Film and TV drama

Distribution executive

Also known as: Distribution manager, Distribution director

Distribution executive

What does a distribution executive do?

Distribution executives get films into cinemas and TV dramas onto TV screens and onto other streaming platforms like Amazon or Netflix.

In film, distribution executives go to film markets where they look at films and acquire them from production companies or sales agents. They negotiate for the rights to release them. These deals cover a set period of time and include agreements about promotion, classification of the film and any edits allowed. Distribution executives then pitch the film to exhibitors (usually cinemas). They deliver the film materials to them and they plan the release, including how to market the film, targeting the film’s core audience to bring in the most profit. How well a film does when it first opens in the cinema has a big impact on the rest of its release cycle.

In TV drama, distributors play a slightly different role. Big budget dramas are usually financed by a combination of TV channels and distribution companies. The distribution company will advance money for the production of the drama against the right to sell broadcast rights in the programme for a set time period in specific countries. They might also be responsible for any merchandising or publishing spinoffs. Distribution executives are often essential to the financing of the TV drama in development (prior to production) and can also play an important part in helping form the content of new dramas.

Learning or knowing different languages and a desire to travel are advantages when considering a career in distribution.

Watch and read

What’s a distribution executive good at?

  • Watching film: have a passion for and wide knowledge of the industry, critically analyse scripts and production packages, know film festivals and how they work
  • Market knowledge: identify and understand the core audience for a film, know how to excite them, research box office and viewing figures, be aware of cultural trends including past statistics, predict what will be successful
  • Industry knowledge: have an in-depth understanding of the film and TV drama industry, including the production process, how to turn talent into commercial success, convert master materials from film makers into exhibition formats
  • Negotiation: be good at selling, execute deals on an international and global level, understand contractual agreements
  • Finance: manage a budget and handle accounts, be very well organised
  • Networking: communicate well with a wide range of people in the film industry

Who does a distribution executive work with?

Distribution executives acquire films from producers, studios or sales agents and then work with exhibitors to get the film out to audiences.

How do I become a distribution executive?

Distribution executives often begin their careers in business or marketing so a good route into this role is as a marketing assistant. Go to the marketing assistant profile for details on how to do this. You might also get there through training in film production. Whether your background lies mostly in the production or business side of the industry, you need to demonstrate a strong understanding of the other.

At school or college:
If you want to go to university, A-levels or Highers in business studies, economics, English, film studies, politics or sociology are useful. Or you might want to take the following Level 3 vocational qualifications:

  • OCR Technical Diploma/Extended Diploma in Business
  • BTEC National Diploma/Extended Diploma in Business
  • BTEC National Diploma/Extended Diploma in Enterprise and Entrepreneurship

If you want to go straight into a job or apprenticeship, the following Level 3 vocational qualifications will equip you:

  • AQA Foundation Technical Level Business: Marketing Communications
  • AQA Technical Level Business: Marketing
  • NCFE Diploma in Skills for Business: Sales and Marketing

Get an apprenticeship:
Apprenticeships are jobs with training. They’re a great opportunity to earn while you learn. If you can’t find a job as an apprentice within film distribution, it might be worth looking for one in an industry that uses similar skills, such as working in marketing or business for a company outside of the film industry. This could help you develop your skills which you could then use in film and TV drama at a later point.

These are the apprenticeships that might be of interest throughout the UK:

You might be able to find the following degree-level apprenticeships too:

Before taking any apprenticeship, check what you’ll be learning with your prospective employer and college, so you can be sure it will be giving you the skills you want. Go to how to become an apprentice to learn how to find apprenticeships in your region or approach companies directly.

Get a degree:
A degree in business, marketing, or finance would equip you well for this role. Or you might want to study film production as a route in. Have a look at ScreenSkills’ list of recommended courses in film and TV and courses that cover the marketing and distribution side of the process. We recognise courses with our ScreenSkills Select award where they offer training in the relevant software, dedicated time to building a portfolio and have strong links with the film and TV industries.

Look for a job: 
The Independent Cinema Office (ICO) has created a list of distributors. Have a look at their websites. See if they are offering any junior roles like as an office assistant. Get in touch to see if they need anyone to do work experience. Go to approaching employers to learn how.

Look outside the industry:
Consider any advertising or marketing roles in any industry, as experience in these will be helpful in getting into film later. Marketing agencies may have more roles available than film companies and often the technical marketing approaches and techniques you will learn will be the same as the ones used in film marketing. Experience as a journalist or a press officer will be useful for the publicity side of the job.

You might also be interested in…

Becoming a marketing manager or a publicist. Or you might be interested in being a sales agent, selling to distributors.

Further Resources