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Distribution: Introduction: What is Distribution? by David Sin


image of film cans

The history of film is usually related through the achievements of producers, directors, writers and performers. Making films, production, has always been perceived as a glamorous pursuit.

Alternatively, our personal understanding and appreciation of film is shaped by our experiences at the cinema. The exhibition of film is a commonplace, shared cultural activity highly visible in every city and town in Britain, constantly feeding the popular memory.

By contrast, distribution, the third part of the film supply chain, is often referred to as 'the invisible art', a process known only to those within the industry, barely written about and almost imperceptible to everyone else.

Yet arguably, distribution is the most important part of the film industry, where completed films are brought to life and connected with an audience.

So what is involved in this invisible process? Distribution is about releasing and sustaining films in the market place. In the practice of Hollywood and other forms of industrial cinema, the phases of production, distribution and exhibition operate most effectively when 'vertically integrated', where the three stages are seen as part of the same larger process, under the control of one company. In the UK, distribution is very much focused on marketing and sustaining a global product in local markets.

In the independent film sector, vertical integration does not operate so commonly. Producers tend not to have long-term economic links with distributors, who likewise have no formal connections with exhibitors. Here, as the pig-in-the-middle, distribution is necessarily a collaborative process, requiring the materials and rights of the producer and the cooperation of the exhibitor to promote and show the film in the best way possible. In this sector, distribution can be divided into three stages - licensing, marketing and logistics.

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