Anonymous real life accounts from indie filmmakers.
Don’t rage, just internalize these stories and communicate clearly and efficiently to be sure and avoid these situations whenever possible. Bad things happen and bad people work in the film industry. But you made a whole damned movie by yourself, you can do your best to make a bad situation better.
“My distributor changed the wording of a region from our deal memo to our contract (from city specific to region names according to theatrical markets) and admitted afterwards that they had no intention of honoring the original ‘city name specific’ agreement that we took months to finalize. They never intended to honor the wording and their legal department verified it for me that the person who negotiated with me did it in bad faith.” – Drama Filmmaker, 2017 release
Opening Weekend Confusion
“I discovered my film had a theatrical release and box office mojo reported that we made [over $25,000] in our opening weekend. But, we did not have a theatrical release. There is no record of one. And all our other digital/VOD/DVD release promos say that we were ‘in theaters.’ Surely they didn’t fabricate all of this. Did they?” – Thriller, 2018 release ([bracketed] info estimated in order to protect private identifying information)
“I had my first real distributor offer our team a special third party licensing option with a group that does religious subscriptions (monthly edited DVDs for a religious subscriber base). We didn’t want our film edited at all, but after negotiating that our deal would be a good sum of money not subject to any extra distributor fees, we agreed. The company edited out a few scenes/moments of our film, repackaged it terribly, and sent it out. They paid us 1/3rd of what we negotiated and when I asked my main distributor what was happening, they said that the company won’t fork up the rest… just maybe 1/3rd more came a few months later. Nothing else.” -Family Film Maker, 2014 release
Third-Party Obligation Statement
“I called my distributor about a third-party obligation statement violation regarding their key art and that my main actress had negotiated final approval of her likeness and they were bypassing her altogether, the distributor basically said ‘We don’t have any intention of honoring it.’ And even though I am COMPLETELY in the right and legally owed a fair deal, they know we can’t afford a lawyer and didn’t want to derail the release since they purposefully did their best not to include us in the key art approval- even though this deal was negotiated completely differently in the contract.” – Action Filmmaker, 2018 release
Hired a Lawyer
“I didn’t get back residuals for [over 7 months], had to hire a lawyer” – Indie Female Filmaker, 2015 release ([bracketed] info altered/estimated in order to protect private identifying information)
“They tried to last minute corner us to take some terrible key art ‘just for the theatrical’ under the guise they would change it for the DVD/digital, but when I said I hated it and sent them admittedly rude comments about how off the concept AND execution was, they stopped answering my emails… indefinitely. They only communicate with my Director now.” – Fed-up Female Producer, 2017 release
Communication is Key
“My distributor hasn’t answered my emails/calls ([2 emails, 4 phone calls]) since our film was released 2 months ago. Their reception desk asks who is calling and then takes a message for me and no one ever responds.” – Filmmaker, 2018 release, ([bracketed] info estimated in order to protect private identifying information)
Burn No Bridges
“Best advice: Don’t burn ANY bridges. No matter how much you HATE the people who burned you, lied to you, and insulted you- remember on the next film in a few years… you might decide to work with them again. I cannot believe I am saying this, of all people, but it is true. People change. Companies grow. The entire market will be unrecognizable in a few years. So, be nice even when they are wrong and mean.” – Indie Girl, regarding many releases
“My first distributor sold our foreign rights without our permission (as we had a domestic only deal) and they made [over $10,000] and never told us. When we discovered this (not sure how the other producer/director found out), they claimed it was completely by accident… yeah, a complete accident that it happened AND a complete accident that we were cut out of the money too.” – Family filmmaker, 2012 release ([bracketed] info estimated in order to protect private identifying information)
Note: It was VERY easy to gather these stories. Maybe with a little transparency between filmmaker friends and more accountability in the industry in general and we can limit these stories to just a handful of those acting in bad faith. I have great confidence that filmmakers can band together and manage expectations, educate ourselves on what we can do, and demand better communication all around. With a budget line item for legal support, things can get better for all of us.
Share this article with filmmaker friends and start an open discussion on how we can help each other through the distribution process.
Disclaimer: This was posted anonymously to protect the filmmakers AND the distributors (all of these distribution companies are still in business and growing, however, not all of these filmmakers are still in the business. One of these filmmakers is unlikely to make more films). These particular instances have been checked for accuracy. Thank you for respecting the privacy of these parties, this information was shared in the name of transparency and filmmaker education. Not all stories submitted were included/sent to our writing partner. It is important not to spread misinformation and contact/submit any stories to #WKAforumanonymous that do not have evidence to support. All writers/contributors for #WKAforum have been invited to share this article so no individual writer will be singled out for association with the original anonymous writer. The film industry is ever-changing, it is the responsibility of all parties to do due diligence and demand accountability.
-Anonymous Indie Filmmaker #MyDistributorDidThis