Distributing Your First Feature Through the American Film Market

Distributing Your First Feature Through the American Film Market

This is the seventh guest article in a series by filmmaker Brittany Nisco, where she's documenting the entire process of making and distributing her first feature film, Wandering Off. Here's the synopsis.

Wandering Off deals with family dynamics when faced with a crisis, specifically siblings who are still holding onto decades of tension. Their past continually creeps in while they try to understand not only what has happened to their parents, but who they are now and who they thought they would be. Their parents, on the other hand, are obliviously blissful… and nowhere to be found.

If you want to get caught up on the first six installments in the series, you can find them here:

  1. Starting Down the Road of Making Your First Feature Film

  2. The Super Important Logistics of Pre-Producing Your First Feature

  3. The Keys to Kickstarting Your Indie Film: Preparation, Hustle, & Heart

  4. Running A Kickstarter or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love My Movie

  5. Getting My First Feature Film from Planning to Production

  6. 13 Thrilling Days: Breaking Down the Production of My First Feature

You can stream the finished film on Amazon Prime.


Indie movie distribution. Seems like a unicorn: you want to believe it’s a real thing, but you’re not sure how to get it. That’s how I felt a couple years ago.

Let me back up first.

You may remember me from a bunch of guest blogs on here in 2016.

I documented everything from trying to find money for my movie, Wandering Off, to getting the crew, scheduling, all the way through to after we wrapped, and what the experience was like.

Now onto the distribution…

I was fortunate enough to talk to a couple filmmakers who had gone through the process of making their first feature and getting it out, and to learn how they did it.

I kept hearing about AFM and decided to look into it. For those who don’t know, AFM is the American Film Market.

According to their website:

“The American Film Market is the world’s largest motion picture business event. Over 7,000 industry leaders converge in Santa Monica for eight days of deal-making, screenings, conferences, networking and parties. Participants come from more than 80 countries and include acquisition and development executives, agents, attorneys, directors, distributors, festival directors, financiers, film commissioners, producers, writers, the world’s press and all those who provide services to the motion picture industry.”

I heard you don’t know how to fully describe it unless you’re there, and never has there been a truer statement.

(Now, I can only speak to the distribution side of the Market, as that’s what we went for. While there are other things to go there for, I didn’t experience that, so I won’t pretend to know if that’s similar or different to what I was there for).

Prepping for AFM

About a month before heading to AFM, I contacted all the distribution companies that fit what our movie was.

Every company that goes to the Market lists what they’re looking for, so although time consuming, it’s an easy process to go through and see who fits.

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I sent our trailer, as well as a few scenes from the movie, edited together so they had an idea of what the movie was like. Luckily for us, I was able to schedule a bunch of meetings, even up until we were at the airport heading to Santa Monica for the event.

There were 3 of us that went: myself and two of my producers, Connor and John.

The movie had been complete for some time, we knew what we needed to talk about, and we had prepared some questions we thought might get asked of us.

I will tell you now, that no matter how much preparing you do, there is going to be at least one question asked that you never thought of and you better have an answer on the spot.

No matter how much preparing you do, there is going to be at least one question asked that you never thought of and you better have an answer on the spot.

We had a private, password protected online screener ready to share with any distributors that wanted to see it. We were ready for our meetings.

Navigating the event

AFM is 8 days long. And they are long days. We had meetings scheduled for every day except for the last.

Walking into the Loews Hotel, you are immediately overwhelmed by the amount of everything; people everywhere, giant movie posters hanging from the railings, signage about events happening at all hours of everyday.

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The key is to reassess your strategy the entire time, because you immediately see what works and what doesn’t by the way the companies react to you and your movie.

I knew there was no way we could experience everything the Market had to offer our first time there.

The only thing I knew was we had to get distribution.

We had meetings by the pool, meetings in some rooms (they convert every hotel room into offices for each company, it’s quite a thing to see), meetings at the bar, meetings on the pier. It’s literally nonstop.

After each meeting, Connor, John, and I would talk about what we think went right and what we think we could tweak for the next one. Sometimes the next one was only an hour away, so we were discussing fast.

The key is to reassess your strategy the entire time, because you immediately see what works and what doesn’t by the way the companies react to you and your movie.

It’s pitching gone wild. And again, knowing your product inside and out is what will make you succeed.

In between all of this, there are also panels, discussions, roundtables, and parties. You are learning nonstop. You are networking nonstop. You are really worn out by the time 9pm rolls around.

But you keep going.

Getting the deal

We figured we weren’t going to hear from anyone until a few weeks after the Market was over, as everyone is in meetings and events the whole time.

So on our last day, I had just gotten back to the AirBnB from a panel that morning, and was trying to grab a quick nap before checkout.

Getting that email was one of the greatest moments of my life. It meant that I didn’t waste anyone’s time in working on the movie, I didn’t waste anyone’s money, and we made a quality project that resonated with audiences outside of ourselves. I was elated.
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No sooner do I put my phone on the bedside table do I hear the email buzz go off. I check it before closing my eyes and see an email from a distributor saying they watched our movie and want to work with us. I jumped out of the bed and ran into the living room to tell Connor.

All of a sudden I wasn’t tired. We had accomplished what we went there to do: get distribution for the movie.

We knew we had to check everything out and make sure we were going with the best fit for our movie.

But the feeling of getting that email was one of the greatest moments of my life. It meant that I didn’t waste anyone’s time in working on the movie, I didn’t waste anyone’s money, and we made a quality project that resonated with audiences outside of ourselves. I was elated.

We flew back to the east coast that night in a great mood. Unbelievably tired from our red eye flight, but adrenaline is a hell of a thing and it really kept us going while we were on 24 hours of no sleep.

Lessons learned

So here are my takeaways for anyone thinking of starting their first feature or thinking about making a movie someday…

  • Do all of your work upfront in pre-production. Everything else will go (relatively) smoothly.

  • As I had talked about before, get releases from everyone, every place, everything that had anything to do with the movie.

  • Have a hard copy and a digital version of everything. Get another hard drive to put a million files onto for your distributor.

  • Know what is a reasonable place for your movie to be seen. Know the difference between theatre runs, SVOD, TV movies, DVDs, etc. in the way that would relate to your movie.

  • Have conviction in your project and if a deal doesn’t feel right for what you want, then it probably isn’t.

  • Do your homework on every single company you will meet with and who you’ll meet with from there.

And one more thing, if you run into Damian at the Loews Hotel, tip him well. He kept us going for those 8 days with his encouraging “Get those deals! Let’s go!”


Wandering Off is distributed by Turn Key Films and can be streamed on Amazon Prime now.

DVDs are on preorder and come out this fall to multiple outlets.