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Distribution Assistant

Distribution companies acquire and place films on cinema screens with the aim of attracting the largest possible audience. Acquisitions, sales and marketing staff are found at international film markets and festivals, developing relationships with sales companies and production companies.

Distribution Assistant Image
Stage
1

Experience in any office environment would be advantageous, work on your IT and admin skills.

Stage
2

Look for internships during college, build relevant experience and gain references to add to your resume.

Stage
3

Be certain what area of the business you want to proceed in, marketing, acquisitions, sales, delivery. Ensure you are capable of using photoshop and posses the appropriate IT skills.

HOW DO FILM DISTRIBUTION COMPANIES WORK?

Distribution companies are made up of many departments or individuals who, in their most basic form, work in unison to acquire and deliver films to an audience. A distribution company can become involved at any point of the filmmaking process, from concept, draft screenplay, principal photography, post-production or the completed project. 

Pre-sales of the film generate funding to go toward production costs and act as added security to other potential investors such as banks, private investors or co-producers - which is why producers seek involvement from a distributor in the initial stages of the project.  

The leading Hollywood studios, Warner Warner Bros, Disney, Fox, Paramount, Universal and Sony, are mostly concerned with the business of financing and distributing films, making studio productions (usually produced by their subsidiary companies) transition from script to screen relatively straightforward. For independent films, distributors such as StudioCanal, Lionsgate, eOne, Pathe and a host of smaller companies provide the best chance for an independent film to make it to the screen and find a home entertainment outlet.

Distribution companies acquire films from the film markets which run throughout the year. The primary film markets are the AFM (American Film Market). European Film Market or EFM (February. Associated with the Berlinale - Berlin International Film Festival) and the Marché du Film (May. Associated with Cannes International Film Festival). Smaller markets operating in Europe focusing on low-budget independent films and documentaries (such as CineMart in Rotterdam).

During the film markets, representatives from distribution companies will be negotiating with sales companies and producers rep’s who represent the producers of the movie. They negotiate the films ‘rights’, including the right to release the film theatrically (cinema) and ancillary rights such as  DVD, VOD, TV, cable and satellite. On purchasing a film from the markets, a distributor will sign a Deal Memo on the day, which is followed up by a  Long Form Agreement, committing the distribution company to the project. 

The Long Form Agreement will lay out the terms and conditions including the financial terms. The distributor can either enter into a profit share on the basis of a Minimum Guarantee (often shortened to the MG), where the producer will share in profits achieved over the MG. The other option is to enter a distribution agreement, where the distributor is paid a fixed fee to distribute the film, and the profits (after P and A costs) are given to the producer.

Distributors will research and decide the best time to release the movie in consultation with the sales team and the Marketing Department. During this period the Sales Department of the distribution company will be in negotiation with the exhibitors (cinemas) to arrange the theatrical release of the film. There are multiple exhibitors in the US, the main ones have been aggregate here. A film’s run on the big screen is entirely dependent on how well it performs in the first few days of opening. Exhibitors react quickly to the data they are provided with on a daily - and sometimes hourly - basis. A change in the cinema schedule can happen quickly to create the best chance for profit. The US has around 5,869 theatres (2018), where more than 40,313 screens are available to audiences. Exhibitors will utilize their screen space to get the most out of the films they're showing, whether that’s multiple showings over two or three screens, 3D projector capability or have the capacity for 4D viewings.

After the window to show the film theatrically has closed, distributors will enact their strategy for a home entertainment release; this can involve reworking the marketing strategy to appeal to other demographics. Home entertainment will encompass TV, DVD and BluRay, VOD services and satellite and cable outlets. Non-home entertainment outlets include cruise ships and in-flight entertainment services. Distributors can hold the rights to an independent film for 7 or more years depending on the contract. During the time they hold the product, they will prepare regular reports documenting the P and A (print and advertising) spend and the earning or box office takings to be shared with producers, via the international sales companies who continue to represent the film.

WHAT ARE THE ENTRY LEVEL POSITIONS WITHIN A DISTRIBUTION COMPANY?

