All posts by Orly Ravid

The Letter “D”. Distribution, DIY, Dynamo Player.

The Letter “D”

D: Distribution, DIY, Dynamo Player

I got educated more all about how it works, with owner Rob Millis who I finally met in person at IDFA in Amsterdam.  A fine gentleman indeed. I usually recommend a filmmaker work with at least two DIY options to give customers a choice and just to not have all one’s eggs in one proverb.

Rob explained why Dynamo serves its filmmakers well.  He noted its “designed with presentation and high quality” and that the “filmmaker’s brand is in front.”  It’s not just about the Dynamo brand. Dynamo can handle any of the popular video standards and offers viewers up to 1080HD quality, a clean crisp presentation and as many extras as one can pack in.  Hence it’s a good alternative to DVD, but with the instant gratification of an online rental.

A filmmaker once remarked that the issue with DIY is the “TRUST FACTOR”:

People don’t trust too many places with their credit cards and feel safer with big companies that have built a solid reputation.  Well at Dynamo, and some other DIY services, the payment method is secure.  Rob Millis explains: “The key is payment process and protecting information”.

Dynamo does not handle any payment information directly. They rely only on PAYPAL and AMAZON. Dynamo does not receive any of that confidential information so as not to risk anything going wrong.  They just confirm that one is approved rather than handling payment info.

What about GENRE?

What kind does Dynamo work with and which ones do well with the service:

Most of their success is with DOCUMENTARIES.

“They have the highest value and there are a lot of reasons for that,” noted Millis.  “Entertainment for its own sake is competitive and as soon as it’s online one is competing with mainstream studio product.  DOCS have a hook for those interested in the subject matter and hence people are willing to pay for it”.

“Dramas are harder to sell.  The marketing for them needs to be more powerful than that for docs.  Docs are also EVERGREEN.  Dramas die off as soon as the marketing stops and are very competitive.   There are hundreds of love stories but only one or a couple docs or at most a few about any given specific topic”.  Millis concluded “One can sustain sales for a doc”. However Dynamo still accepts all kinds of films.

In fact the first-ever film rented on Facebook was a Zombie film (“Stag Night of the Dead”) hosted by Dynamo that played on the page for $1.99 and then dropped to $0.99 as a special sale.

DYNAMO DIY RULES | DO’s & DON’TS:

“The most obvious rule is to be in touch with your audience, especially on Twitter & Facebook”.  Millis elaborated that in a more vague sense it’s best to put oneself in a viewer’s shoes. “Think of them as consumers…  Recognize that people have a million options.  Film needs to be well-presented and easy to consume, make it easy and possible for them to choose your film instead of all their other options”.  I also note this to filmmakers about theatrical releases and suggest they remember how many choices people have for how to spend their time and money.

Millis exclaimed the “BIGGEST MISTAKE FILMMAKERS make is believing that their film is beautiful enough to compel people to watch it just because the trailer reflects that to some extent.” A poorly designed website will not do!  “Think about it as a product that is being sold and that you are competing for really valuable time when your audience has a million other really good options available”.

$$$ TALK:

Right now iTunes current releases are $6.99 RENTAL for 2 days New Releases for OLDER TITLES it goes down as low to $1.99 or $2.99. Millis thinks iTunes is pricing things correctly. The Dynamo mean average sale price for all sales is approximately  $4.00, including shorts and music videos, that amount to approximately 1% of all sales are below $1.99.

Millis told an anecdote that taught the moral of not making content seem too cheap. There’s so much for free online and people judge what is priced like a discount bin, hence the $0.99 rule, which is, most of the time, $0.99 makes your film look cheap!

PRICE RANGES:

$9.99 seems at the top of what works and sells well. Dramas do well $1.99 – $4.99 (“they see a strong drop off on either side of that,” Millis noted). Documentaries can be priced higher – he sees solid sales all the way up to $9.99The best range is $2.99 – $6.99 for most films, except for big films or those with a serious marketing team behind them.

Of course it’s always hard to predict what will work or not. For long tail, mid tail, smaller filmmakers the difference between sales of $5.00 and sales of $10,000 in a month is based on the work done with the audience and a good looking player. Great films with A-list talent sit idle all over the internet because nobody knows they exist, while independent titles that strike a chord with the audience can catch on fire overnight with just a little bit of communication and an appealing web page.

TIMING IS EVERYTHING:

The timing varies, as one would expect because strategies and distribution needs vary.  People sometimes do a first release with Dynamo and then stop to do theatrical and DVD and then start again, or others do it later on in the process and get on Dynamo only at the tail end of the sales. A film that has been heavily pirated can still do good business because the film looks good this way and one can add compelling extra features.

One can read about an example of this: UNTIL THE LIGHT TAKES US (see her Guest Post on Ted Hope’s blog).

What’s the MOST $$$ made for any one DIY film on Dynamo Player?

This information is regarding Independents, DIY only:

$20,000 per film MAX if it’s an independent and with small marketing team. It won’t be bigger unless you have serious marketing experience.  But Rob Millis encourages: “don’t give up even if you have no traction in beginning, you just may have not hit critical mass yet”.

“I can tell you that sales typically taper off slowly for documentaries, continuing at a rate of perhaps 10-20% of the original month.  If a doc did $10,000 in online rentals its first month, with some dedicated online promotion, then you might expect sales of $1,000-$2,000 per month several months later.

Dramatic features are a different animal, and you can expect major sales drops after promotion stops.  A lot of residual interest depends on star power and search results, but dramas get stale faster.

