I got this question recently:
“I am taking a hard look at the “100% guaranteed sure fire way to get your screenplay made into a movie” school of thought for my film.
I have decided to go the reverse route to finding funding. Because my film is niche, I plan to approach distributors with my query letter, synopsis and a sneak peek promo I shot to see if I can secure distribution to entice production companies and possible investors.
My question is: Could I pretty much use the same letter and synopsis that I would approach production companies with? I’m thinking it might be that simple. What do you think? Any and all responses are greatly appreciated.”
I have worked with a few distributors on some of my own projects but I’m not a distributor, so take my advice with at least one grain of sale.
To answer your question, yes, I think you could use the same basic query letter. Which to me, points out the potential problem with your plan. You’re trading one very hard task (approaching producers) with what I think is probably an even harder task (trying to get a distributor to give you funding or some sort of distribution commitment). There really isn’t a big difference in approaching distributors vs producers, which is why the same query letter would work. But there’s also not a big difference in their willingness to take on new projects, in fact I think it would be harder to get a distributor to respond to your query letter than it would a producer.
What you’re doing here is producing. Which I think is a great way to move your project forward. Specifically what you’re trying to do is pre-sell your film. Pre-selling a film in certain territories (usually overseas) is a fairly standard way of raising financing. However, what I’ve found, especially in today’s market, is that in order for a distributor to get involved in a project, especially in the early stages, is that they’re going to want some major elements attached to the project, namely star talent. If you have that you might be able to line up some distribution.
I would say if you just pitch your script as if you were pitching a producer you’re chances of success are far less than if you just pitched directly to a producer. Producers are usually looking for material to develop and many of them will read material from new writers. But distributors are NOT set up to develop material, so unless your product is significantly developed, I can’t see a distributor wanting to get involved.
So you’re next question might be: “What does significantly developed mean?” Distributors are used to having producers pitch them projects. A significantly developed project means you have most of the major elements in place like a director, actors, and a polished ready to shoot screenplay, and perhaps even some below the line talent like a line producer and cinematographer. Distributors are not in the business of developing screenplays so if the screenplay is your only element I don’t think you’ll find much interest. As a writer with no track record as a writer or producer, I don’t see that you’re really providing any value to the distributors and yet you’re asking them to take a huge risk.
In my post The 100% guaranteed sure fire way to get your screenplay made into a movie my main point was to step outside of the usual Hollywood avenues and try something new. Try and raise money from people who aren’t connected to Hollywood. Try and get some actors attached. Try and shoot a film using what ever money and equipment you have available to you. You mention that your screenplay is very niche, this might be another source of potential funding for your project. Does this niche have a group of people who you could connect with? Maybe you could crowd fund your project if there is a passionate group of people interested in your niche. Or maybe there are businesses in your niche who might see advertising opportunities in your film. For instance, if your film is about online dating, maybe you could contact a dating website and specifically use their website in the movie for some sort of partial financing of the film. Or if your film is about drunk driving maybe you could approach MADD and they could tell their passionate tribe of followers about your film and some of them would donate money through a crowd sourcing website like Kickstarter or IndieGoGo.
With all that said, I certainly think it’s worth a try so by all means approach distributors and see if you can get any interst. As with anything in life, you never know for sure if something is going to work unless you actually try it.