Sell Your Documentary Film and Get The Most Cash For It!

Sell Your Documentary Film and Get The Most Cash For It!

Table of Contents

  • Theatres:
  • Independent distributors:
  • Online Distribution:
  • Sell Off The Rights:

Hot To Sell Your Documentary Film and Get The Most Cash For It!

Do you want to know how to Sell Your Documentary Film and Get The Most Cash For It!, In this article, we give you many ways you can use to sell your documentary and get the most cash for it!

In order to ensure that your documentary film is seen by the widest audience possible, it is important to sell it. By selling your documentary film, you can ensure that it will be screened in theaters, on television, and through other channels.

There are a number of ways to sell your documentary film, and the best way to maximize profits will depend on the type of documentary film that you have made. This article will also provide an introduction to the various methods of selling a documentary film.

What are the benefits of selling your documentary?

When you have a documentary film that you have put your heart and soul into, the last thing you want to do is just let it sit on a shelf. You want to get it out there and seen by as many people as possible.

But how can you do that and make money off of it at the same time? One way is to sell your documentary film. Here are some of the benefits of doing so :

There is a lot of money in the documentary film industry. In fact, it is one of the most lucrative industries out there right now. If you can make a great documentary film that people want to see, you have a chance to make some serious cash.

How do you sell a documentary?

A documentary film is a great way to share a story with the world, but how do you sell a documentary? There are a few things you need to do in order to get the most cash for your documentary.

You’ll need to create a marketable product and then find the right buyer. You can also use festivals and awards to help sell your documentary.

Who buys documentaries?

Documentary films have been gaining popularity in recent years. This is likely due to the fact that documentaries offer a unique and insightful look into the world around us.

Despite this growing popularity, many people still do not know how to sell their documentary films. Now, we will discuss who buys documentaries and how to get the most cash for your film.


There are many different ways to sell your documentary film. If you’re lucky, you may be able to find someone who wants to buy the film rights and release it in theaters. However, this is not likely since only a small portion of documentaries will ever make it into theaters.

Independent distributors:

The most common way to sell a documentary film is to find an independent distributor. This is essentially someone who will buy the rights to your film and resell it at a profit.

There are many different types of distributors, so they can vary greatly in terms of price paid and quality.

What is the process of selling a documentary?

When it comes time to sell your documentary, you’ll want to get the most cash for it. The process of selling a documentary can be daunting, but with the right tools and resources, it can be a breeze. Here’s a look at what you need to do to get started.

Research distributors:

Start by researching distributors that could potentially be interested in your film. A good place to start is the Submissions page on Docs In Progress. Check out the information about each distributor, and see which ones might be a good fit for you.

Write a compelling pitch:

Once you’ve done your research, it’s time to write a compelling pitch. A great way to start is by checking out the information on the Submissions page at Docs in Progress.

It’s important to understand that your pitch

is a sales tool. You’re not just trying to get the distributor’s attention, you’re also trying to convince them that your movie will sell well in their territory.

If you’re a first-time filmmaker, it’s not likely that you have a lawyer on retainer who can help you navigate the legal issues surrounding film distribution.

It’s important that you get legal advice before signing any deals with distributors. The Independent Film & Television Alliance (IFTA) has a free legal referral service.

Get paid:

It’s customary for distributors to pay filmmakers a fee upfront, but you should also get a percentage (usually between 10-15%) of the distributor’s gross box office receipts, as well as the distributor’s net receipts (if any).

Distribution contracts are usually complicated and difficult to understand. IFTA offers a free sample distribution contract on its website, and you can also get advice from its legal referral service.

Online Distribution:

Once a film’s theatrical run is over, there are many different ways it can be released online (e.g., on iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, Google Play, etc.). For most films, these online releases generate more revenue than their theatrical release.

What are the terms of a documentary sale?

When selling a documentary, there are several factors to consider in order to get the most cash for your film. The first step is to determine who your potential buyers are.

Once you have a list of qualified buyers, you’ll want to research each one and find the best offer. Keep in mind that most buyers will want exclusive rights to your film, so be prepared to negotiate.

What are the terms of an online release?