Regarding dollar values, I can’t really give a solid estimate in any way that wouldn’t be misleading.  No matter what number I give, every filmmaker then expects to reach that number.  My biggest hesitation is attributing an estimate to Dynamo specifically, which always makes people really excited or really disappointed about Dynamo.  In reality, it’s about the marketplace, and the online rental market can certainly support revenues of 7-figures for independent films. There really is no limit, practically speaking.

For instance, Louis C.K. just produced his own comedy special and did over a $1mm in sales using PayPal and direct downloads in about a week. He’s a well-known comedian, but this was a mid-budget shoot completely financed and marketed by Louis, totally independent. I certainly think his sales numbers would be at least as good if he had used Dynamo, but the success or failure would still lie mostly with his ability to convert the audience.

Beyond that we’re talking about differences of probably 10-50% between different platforms, depending on the customer experience.”

Dynamo is proud to note that its sales are growing overall, significantly.

To find out more about Dynamo email info@dynamoplayer.com or visit DynamoPlayer.com to see an introductory video and sign up.

TEN (10) TIPS FOR FILMMAKERS Presented @ IDFA (Amsterdam)

It was truly delightful being at IDFA. Great films, panels, parties, and I even worked in a quick museum visit. The city of Amsterdam is fantastic.
Here is a recap of some of the tips I presented to filmmakers at IDFA, and some examples. For you veteran producers/directors this may be gratuitous but others find these useful so here we go, and similar to the Four Agreements, reminding and repeating can only serve to reinforce:

1. BUDGET FOR MARKETING and DISTRIBUTION: Budget for Marketing & Distribution even if you think you want a sales agent and distributor(s). This money will still be useful and will also afford you the ability to execute DIY even if it’s a backup plan. I recommend at least 10%-20% of your budget, depending on how big it is. By having some money set aside you will be able to properly market your film at festivals and markets and also well-positioned to do DIY distribution should you want to.  Any investor or supporter should be happy to see this budget line item as part of your plan.

2. BUILD COMMUNITY | DEVELOP A LONG TERM CONNECTION WITH COMMUNITY AROUND YOUR FILM: Designate someone who is intimately connected with your film to be engaged in the work of building community around your film well in advance of the film being finished. Six months is not too long, in fact more is better. And doing the grassroots outreach and social network marketing around your film cannot just be you trying to sell your film. Rather, it must be authentic communications and participation in dialog and discussions that are relevant to the film. Sheri Candler and Jon Reiss also discuss this at length in our co-authored book which has good examples (Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul). Only a small percentage of your communications should be about your film in a sales oriented way, otherwise you will turn people off. If you continue to collect emails and continue to grow your community then you will have a bigger support system for your film at each stage of its release and of course for your next works. Several filmmakers in our book have done this very well.

3. KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE: Know who your audience is. Sheri Candler suggests being super detailed about that, really specific. And as Jon Reiss also notes, be clear about how your audience consumes films. I always recommend one think about preceding films that have tapped into similar audiences and that you can relate your film to. This will help resolve what can work well or not and you can even hopefully access some of the contacts from another filmmaker. Some films for example are much more ripe for educational distribution, monetizing festival distribution, and also television sales. Other films may not be suitable for all three of these but just one but may also do better via transactional VOD and/or SVOD. Some films lend themselves to corporate sponsorship or under-writting (e.g. Revenge of the Electric Car which got Nissan to sponsor, after the film was made) whereas a small film about a specific local issue in a third world country may not be viable for such financial and marketing support. The key is to note that most films do not appeal to most people and that if you are trying to appeal to general audiences you better have tens of millions of dollars to do it, and if not, be specific, be niche, targeted, grassroots oriented about it and authentically clear about who you are speaking to so that you know how to speak to them and when and where. Some films demand to be owned while others do very little sell through business but rent very well and work on television well.

4. KNOW YOUR GOALS. People on a filmmaking team may have different goals but it is important to note yours and the hierarchy of them so you can plan accordingly. If changing the world is your top goal that will yield a specific strategy that may not completely coincide with making money, or it can, depending on your film. Hence all the above-points and this one go together. If changing the world and making money are equally important and your film is not one that will likely do a lot of sell-through business you may find all the more reason to monetize offering the film for free, whether via YouTube, SNAG, or underwriting free airings on PBS (in US) or Hulu (for example) but this way you will reach broader audiences, build awareness for your film and monetize it in other ways (via ad-support, sponsorship, increased transactional business because of the awareness, and maybe even a reverse window theatrical if your film proves its audience traction). But it’s very hard to resolve the best plan without being clear internally about the priority of your goals. (Please note one can also sell the film to PBS in the US).

5.DON’T SHY FROM A BUSINESS PLAN. IT DOES NOT MAKE YOU DIRTY.  Having a business plan will help you know what you don’t know and help you plan ahead and be able to effectively market and distribute your film and achieve your goals. Plan ahead. It’s a must and does not make you dirty or any less creative, just more sustainable. You will fall behind and lose opportunities or make mistakes otherwise.  Digital distribution strategies vary per film and are quite individual so planning ahead will help make sure you execute the best plan for your film and know best how to respond to opportunities at markets and festivals that present themselves. Also, if you are comparing your film to others in order to resolve goals and a plan, make sure the other films are relevant either in terms of timing or scope. For example what happened in the 1990’s is really not a viable comparison today. Also remember if you are looking at THEATRICAL GROSSES, the distributor gets usually at most 50% of that revenue or even as little as 25 – 40% and there are expenses to get there, sometimes rather big ones depending on the release so your plan needs to be based on the real and complete set of information.