Internships:

All the major distributors in the USA have internship programs. You can also find positions with smaller distributors of independent films throughout the US. If you speak another language it would be worth highlighting this on your resume as they can also distribute foreign-language films too. As with all internships you will be assigned some menial tasks but you should also be tasked with a small project or set of tasks for a full learning experience. 

Office Assistant:

When you are at stage 2-3 of your career plan, look for the role of office assistant. Usually, you will need to have completed a few internships and fully understand the complex world of distribution before gaining one of these roles. Assistants are equivalent to the position of a Production assistant; they are responsible for answering phones, dealing with correspondence and couriers, office supplies and general office tasks that keep the ship sailing smoothly. 

WHAT ARE THE DEPARTMENTS IN A DISTRIBUTION COMPANY?

Depending on the size of the operation, distribution companies can have many departments. Smaller companies will have one person in charge of each of the following. When looking for placements you should know what each of these departments is responsible for:

  • Acquisitions and rights: Reading scripts, watching films, maintaining a solid knowledge of the market trends and analyzing data; acquisitions staff will negotiate with sales companies, producers and production companies to acquire film rights. The work in close collaboration with the legal and Sales Department/people.

  • Legal: In some smaller companies, this can be outsourced to a legal firm, but many have their own in-house teams or people dealing with contractual elements, such as the initial deal with the owners of the film (producer, production company) to contracts with exhibitors and various broadcasters. Most distributors will have someone dedicated to internal business affairs who will deal with IP (intellectual property) and piracy, a hot topic in the distribution business.  This is another complex area, and if you're good with computers and algorithms it can be an interesting career path to pursue.

  • Marketing and publicity: See our marketing guide if you are interested in this area of the industry. There are many different roles within marketing in the film industry but unlike the other business models (film sales, production company, finance), film distribution is continually launching prototypes and the marketing strategies have to reflect that. In distribution, the in-house marketing teamwork across theatrical and/or home entertainment releases, ensuring the correct material on the release is provided and used. One of the biggest areas of growth within the marketing arena of distribution is digital marketing. Social media, influencer, content and campaign marketing are creative new weapons in the marketer’s arsenal and a driving factor in any campaign strategy.

  • Creative services: organizing, origination, approval and circulation of publicity and marketing materials.

  • Theatrical distribution/partner liaison (separate department in larger companies): Working with the exhibitors and the sales team to ensure all the publicity and marketing are coordinated with the film’s release. 

  • Sales: Members of the different sales teams liaise with exhibitors, broadcasters, VOD, satellite/cable channels and non-home entertainment outlets such as cruise ships and in-flight entertainment providers. A background in sales and a good head for business is required in this department.

  • In-house technical/delivery: Delivery of the films can be outsourced if the company is small, but a larger distributor will have a department to deal with this aspect of the job. Digital files are very complex, a film can potentially be delivered in over 100 different formats. The work of the Delivery Department has radically changed over the past few years. Some distributors have ceased to release 35mm prints opting to provide a digital print instead. Distributors can send a DCP (digital cinema package) on a hard drive, or the film can be sent via a satellite or fibre link. The digital file has to be ingested into the cinema server, giving exhibitors the flexibility to change their schedule and screening logistics with the minimum of fuss.

  • Home entertainment (separate department in larger companies): This includes, DVD and Blu-Ray sales, VOD, Cable and TV strategy and distribution. The home entertainment team adds value to DVDs and Blu-Ray by adding extras, games and better image resolution in the case of Blu-Ray. On occasion, the DVD or VOD can be released on the same day, dependent on the production and the aims of the distributors.  

  • TV Department: The TV Department will often be a separate department in larger companies responsible for engaging and liaising with broadcasters on the sale of titles and ensuring they have the correct marketing materials.

WHAT TASKS/RESPONSIBILITIES CAN BE DELEGATED TO JUNIOR MEMBERS OF THE TEAM?

Internships provide an invaluable insight into the business.  You to ask questions and help out with a variety of tasks, or assist other members of junior staff with theirs. Interns are usually deligated tasks and will become involved in a project in some fashion. They may also be required to sit in on meetings, take notes, make the tea/coffee, and being given the freedom to ask as many questions as you want. Remember, you are there to learn and get the most of it.

