Distribution in this Day and Age: A conversation with filmmaker, Jeff Gersh

Filmmaker and Founder of NarrativeLab, Jeff Gersh has been in the business of storytelling for over 20 years.  Working with a number of non-profits over the years, Jeff has finessed the formula for distributing a film with the goal of making an impact.  We spoke with Jeff on the nuances of distributing a film and how they have evolved over the years. 


When you're creating a trailer, what do you keep in mind? Do you have distribution in mind and, if so, how does the idea of distribution affect your process? 

Jeff Gersh: You know that every filmmaker is going to have a different answer or series of answers to that question. I make nonfiction films. When we produce trailers, we're producing those pieces for a variety of different reasons. For nonprofit clients, for example, when we're producing a longer-form piece, let's say, a half hour program. We're also making a trailer to accompany that program, which the nonprofit can use as an hor d'oeuvre, to attract the attention and whet the appetites of the audiences that we're aiming to impact in advance of the release and distribution of the larger piece.

That's one reason. Another way in which we would use a teaser, and I'm doing that right now, is to produce a very short piece, three or so minutes. Representing a longer-form piece that we have not produced yet, but that we'd like funding for. That is with respect to an independent project for which there is no client, but for which we think there is an engaged potential audience.

That makes sense. Let’s say you were doing a personal project. How would you go about promoting your film?

Well, I can promise that an independent film project that is long form ... By long form I mean thirty minutes or longer, perhaps more than an hour, even. In the event of producing a piece like that, we are always going to have partners in the field, that we're working with, who will be part of our distribution plan. Distribution can vary enormously. It can range from having a distribution partner very early in the process, once we have fronting in place, so that we know that a piece is going to television, or it's going to theatrical release, or it's going to some other venues, or we don't know that up front. We're aiming to discover that later in the process, once we finish the film and get it out into a marketplace.

Would the partnership be with a company that focuses in distribution or what type of partnership?

Well, there's a range of partnerships there too. There are, obviously, many distributors in the documentary film world. If the piece that we've made has some social value, some campaign value, then we want to team with nonprofits or other entities that have a vested interest in making sure that our story gets out in the world and want to be a part of it.

Would you say that in the past couple of years, with everything happening with social media and everything, that affected how you share your work?

I think social media has become vital to the distribution of any documentary film, whether it's long form or a short. I don't think I know a filmmaker who's not using social media.