6. THE THREE Ms | CARVE UP RIGHTS | TIMING OF DIGITAL: The THREE (3) M’s are: MIDDLE MEN, MONEY, and MARKETING. Before giving rights to anyone you need to be clear if you are dealing with a Distributor, Aggregator or Platform. It is important to know that these are not the same, and yet, they are CONFLATE! SNAG is now for example both a PLATFORM and an AGGREGATOR. Some SALES AGENTS are now acting as AGGREGATORS or trying to. However the key is before giving rights to anyone, especially a sales agent or distributor, one wants to know how DIRECT the entity is with the places you want your film to be and at what terms. In the digital distribution realm, which is eclipsing DVD quickly, if you think of platforms as stores, you would want to be in all the good ones at the very least, and you will be better served being only once removed at most. Most good platforms are not direct with filmmakers so one middle man is usually unavoidable, but two really starts to be terrible for you financially. Also in terms of fees that an aggregator or distributor can take, 15% is a fee we approve of, and sometimes as much as 25% is acceptable but not more than that generally speaking. Platforms themselves usually take 30%-50% (but not all platforms have the same deal with all aggregators or distributors so you will also want to evaluate that). The other thing to analyze is what sort of marketing the entity taking your rights will do to earn their fee. The higher the fee the more they should be doing for you in terms of handling delivery and marketing.  An example, the Oscar shortlisted film We Were Here has seven (7) different companies involved in the North American distribution alone, and can sell off the websites(s) too. Always carve out the ability to sell off your site(s). If you are ever confused about this please feel free to contact us for advice.

7. AFFILIATE RELATIONSHIPS WITH ORGANIZATIONS, FESTIVALS & CORPORATE / MEDIA SPONSORSHIP: The sooner you identify the organizations, media or corporate sponsors that may want to be connected to your film and help you either via outreach or financial support or both, the better. And corporate sponsors especially need at least 6 months of lead time or even a year or more so better to approach early and guess what? YOU WILL NEED TO SHOW THEM YOUR DISTRIBUTION PLAN. With NGOs you can do a lot to both change the world and generate more revenue and we recommend giving them the incentive of an affiliate relationship (whether for theatrical, DVD, VOD or all of the above). Also festivals you’ve shown it can and should let their members / audiences know about your film when it comes out. An example from our book is Ride the Divide (a Jon Reiss case study). The filmmakers premiered the film on a small US television channel called Documentary Channel (which they sold to) and this was coordinated with the transactional digital on iTunes and they also debuted with a free screening period on YouTube which launched their partnership with non-profit organization Livestrong with which they have an affiliate relationship.

8. KEY ART: BIG & SMALL: First of all I want to remind people that sometimes it does serve a film to have two campaigns and that is not necessarily bad or confusing marketing. For example a film that is both speaking to a niche community but also wants to change the world and speak to a more general and mainstream community may have two different art works. But one has to try to integrate the two because of course brand recognition is key and the whole point of festival and theatrical distribution is to have a film be known in the public consciousness so keep that in mind when choosing publicity and marketing images. Also remember, your key art will have to work small so even if you are doing theatrical posters and want good art for that, you need to make sure your image(s) works as a thumbnail image on the web.

9. MANY WAYS TO DO THEATRICAL: In the US this topic has been covered quite a bit and we have several examples in the book. In Europe doing theatrical in a non-traditional manner is still under construction. However we are inspired by what Dogwoof does in terms of Pop Up Cinemas and a Dutch documentary mini showcase of sorts that Sean Farnel explained to me and which I have to research better (in fact I am probably even explaining it incorrectly here). But the key is for European festivals and organizations to help filmmakers with a solution that eliminates the need to accept theatrical defeat if one’s film is not bought by a traditional distributor or would be bought only via deleterious terms. This may also take the burden off of MEDIA needing to fund quite as much because after all, most films do not need to be on screen five (5) times a day seven (7) days a week to mostly very few people most times. But what they do need to is to engage with public audiences, get some key publicity and buzz. One new interesting company in the US that may inspire is a digital / virtual theatrical service company called CONSTELLATION www.constellation.tv  Another one is Emerging Pictures which is a service that networks theaters for event theatrical / hybrid theatrical. this is a cost-effective way to achieve the goals of theatrical without the burdensome expense. Of course if one is qualifying for an Oscar there are specific theatrical guidelines that are unavoidable but even that is more doable via the IDA, for example.

10. STAY CURRENT: Digital distribution changes weekly, at least monthly. Different ways of working windows changes so stay current, ask around, and always ask more than one person.

One last EXTRA TIP for the road: Don’t ever write your blog post in Word Press directly without constantly saving draft as I just did because then if it freeze, which mine did, you will have to start all over again!

Distribute in Peace,
– Orly

NEW WORLD DISTRIBUTION IN THE OLD WORLD

As DVD sales continue to crumble (allowing us to use less petroleum), VOD is growing (now in 65.7 million US homes — about 55.7% of TV homes, according to MagnaGlobal). Digital distribution revenues are starting to percolate and be more reliable. Worldwide revenue from video-on-demand movies and TV programs will reach $5.7 billion in 2016, up 58% from revenue of $3.6 billion in 2010, according to a new research report. The tally does not include pay-per-view sports events, adult entertainment or subscription-based VOD services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime and Google, among others, according to London-based Direct TV Research Ltd.  It should be noted this is not all related to new film but rather making catalog or library content available digitally. According to the study, “Internet-based TV (IPTV) is projected to overtake digital terrestrial TV (DTT) in revenue next t year to become the third largest platform globally. Indeed, VOD revenue from DTT is expected to be largely confined to Western Europe” (http://www.homemediamagazine.com/vod/global-vod-revenue-climb-58-24580).

In South Korea of course we know almost all have Broadband and watch films digitally but the US digital distribution market has been slower to mature, though it is finally, and so how is new world distribution faring in the old world? I wanted to explore the digital distribution trends in Europe.