Whilst working as an office assistant some responsibilities may feel menial such as going on the coffee run, some light reception duties, or sending out emails, but this is the starting point of your career and everyone has to start somewhere. Members of distribution are quick to assess value and worth, not only of the product they are selling but of the staff they wish to attract. Be astute, ask questions and show how keen you are. Use these tasks as an opportunity to meet people in the office, let others know your ambitions and get yourself known. Depending on the area you're employed, you can be called upon to complete the following:

Reception duties.

Acting as the first point of contact for anyone contacting the companies.

Booking transportation.

Cars for senior members of staff, or flights to the film markets.

Scheduling/diarising meetings.

Keeping the department's schedule, making travel arrangements or arranging food if it's over the lunchtime hours.

Organizing couriers and interns.

Your list of daily tasks can grow exponentially, especially around the date of a release or film market. Being able to organize interns to help with the workload will enable you to focus on the most important jobs.

Test audience.

You can be asked to act as a test audience for a film, make notes and present your findings at the end of the screening.

Transcribing.

Which can be anything from an interview to a meeting.

A/V file conversions.

If working in a small company you can be asked to convert files for any publicity material.

Database management.

All companies that hold large amounts of information will have a database that will need updating. If ever unsure about the system be sure to ask another member of staff. Distributors deal with other companies around the globe, keeping an updated database is essential to make sure the distribution team are always meeting with the right people.

Phone calls.

If you're assigned to a senior member of the team or work in sales, they can be on the phone for a large percentage of the day. You may be asked to queue up calls, or take messages.

Script reading.

Some companies will hire script readers to write up a synopsis and a report, sometimes it can be left to the junior members of staff. You will be asked to write up a brief report and assign them a score out of 10.

Competitive release schedules.

Knowing what is being released at what time is crucial information for distributors. They may have a campaign calendar at larger companies that will need maintenance.

Analysis of international and domestic box office data.

Such as ROI for marketing promotions and trend analysis. Knowing how to write an analytical report and interpret data will be a large part of the job, which is why distributors will be on the lookout for graduates who have an aptitude for numeric data and analytical skills.

Events prep.

Interns and office assistants will lend a hand when it comes to preparation for international film markets, and any public events for the Marketing Departments such as junkets, premieres or on set press days, helping members of marketing schedule and deliver promotional materials.

Running errands.

All junior-level roles will be asked to run errands, either collecting or delivering items that cannot be emailed.

Social media.

Distributors use social media to promote themselves and the films that are responsible for. Social media is an effective campaign tool for the marketing team, junior staff can be asked to man the social media platforms each day. 

Delivering posters to cinemas.

Checking the cinemas are correctly displaying them.

Attend any marketing events.

Such as a Sunday morning screening of a children's film to distribute goodie bags before or after the film.

Help organize screenings.

Screenings for journalists and/or film commentators before the film has a national release or screenings for senior exhibitors.

 

HOW DO I GET A JOB IN DISTRIBUTION?

Resume

When working on your resume check it through (or ask someone else to) to see it reads well and is correctly formatted. You can use the advice to help create a resume and covering letter, and you can check your resume against our examples to make sure it includes all the relevant information. 

You're going to want to keep it short and to the point, as many employers will be ‘scanning’ rather than reading, so keep it down to one page. Always find out who to send your resume to and address them directly, this can be as simple as picking up the phone to ask who is in charge of recruitment, HR or the department you wish to enter.  

If you can, follow up a week later and check they have your details on file. If you sent a resume without there being a job advertised you will most likely be told they will keep it for future reference, however, you could get lucky and they might be recruiting that week, or you can make a good impression on the phone. Use your common sense, if they sound busy they probably are, but if you get chatting ask for some advice, they might be able to refer you to another company that are looking for staff. 

Alongside opportunities listed on MFJF, social media is a great way to find out what companies are up to, and when they are recruiting for positions. Keep an eye on Twitter, LinkedIn and follow the projects companies are representing. 

Research

Before you do anything else, research the company you want to work for, find out what section of distribution they work in; do they distribute mostly children’s films, indies or documentaries? Research their website, find out which films they purchased for their slate and what they have coming up for release. Most companies display their back catalog of films so study which were successful and which were not. 

