by Sam Mestman
Anyone who has made an indie film recently knows how brutal the indie market is these days. In fact, most sane people would not even attempt to make a film in a market like this. Oversaturated with product, the traditional indie distribution model is broken. Cash advances for most features (even ones with names) are nearly non-existent. Selection into a higher profile festival is mostly rigged in favor of low budget studio films/films that have big name casts, and distributors have mostly no interest in the smaller fests. The foreign pre-sales market that used to get many indies their budgets has dried up. It is nearly impossible these days to play the game the old way, It is not hopeless, though.
The filmmakers who are able to weather this market and adapt to new indie business models and strategies will be the ones who will have careers in this industry. In fact, they will thrive in this market. Never before has an indie filmmaker had more access to the public at large, and never before has it been possible to have so much control over the distribution process. Much like what happened in the music industry over the last decade, the smart filmmakers will come to realize that they no longer need the studios and will develop their own ways of cultivating an audience for their movies.
The key is to build an audience and separate yourself from the thousands of other movies out there. The challenge is to not just make a good movie, but also to figure out a way to make people aware that it even exists.
A new model is emerging, and the links below are here because we feel that they may be of some use to filmmakers out there to help them crack the code and figure out what it is. They were and are useful to us as we attempt to do the same.
THE BIG ONES
(if you are planning on making an indie film, you need to check them out IMMEDIATELY)
- www.thinkoutsidetheboxoffice.com – This is a link to Jon Reiss’ book Think Outside The Box Office. www.jonreiss.com is his blog site, which is awesome as well (and be sure to check out the resources section there too). Anyway, If you don’t own this book, and you plan to make an independent film, you have to buy it. If I have one regret in the making of How I Got Lost, it’s that I was not prepared for the modern distribution world. I still believed the fairy tale that if I worked hard enough, and made the best movie I could, the money part would take care of itself. Someone would buy up our movie and we’d be done with it. Do not let this happen to you. There is a whole other world you need to be aware of. This is a step by step book on how to prepare yourself for the new cinematic landscape. Why should you believe he has the answers? BECAUSE HE IS ACTUALLY DOING IT with his film Bomb it, and he’s doing it the hard way (and smart way). Learn how to self-distribute your movie in a theater, negotiate with a home video distributor, build an online store, and, in general, not get totally fucked over in the distribution of your movie. His model is the only thing I’ve seen so far that even resembles a practical, well thought out way to successfully distribute your movie in the modern market. I can’t say enough about it. Best $25 bucks you’ll ever spend. Seriously. Buy it.
- www.internetmarketingforfilmmakers.com – So, you know all that internet marketing crap you wish you knew how to do so you could theoretically sell your film online? Well, that’s what this site is for and what his course is designed to do. Marc Rosenbush, the guy who runs it has been very successful marketing his own film over the internet… he knows what he’s talking about. I bought the course and it’s great. If you’re serious about making any money back from that movie you spent years of your life working on… YOU NEED THIS. It ain’t cheap, and what he’s selling really only amounts to a 30 page, pdf, but, well, It’s a really useful 30 pages that I really recommend. Do yourself a favor and figure out a way to find the cash. It will change the way you look at the world. HINT: if you want to get the course half off, sign up for the mailing list, and wait a couple months. You’ll get an email after about 2 months offering you the course at 50% off. It’s called an autoresponder and it’s built into his system (you’ll learn all about these when you get the course).
- www.distribution.LA “The Secrets to Distribution” – Jerome Courshon’s 9 disc DVD set “The Secrets To Distribution” would have saved my ass a few years ago had it existed. It is easily the most comprehensive resource about the various aspects of the distribution process ever created. And while the cost may seem expensive (around $600 for the program), you literally cannot find the information contained here all in one place anywhere else. Alternately unbelievably depressing (the film business is a borderline predatory place) and inspiring (your head should be exploding with ideas as you watch this), if you’re really serious about trying to make a living in film, securing distribution, and not getting screwed over in the process, you have to watch this. Also, he’s got some free articles on his site you need to check out. Must reads are the articles on sales agents and producers reps (scroll down to the bottom), as well as the one hour filmed interview “Distribution primer” which is awesome. He’s a good guy, knowledgeable, and is one of us (like Jon Reiss, he’s been through this process as a filmmaker and really knows what he’s talking about… not much bullshit here). I’m not a big fan of seminars or classes of that type as a rule, as they tend to contain information that could normally be found cheaper elsewhere, but I recommend his, simply because of the number of different topics he covers, and that the information is so important.
- Sell your film without selling your soul – Just released in September 2011, this was free, and now it’s just really cheap (plus there’s an ipad version!)… I highly recommend it as a follow up to Think Outside The Box Office (a much better and more useful book, in my opinion). But this one does have some cool and useful case studies, even if it is a bit long winded without a ton of hard information… still definitely worth your time.
- www.thefilmcollaborative.org – Just an awesome site for the DIY crowd. Under the digital distribution guide section, they amazingly have a rundown of pretty much all the major players in the market, what they do, and what their basic terms are. Their blog is short but informative, and it appears that they will be offering some very helpful (and necessary for most) distribution services for filmmakers. Can’t vouch for those, though… Bottom line is that it’s absolutely a must see if for no other reason than their digital distribution guide and distributor report card.