An online release of your film could be one of the most lucrative deals you’ll ever make for your film. However, you’ll need to find the right distribution partner who will be able to market and promote your film. This might mean going through an aggregator or a P2P company.

What are the alternatives to an online release?

There are a few other options you can consider when you’re considering an online release. One option is to rent or sell your film on DVD.

7 Things To Avoid In The Process Of Documentary Selling.

1. Don’t wait until the last minute to start selling your documentary film. The earlier you start, the more time you’ll have to find the right buyer.

2. Don’t start pitching your documentary film to every buyer you can find. Not everyone is a good fit for your film, and you don’t want to waste your time or theirs.

3. Do your research before you start pitching your documentary film. Know what kinds of buyers you want to approach and what they’re looking for.

4. Do not pitch your documentary film in a press release or over the phone. It’s important that you meet with the right buyer, and this means going through the proper channels.

5. Do not contact buyers without a written proposal. If you have a general idea of what your film is about, but don’t have the details nailed down in writing, then you’re probably better off waiting for the right person to come along.

6 . Do not pitch your documentary film to someone who is already a client. They will probably just be annoyed, and you’ll waste their time.

7. Do not pitch your documentary film at a premiere or festival. The people who attend these events typically aren’t looking to buy a documentary film. If you attend one of these events, you’re usually better off pitching your documentary at the reception afterward, which is usually open to the public.

Other things to learn about Documentary filmmaking >>> HERE.

#1. Common Mistakes When Selling Documentaries

Some frequent errors filmmakers make when trying to sell their documentaries include having unrealistic expectations for the value and potential profits, not researching the current market and buyers’ interests, failing to properly package and position the film, and not having a clear distribution strategy.

It’s crucial to have realistic goals, know your audience, and understand the business side in order to successfully sell a documentary.

#2. Determining a Documentary’s Value

The value of a documentary depends on many factors – production quality, subject matter, potential audience interest, critical reviews, and more. Research similar films to get an idea of values.

Estimate expenses versus potential revenue streams like theatrical, streaming/VOD, broadcasting, DVD/Blu-ray, and education sales. Weigh the current market demand and competition. Value often increases if the doc wins awards at key festivals.

#3. Marketing Documentaries Effectively

Create marketing materials like a trailer, press kit, and social media accounts. Reach out to and build relationships with key press and media outlets. Use film festivals and industry events to promote the documentary.

Partner with relevant organizations for sponsorship opportunities. Identify target audiences and niche markets that would be interested. Use search engine optimization and targeted social media ads. Look for speaking engagements, panels, and screenings.

#4. Finding the Right Distributor

Research distributors and see who handles similar documentaries. Look for ones with the right capabilities and connections to reach your target audience. Aim for long-term partners that fit your vision and goals.

Consider smaller distributors with more passion if it’s a niche topic. Weigh factors like expenses, distribution fees, marketing support, and potential profits. Attend markets like Sunny Side of the Doc to network and meet potential distributors.

#5. What Distributors Look For

Distributors evaluate many aspects like production quality, compelling storytelling, the importance of the topic, marketability, potential profitability, current trends and demand, rights availability, critical reviews and buzz, awards recognition, and the reputation and credibility of the filmmakers. Having all rights available, solid marketing materials and realistic expectations make a documentary appealing.

#6. Negotiating the Best Deal

Do research to determine fair compensation and typical deal terms so you can negotiate effectively. Know your bottom line but build in flexibility. Try to retain certain key rights like sequels or foreign sales. Get the best split on revenue streams you can.

Offer creative marketing ideas and be open to promotional partnerships. Build in performance benchmarks and bonuses. Aim for the longest term possible. Get everything in writing.

#7. Alternative Sales Options

Beyond standard distribution deals, some other options are direct sales of DVDs/downloads from your website, selling to institutions like universities and libraries, entering streaming deals with places like Netflix or Amazon Prime Video, pitching to broadcasters and TV networks, targeting niche or international markets yourself, using DIY aggregators, or retaining rights and self-distributing.

#8. Leveraging Social Media

Use social platforms like Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter to share teasers, updates, reviews, and more on your documentary. Build an engaged audience leading up to your release. Run targeted ads to reach very specific demographics that would be interested.