It may sound all too obvious but a knowledge of how the film industry works is going to be essential. If called for an interview your potential employers want to know you understand the filmmaking process from script to screen and you’re aware of industry news and events - being well informed is the key to working in distribution. 

For example, acquisitions have to know what films are being bought and sold on the marketplace and will be reading scripts and looking at screenings. The head of sales will know what type of film cinemas will show and when they will show them. What an indie cinema might be willing to exhibit on a Saturday night can be very different from the listings of a cinema at the local multiplex. Marketing will know how to promote different films, the strategic campaign for a thriller, for example, will be very different from that of a children’s film. Being able to proactively broaden your knowledge is going to be essential, here are the magazines and online resources the industry use for information:

Check these websites regularly, you need to be able to demonstrate your eagerness to learn on top of your interest in the industry. Alongside researching and knowing back to front the Film Value Chain, you may also wish to continue your reading to further your understanding of distribution and film production:

Taking time to research your chosen occupation is going to inform what you put on your resume and how you present yourself in your interview. You will also need to know you can answer the basic questions such as:

  • What does a distribution company actually do? 

  • How is a film connected with an audience? 

  • What is the process when taking a film from script to screen? 

  • What is the difference between acquisitions and sales and the Sales Departments in film sales companies, production companies and finance companies?

  • When are the film markets on, who goes and which one is best to sell a certain genre of film?

 Above all else, if you really want to work in film distribution, you MUST go to the cinema regularly and engage with films as an audience does. Many cinemas have reduced ticket prices for students, they also have reduced ticket prices on certain days. 

If you are living in a big city already you're going to need a wage to survive whilst you are looking for employment. Ideally, you would have been taking internship placements whilst at college. These will be in exchange for college credits rather than paid, so you may find yourself temping or taking part-time work to supplement your income for this first year. Put your office time to good use, become a master at Excel, PowerPoint and data filing.

 

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WHAT IS IT LIKE TO WORK AT A DISTRIBUTION COMPANY?

During your time at a junior level, you will be exposed to strategic planning, partnership development, publicity/promotions, grassroots marketing campaigns, digital/social interaction and more. You should be keen and willing to work long hours when necessary as an office assistant, and proactively assess what you can do to help when it's quiet. 

Distribution companies have a fluctuating schedule. If they have a full calendar of releases junior members of the team will be busy organizing events, sending posters to cinemas and attending preview screenings or press functions to lend a hand. You may need to work longer hours and work weekends for weekend screenings.  If the company hasn’t got a film scheduled that month, there will always be prep for next month. Junior members of the team will be sent off to screenings or asked to read scripts to keep them busy.

As a junior working in a smaller distribution company, you will be in close quarters with your colleagues; you will also be called upon to lend each of them a hand. So be prepared to be fought over. Try and manage your time the best you can, never say you can’t do something or are too busy. It’s much better to be diplomatic, so let them know you can do it but not until you have finished the task you have been set by another member of the team.

As you enter the world of distribution you may think your colleagues are talking another language, don’t worry you will pick up as time goes on. With the advent of more online platforms, placing a film has become more involved, but this is something you will learn by analyzing stats and getting more experience. Above all people will forgive anything if you have the right attitude and proclivity for working hard, it's a small industry and people move around, so a good junior will be noticed and recommended.  

DO I NEED ANY QUALIFICATIONS TO WORK IN FILM DISTRIBUTION?

Most companies will be on the lookout for graduates with relevant degrees, similar to many of the business career paths in the film industry, it's an area where you will benefit from studying. Companies will be looking for graduates with business, marketing, finance or degrees in any of sciences, maths or economics.

If you're coming to the workplace with a film degree, the onus will be on you to demonstrate you have the required analytical skills needed to work in distribution. Research previous campaigns, read scripts, and if you haven’t had much experience analyzing statistics find a course or online tutorial to practice. Your love of film and understanding of the filmmaking process can hold weight, so never shy away from demonstrating this in your applications and covering letters.

WHAT PAPERWORK AND SOFTWARE SHOULD I BE FAMILIAR WITH?

