This is a beginner’s guide and glossary to distributing and promoting artists’ film and video work. It will take you through marketing and materials that you will need, organisations that may be able to assist, to possible exhibition channels. Much of the information may seem quite obvious but it is often this kind of thing that can make all the difference. This is a starting point rather than an exhaustive guide, but it will give you some ideas you can then use to explore further.
This guide is divided into the following sections:
Unlike other media, where a slide or still image can give a sense of the whole work, film and video demands that people find a video deck or projector and invest time in watching it, which is not always an easy thing to get people to do.
The publicity material you send out will often be your first chance to give people an impression about the work, and you need to make sure that what you send encourages them to actually view it.
Once your work has been selected for exhibition, publicity material can help the people showing it to attract and inform an audience.
This section suggests some of the basic issues you should consider and the core publicity material that you will need to mount an effective promotional campaign.
Promotional materials can include:
• Previews of your work
• Artists CV and biography
• a website
Essential details to include with all promotional material:
• Title of the work
• running time, other details (eg colour or black and white, silent, Dolby, etc), screening format (eg 35mm, 16mm, BetaSP, DVD, etc)
• year of completion
• your name
• copyright year and name
• your address
• your telephone number
• your email address
Note: The year to which you attribute the work should be the year in which it was completed, which isn’t necessarily the year(s) it was made: the year of a film is the year it was published, and when copyright starts.
One of the most effective ways to disseminate work, especially internationally, is through a distributor who will represent your work to potential exhibitors and deal with the large amount of administration this involves.
Most distribution organisations that specialise in artists’ film and video are non-profit and/or public-funded and their distribution activity is part of their cultural activities, often fulfilling a remit for access and advocacy. Many of these organisations were set up to provide an alternative model to commercial film distribution which is difficult for independents to access, especially those making work independently. All of the organisations listed in this section below deal with artists’ work and as such do not limit their activities to cinema distribution. Other exhibitors, such as galleries, colleges and museums are equally important.
What can distributors do for you?
Distributors can’t do everything, and it is better to think of them as working in collaboration with you. Most of them are non-profit organisations with limited resources and they cannot cover all bases. You need to be clear about what they can and cannot do at the start, and have a realistic expectation of the opportunities.
On the most basic level, having a distributor is having someone on your side who has a vested interest in promoting your work with the experience to give you good advice. Becoming part of a distribution collection, perhaps alongside historically important works, can also have a very positive association for your work. Curators and programmers frequently use distributors to access work and will approach them directly to see new work. They will also have relationships in place with exhibitors and buyers that are difficult for an individual to develop. For exhibition and sales they are able to deal with all of the administration involved and as they can represent large collections of work, they can be in a stronger position to negotiate better terms than an individual. It is important to note that the job distributors do is greatly enhanced by the quality of promotional material that you provide them with (see promotional materials section).
The main activities of film and video distributors are:
• theatrical distribution: hiring work for public exhibition in cinemas, galleries and museums
• non-theatrical distribution: hiring work to educational institutions and festivals sales: to collections, educational institutions, television stations and other broadcasters
Other services distributors may offer include:
advice, curatorial advice for those wishing to access work they handle, organisation of touring programmes and exhibitions, research and screening facilities.
Most distributors have a procedure for selecting the work that they take on, although some have an open access policy in which any artist can deposit work with them. Usually you need to submit a preview with supporting materials that will be considered by the distributor’s acquisition panel. Each distributor has a slightly different character so criteria can vary significantly. Basic things they may consider are: peer and critical recognition, creative use of the medium, working practice, aesthetic quality and suitability in terms of other works in their distribution collection.
If your work is selected, the distributor is likely to issue a contract, the terms of which can vary widely; most will seek some exclusive rights, at least in their territory. As many of these organisations are non-commercial, there is usually a good amount of freedom left to artists to promote their work independently as well and it is usually possible for distributors to include special clauses in the contract when required by the artist. Contract periods usually run from two to five years but can be terminated on either side with notice. Distribution contracts will not usually indemnify artists if their work includes uncleared material, and in fact, they will usually state that this remains the artists ’ responsibility.
Unlike mainstream feature distributors, organisations handling artists’ work usually do not pay advances for the distribution rights; instead they will pay the artist a percentage of the royalties generated from the hire and sale of their work. The royalty percentage varies but is usually between 50% – 75% to the artist, and paid on a yearly basis along with an activity report detailing all of the screenings and sales. The fees charged by distributors to exhibitors for your work usually operate on an established price structure of some sort; some allow the artist to set the fees for the hire and sale of their work, and most allow some flexibility in consultation with the artist.
To effectively promote your work a distributor would require at least one film print (if relevant), a high quality video sub-master on DVcam, BetaSP or Digibeta (this copy will be used to dub exhibition copies from). They will also require good support materials including work description/artist statement, biography, stills, and if available a press pack.
Promotion activities by distributors fall into two types: reactive and proactive. The reactive distributors mainly trade on the strength of their collection and catalogue to attract curators and programmers to them. New works will be entered into the catalogue and may be previewed but will not be prioritised over and above other works in the collection. The proactive distributors will have a programme of promotion for new work, so for a period of time they will send out preview tapes, enter festivals and make special efforts to push it to curators and programmers. Apart from the new work aspect, distributors may also promote work in special interest areas such as women artists, gay and lesbian work, animation etc, and will actively assist curators and programmers to access the kind of work they are looking for.