Partner with influencers in your subject matter area. Maximize algorithms with relevant hashtags, tags, and keywords. Share user-generated content related to your doc.

#9. Legal Considerations

Get releases from anyone appearing on camera. Ensure proper licensing for any copyrighted material used. Have solid distribution contracts. Register copyright.

Trademark your title and any branding. Understand doc licensing laws, like needing certain releases for music. Find production legal help regarding releases, insurance, contracts, and protecting your rights.

#10. Protecting Intellectual Property

Register the copyright as soon as you have a final edit. Trademark your title, tagline or other branding. Only share doc with watermarked screeners. Password protects any online clips. Don’t publicly post large sections. Require NDAs before allowing viewing.

Include confidentiality and IP stipulations in contracts. Prosecute any unauthorized distribution or leaks. Limit shared cuts to essential personnel only.

#11. Distribution Contract Terms

Common points are rights being granted, length of the license term, exclusivity clauses, distribution territories, revenue splits for each stream like theatrical, streaming, TV, home video, etc., expense recoupment, payment schedules, reporting requirements, marketing obligations, rights reversions, and ownership of derivatives and extensions. Consult a lawyer and negotiate favorable terms.

#12. Ensuring Fair Compensation

Benchmark deals for comparable films to gauge fair value. Break down actual production costs and potential earnings from all revenue streams. Establish a reasonable bottom line for compensation based on an acceptable ROI. Get slate participation if possible.

Structure later-stage bonuses. Retain sequel, spin-off, or ancillary rights that can provide additional income. Audit expenses are deducted from your splits.

#13. Increasing Value

Aspects that boost value include winning major film festival awards, getting picked up for broadcast or streaming, positive critical reviews and press, strong social buzz, compelling high production quality, securing a celebrity narrator, hitting a hot topical subject, or attaching big-name executive producers. Marketing and packaging also increase perceived value.

#14. Building Relationships with Buyers

Network at major film markets and industry events. Get references and introductions from those already connected. Partner with well-regarded production companies and colleagues. Maintain regular communication and share meaningful updates. Explore co-production opportunities to build connections. Professionalism and delivering on expectations will build lasting relationships.

#15. Making Your Documentary Stand Out

Focus on a compelling unique story and strong filmmaking craft. Have a distinct directorial vision and style. Use striking visual imagery and thoughtful cinematography. Feature insightful expert perspectives. Include evocative music. Utilize advanced editing techniques.

Incorporate reenactments or animation if helpful. Release bold marketing materials. Have recognizable on-camera talent. Position the doc in the current cultural context.

#16. Using Festivals to Attract Buyers

Target top-tier festivals like Sundance, SXSW, Tribeca, and Toronto which have industry presence. Arrange buyer screenings. Maximize press and reviews. Participate in panels and Q&As to stand out. Connect directly with programmers at niche festivals that align with your specific topic. Use festivals to build momentum leading up to distribution. Aim to win awards as stamps of quality.

#17. Mistakes Submitting to Festivals

Waiting too long after completion, not targeting the best fests for your doc, a sloppy or incomplete submission, submitting an unfinished cut, not following all technical specs or requirements, missing deadlines, not tailoring submissions for each fest, not providing enough press materials, and forgetting follow-up can all hurt festival chances. Thorough prep and research helps avoid mistakes.

#18. Using Crowdfunding

Running a compelling Kickstarter or Indiegogo campaign can help finance your production and builds an invested audience. Offer cool perks at a range of contribution levels. Shoot short visceral teasers to showcase the subject.

Blast emails and social media constantly. Partner with influencers in the topic space. PR outreach expands buzz. Effective crowdfunding gets more eyes on your project.

#19. Pitching Effectively to Buyers

Start with a concise, engaging overview. Show comparable successes and positive reviews. Describe target demographics and niche appeal. Outline marketing strategy and projections. Convey passion for the subject.

Summarize key talent bios. Provide comprehensible revenue/profit scenarios. Show clips that grab attention. Emphasize unique elements. Ask for the deal you want. Follow up promptly.

