The Film Distributors Dilemma is its Power: Mongrel Media

jdesormej    May 22, 2017

When teaching future film makers, there are many ways for the discussion points between teacher and student to begin. For instance, we might examine product construction or production events a “the making of” sort of thing. Or, we might follow the money, the funding, focus on budgets, etc., or perhaps look to  the personalities be it the film maker or the “Stars” of a narrative piece. On the other hand, we might also start with the story or interesting plot points, “based on a true story” notion. Theme alone, the purpose behind the product, might also drive the conversation like a Michael Moore documentary.

I try something different and it is the reason why I am consumed with the idea of learning the practicality of social media. I ask my students to think about consumption and the elements that make motion picture consumption work.

Why would you watch it?

Motion pictures are essentially experiential products, meaning the product is that the audience experiences the work emotionally and intellectually. There is actually no physical commodity to walk away with, perhaps a dvd, but even that technology is becoming obsolete. The product is also ephemeral, linked to a momentary audience connection with the material. Film is a moment in time. If you accept this notion, artistic statement becomes less the author and more feeling. Heresy in my world!  No matter.

As a teacher, I always begin my Sheridan College Producer course by asking my student this question. If your product is an experience, who as a film maker, is the product designed for, as an artist who do you want to speak to? And why?

With the integration of social and transmedia platforms, the equally important question is how will you reach your audience?

For purposes of this case study, the great question driving the study is whether the audience is the customer we seek to understand? You cannot actually address this question without digging a little deeper which leads to my choice of companies to study.

Today, the primary conduit for a film maker to reach this illusive, experiential audience is the film distributor, and the subject of my case study this week is Mongrel Media, a leading independent film distributor based in Toronto Canada.

This week we are exploring – through a motion picture Distributor – the idea of Client Engagement, an exploration that asks whether an on-going long term relationship with the customer – client over immediate sales strategies will generate stronger and inevitably more profitable organizational benefits.

We are also researching whether a social media approach that focuses upon brand growth rather than immediate purchase goals is a valid strategy in this area. Will a long-term client engagement brand approach drive a distribution company’s continuing success?

Mongrel Media

Mongrel Media is a leading independent film distributor focused upon bringing the best of local and world cinema to Canadian audiences. Mongrel Media, founded in 1994 by Hussain Amarshi. has built a reputation as an innovative and distinct brand, with discerning tastes. Mongrel has developed long-lasting relationships with filmmakers, industry professionals, exhibitors, retailers, e-tailers, and broadcasters and prides itself on building bold and uniquely customized distribution strategies for each film.

Defining Film Distribution Company Client Engagement

Film distribution is the process of making a motion picture available for viewing by an audience. … For commercial projects, film distribution is usually accompanied by film promotion.

What Mongrel actually does is a little more complex. This is not a shopping mall aisle process of product easily selected then paid for at the cash.

Distributors work very closely with the motion picture creative community, the world distribution markets and a myriad of exhibitors and trans media platform players in order to survive and grow. They work with funder banks and insurance groups, marketing and subsidy organizations to move their product.

They exercise creative judgement, they support and fund film makers and their product, in addition to disseminating the final product worldwide. In return they also promote the product of their international counterpart on home shores.

And they succeed in large part because Distributors understand and attempt to control select a specific audience share. Client engagement is obviously critical to this process.

But who is the audience? Who is the client?

Film distribution face unique challenges.

Unlike most commercial ventures in the marketplace who promote singular or multiple product-lines (a running shoe, a refrigerator, an “Iphone”), film distributors are uniquely challenged because the content of the product they distribute is usually different each time out.  Additionally, distributors must play a chameleon role to the creative community, the business stakeholders and the niche audience that guarantees the loyalty and continuing engagement of the first two groups.

The Film Distribution market therefore cannot remain reliant upon the single product success and the client relationship is critical to its continuing success. Customer loyalty must be triggered by sources outside of product alone.

Examining Mongrel’s Social Media world

Let’s examine Mongrel’s social media world. The home website  is revealing.