“The EU records the second highest TV viewing figures globally, produces more films than any other region in the world, and is home to more than five hundred online video-on-demand services” (European Commission “Green Paper” on the online distribution of audiovisual works in the European Union, 7/13/11).   It should be noted that this 500 number is more theoretical and that probably only 100 are worth talking about and half of those being the main revenue generators.  The EU funds new platforms but not all of them emerge successfully, much like our US government’s funding of alternative energy.

“A range of platforms offering transactional on-demand services span multiple territories e.g. E.g. Acetrax, Chello, Headweb, iTunes, Playstation Network Live, Voddler, Xbox Live.  These tend to continue the practice of addressing customers “in their own language”, and tailoring content to local preferences such as language, film classification, dubbing or subtitling requirements, advertising, holiday periods, and general consumer tastes.  This is consistent with the experience of producers and distributors whether large or small scale, who have indicated that although they license content on a multi-territorial basis where there is a business case to do so, targeted and local investments in distribution and marketing are nevertheless required in order to promote and sell films in each country” (IBID).  To read the paper in its entirety go to:

http://ec.europa.eu/internal_market/consultations/docs/2011/audiovisual/green_paper_COM2011_427_en.pdf

On a side note: many European countries are used to having films dubbed not subtitled and there is apparently a new software that facilitates dubbing in the same voice as the actor / speaker.  I’m looking into it further.  In any case, subtitling for digital is getting less and less expensive and can be done via software or labs.  If one has played a film at a film festival in another country and then plan to distribute the film there I recommend you ask the fest for access to the subtitles (if cleared for other distribution).  Traditionally, Nordic, Benelux, and some others are fine with and prefer subtitles, while others (such as Germany, Spain, and Italy) require dubbing.  In the higher educated arthouse/filmfest world, one can often get away with just subtitled versions even in the dubbing countries.

At The Film Collaborative we have noticed that iTunes has just recently expanded its footprint into Europe and is now available in the following EU countries:

Austria, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Greece, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Republic of Ireland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom.

Non-English stores include:

Spain, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, Belgium, Switzerland, Portugal.

NETFLIX, Amazon (via Lovefilm), and Hulu are expanding their EU footprint too.  In the US Hulu is ramping up its competitive edge with Netflix on the SVOD HuluPlus and these days it’s looking for more films that it can do stunts around.

So what are the other key EU platforms? Trends? And which kinds of films are viable?

I asked TFC Board of Advisor / EU digital distribution guru and TFC partner Wendy Bernfeld of Rights Stuff (www.Rights-Stuff.com) to weigh in.  Wendy noted that various international platforms are increasingly interested by now in licensing art house and festival films, not just mainstream, and that they also have room for niches.  (For an example, TFC received an offer for 300 EU from one small platform but sometimes the money is quite better, and/or is coupled with rev shares and small upfronts. The point is that the deals are non-exclusive and can ripple through various windows and regions.  Keep in mind some platforms are transactional (pay per view) and revenue sharing, others ad supported  (free to consumer) and others subscription (e.g. pay per month) and hence the license fee, just like TV, but smaller often though sometimes greater.  Wendy notes that whilst some earlier pioneer platforms have gone out of business, others are launching or strengthening, and diversifying into thematic genres instead of only mainstream.  Wendy cites that some of those non-USA platforms include Orange, Viasat, XIMON (for art house/festival/docs) in the Netherlands, Voddler (Nordic), Blinkbox (UK), mubi.com (EU), not to mention many telecom and cable VOD platforms that have online offerings of their own Wendy adds that “LOVEFILM in the UK (now owned by Amazon) usually only takes larger packages, not one-offs, if dealing direct with producers/ distributors, otherwise one can go through aggregators/digital distributors and sometimes one is pressed to have had a DVD or local theatrical release already, while in other case they are willing to premiere online or Day & Date.   Lesser-known or library (catalog) films can usually find a home on a non- exclusive and on ad-supported (AVOD) basis, but more current films usually start with transactional (TVOD) basis and/or subscription platforms (SVOD)…  Many of these platforms are willing to take delivery of art house films via DVD” or a hard drive or digital master (instead of requiring the expensive encoding/digitizing the way Apple does).

Wendy believes that 2012 will see more of the same consolidation that 2011 witnessed.  Also some key platforms (such as Hulu, Netflix, Yahoo, Endemol/AOL, Nokia, Canal+, Orange) are selectively commissioning Transmedia and/or branded film opportunities.  Ad- supported (AVOD) platforms such as YOUTUBE and subscription platforms such as Lovefilm in the UK (owned by Amazon) are adding premium transactional VOD (TVOD) in order to handle current films and not just library or PAY TV window titles, and some are competing against the premium PAY TV window and occasionally buying an SVOD window exclusively instead of nonexclusively, to beat out a PAY TV licensee (e.g. as with Netflix, Lovefilm recently, in some key indie deals).   More platforms are open to REVERSE WINDOWING (a trend growing and succeeding in the US, e.g. Melancholia), which is launching online first and then opening theatrical.

