I was telling my husband about Delilah S. Dawson's post about authors and self-promotion (for another perspective, read S.J. Pajonas' response) and we wound up having a long conversation about marketing. During the conversation, he reminded me that the horror film PARANORMAL ACTIVITY basically sat on a shelf and went without distribution for two years. For a film that became such a monster hit, that is a long time in the film world.
PARANORMAL ACTIVITY has been a runaway success and spawned multiple sequels, but it didn't get instant theatrical distribution upon completion. It almost goes without saying that getting distribution can be very difficult to attain for independent films that lack big stars (and by “big,” I mean A-list). It's mainly because Steven Spielberg saw and pushed PARANORMAL ACTIVITY that it received a green light for its high-profile, multi-screen theatrical release. Here's the path the film took according to its Wikipedia entry:
The film was screened at 2007's Screamfest Horror Film Festival, where it impressed an assistant at the Creative Artists Agency, Kirill Baru, so much that CAA signed on to represent Peli. Attempting to find a distributor for the film and/or directing work for Peli, the agency sent out DVDs of the movie to as many people in the industry as they could, and it was eventually seen by Miramax Films Senior Executive Jason Blum, who thought it had potential. He worked with Peli to re-edit the film and submitted it to the Sundance Film Festival, but it was rejected. The DVD also impressed DreamWorks executives Adam Goodman, Stacey Snider, and finally Steven Spielberg, who cut a deal with Blum and Peli.
And this article via The Guardian explains that: