Why I Self-Distribute My Documentaries (11 so far)

by David Wittkower

I went the distributor route many years ago when everyone told me that was the way to go, but the promises of quarterly reports did not happen and the checks were so small. So I confronted them about it and they finally admitted that I was one of 500 other titles and I was now a small number in line with many other titles, so when I questioned why they were taking 75%, that is what they told me, “it’s standard.” I told them I could do a better job and so they tore up my contract and I’ve been doing it myself ever since.

I had also gone to Walmart to see if they would distribute one of my films. They said they would, but I would have to sell it to them for $3.00/ each. They would sell it for $19.95. They said they could get the video into 3,200 stores. I thought that even with such a high markup it would do okay, but they said if after 1 year if the videos didn’t sell, I would have to buy them all back!

I went to another distributor once who wanted 80% so I asked what for. They said they would push my title, re-design the cover, (I liked the one I had) get it into tons of stores, etc. I learned from another producer that this 80% from each producer, afforded the distributor to fly 1st class to Cannes, wine & dine other distributors, and attend parties. So the producer makes 20%. I would have had to sell $500,000 worth of my DVD’s to make any kind of money at all.

Needless to say, since then I bought a disk duplicator and a printer, I buy the cases and DVDs wholesale, shrink wrap them and ship them, I make the calls to the stores, I offer the stores a 50/50 split which most stores will agree with, I get letters from people who have bought the films, telling how much the film has meant to them. I go to film festivals and reap those rewards, none which would happen if I had had a distributor for the last 10 years.

I have sold about 37,000 DVDs (most sell at $19.95 retail) and won over 27 awards for excellence in film making. None of this is easy mind you, but I feel if you want to make a living doing this, you have to see it through to the end, if you hand it over to a distributor, you might as well be saying, “Here’s my film, you can have all the money from it, because I don’t care.” Be the film maker, be the distributor and get back what you put into it. Of course I know film makers who with the right connections have done okay but I know even more who made one film, then quit because it was too hard. There are plenty of people out there who are more than willing to take all of your hard work and reap the rewards without doing very much work.

Sorry, will get off of the soap box now.

Promos from some of David’s documentaries


Guardians of the Gates: The Surfboats

The Eagle: America’s Tall Ship Trailer

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4 thoughts on “Why I Self-Distribute My Documentaries (11 so far)

  1. DEUS

    This article has reminded me of the book secrets of producing and selling successful videos doing the same also.

  2. Daniel Nicolas

    Just launching our new California base website on half of a shoe string but here it is
    http://www.mozatros.com and we are also seeking strategic partners.
    This site helps *citizen Journalists* monetize their content.
    (They get 60% of revenue once their content sells)
    If you care to help us in spread the word, we would greatly appreciate it.
    Daniel Nicolas


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