When I was at CalArts, there was a really great moment when it suddenly occurred to me how to communicate and see something from outside myself.

I was in a class—yes, I know, shocking—I’m not sure which class, but the assignment was to create something horrific.  Many students created images filled with frightening subject matters, blood, fear, horror, all the aspects of something most people would agree to define as “horror” in the viewer.  Well, one student returned with an image of a vase of daisies.  Really pretty ones, bathed in sunlight on a perfectly nice day.

The teacher chastised the student for failing the assignment, but I kept wondering if this vase of pretty daisies wasn’t somehow the most accurate illustration of something horrific.  In defense of the artwork, the student confessed to the teacher (in front of the entire class) of having been brutally raped as a younger adult.  And during the attack, the only item in their field of vision was this pretty vase of daisies.

The teacher consoled the student, and commended the courage it must have taken to conquer those deepest, most horrific moments, in order to create the artwork, but said that it was still a failure.  A failure?  Naturally the rest of us spoke up, in defense of the abused student.

But the teacher simply said, “think about it from the point of view of the viewer.  What does the viewer see?  It doesn’t matter what the maker is thinking if he or she doesn’t communicate that to the audience.”  The teacher was right.  None of us knew how horrific the daisies were until we knew the whole story.

There are a variety of ways the artist in question could have communicated this in a clear way.  Even while keeping the sunshine and pretty daisies, maybe add a crack in the vase, with a little blood dripping out.  Or, paint the attack in the background, hidden in the shadows, so that we don’t immediately see the attack on first glance.  There are numerous ways to show it horrifically.

In this case, the artwork was a failure.  Although the student’s intent was there, the student didn’t communicate it.  It really taught me how to see something from another person’s point of view.  When I create a film, I’m thinking about how a scene feels from a variety of angles.  Or, how certain people will respond to certain things.  Learning how to do this has helped me a great deal.  Here’s the lesson:

The meaning of communication is what the other person hears—not what you say.

It’s true in art, in film, and it’s true in life.  Understanding that sentence will be like discovering a top-secret document, or a hidden treasure.  Just try it out and see what I mean.

I worked with a PR person once who was a horrible communicator.  His focus was inward; his objectives were to hear himself speak, to say what HE needed to say.  So from his point of view, his communications were a success.  And when someone wouldn’t respond to him, it was always that other person’s fault.  Never his.

I often told him the meaning of communication is what the other person hears—not what you say; and I asked him how he could change his communication in order to get what he wanted.  He’d look at me like I was speaking a language from outer space.  In the end, I decided to work with someone else.  Sometimes people are so far in their own head it’s impossible to help them get out.  I hope this isn’t the case with you.

Every person is different.  Actors, designers, clients, friends, neighbors… Each person takes in different words in different ways.  If you can learn how to go outside of yourself, imagine the other person’s perspective of what you’re saying, or what you’re showing them, it will change the way you communicate.  It dissolves stress, misunderstandings, and evaporates conflict.  And it’ll make you, and those around you, a lot happier.


This article is part of an ongoing series of articles solely about distribution.  A lot of filmmakers are confused about the realities of distribution, and rightly so.  I’ve been making and selling movies internationally for over a decade, and I’m still learning about all the secrets and tricks The Industry hides from us.  Part of the problem is that no one shares this information with each other, both the good and bad, so I’m making it my mission to do so.  Openly, honestly, and hopefully clearly.

When your film is ready for release, there are a variety of ways to get it out into the world.  There are aggregators and sales reps, producer’s reps and distributors, foreign sales agents and a variety of “middle men” who can help you.

Today we’re going to talk about the differences between a Distributor and an Aggregator.

A Distributor is a person (or company) that takes your movie and gets it out to retailers like Blockbuster, RedBox, Netflix, Amazon, iTunes, cable and satellite, on-demand, and other VOD platforms.  Aggregators are the people (or companies) who Distributors use to assist them.

Filmmakers have caught on, and now more and more are approaching Aggregators directly instead of using a Distributor.  And it makes sense.  Aggregators will keep their commissions and marketing expenses before paying dues to the Distributor, who in turn will keep their commissions and marketing expenses, before paying their dues to you (or before paying their dues to your Sales Agent, who in turn will deduct their commissions and marketing expenses, before paying you).  So why not cut out all the middle men and hire an Aggregator from the get go?

It isn’t that easy.  In fact, it becomes even more complicated.

If it were easy for filmmakers to get their films to an Aggregator directly, half The Industry would be out of a job.  Distributors would become obsolete.  This will be the eventual outcome, but in the meantime, Distributors everywhere are trying to hold on to their jobs.  So, naturally, Distributors are making it appealing (financially or otherwise) for Aggregators to work with them, instead of you and me.  Today, Aggregators aren’t set up for one-on-one relationships with filmmakers.  As technology advances and makes it possible for more films to be made, the strain will continue to weigh on Aggregators who don’t morph their company structures to suit.

Any musician can post their music to iTunes and sell directly to their fan base.  As of today, iTunes is not open for any filmmaker to upload their movies.  Right now filmmakers must use an iTunes approved Aggregator in order to upload their movies.  There is a question of bandwith, naturally, but in a few years that won’t be a concern.  My hunch is that the moment iTunes opens its doors to filmmakers, directly, as they did with musicians directly, that is the end of the Distributor and potentially the end of the Aggregator.

If Aggregators are to survive, they’ll need to morph into a kind of Distributor, which essentially, brings an entirely new dilemma.  Then there are the Aggregators out there who will take on any project, no matter what it is, for a fee.

I make movies for my audiences.  I do not make them to appeal to Industry executives, Distributors or Aggregators.  And I’m not going to waste money paying an Aggregator to do something today I’ll be able to do without them tomorrow.

If an Aggregator or Distributor tells you there isn’t a market for one of your films because they didn’t like the acting—or whatever excuse they’ll use if they didn’t like it or understand it—ignore them.  Get your movie out there anyway you can.  There are VOD platforms you can get on besides iTunes.  And when the day comes these VOD platforms are open to filmmakers directly, you won’t need to worry about an Aggregator or Distributor every again.  You’ll be able to provide your product directly to your audience.  Just like the music industry.

Our fan bases and audiences around the world don’t care who releases our movies, or what companies have been involved in getting our movies to their desktop, TV or iPad.  Our audiences just care that they can watch whatever they wish… in whatever form they want.