Many distributors will enter work to festivals, but it is unlikely that they will deal with festivals that charge entry fees and they may focus on festivals that will pay a screening fee for the work (although this is not always the case). It is a good idea to discuss this with your distributor so that you can cover the festivals they don’t deal with. Distributors will deal with all of the entry administration and provide the screening copy for festivals they cover. If there is an opportunity for the artist to attend the distributor may be able to assist but it is usually the individual’s responsibility to pay their way.
Apart from festivals, the distributor will deal with other kinds of hires, mainly cinema and special event exhibition for which a fee per screening would be charged to the exhibitor. For gallery exhibition, which can be work shown on a monitor or projected, maybe as a loop, in an exhibition space, or a library / videotheque where the public can select and watch the work, distributors would charge a flat fee, reflecting the period of the exhibition and possibly the nature of the venue (funded / unfunded for example).
Sales are often agreed in consultation with the artist. There are a number of different kinds of sales; distributors mostly focus on institution sales but some allow artists to set a price for sales to individuals also. Most distributors only deal with unlimited ‘editions’ of work, so copies can be sold an unlimited number of times. A collection sale is the most expensive and would involve an institution buying the rights for public exhibition within their institution; they would receive a film print or a video sub-master and would hold rights for the lifetime of that object. For video a sale may confer rights to copy from the tape for exhibition purposes and to prolong the life of the sub-master. The cheapest sale is an institutional study copy that is intended for study use only in libraries and colleges. This is usually a DVD supplied for the life of the disk with no public exhibition or copying rights.
Most distributors also deal with sales rights for broadcast, again usually in negotiation with the artist. The terms of these sales can vary enormously from broadcaster to broadcaster. To negotiate this, the distributor will need to have information on all the clearances and the territories and rights that are available (see Television section for more details).
LUX publishes a short list of festivals that specialise in showing artists’ moving image work. There are thousands of festivals in the world, so do your research – many more can be found on the internet, or subscribe to the LUX Scotland newswire for upcoming deadlines. Dates change from year to year, but as a broad rule submissions will open and close between six to two months before the event happens.
Most galleries do not have formalised application procedures for artists to submit work and make proposals and the reality is very few exhibitions happen through cold calling. First look at your personal network, do you have connections (however tenuous) with any curators/ galleries, then follow these up.
If you do not have any such connections (you should try and develop them) then your next step is research – look for galleries that show the kind of work you are making. Look at their previous shows and research their publicity to find out how they promote themselves and their projects, and if possible talk to other artists that have shown with them – and go to their openings. Be realistic about matching your career stage with the gallery – again look at the other artists they have worked with in the past.
Although every space has its own unique character it is good to be aware of the broad kinds of galleries that exist as this is often key to shaping their exhibition policy.
• Artist-run spaces. These are often unfunded, work with less established artists and are able to be quite flexible and reactive in their exhibition work and generally may be more accessible.
• Public-funded galleries. These may have a remit for supporting a particular kind of work as well as showing less established artists and giving the public an opportunity to see work they would not otherwise have access to. Due to their public-funded status most of these galleries will have a policy for submissions.
• Municipal galleries. These are usually council-run or council-funded spaces that are often more traditional in their exhibition programme, but will often focus on locally produced work.
• National galleries and museums. These work with very long lead times and usually focus on large-scale exhibition projects. Often they are curated by a team of curators, and they may have a dedicated film and video curator on their team. These spaces only usually work with invited artists in mid- to late career stages.
• Galleries for hire. There are also a number of spaces which are available for individuals and groups to hire to showcase their work on a daily or weekly basis, lists of these spaces in London can be found on the Artquest website at www.artquest.org.uk. If you are considering hiring an exhibition space, it might be more effective to look for a more unusual non-traditional space, which may have either an added resonance for the work or offer an additional attraction to visitors.
Most galleries do not have formal application processes, so check with them about their requirements in advance. Do not what ever you do turn up at the gallery unannounced and expect the curator to look at your work, as well as not making a very professional first impression most exhibitions are developed over time. When applying, do so in writing enclosing all of the necessary information and materials required, this should at least include preview DVD, statement about the work, technical information and CV. Also remember to include a cover letter explaining what the materials are, what you are proposing and why you are sending it to that particular gallery.
Limit your materials to those which are directly relevant to the proposal you are making. Remember that they may be looking at a number of applications at one time, large amounts of papers and long showreels could actually dilute the work your are proposing so keep it short and focused. For installation proposals, avoid being vague, clearly set out the technical configuration in relation to the particular space, include a realistic budget and explain how the submitted materials relate to the project. Be realistic in your proposal, most spaces do not have huge budgets to develop large-scale installation projects, so make sure the proposal matches the scale of the gallery you are applying to. Most galleries work to quite long lead times that can be anything from three months to two years in advance. In terms of decision making on proposals this can also take rather a long time, something in the region of 3-6 months is not unusual – so be patient.
Agencies are organisations promote and distribute artists’ moving image work either specifically or as part of a wider programme of visual arts projects. They work with artists and venues to develop projects from conception to exhibition. Their activities may involve professional development support, commissioning, fund-raising for projects, project management, technical production, catalogue production, marketing, co-ordination of exhibitors and touring. They often work closely with exhibitors during the development of projects and primarily focus on gallery-based exhibition. Each organisation has different selection criteria so contact them directly for more information.