Get Your Movies in Stores
A studio can put out films with the hottest performers, the cleverest camera angles, the sharpest photography, and the most-enticing packaging, but unless a reputable distributor is pushing the product, it's unlikely to reach its fullest audience. Distribution is the key to survival and profit.
And making that deal isn't easy, in part because there's just so much product out there. "There's a flood of new companies," said Roy Karch of Empire Video Distributors in Los Angeles. "It's getting harder and harder, because distributors are just getting flooded."
Accordingly, many distributors pick up a tiny fraction of the films they're sent. "Four hundred people [at the adult video convention] in Las Vegas will hand me product, and I'll pick up three," said Arnold T., head of Old Pueblo Distribution in Tucson, Ariz. One Los Angeles-based distributor estimated that he accepts 5 percent of the films he sees.
"I've been saying 'no' more than I ever have," said Karch (no relation to the award-winning adult industry director with the same name).
So how can a producer break through? In terms of the films themselves, distributors seem to be looking for high quality — i.e., professional production values — and a degree of uniqueness.
"We have a commitment to quality, and we also look to see if a studio excels in a certain niche," said Mark Hamilton of Pulse Distribution in Los Angeles, who added that he looks for genres or styles of films Pulse doesn't already sell. "If we believe that a studio or director is going to offer something unique, we'll always consider it; you don't want to dismiss anyone who has something [special] to offer."
"Without uniqueness, it really doesn't have much value," Arnold T. agreed, adding that he also studies the quality of the film's images, editing and packaging.
Too many amateurs seem to think their boudoir frolics are the next big thing. Arnold T., who produces as well as distributes adult films, marvels at the people "who show up at my door with nothing, who truly believe they have this great idea," he said. "They'll say, 'Look at my wife,' but that's not enough. This is not just a game, this is a business."
Rick Cuban, owner of Miami-based UrgeXotica, said his new production company got its foot in the door by developing a niche in Latin American performers and locales. His gonzo lines include films featuring outdoor sex, solo girls, pairs of girls, and fetishes, with directors shooting in places such as Colombia, Brazil, Costa Rica and Cuba.
The Latin American emphasis has been successful so far. "For us, it's been a matter of who do we go with and who do we not go with," Cuban said.
Arnold T. warned that unique doesn't mean outlandish. "People don't necessarily want to see how many things you can stick in someone's body," he said. "They want to go home and enjoy themselves."
Karch of Empire Video said the external factors of packaging and price need to be in place, as they do for any product. "It's the widget game with the foil box," he said. "It's like any other business: whose widget is shinier, and who can knock a quarter off the widget's price." The distributor, Karch said, provides the salesman who gets the product onto the shelf.
But quality, he added, is key. "If you have a good product in the stores, and if you have a good box, it'll move off the shelf," Karch said. "But if the movie's no good, the customer will figure it out. Sooner or later, he'll say, 'Oh, ABC Films, they never satisfy me,' and stop buying."
Even with high-quality product, the road to distribution can be rocky, with new retail entries vying with black-listed films being offered more cheaply. "It's tough for new product, because catalog items are cheaper and not much different," said Bob, vice president of Dane Productions in Los Angeles, whose company also distributes and does a lot of business from its backlist. "We get new product that's beautiful, but people don't want to buy new stuff because they can get the same thing in the catalog," he said.
And sometimes the question of what constitutes "quality" seems to require a crystal ball. "In this industry, it's hard to tell if one product is better than another," Bob said.
Here Today, Tomorrow
A fledgling studio also needs to show a distributor that it has a track record and the wherewithal to keep producing. "You can't show up with one or two films," said Cuban of UrgeXotica, whose company had a list of 24 films before it even started seeking distribution. "It's all about the capitalization to have enough product to be around tomorrow. [Distributors] have to know that you're going to be here."
Karch also said he looks for dependability. "It's not like they have to [produce] one film a week, but when you see they have a release schedule, you know they have product: four or eight or 12 in the can."
Arnold also said producers should do their homework about what's being received well by customers. "Come prepared," he said. "Talk to people, go to stores, do your research on the Internet."
Distributors also say that persistence pays.
"What it takes is to be really, really persistent, and looking better than the other guy," said Karch. He also believes in cultivating connections, which are much more effective than cold calls. "The smart move is to attach yourself to someone in the business," he said. "When you've been picking up the phone for a guy for the past seven years, you're not going to stop."
In short, distribution deals aren't created by magic or even salesmanship; a producer has to back up his personal charm with inventory that's good, sellable and substantial. "You have to work really hard, and you have to be consistent," Cuban said.
The payoff for hard work and high standards can be well worth the effort. Distributors will push hard to make sure stores, websites and other regular customers know about new releases through phone calls, e-mails, and traditional mailings and will amplify whatever producers have been doing to promote themselves.
So distributors may be choosy, but they're also receptive to new work, and once they choose, they're a great source of support and increased sales.
"Ultimately, it will all come down to content," Pulse's Hamilton said. "It's a tough business, and we want to make sure we believe in the movies as much as the producers do."