Working within the office environment will require you to have strong administrative skills, especially Excel. You would be at an advantage if you have:

  • A strong knowledge of both Mac and Windows operating systems, with particular attention to excel and powerpoint.

  • In some roles, familiarity with Photoshop and the Adobe Suite software will be an advantage.

  • Being able to collate, store and analyze data using software can become a crucial part of your job.

Look to the trade papers for more information about the industry. Everyone will have their ‘go to’ sites for information, so ask your colleagues what they prefer. To give you a head start check out the industry essentials section for websites we value.

10 ESSENTIAL TIPS FOR NEW ENTRANTS WHEN WORKING AT A DISTRIBUTION COMPANY.

 
Learn the process.

Learn how distribution works, each stage, who is involved and what each department brings to the process. Distribution is a multifaceted area of the industry, gain as much understanding of the process before you set foot in the office, it could be a useful buoyancy aid. If you're coming into the industry from a business background, learn about the sector as a whole and where distribution fits into the process of filmmaking.

 
Coffee run.

The coffee run is a great way to introduce yourself to people and strike up a conversation. It's better to be known as the person who gets the coffee than the person no one knows.

 
Try and remember everyone's name.

It sounds simple but can be harder to master than you may think, especially when you are introduced to people on your first day. Everyone finds their own way of remembering, try to find yours.

 
Research and development.

Always keep yourself up to date with industry news, especially how exhibitors are responding to the demands of their customers. The cinema experience is always changing, from the advancement of 4D viewing to the smaller independent cinemas that furnish their screens with home comforts such as armchairs and coffee tables.

 
Awareness of market trends.

Trying to predict the market can be a fun game to play at the beginning of your career, and a vital skill when you are working at a senior level.

 
Networking.

At some stage, you will be asked to attend industry events and film festivals with the express purpose of making contacts. If you are a natural networker and socializer this can be one of your greatest attributes when working in distribution. If you find this side of the job a challenge, watch how your senior colleagues navigate this process and emulate them. You won't find too many wallflowers in this area of the industry, so if you're naturally shy be prepared to be pushed out of your comfort zone.

 
Develop and utilize your business skills.

Such as negotiation and budgeting. Whilst working in distribution don't use the workplace as your only source of knowledge. If you feel you could benefit from extra training have a look online and see what's on offer.

 
Read widely across all genres.

Most distribution offices are inundated with scripts to read for potential acquisitions, being able to read thoroughly and quickly can take some skill, so get into practice now. Ask to read a strong script that the distribution company are considering investing in or buying so you know what they are looking for.

 
Technical development.

Know about the digital formats that films are shot and released on. Keeping up to date with the technical side of the industry can inform conversations and not leave you overwhelmed.

 
Know when you should give an opinion and when you shouldn't.

If the company has bought a film and committed to distributing it then your opinion is not really relevant, unless you love it - people like to hear that. If you're asked to consider a film they're buying then it's ok to submit an honest opinion, but back it up with specific reasons not “I just don’t like war films”. Often people in charge will buy films they don’t necessarily like but are savvy enough to know it’s commercial and will make money. Above all the film industry is like every other industry, it’s a business and people want to make money. 

 

PHRASES EVERY junior SHOULD KNOW WHEN WORKING IN DISTRIBUTION.

  • Slate. When a company refers to their slate, it's the films they represent at that moment in time.

  • Package. Film sales companies take a pitch package to market when looking for a distribution deal, finance and investment. An attached director and cast with a great script can sell a film to distributors, making the sale executives' job significantly easier.

  • Hot film. Before the film market distributors will have been reading scripts and be aware of the packages that are coming to market. A film that is desirable to distributors could be due to a high profile cast who have signed on, a notable director with a great track record, finance already in place or all three. If there is significant 'buzz' attached to the project, distributors can find themselves in a bidding war, which is why fostering good relationships is key for distributors. 

  • Delivery. After the film's completion, the sales company will only ‘deliver’ the film to the distribution companies once all funds have cleared and paperwork has been signed.

  • MG - Minimum Guarantee. The amount paid by the distributor as an initial (non-refundable) advance against the future share of revenues.

  • Payment Terms. When and how the MG will be paid e.g 20% on Deal Memo and 80% on Notice of Availability.

