Doc Blog

W. Wilder Knight II is a New York-based entertainment attorney. His diverse practice includes brokering deals for documentary financing on titles such as "Mad Hot Ballroom" and "The A to Z of Soccer" written and produced by John Cleese. Here are his thoughts on our industry survey.

1) What changes do you see in the documentary marketplace?

I'm seeing more direct distribution by individual filmmakers to their audiences. Many films simply cannot find homes and many filmmakers who do receive offers from tv and cable stations reject those offers and go looking for ways to self-distribute.  Every week I see unique, new marketing and distribution ideas about self-distribution, some of which are absolutely brilliant.

2) What advice can you give doc makers on navigating distribution?

If you are going to place your film in the hands of a distributor, do your homework and speak with other filmmakers whose films have been handled by the company you are considering working with.  What went well?  What could have been done better?  It is extremely important that whomever you entrust with your film has both integrity as well as the financial wherewithal to do a good job.  The distributor should also have some enthusiasm for your film.  Finally, don't expect a distributor to take care of everything once you sign a deal.  Look at the relationship as a partnership and be prepared to put in time and effort assisting in the process.

If you elect to go it alone (and that is the new frontier) be realistic about how complicated that process will be and how time-consuming. Spend some time on the internet researching how others have self-distributed.  There is a lot of information out there and some novel ideas.  Finally, try to be realistic about the market for your film.  Get a candid opinion from someone knowledgeable in the industry as to whether your film has any chance of getting theatrical distribution.  Ask that same person what he or she thinks the rights will be worth in the various territories and look for the lists of "going rates" that trade publications like Variery print periodically. As you self-distribute you should have a realistic picture of the real potential and true value of your film.

3) What do you hope to get out of Real to Reel this year?

I intend to talk with industry colleagues about new trends in documentary distribution.  In addition, I have two documentary projects in the works and will look for financing.

Also, I worked as executive producer on Love Comes Lately, a feature film directed by Jan Schuette that weaves together three Isaac Singer short stories about older people in love.  I'm hoping to convince all the documentarians I meet to go see this film.

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