#20. Reviews and Testimonials

Positive pull quotes in marketing materials give validity. Reach out systematically to key reviewers before release. Provide screener access. Quote top praise in social posts and press releases. Repost user reviews from verification sites.

Use excerpts in advertisements and trailers. Record video testimonials from preview audiences. Highlight celebrity fans on social media. Reviews and quotes build third-party credibility.

#21. Building Pre-Release Buzz

Start early teasing the subject on social media. Release a trailer and compelling artwork. Secure media premieres and coverage of any festival launches. Arrange advance critic screenings and reviews.

Leak exciting snippets and production details. Time announcements and PR for maximum impact. Partner with influencers and organizations to expand reach. Capture and repost authentic fan excitement.

#22. Trailers and Teasers

An effective trailer should intrigue, hook the viewer quickly, showcase compelling personalities and scenes, get across the tone and high stakes, use key critic snippets and other text, direct people where to watch, and market the doc’s appeal. Short teasers can highlight tense moments. Promote videos widely online and via ads. Link them everywhere. Test different lengths for optimization.

#23. Leveraging Your Network

Tell everyone in your personal and professional circles as early as possible. Ask for introductions to those with helpful connections. Partner with brands or companies related to the subject matter.

Reach out to organizations and individuals featured. Cross-promote through existing channels that have built-in audiences. Having a broad network vocalize genuine support builds credibility.

#24. Using Data and Analytics

Analyze performance metrics around your marketing efforts and document views. See which platforms and messages resonate most. Research the target demographics. Continually optimize based on data like which trailers perform best.

Survey audiences for feedback. Monitor reviews and online sentiment. Ensure marketing claims are backed by analytics. Metrics can inform spending and strategy.

#25. Targeting Specific Audiences

Identify very specific niche groups that would be interested in your subject such as academics, activists, enthusiasts, related professionals, issue-focused organizations, genre fans, regional audiences, affinity groups, and more.

Tailor messaging and materials for each audience. Partner with blogs, influencers, and publications reaching them. Market directly on the platforms where those audiences engage.

#26. Partnerships and Collaborations

Strategic partnerships expand reach and lend credibility. Co-promote with aligned organizations and nonprofits. Collaborate with key media outlets for exclusive looks and coverage. Work with brands connected to the content for sponsorships.

Align with venues and outlets hosting related programming or events. Cross-promote through membership groups or associations. Identify win-win partnership opportunities.

#27. Using Merchandise and Products

Offering merchandise like t-shirts with the documentary’s branding and imagery builds hype and revenue. Products related to the topic like books, soundtracks, or unique items also connect with fans.

Provide merchandising for affiliate groups to sell. Give branded swag to key influencers and early supporters. Limited edition runs build collectability. Products keep audiences engaged.

#28. Screenings and Events

Host preview screenings with insight from expert panel discussions. Arrange a premiere local to the project origin. Partner with organizations for sponsored screenings. Pitch theaters to participate in wider theatrical runs.

Sell Your Documentary Film and Get The Most Cash For It!

Present clips at conventions or industry events. Enter birthday or anniversary screening contests. Arrange ticketed virtual screenings with live chats. Use screenings to generate continued press.

#29. Leveraging Awards and Accolades

Tout any awards or high placements at major festivals in marketing materials and releases. Pitch appropriately to award organizations and ceremonies. Display prominently any nominations. Ask award bodies if you may use their logo and name. Note critics groups recognitions. Arrange media even if you just make shortlists. Awards interest more viewers and buyers.

#30. Word-of-Mouth Marketing

Nothing beats organic person-to-person buzz. Encourage fans to leave reviews, give ratings, post on social media, and tell friends. Make it easy to refer others to watch. Share user-generated content praising your doc. Identify key communities to start word-of-mouth momentum. Monitor online conversations to see what resonates. Quality content that moves people drives referral.


Follow these tips to get the most cash for your documentary. You might want to read one of our articles “do celebrities get paid for documentary appearances and the tips for making a successful documentary film to learn more.

NB: Submit your documentaries and all other films of all genres and lengths to the I.M.A.F.F Awards film festival for participation, recognition, and promotions.


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Author – Dennis

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