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How Do Producers Get Independent Films into Theaters?

By Rhonda Rivera
Updated May 23, 2024
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There are a lot of actions producers take to get independent films into theaters. These actions usually include submitting the work to film festivals and contacting theaters that specialize in indie movies. A film that wins an award at a film festival or does especially well at an indie film theater has a greater chance of ending up in mainstream theaters. In addition, it is important to keep the film from the general public until it has been released. This means not releasing the film over the Internet or selling DVDs.

The first step in getting independent films into theaters is holding off on a release date. Theaters usually are not interested in movies that have already been released on video or are widely available on the Internet. If an official release date has been issued, it may have to be pushed back. Otherwise, the theater and producer might not have enough time to make a deal and show the movie in the theater.

Winning an award at an indie film festival greatly increases a film’s chance of getting into a theater, but even movies that do not win can generate enough attention to become successful. A lot of film festivals require participants to pay an entry fee to compete. Others do not, but they also usually do not attract the attention of large theaters. Film festivals usually occur annually, and they can be found all over the world. Some festivals also accept films made in other countries.

In addition, producers target theaters that only show indie films. Getting independent films into theaters like these is relatively easy compared to getting them into theaters that cater to big-budget films. If the film has a good story, decent acting, and targets an audience the indie theater has, it stands a chance at being shown. Showing a movie is not free for the producers, though.

An indie film that does well in an independent film theater has potential to do even better in a mainstream theater. Some mainstream theaters have programs set up to evaluate and get independent films into theaters on a limited basis. The producer must send the theater a copy of the movie and work out the details of the deal. If all goes well, the movie might be picked up by other theaters.

Despite all the steps producers can take to get independent films viewed by the most people possible, most films do not make a name for themselves. Low-budget films sometimes do not appeal to a wide audience because of their message, acting, or lack of special effects. Even well-reviewed independent films might not get anywhere due a small advertising budget.

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Discussion Comments

By Ruggercat68 — On Jan 20, 2014

I think a lot of indie films are better off if they don't get into mainstream theaters. I know the producers want to recover their investment and the creative team wants the film to get the widest audience possible, but there are just some movies that need to stay small for artistic reasons. I've seen my share of indie and art films, and only a handful of them looked like a good fit in a larger theater. I don't think the same audience that came in to see machines transform into killer robots would necessary understand the subtleties of most indie or art films.

Having said that, I also think that low budget movies written with a general audience in mind should get a lot more exposure than what they currently get. It may be a question of getting movie distributors more incentive to include smaller films on the list of new releases to mainstream theaters.

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