The site successfully sets out history, product, library, promotional and market reach. When you enter the About Us chapter, something very interesting comes up.  Appended to Bios of the team are a list of these individual’s favorite films (we have seen this at Indigo-Chapter’s with employee favorite books). The effect here is more transformative. The Mongrel group come across to the net surfer as “Art House Team”, meaning discerning film aficionados who take their motion picture preferences very seriously and make it a point to learn as much knowledge as possible about the preferred motion picture they support. It strongly suggests (despite the name) that Mongrel will not distribute a “dog” of a film to its loyal Art House “niche” audience. The Mongrel Social Media world is quite prepared to speak about product, but in turn accept criticism and review, and invite customer interaction in the distribution world.

 What is an Art house brand

An art house film is typically a serious, independent film aimed at a niche market rather than a mass market audience. … Art film producers usually present their films at specialty theatres (repertory cinemas, or, in the U.S., “arthouse cinemas). These are usually big idea films speaking to the human condition, meant to educate as well as entertain its viewers.

This approach and many others clearly set out the niche community Mongrel wishes to engage with.

However, sustaining such a specific customer base is difficult given continuing competition and an ever-growing glut of media product available to consumers over a multiplicity of platforms.

The Mongrel challenge is therefore to build and sustain this Art House brand and extend it beyond the identified audience to its other critical client – customer base. The challenge is self– supporting given its other client base, a circular series of assets, that may assist in the client work here.

Who is the Client? How does this effect the strategy?

A continuing question posed in motion pictures is whether the artist is selling to the one client or selling to the many, the masses, the audience which we have been referring. Is Mongrel selling to an exhibitor, is Mongrel a sub-distributor of a larger singular entity such as one of its high concept boutique suppliers, Sony Pictures Classic, or is Mongrel customer base about eyeballs or bums in seats? Let’s look at the Mongrel workflow to discern the answer,

Mongrel as a Supplier

  • Key relationship with Sony Pictures Classic
  • Broad array of exhibitor client theatres who view Mongrel of suppliers of certain type of films – exhibitors, in Cda and abroad
  • International partners who contract Mongrel as territorial sub-contractors of product.
  • International partners who acquire Mongrel distributed product for their own home territories.

Mongrel as an Acquirer of Product – Supporter of the creative Community

  • Contracting to work with creative teams to develop and advance funds for production of the developed films.

Is the Mongrel customer engagement world defined by a client base of one or a few, or a customer base of many in the niche audience “Art House” world that we have been speaking of ?

Let’s see what the Mongrel Social Media world suggests.


We have history, product, library, promotional and market reach, about us. Speaks to all potential clients


The Page promotes coming product and invites niche audience engagement in the form of likes, opinion notes, film critiques and reviews.

Video trailers are also offered, and there is a continuing metric process listing followers. Notable that the Sony Classics Brand is clearly given a unique mantel in which to promote, and there is strong support for the Sony Classic product line.


microblogging tweets shout out reactions, support for specific pictures , themes or any other elements (actor performances) found in the motion pictures themselves. Very much the “Art House” discourse with comments on favorite subjects such as gender parity for film makers and links or retweets to other cultural linkages, events or partners [Insert TIFF], [insert Cannes poster]. These are cross-linked social media activity which will drive the numbers upward creating more interest in their own platforms.

Mongrel YouTube

Offering trailers and other motion picture materials on product line. Ability of “fans” to pose questions to the film makers about choices in the motion picture. Contests and other enticements again with analytics on number of subscribers and number of views.


Offers photos from the motion pictures for fans to enjoy and comment upon.

Lessons for Others


Brand and long term engagement with the client is critical but as is the reality in this particular world, sporadic notable “hits” like Maudie are important to brand reach and rejuvenation. The Sony Classics relationship is critical here not only for product but, for the other equally important client base, a testament to the organization’s value art house value system.

Art House or “high concept” films attract notable talent and this is also an essential link to Mongrel’s niche audience.

Mongrel social media practices suggest careful maintenance of the process, a focus upon the initial identified audience, with evergreen thematic motivational approaches and a fun, personal touch will keep their following engaged.

The designed home run in all of this of course, is how to turn art house into mainstream, expanding core audience into broad audience. For Mongrel in 2017, Maudie is breaking Canadian box office records in this respect.

What is to learned form the social media approaches of this boutique organization?

The client base is very complex, the client engagement linked to all participants in the distribution game, designated audience of course, expanded with success, other distributors and sub-distributors and of course, the film making community which is the creative driver behind all of this world.


Organization: Mongrel Media
Industry: Motion Picture Distribution
Name of Organization Contact: TBA

Authored by: Jean Desormeaux

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