Interestingly, EPIX began licensing international festival documentaries in 2010 but have now focused their attention on co-productions instead of acquisitions.  As in the US, many traditional PAY TV platforms are going cross-platform and on multiple devices (a la “TV EVERYWHERE”, and similarly the nonlinear online channels are often seeking multiple device rights and/or at least have an App).  In terms of trends, it still seems like the bigger funds and bigger platforms are still more focused on more mainstream content.  Yet having said that, here’s a summary from Wendy on key platforms for Art House films:

For films not released theatrically Wendy cites among others, XIMON & MUBI (TFC is direct with them and they also often deal directly with filmmakers) and also notes there are the local equivalents of Fandor and IndieFlix in various regions.  Some PAY TV film channels have online offerings that explore more niche or arthouse material, even where the film is not on the main channel.  MUBI (www.Mubi.com) is co-owned by the rights holder to one of the most expansive libraries of art house cinema, Celluloid Dreams. MUBI is technically available everywhere, and is sometimes syndicated as a channel carried on a telecom platform (as in the case of its SVOD service on Belgacom in Belgium).  It is also on Sony Playstation, has (last time I checked) 60% of its audience in the US and most of the rest in Europe.  Wendy explains that for bigger indie titles and mainstream ones there are about 5-7 or so VOD outlets per country, usually in the form of television related, IPTV, Telecom/Cable companies, (as well as the online and/or mobile sites, and offerings that are being put together by OTT box and consumer electronics/connected TV manufacturers.)

For example in even the small country Holland (where Wendy, former Canadian, resides) there are: KPN, Tele2, SBS/Veamer, Ziggo, Upc/Chello/Film1, . Others in EU include e.g. Orange, Canal Plus, (France etc), Telenet, in Nordic, etc.), Telefonica, Viasat…  Most buy TVOD and sometimes SVOD and/or AVOD.  Some web-based sites for VOD, according to Wendy, include: Veamer (NL); Popcorn (just launching in UK),  Blinkbox and Lovefilm(UK); Voddler & Film2Home & Headweb  and Viasat nonlinear offerings (Nordic),. In Benelux, Cinemalink, Veamer  , Pathe (soon launching) , idfa.tv and Ximon (Netherlands); Maxdome (Germany); Sony-related Qriocity, Daily Motion & Orange (many countries in EU) , Movieeurope, Zatoo, and sales agent Wild Bunch has launched a platform service called FilmoTV.  And there are plenty more!

Wendy’s final and most important kernel of wisdom is this:  “It is really important to WINDOW (i.e. Transactional, Subscription, Advod, Sell Through) carefully and balance traditional with new media.  But also, windows can be in reverse for certain films, especially indies, i.e. producers can build (and engage with) the audience before the film is even out and perhaps premiere ONLINE first, (or day and date with another cross-promoted window), and then one can still end up in theatres. The key is to know the audience and try to tailor the marketing and distribution patterns accordingly…producers can be more active these days to heighten the chances of film success.

There are a lot of small markets and platforms and all this takes a lot of work but if one has built community around a film and awareness then the effort may pay off and add up to a nice revenue stream. Once the first deals are in place with platforms (deal structures, relationships, contacts, contracts) it’s easier to build on that and add new films to the deals with just short amendments or riders, so the effort at the front end makes years of future dealings run smoother.

My first interaction with Viewster was during its previous incarnation as DIVA.pro which seemed to function more like an aggregator.  Now Viewster serves that purpose in some ways but is also a platform.  In that way it’s similar to SNAG FILMS, (www.SnagFilms.com) which is now both a platform and an aggregator.  Kai Henniges of Viewster (www.Viewster.com) describes the company as follows: “today we are largely a consumer-facing cross platform VOD services, a content retailer.  Our focus is on a number of CEE markets where we see the opportunity to emerge as the leading one-stop-shop.  In parallel we supply movies to leading platforms in the UK, US, Germany (Netflix, Hulu, Virgin, Lovefilm).  In these heavily competitive markets we rather work with the leading retailers as an aggregator than position ourselves against them”.  Viewster has 18 manufacturer deals and estimate being on 50,000,000 devices now.  They are especially excited about their cross platform deal with Samsung.  Viewster works with local mini majors such as Kinowelt in Germany, Aurum in Spain and also sometimes individual filmmakers.  They have 160 content suppliers so far.  When I asked what sort of films Viewster seems as working best Kai noted “a mix of classics such as Death Proof, Crank, or local films such as Empty Nest work well and course Day & Date releases”.  Kai added the need for a good trailer and key art, ideally an inspired title (e.g. “Dirty Deeds did fantastic”), preferably a known actor.  “Without any of these attributes, films are likely to languish in VOD, the selection is even more harsh than in the old home entertainment business”.

TFC recommends picking a specialist in new media / digital distribution to handle these rights as opposed to letting a more traditional company handle them unless they prove to know what they are doing and offer you fair terms (we like the 15% commission and under model or flat fee).

Filmmakers, whatever you choose to do with respect to your digital distribution, do not forget, one can reach the whole wide world via one’s own website(s) and social networking pages by utilizing DIY digital distro services (for more on this topic please refer to numerous past blogs about digital distribution and DIY platforms and services. For past blogs about these topics go to www.TheFilmCollaborative.org/blog

REMEMBER: Films do not market themselves.  There is a proliferation of films (thousands per year, and hence an emerging glut and your film will die on the digital vine if you do not connect-the-dots and create your community around your film (a la Sheri Candler).  We had a lovely discussion about this at the Lone Star Film Festival.  Ted Hope was especially charming and humorous as he rolled off the staggering stats.  Anyway, even when there are better curation mechanisms on platforms or via services, marketing is king.

For those not into monetizing piracy (though we recommend trying it!) well, you can try to stay ahead of the pirate ad-supported sites (because that’s the latest trend in piracy and it’s huge, to the tune of tens of millions).  Key would be to 1. Watermark screeners or use private streaming service; 2.  Do some serious SEO work (Search Engine Optimization) and hopefully with some other technological assistance redirect traffic your way (as did Wendy’s former ADVOD client in the UK www.IndieMoviesOnline.com 3.   Release your film at the same time worldwide and in as many places as possible and for a reasonable fee that is competitive to free.  When we (The Film Collaborative) help filmmakers sell internationally we try for a UNIVERSAL STREET DATE. And per Wendy (and also in Sheri Candler’s case studies in our book www.SellingYourFilm.com), some filmmakers partner with Bit Torrent, Pirate Bay etc to launch their films online, tapping into the audiences already there (e.g. Nasty Old People, The Tunnel). And, a little something extra never hurts.

