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A film distributor is an independent company, a subsidiary company or occasionally an individual, which acts as the final agent between a film production company or some intermediary agent, and a film exhibitor, to the end of securing placement of the producer's film on the exhibitor's screen. In the film business, the term "distribution" refers to the marketing and circulation of movies in theaters, and for home viewing (DVD, Video-On-Demand, Download, Television etc).

Film distribution process

The primary agenda of the distributor is to convince the exhibitor to rent, or "book", each film. To this end the distributor usually arranges industry screenings for exhibitors, and uses other marketing techniques that will make the exhibitor believe they will profit financially by showing the film.

Once this is accomplished, the distributor then secures a written contract stipulating the amount of the gross ticket sales to be paid to the distributor (usually a percentage of the gross after first deducting a "floor", which is called a "house allowance" (also known as the "nut"), collect the amount due, audit the exhibitor's ticket sales as necessary to ensure the gross reported by the exhibitor is accurate, secure the distributor's share of these proceeds, and transmit the remainder to the production company (or to any other intermediary, such as a film release agent). Ordinarily there are standard blanket contracts between a distributor and an exhibitor that apply to all films subsequently booked, although on occasion some of the terms, such as the percentage of the gross to be paid by the exhibitor, may be varied with regard to a particular film.

The distributor must also ensure that enough film print are struck to service all contracted exhibitors on the contract-based opening day, ensure their physical delivery to the theater by the opening day, monitor exhibitors to make sure the film is in fact shown in the particular theatre with the minimum number of seats and show times, and ensure the prints' return to the distributor's office or other storage resource also on the contract-based return date. In practical terms, this includes the physical production of film prints and their shipping around the world (a process that is beginning to be replaced by digital distribution) as well as the creation of posters, newspaper and magazine advertisements, television commercials, trailers, and other types of ads.

Furthermore, the distributor is responsible for ensuring a full line of film advertising material is available on each film which it believes will help the exhibitor attract the largest possible audience, create such advertising if it is not provided by the production company, and arrange for the physical delivery of the advertising items selected by the exhibitor at intervals prior to the opening day.

If the distributor is handling an imported or foreign-language film, it may also be responsible for securing dubbing or subtitling for the film, and securing censorship or other legal or organizational "approval" for the exhibition of the film in the country/territory in which it does business, prior to approaching the exhibitors for booking.

Historical distribution approaches in the US

In the days of the classical Hollywood cinema, the studio used the studio system, producing and distributing their own films to theaters that they also owned, a practice known as vertical integration. The studios' control over distribution was greatly weakened in the U.S.marker when in 1948 the court case United States v. Paramount Pictures, Inc. forced the major film studios to sell all their theaters. Today major studios and independent production companies compete for screens in theaters.

See also

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