A lengthy post, so it always helps to give a brief summary...
- a great overview
- 3 key horror hits, budget + box office
- the all-time horror box office list + analysis; same for slashers specifically
- top distributors in 2017
- horror's overall market share
- the Netflix/Amazon option
- self-distribution + using film fests + London screenings (2 £30k examples)
- 2 very useful tags!
- picking a specific distributor for yourself: the Warp and WT examples, plus finding horror specialists
Most movies fail to gain theatrical distribution.
Horror movies typically don't feature any star names (being, mostly, a low budget genre), so have an obvious problem in persuading distributors to gamble serious money.
Then again ... the examples of Halloween, Blair Witch Project and, more recently, Paranormal Activity, showed the possibility of making major box office without the benefit of stars, franchise or a traditionally bankable genre.
SIMPLY A GREAT OVERVIEW,WITH DETAILED FIGURES INCLUDED
Here's a lengthy quote from a lengthy feature which is well worth a read overall...
Horror distribution—either self-distribution or through a distribution company—has left many moviemakers battle-hardened. Sometimes it seems like independent moviemakers need a PhD in economics. “One film I produced certainly opened my eyes to the realities of distribution economics,” says Travis Stevens, owner of production company Snowfort Pictures, Inc., and producer of the Adam Wingard-directed A Horrible Way to Die. “We made the film for $96,000. It played the festival circuit, had a great sales agent, and secured distribution around the world. The advances from those distribution deals brought in roughly $250,000, of which the sales agent kept $50,000, leaving about $200,000 to the producers. The investors recouped their $96,000, leaving $104,000 of profit. On this deal, the investors were entitled to 50 percent of the profits, leaving about $52,000 to be split between the three filmmakers. We made about $17,000 each for a movie we worked on for free about three years. You could probably make more buying or selling shoelaces on eBay!”
Budget to global box office, 3 iconic low budget horror examples
Halloween (1978) $300k - $70m [big chunk of the budget went on just 2 days with Donald Pleasance, a relative 'star']
Blair Witch Project (1999) $60k - $25m [an even better multiple than Hwn! Sundance screening + early eg of viral marketing]
Paranormal Activity (2007) $15k - $194m [an incredible multiple, but misleading as distributor Paramount poured millions into the marketing. Established Jason Blum as the low budget (usually sub-$5m) Michael Bay!]
THE ALL-TIME BIGGEST
The BoMojo table (US box office only) shows that:
- horror has gone in and out of fashion
- franchise is a key feature
- foreign remakes (Grudge, Ring both originally Japanese horrors) have been successful
- 3 of the top 10 are from this decade, so ...
- there has been a very recent resurgence ... though It's (2017) seemingly incredible $700m take is from a $35m budget. Producer New line Cinema is a name behind many of the all-time hits (big six Warner distributed)
- over and over, you can see that its big six distributors (Buena Vista is a Disney subsidiary)
- DreamWorks (DW) and Artisan were Indies at the time ... but have now been bought up, by Universal and (big 7?) Lionsgate respectively
You need to dig a little deeper to find some key context - that success is relative! We are in an era where multiple movies have breached the $1bn mark - and some have even exceeded TWO $bn!!!
- It, the biggest horror hit of all time, is only Warner's 7th biggest hit
- the 2nd biggest, Sixth sense, is only Buena Vista's 24th biggest hit!
The all-time world list makes this clear - there are only two $0.5bn hits (from The-Numbers):
THE ALL-TIME SLASHER LIST
Again, this BoM table is US bo only; the utter stranglehold of franchises is clear, but this time there are only 2 from the 2010s in the top 20! The (2010) Elm St reboot and the equally awful 2011 Scream 4. You can read more here.
TOP DISTRIBUTORS IN 2017
Lets be honest though - you're hardly likely to luck out and persuade a big six distributor to take a punt on your star-free, no-IP, non-franchise micro-budget flick. You can see from the table below what an iron grip they have on (again, its US figures, but the pattern is similar worldwide) the market, with many more studio subsidiaries further down the list too. This would also back up the argument that there is a big 7, with Paramount bested by Lionsgate!
The picture in the UK is very similar, with Universal grabbing 2 of the top 7 (with subsidiary StudioCanal):
HORROR TAKES A DECENT MARKET SHARE OVERALL
These US figures that horror typically takes around 5% of overall box office, a fraction of the sci-fi/fantasy take for example - though 2017 did see a sharp rise in this!!! It rates quite highly (sixth!) overall nonetheless.
US market share by genre
THE NEWCOMERS: DVD/VoD THROUGH AMAZON (PRIME) + NETFLIX (etc!)
Those guys probably won't be returning your calls - but Netflix/Amazon might very well do! They pay enough through Amazon Prime to instantly cover micro-budget movies' costs, sidestepping the need for theatrical distribution. Amazon also offers a platform for VoD sales - as do YouTube, its owner Google, and others.
SELF-DISTRIBUTION + THE FILM FEST/LONDON SCREENING TACTIC
DVD distribution itself is far from automatic, but if you can get yours in Wal-Mart (USA) or Tescos (UK), you're in the biggest physical retailers of DVDs! Coz Greenop managed to get a US DVD distribution for his micro-budget horror, by gambling on a costly Cannes trip, and innovating by contacting multiple distributors through social media (Facebook and Twitter), as well as setting up a London screening. Film festivals and industry screenings can be key means of getting some form of distribution for low budget Indie horrors.
I have a links list of tales like this.
Bethany Clift talks about the use of a special screening and film festival (and targeting a large number of distributors, just as Coz Greenop did) as crucial to getting a £30k horror, the Heretic, into a distribution deal.
VideoMaker (a great mag if you can find it) published a feature specifically on low budget horror distribution ...
This is well worth taking detailed notes from. A sample:
FINALLY - HOW MIGHT I PICK A DISTRIBUTOR FOR MY FILM??
So, we've explored aspects of the concept of distribution, and now you need to name and justify a possible distributor...
If its not going to be a big six/7 operator (though some have low budget and genre specialist subsidiaries (Dimension Films were a great example, a Disney-owned slasher specialist when the Weinsteins were under Disney), who could it be?
Look at the multiple horror movies produced by warp and especially Warp X (and Warp Australia): low budget Indie horrors all! You might find some useful names for distributors beyond the UK. ...And then there's their upcoming Ghost Stories, with Lionsgate UK behind that! Have a look at the tale of woe of Tyrannosaur's US experience (a social realist drama, but still very relevant: they got only an LGBT specialist who didn't risk much with the movie...) [film tag; Tyr France dist'n; main post].
I've blogged on Warp distribution generally; you can see detail here on distributors that have a pattern of involvement with Warp.
Working Title rarely venture into horror - but their low budget subsidiary WT2 was based around the 3Hs: horror, humour and heart - including Shaun of the Dead ...
You can try a range of searches to find specialist distributors too, e.g.///