Bon Chance!

 

 

 

MICRO-ANALYSIS: Looking at the Micro-Budget feature in the contemporary distribution landscape

By Jeffrey Winter

At some point in our formative childhood years, we learn that “progress” is the process of getting “bigger and better.” We come to understand that $100 dollar in 1900 is roughly the equivalent of $2,680 today (http://bit.ly/aeZM3U). What we used to call a millionaire we now reserve for billionaires. We assume that the passage of time means things get easier, more rational, and yes, “better” overall.

As adults we learn that “progress” is not nearly as simple as all that. In fact, — we backslide, we re-invent, we encounter new technologies that change everything. When I first got into this business full-time, a $1 million movie was considered a throwaway, what we flippantly termed  “straight to video” or a network “movie-of-the-week.” Yet for the most part, those films did very well financially, and were the cornerstone of a rich, powerful, and largely insular and undemocratic Hollywood.

Now that time seems like a distant dream (or nightmare, depending on your perspective). Nowadays, if your average indie filmmaker says they spent $1 million on their film, people look at them like they are utterly decadent and out-of-touch (unless they have movie stars in their film).  There are numerous factors that have contributed to this of course, including… 1) the democratization of digital filmmaking technology and the explosion in the number of independent films being made as a result; 2) the radical fracturing of the film consumption habits of the public given their thousands of channels and ubiquitous access to on-demand content; and 3) the crash of 2008 and the predominantly backsliding global (especially US and European) economy that offers us no reason to think that things will get any better any time soon.

And so, we have entered the era of the Micro-Budget film, which Microfilmmaker Magazine defines as a “less than a 30,000 budget,” and which they claim amounts to 80 – 90% of all independent films today (http://bit.ly/o1oD5h). For the purposes of framing this discussion, I am going to be a bit more generous as to what we can call “Micro-Budget” ….I’ll go to approximately $100,000 for sake of argument. (Note: prior to 2008, I was preaching to filmmakers that $250,000 was still micro-budget, but my how things have changed).

Why $100,000 today you ask? Because at $100,000 or less, one can easily wrap one’s brain around how a no-stars indie film can achieve financial recoupment by simply plumbing the basic mechanics of contemporary film distribution, from film festivals straight through to digital distribution and all the steps in-between. Therefore, it falls more in line with the model we previously called “straight-to-video,” (i.e. not requiring profits from theatrical distribution), albeit much more complicated and work-intensive than it used to be.

This model of the contemporary Micro-Budget film doesn’t necessarily require a big Sundance premiere or major sales miracle, but I am not making the claim that it is therefore easy by any means. First of all, it generally requires that the film be good if not great, which certainly wasn’t the case in the straight-to-video era (when so much less product was available than it is today, such that mediocre and even god-awful content was still most of what was available to us as a film-viewing public). In addition, today’s marketplace requires incredible dedication, marketing savvy, and brute hard work to get the film available, noticed, marketed, and consumed….which filmmakers can either choose to do themselves, or find like-minded partners, consultants, and platforms to help them achieve their goals.

As the technology has evolved, today’s filmmaker are no longer constrained by “gatekeeper” companies in their ability to get their films available for public consumption… there are endless number of good ways now to get your film available to millions to be seen. Now the challenge is to let people know that your film actually exists, to find an audience you can connect to, and to monetize that connection.

As a mini-case study of this phenomenon, I’ll refer here to a micro-budget film that we, The Film Collaborative, shepherded to marketplace in 2010 called THE OWLS, directed by Cheryl Dunye (OWLS in this case is an acronym for “Older, Wiser, Lesbians”). The film, produced for under $25,000, achieved a significant film festival world premiere at the Berlin International Film Festival, as part of the Panorama section.

As a lesbian-themed feature with major festival pedigree, it attracted significant attention from gay & lesbian film festivals all around the world…nearly all of whom paid screening fees to show the film. While there were no “movie stars” per se…it featured a cast that was very well known in lesbian communities all over the world. It sold to small queer distribution companies in all major territories, and achieved favorable DVD and digital distribution arrangements in the U.S.

And voilà, the math added up and the budget was easily recouped through the basic steps of niche, micro-budget distribution.

This is the blueprint of the contemporary micro-budget feature, although of course it isn’t always as easy to identify your core audience. Most of you will have to work harder at doing so….but that doesn’t mean it isn’t doable for many. The key factor here is to “know your audience,” and to remember that in a fractured distribution audience, in fact, “niche is king.”

I’ll close here by saying that one of the core mistakes of micro-budget features today is to think that by finishing a film for a remarkably low production budget means you are “safe” because they money will inevitably flow back to you. That is utter folly. First of all, and most importantly, your film will need to be good. Long since gone are the days that a mediocre film will attract an audience already glutted by available content.

Even more critically, you’ll need to find ways – both creative and financial – for alerting people to the fact that your film exists and that it demands to be seen. In a standard Hollywood studio model, there now exists at least a one-to-one model for matching marketing dollars to budget dollars….meaning that is entirely understood that a $100 million studio flick will require a minimum of $100 million dollars in P&A to market it. And yet this concept is entirely overlooked in the indie space…. I have yet to hear of an indie filmmaker who made a $50,000 film and also spent $50,000 to market and promote it. Imagine all the facebook ads, social media consultants and interns, marketing promotions, grassroots organizations, special event screenings, reviews and blogosphere promotions you could generate if you actually spent as much money on your distribution and marketing as you did on the production of your film.