  • Term. How long the distributor will have the rights for.

  • Holdbacks. When a distributor can exploit each media right e.g can release DVD with the US DVD release.

  • Division of Gross Receipts. How revenues from each media are split between the producer and the distributor e.g TV 70% to producer and 30% to the distributor.

  • One Sheet. Sales executives use these at the film markets to sum up a film in a nutshell. An image giving the visual representation of the film is on one side, with treatment and any secured talent laid out on the other. More often than not these are now digital and can be emailed or viewed on an ipad.

  • Deal memo. Signed by the distributor at the market, to be followed up by the sales executive once they are back in the office. They then send out the Long Form Agreement which is drawn up by the legal team to officially confirm the distributor's involvement. Until the official contract is signed the distributor can still back out at any point. 

  • Production Notes. Supplied by the publicity team on junkets or press releases detailing, cast and crew biographies and a synopsis of the film.

  • Publicity tour. Big budget films will arrange junkets and red carpet events around the globe, where the actors and filmmakers show their support for the film. Even on smaller budgets cast members can be called upon to publicize the film, even after the film’s release.

  • Junket. Journalists will be invited to interview actors and filmmakers, usually at one of the major hotels in London. Interviews are timed by a room timer whose job it is to keep the talent on a tight schedule.

  • Press Screening. Before the film is released members of the press will be allowed access to scheduled screenings, so their reviews will coincide with the opening of the film. The requirements to attend press screenings can be found on the Film Distributors website.

  • EPK. Electronic Press Kit, which contains B-roll, trailers and interviews with cast and crew whilst on location.

  • VOD. Video On Demand, services such as Netflix or Amazon. There are more VOD platforms springing up that focus on documentaries and short films.

  • P and A: Print and Advertising budget. 

faq's

 

Will I be expected to go to film festivals?

Once you are at stage 3 of your career plan and working at a junior level in distribution, you may be called upon to go to festivals and events. This can be an exciting time in your career as you begin to feel fully immersed in the industry. Remember you are there to work, so keep a clear head and enjoy the after-parties.

 

What is it like working at a festival or market?

Film festivals and markets are often a hectic two weeks of meetings, handshaking and deal-making. It’s going to be noisy, packed to the rafters and if it’s your first time at one of the big three you are going to need a map. If you are working for a company that are regular attendees you will most likely have been involved in pre-booking everything; meetings, restaurants, evening drinks, films, events and panel discussions. If you do attend a festival or film market it will most likely be the EFM or Marché du Film.

  The EFM held in Berlin is going to be chilly, actually not just chilly close to freezing. Take a good winter coat and make sure everything is waterproof, turning up to the next meeting drenched is not a great start. If you get a chance to watch some films whilst you are there you are going to be glad of that coat, as the queues can get quite long for the cinema. The EFM spreads itself out over the city so take comfortable shoes as you will be doing a fair bit of walking, but what a city to walk around and spend some time in. 

On the flip side, Cannes will be extremely warm, extremely crowded and held in an extremely compact area. The small town with a population of 75,000 will hold anywhere from 250,000 to 300,000 people during peak times of the festival/market. Take everything you would associate with summer, sunscreen, hats and once again equip yourself with a map and a good pair of shoes; if you are feeling very organized a light raincoat. If you get a chance take a step back from the festival to appreciate the beauty of Cannes, it’s a slice of the French riviera that is steeped in history and a glamour of its own that can’t be replicated.

 

What are the main film markets?

There are many film markets that run throughout the year, the main markets are: 

  • European Film Market or EFM (February. Associated with the Berlinale - Berlin International Film Festival). 

  • Marché du Film (May. Associated with Cannes International Film Festival). 

  • American Film Market or AFM (November..USA) 

  • Hong Kong Filmart (March. HK/Asia)

 

What are the trade papers?
  • Screen International 

  • Variety 

  • Hollywood Reporter 

  • Deadline 

  • Indiewire 

 

What hours will I be expected to work?

The hours will fluctuate dependent on the release schedule of the company. If working during the festival, it can require you to work longer hours, with lots of work and forward planning, but a great experience and great fun.

 

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