Documentary Business

Peter Hamilton Consultants, Inc

mipcom Takeaways: Ten Tips for Working with a Distributor

How can a producer best establish a winning relationship with a distributor?

Creative Europe Media sponsored a workshop on distribution at mipcom that was moderated by Jone Aldave and featured Windrose’s Pauline Mazenod.

The workshop complements our unique post on how a documentary distributor like Windrose manages its workflow at a major industry events like mipcom.

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Here are Pauline Mazenod’s Ten Tips for Working with a Distributor.

  1. When to approach a distributor?
  • As early as possible;
  • In any case, when the producer has secured a first financing for the film project at a national level.
  1. Don’t wait until your film is 6 months old to close a distribution contract.
  • The first year of a film is the most bankable. You have to leave time for buyers to make their decision (which can involve a long internal process), arrange a contract and deliveries, etc.
  1. How to approach a distributor?
  • Be meticulous in the way you present/propose your film project or completed film: don’t make the distributor spend too much time figuring out what your project/film is about.
  • Be short & precise: a good logline is always better than a long synopsis. Distributors receive hundreds of e-mails a day; a short mail gets read right away, a long one gets put off for (much) later.
  • Information to be sent: checklist available under request (
  • For a film project: 1-2 pages presentation including picture(s) and a teaser (less than 3’).
  • Submit your film(s) per e-mail; distributors are too booked up with buyers during markets. Many producers put their logo on the images to be cautious; it is better not to.
  • Vimeo links with non-expiring passwords are welcomed.
  1. Which distributor to pick up?
  • Do your homework!
  • Ask for references of international distributors from professional associations, MEDIA Programme experts or national desks, and buyers themselves.
  • Check their editorial line to make sure it fits in with your work.
  • Propose your film to about 3 targeted distribution companies – it is most effective to invest time in chasing just a few select distributors, and to be transparent about it in order to get the best commission from them.
  1. Either work with several distributors at the same time on different films OR close a framework agreement with one distributor for all your films.
  • Working with several distributors can work if you have several very different projects. This is not to diversify risk but to make sure your distributor is really passionate about the type of project you are trying to sell.
  • Working with one single distributor can allow a good long-term working relationship to flourish.
  • Both strategies are valid, according to your productions.
  1. Work at establishing a long-term relationship with your distributor(s)
  • They will work harder on your films!
  1. Questions to ask a distributor
  • Which fairs/festivals do you attend? On which do you have a stand? This helps you determine whether they work, invest, have visibility.
  • What is the commercial potential of my film (in order to be realistic about your revenue expectations)? A good open question to find out what they are about.
  • Does my film have potential in theatres?
  • If yes, do you sell to theatre distributors?
  • Do you take care of festival submissions? Some do, some don’t: important to ask.
  1. The distribution contract
  • First thing to check: Which expenses can be deducted?
  • What is not written? What should be written to protect my interests?
  • Any payment deadline? If not explicitly stated (and it rarely is), the distributor may in principle have the entire length until the next sales report to pay you!
  1. Music and archive rights should be cleared for the world and for all exploitations.
  1. Last but not least…
  • International distributors are not only sellers or someone bringing you back revenues. They are also experts on international market trends, buyers’ needs, etc. Use their expertise!
  • Get indirect revenues through their support towards film funds with LOI, e.g. from the Europe Creative MEDIA Programme – contacting a distributor as early as possible can help secure subsidies for your project.
  • “Be nice, be polite, be respectful, be on time” – Brian Levine: Distributors will work with you longer, from an earlier phase, and bring you more revenue.
  • A long-term contract and a good commission motivates your distributor to work hard for you – they are worth it!

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About Windrose

  • Windrose is a French-German distribution company that works with producers worldwide and has market-leading clients across a wide range of documentary and performances genres, on every continent.
  • Like most distribution companies, they do acquisitions, marketing and communication, and sales and servicing. They also provide consulting, a service which is more and more needed by producers to ensure the international potential of their films.
  • They work at exploiting content everywhere – not only on television and in theatres, but also for example in institutions (schools, museums) and inflight.


A distributor at the Cannes market