience.
  • Generally speaking, Horror appeals to Females, SciFi appeals to males.
  • Timing the market with a film is just like trying to time the stock market
  • When you pitch your film’s budget to a distributor, it shouldn’t include your advertising budget
  • Asian markets don’t want any more ghost-themed movies. They want fantasy and action movies.
  • Family films are really hard to distribute! More on that later.

If you have ANY questions please drop them in the comments or get in touch on Social Media.


About the Author:

Scott Westby is a Writer, Director and Producer in Calgary's film industry. He's a 2008 graduate of SAIT's Film & VIdeo Production Program, and has years of experience in strategic marketing and content creation for traditional and new media. A Taco/Slurpee enthusiast and a hater of mushrooms.
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  1. Irene Hamilton  April 1, 2014

    Good morning Matt and Scott and everyone you’re with this morning.

    I haven’t thought a lot about this…( this film is for everybody)…
    but I do know I would not use the phrase.
    I focus on a segment of the population who I feel is losing out. And budget is a huge consideration

    Your Blog sharing is a gift to people like me who kind of think they know what they’re doing, but following your Blog confirms…one way or another.

    Have I mentioned that the layout and the format and the presentation of your BLOG blows me away!

    The Fly on the wall.


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