There’s nothing like a list to make sense of jargon. Here’s a guide to film distribution terms from A to Z. I’ll continue to update this post. If there’s anything you’d like an explanation for, drop me a line in the comments and I’ll do my best.

Ancillary rights

Often licensed separated, ancillary rights are distribution rights for airlines, ships and hotels. Out of these, airline deals tends to generate the most revenue and there are distribution companies that specialise in only picking up content for airlines. It’s worth holding these back in distribution deals to maximise your revenue.


Artwork is the image or images used to represent your film on sales sheets, DVD covers, VOD thumbnails and film posters. It should encapsulate your film in one strong image that immediately identifies what it’s about and demonstrates its genre, while hooking in your audience. Title, trailer, artwork – the holy trinity for marketing your film. This is why you need to take high quality production stills during your shoot.

Sales agents will work with designers to create artwork to sell your film at markets, which may be in turn used by distributors to sell your film to the public. Alternatively, distributors may choose to create their own artwork to best market and sell the film in their territory.


A company that distributes films. They license your film for a period of time negotiated in your distribution deal and then market and sell your film to the public in their territory. Essentially, a distributor is the company which gets your film in the cinemas, on shelves as a DVD and online on VOD platforms. They usually offer an advance for the film and take a percentage of the profits.

Distributors usually take “all rights” for a film for their particularly territory and then may choose to parcel out rights by negotiating a TV deal with a broadcaster or place the film on a VOD platform. Depending on the distribution deal, you may receive a share of the revenue.

License Period

The period of time that you license your film to a distributor. You retain copyright for your film, you license use of it. License periods vary. They can be 5 years, 7 years, 10 years, 15 years, longer or shorter ,or even in perpetuity. The license period for television broadcast deals is generally shorter; 12 months or 24 months, depending on the broadcaster.


Materials is a post unto itself, but in short, it’s what you need to deliver to your sales agent and/or distributor for them to sell/distribute your film. That means your film in different formats – HD Cam, Digibeta etc, along with sound tracks, music and effects tracks, dialogue list and music cue sheet.

It also means legal documentation like title registration, chain of title, E&O insurance, personal service contracts, copyright registration, certificate of origin. Publicity materials – Production Stills, Electronic Press Kit, short film synopsis, long film synopsis, approved biographies of the director, writer, producer, composer, lead cast, DVD extras – commentaries, making of featurettes, interviews with cast and crew, any articles your publicist may have written during the production. It’s a lot. Get a handle on it early.

Minimum Guarantee (MG)

An advance payment offered by a distributor to license your film. Similar to book advances, it’s based on how well they think your film will sell. If your film outearns its MG and recoups the expenses the distributor expended marketing your film, usually capped in the distribution deal, you may see further revenue

Sales Sheet/One Sheet

Sales sheets are used to market your film to distributors to provide a summary of your film. Everything they need to know about your film on one page.  They’re normally A4, with your fantastic artwork on the front, a snappy well written synopsis with production stills on the back, with any stars front and centre, cast and their notable credits, tag line, details of the director, writer, producer, and their notable credits, run time, language and contact information for the sales company. If you don’t have a sales company and want to approach distributors directly, you should consider making your own sales sheet.


Films are licensed by geographic territories.  That might be just a country or it could be a region.

For example, you might license your film to France, German Speaking Europe (Germany, Austria, Switzerland), CIS (Russia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Estonia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Tajikistan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan) or Scandinavia (Denmark including Greenland and Faroe Islands, Finland, Norway, Sweden and sometimes Iceland).

Always check to make sure your distributor isn’t trying to pull a fast one on you and include something non-standard.

Sales agents

A sales agent brokers film distribution deals on behalf of producers with distributors in exchange of a commission on the deal. See also What do sales agents do? How do I get a sales agent?

Video on Demand (VOD)

Video on Demand. The future of distribution. VOD covers a multitude of sins. There’s Subscription VOD (SVOD) like Netflix, where audience pay a monthly fee to subscribe, Transactional VOD (TVOD) like iTunes where audiences pay to view or own the film. Advertising VOD (AVOD), where you watch adverts to see content like Hulu. Then there are platforms more orientated to self distribution like Vimeo On Demand, Vimeo, VHX, Reelhouse, IndieReign and Distrify which also fall under VOD. It’s an area that’s going to continue to evolve and grow quickly.

For a more formal and certainly more legally accurate definition of terms, take a look the IFTA (Independent Film and Television Alliance) schedule of definitions here.

Agree, disagree, questions, thoughts? Hit me up in the comments.

Picture Credit: Everything Is Illuminated

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