I realize that most of us are still a long way away from being able to budget the marketing of our films into the actual production process…I realize that most of us can’t set $50,000 aside for our $50,000 micro-budget films. But I would argue that ultimately we will have no choice,  as marketing emerges as king above all other factors. If the means of distribution will democratize, then only the most savvy of marketers will survive.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


BRIGHT SPOT: Under Our Skin | DIY Does it Again

 

From my talk with Andy Abrahams Wilson (Producer, Director, Cinematographer)

ABOUT THE FILM & ITS STRATEGY:

Under Our Skin http://www.underourskin.com/

A gripping tale of microbes, medicine & money, UNDER OUR SKIN exposes the hidden story of Lyme disease, one of the most serious and controversial epidemics of our time. Each year, thousands go undiagnosed or misdiagnosed, often told that their symptoms are all in their head. Following the stories of patients and physicians fighting for their lives and livelihoods, the film brings into focus a haunting picture of the health care system and a medical establishment all too willing to put profits ahead of patients.

With a production budget of just under $1,000,000, the film had its festival premiere at Tribeca Film Festival in 2008 and went on to Silverdocs, and to win BEST DOCUMENTARY awards at many other fests including Houston and Sonoma. Filmmaker Andy Abrahams Wilson has a background in self-distribution.  He has been actively involved in New Day Films http://www.newday.com/ , a national distribution collective that believes individual filmmakers have the most interest and passion to get their film seen.

Wilson has worked with distributors but feels that films have broader distribution when a DIY strategy is employed which is what he has done with most of his films. He said this worked well for Under Our Skin. Wilson noted that what made the most impact so far was with DVD sales, which continue robustly till this day.

The broad strategy is to keep the community around the film engaged, which helps build momentum and spread awareness around the issues in the film, while also keeping up with DVD sales. Wilson chose not to follow a traditional distribution path because he did not want to give up the DVD rights and he’s glad he handled the release the way he did.

THE THEATRICAL RELEASE:

The film had a limited theatrical, distributed through a service deal with Shadow Distribution.  The reasoning behind the theatrical was to get reviews and to qualify for Oscars. The film was shortlisted, which increased the film’s visibility in the public and also helped motivate its core base of supporters.

The film grossed just under $100,000 http://www.boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=underourskin.htm which was about break even given the costs of the theatrical run, says Wilson.

The filmmakers sold DVDs at many of the festival and theatrical venues.

Generally, 20 – 30% of the audience would buy DVDs, sold at a discounted price to audiences.  Wilson noted that “the high rate of purchase at screenings helped confirm that the film was perceived as a “must have” doc”.

MAILING LIST:

Any time the filmmakers do outreach (MAILINGS, BLOGS, E-BLASTS, ETC.) they see an uptick in sales and their mailing list (which is about 25,000).

Keeping a good customer list and also staying in contact is a priority.

Wilson noted that Facebook been really instrumental for that, and they have approximately 15,000 fans.

The key to this film’s success is that there is an “underground movement of people who have been affected by Lyme disease and so they really wanted to see their stories told… [it’s] a ready made community”. Also Wilson connected with organizations involved with the issue. But this strategy works for many films, hence my interest in covering it for the blog.  One has to stay involved with the film and the issues, as Under Our Skin has done.

“Not just promoting the film but create a space where people can get info and share”, as Wilson noted.  Their outreach organizational partner is covered here: http://turnthecorner.org/

ABOUT THE DVD RELEASE & MERCHANDISE:

Wilson had a preview DVD for sale before film came out theatrically.  He sold approximately 5,000 units before the official DVD release.

Between the festival premiere at Tribeca in 2008 and theatrical release (which was about a year later, in June 2009) he sold PLAY ONLY versions of the DVD, no bonus features. He updated the DVD a few times since with title cards at the end of the film so kept film current. Wilson has come out with 2 updated versions since initial release.  He’s been selling the full DVD for two years now and has sold about 25,000 units.  And of course he’s able to control all hence able to update and do new versions.  Replication was done via Discmakers and fulfillment was done in-house. DVD distribution was done almost exclusively via his website (though also at events). Wilson started working with Amazon only as of a year ago (2010).

It should be noted that New Day’s philosophy was not to do home video till long after educational but this was primarily a home video title so did not space out but still have different prices (of course some will abuse that). Wilson does not think this cannibalized their educational sales. They still get those orders and do educational promotion but that is not their focus.  In any case, more and more it’s hard to separate the two unless one creates a window. So again, number of DVDs sold is approximately 25,000 at an SRP of $34.95 initially and now $29.95 and also has an educational price for organizations and libraries is $85 (Institutions and Libraries and non-profits).

On the website there is a store for DVDs for Educational use or Home use.

The filmmakers also sell merch such as bumper stickers and awareness bracelets: http://www.underourskin.com/store

TV BROADCAST & DIGITAL DISTRIBUTION

In January of 2011 Wilson started to work with digital aggregator Gravitas (which sometimes goes through Warner Brothers’ Digital Distribution arm) for Cable VOD and digital. Gravitas also worked with the filmmakers of American: The Bill Hicks Story and Big Gay Musical (both films are covered in Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul).  The digital distribution was started only AFTER the DVD release and Wilson did none directly and still does none directly.

