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A challenging career releasing films in a fast-moving market place - how does that grab you?
The film distribution sector is small, considering the scale, profile and influence of its output. Only about 300 people work in UK theatrical distribution - less than 1% of the film /cinema industry's total workforce - although people working in advertising / media buying, PR and design agencies often collaborate on the planning and execution of film campaigns.
A film distributor's managing director normally supervises a small staff with specialist roles:
- Acquisitions & legal
- Finance & accounting
In some ways, these departments undertake activities similar to their demand-side counterparts in any industry. But for film distributors, the products they handle are among the most thrillingly creative, emotionally charged, technologically advanced and hotly anticipated anywhere!
Diversity - good for business
The UK today is made up of many communities. Film distributors strive to recruit from as wide a talent pool as practical so that their companies remain competitive in the future. It's not just desirable for distributors to stay in tune with audiences' tastes and wider culture and society, and to appreciate people's differences as well as their similarities - it's essential. This isn't merely paying lip service to diversity; it's fundamentally good for business. As opportunities arise, considering suitable candidates with various perspectives and backgrounds helps distributors to remain lively hubs of fresh ideas.
Sharpen your skills
Distributors' offices often have stacks of film scripts. Each one is read carefully, either because the project is being considered for acquisition or because the film is already in production and a release campaign is being prepared. Being able to appreciate and evaluate a script is an important skill - read widely among different writers and genres to get into practice.
Good experience for a film industry marketing position may be gained at an advertising or media planning agency, especially by working with a film or entertainment client, or by project-managing in another area of intellectual property. As a marketing team member, you'd be expected to be alert to opportunities and to justify your ideas to colleagues and those involved in the film's production. Lots of ideas and sound judgement are called for when developing both the creative and media elements of a film campaign, and decisions are carefully evaluated.
If you're into design, why not consider movie posters, an art form in themselves. But you're unlikely ever to have a completely free hand - depending on the film stars, there may be tight guidelines as to what can and can't be done, and there is sure to be a list of elements, such as credits, that must be included in a particular order or style.
For publicity, experience as a journalist or press officer is useful. No two days are ever the same, but you should be able to write succinctly yet imaginatively, and to remain cool under pressure. Awareness of today's evolving media landscape is crucial. Sometimes distributors need specialist public relations or event management expertise to help arrange a premiere or a junket, and external agencies may be appointed to handle a particular project.
Sales staff, who deal with the licensing of films to exhibitors, use various strategies depending on the film and the agreed scale of its release. Clear commercial instincts, cool negotiation skills, absolute discretion and the ability to get on with a range of customers are vital attributes.
Key administrative roles include invoicing exhibitors or paying suppliers; ordering and checking film prints, trailers and posters; and arranging for materials to be delivered to the right place at the right time. You must be well organised with lots of drive and stamina. If you're working on the technical or operational aspects of a release, you'll need current knowledge of digital formats, 3D and IMAX® presentation, servers and their storage capacities, and laboratory processes. It's very important that films are supplied for public exhibition in superlative quality.
As you would expect, competition to break into the film industry is fierce. Being passionate about films is a great start. But it is only a start and not enough on its own.
The distribution business offers relentless yet rewarding work and sheer tenacity is an important quality in itself. If you're really determined, keep at it! Note how and where different genres of films are advertised, and on which local screens they tend to play. Try to keep informed about media trends and developments as well as the films themselves.
Some distributors employ runners and holiday relief to help out, while from time to time others offer work placements. Inevitably, vacancies in a small sector like distribution are relatively few and far between. A digest of placement opportunities is posted at FDA's website, www.launchingfilms.com. It may also help to keep an eye on publications where media jobs and placements are advertised. A little relevant experience can count for a lot.
Once you're in and have shown your aptitude, you may find that training courses are offered to help refine your knowledge and skills. In due course, opportunities may arise to work in head offices or overseas affiliates.
Best of luck.
Skillset's aim is to ensure the UK film industry has the right people with the right skills at the right time. They make training and development accessible and affordable for people in the industry by providing bursaries, subsidies and guidance, and funding the Screen Academy Network and new entrants' schemes. Discover more at www.creativeskillset.org. You can access its careers advice service at www.CreativeSkillset.org/careers.