What he did do was in May 2011 a TV Broadcast with PBS, but for free.  Wilson did the deal directly.  Had a 3-4 month run, got 80% carriage and Wilson notes that also pushed DVD sales. On the filmmaker’s website you can see all the stations and air dates:  http://www.underourskin.com/tv

PBS broadcasting was via NETA National Educational Telecommunications Association http://www.netaonline.org/programming.htm (so again, the film was made available for free) but generated sales. Reaching over 80% of the PBS market translated to millions of viewers which Wilson noted lead to a significant and unexpected uptick in sales (about 20%) when the film aired on TV and even when it was first released on Netflix’s Watch Instantly streaming subscription service.  It should be noted he had tried to sell TV rights via Josh Braun of Submarine (who we, TFC, co-repped Shut Up Little Man with) but no sales could be generated, perhaps the film was seen as too controversial Wilson wonders.

On the digital front the film has been up on Hulu (via Gravitas) for free since August of this year (2011) (via their subscription and Ad-supported platform/service).  Wilson also noted an uptick in sales due to the free streaming on Hulu. Wilson noted it was hard to tell if the uptick in sales came from the streaming on Hulu or the promotion for it (done via Wilson’s lists/community).  On the rest of the digital front the filmmakers are not doing anything on their own yet. Perhaps because the DVD sells so well they are not in a rush to sell cheaper digital formats but I do think it will be time soon to add sell the film digitally via either Topspin, Distrify, EggUp, or Dynamo Player etc..

They also have a clip on SNAG films, and it’s one of the only films that the whole film is not shown, just 10 mins. Under Our Skin is consistently one of the most viewed or discussed but very very few returns. Wilson feels “the verdict is still out about digital overall”. Time will tell, he says, and he’s waiting to see overall digital revenue and to determine if the Hulu strategy made sense.

And after we finished the call, I was determined to buy the film for my mother who suffered from Lyme disease for many years. I cannot wait to see it!

(this is Orly by the way, covering for our resident blog guru and marketing master, Sheri Candler, who is in Chi Town at this moment).

 

What’s this book all about? and why digital?

Thanks for stopping by to find out more about our book, Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul. Yes, we are calling it a book even though it will be published only in digital form to start with. If we find that there is an overwhelming desire for filmmakers to hold a physical copy, lovingly plucked from the shelves of their local bookstore and personally signed by our intrepid authors, we will do what we can to make this possible. In the meantime, you’ll be able to try before you buy and read it online for free or purchase a premium version from iBooks or Kindle (or whatever other formats we think will be popular) and download it into the portable device of your choice.

What’s this book all about?

It is a book of case studies that takes a look at the ways filmmakers are now approaching distribution. None of the cases have used the purely traditional route of make a film, sell all rights to a distributor and hope they do a good job and earn overages beyond the advance. All have either split rights or gone totally DIY and my chapter looks at creators who are using file sharing sites to give their work away while still meeting their goals of either making a name for themselves or getting the widest audience possible for the least cost and/or making money either from crowdfunding or as revenue.

Confirmed cases are PioneerOne (a webseries), The Cosmonaut (a feature film/transmedia project), Sita Sings the Blues (feature animation), Ride the Divide (feature documentary), Note by Note (feature documentary), Bass Ackwards (feature narrative), Adventures of Power (feature narrative), Undertow (feature narrative and LGBT themed), For the Bible Tells Me So (feature documentary, LGBT themed). The cases will present an accurate picture on revenues and where they came from, marketing and distribution spend, and production budgets because we want this to be an unprecedented work; the true picture of what it takes to succeed and what success really looks like not the secrecy and  myth that largely surrounds the film industry.

Knowledge you will find in the book:
-Sales numbers in applicable windows and territories
-Budgets both production and P&A
-Outreach and partnerships with organizations and influencers, how it was accomplished
-Sales numbers on other revenue streams like merchandising, speaking gigs
-What tools and services were used to achieve results
-advice on crowdfunding and building communities around your work
Following along in these courageous filmmakers’ footsteps, this book will be self distributed because we know our audience, we know where they congregate and what they read and how to reach them. It doesn’t really make sense to turn the work of marketing and distributing (and our rights!) this book over to a publisher. We are paying for the development costs of the book and the freely distributed copies through sponsorship. Our Presenting Sponsor is PreScreen with contracts out to 2 other Official Sponsors. If you have a company that wants to reach the independent filmmaker community, please have a look at our sponsorship deck. We anticipate a lot of excitement for this book and our sponsors will surely get their brand in front of a very targeted audience. We will launch the book at one of the most premiere events in the independent film calendar, IFP Week in the brand new Film Society of Lincoln Center facility in New York City in September, but promotion of the book will continue throughout 2011/2012 at various other high profile events.

Why digital?

This book was conceived from the start in digital format because 1)The future is digital and to make this a physical text book didn’t make sense considering the themes being discussed in it, namely the future of film distribution. 2)We wanted to include a richer experience than text books could provide. There will be video interviews with the filmmakers, video samples of their work, URL links to articles used as source material or additional info the reader can use to do further research, some social media capabilities and charts/graphs/photos. 3) Orly and I were adamant that at least one copy (text only) would be given out for free online to anyone in the world who wanted this knowledge. With restrictions on physical distribution of a paper based book, that wouldn’t be possible or feasible. By using the efficient distribution abilities of the internet, we won’t be hampered by distribution logistics and costs to get the book anywhere in the world.

During the summer, we will be releasing excerpts from the book, some content that had to be cut for length or because the participant got off topic during interviews, highlights of our lovely sponsors and extra film stories that couldn’t be featured in the book, but offer valuable advice. Stay tuned because we are just getting started. We also have a hashtag on Twitter #syfnotsys (Selling Your Film Not Selling Your Soul, we have to conserve characters!) and a Facebook page, so come join us there.

You can also follow all of the authors on Twitter @shericandler @filmcollab @jon_reiss because we post some good stuff!

Take care

-Sheri