- www.peterbroderick.com – This guy is a pretty famous consultant for indie films. He doesn’t take on all that many of them, but if you have a movie and you’re seeking a way to get it out into the world, this is a guy to talk to. On top of that, if you go to the “writing” and “bulletins” section of his website, there’s a bunch of great free articles to check out.
- www.workbookproject.com – This is a website dedicated to DIY filmmaking and music. You need to check it out. Start under the POV section and go from there. Believe it or not, there are actually people dedicated to making this shit better.
- www.Arthouseproject.org– Looking to do some DIY theatrical for your movie and have no idea where to start looking in terms of booking a theater? Go here, then go to the links section. They’ve got a comprehensive list of theaters throughout the country that do arthouse programming.
- www.natoonline.org – The Art of War says “know your enemy”… well, here’s the website for the national association of theater owners. If you’re planning your own self release, you’ll be negotiating with these people. Might as well start learning how they think.
- www.filmlinker.com – A cool little site with a bunch of nice links for filmmakers. Its got a great section on DIY screenings.
- www.the-numbers.com – A great site for detailed numbers on how much distributors, studios, and individual movies are making. Lots of hard numbers. Very useful if you’re researching a distributor.
- Movie Money – Here’s a link to the only book I’ve found that clearly explains how studios and distributors are actively screwing you with their accounting. Learn why “gross” and “net” points are essentially meaningless terms. Learn exactly why you can sell 10,000 copies of your movie through a distributor and not see a cent. Learn why, essentially, the deck is stacked against you. It’s not the most entertaining read, but should put the fear of God into you about why you need to start learning as much as you possibly can about the distribution process if you ever want to make a cent with your movie. Not many solutions here, but at least the problems are all explained. Also, keep in mind this book is a little older, and some of these practices have changed a bit. Sometimes for the better… usually not. $15.95 on Amazon.
- Jon Reiss on DVD Distribution – basically a how-to.
- Jon Reiss on Fulfillment companies – He gives a detailed rundown for filmmaker magazine on how to choose the right fulfillment company for your movie (A fulfillment company is the place that takes your orders online, ships to your customers, and all that cool stuff if you decide to self release your movie). Hugely important article and a must read.
- Adventures in self-releasing: – (definitely read the Streetballers and Weather Girl post, a pretty awesome and inspiring post, especially with the Streetballers guy… this stuff is possible if you work it), and there’s just a ton of great stuff here in general.
- www.trulyfreefilm.blogspot.com – Okay, a little touchy-feely for my taste, but there is some good stuff here for you to check out… and if you need a quick dose of inspiration/positivity that’s at least a little realistic… you should probably go here.
- springboardmedia.blogspot.com – Really intelligent and really well written.
- cinematech.blogspot.com – A great blog that covers a TON of topics.
- rosspruden.blogspot.com – An extremely intelligent distribution blog that’s well worth your time.
- www.shericandler.com – Yet another great blog with a more web-community based theme for film.
- www.filmschoolrejects.com – A very topical, well updated movie site… that may not be all that informative… but fun to check out.
(Live Event, Service, and full)
Here’s a quick list of Companies worth checking out. But prepare yourself to be disappointed with a lot of these and their business models. The traditional theatrical business model absolutely sucks for indies. Unless you’re in love with your name on a marquee, or you got a really big distribution budget, you need to think really long and hard about what this is really worth to you. You will almost definitely lose a ton of money releasing your movie through one of these outlets (unless you really plan properly and know your markets, and promote the hell out of your release… and if you already know how to do that, what the hell do you need these guys for?).
- Area 23a – These guys are more of an “event” based company… although I think this is the wave of the future when it comes to indie screenings. Check em out.
- www.argotpictures.com – smaller, more traditional indie distributor.
- www.balconyfilm.com – These guys are theatrical booking agents.
- www.quadcinema4wall.com – 4 wall your film in NYC with these guys.
- www.emergingpictures.com – From their site: Emerging Pictures is the largest all-digital Specialty Film and Alternate Content theater network in the United States.
- www.kochlorberfilms.com – New York based theatrical distributor and DVD label.
- www.ifc.com – Good luck with this one.
- www.variancefilms.com – Another “service deal” type company.
- www.internationalfilmcircuit.com – These guys focus more on foreign features.
- www.rangelifeentertainment.com – These guys are really cool… although I’m not sure how easy it is to hook on with them, but they’re doing some REALLY interesting things with cinematic tours.
- www.screenmediafilms.net – Solid Indie distributor.
Here’s a list of some companies that are making it easier to get your indie film out there, whether it be manufacturing your DVD’s to sell yourself, making your own customizable e-store, or selling downloads of your movie from their website. How much money you can make remains to be seen, but this is where it’s all headed, so start figuring it out now. If you are a filmmaker who has worked with any of these guys, please write to Sam (me) at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know how you felt about your experience (good or bad)… our interest is to be able to direct you to the places who’ll really be able to help you get your movie out there and make some money. The more we know, the more you’ll know.
- www.topspinmedia.com – These guys are huge in the music industry, and it’s starting to trickle into film. This is likely the platform WMM will be migrating to. More to come on these guys.
- www.4thwayfulfillment.com – Right now, based on a Jon Reiss’ latest updates, these guys and Topspin are your best bet in terms of doing large scale distribution for an indie title (Neoflix just went bankrupt).
- www.transitmedia.net – Another fulfillment company that comes recommended through Jon Reiss (although he hasn’t used them directly, he’s heard good things).
- www.fulfilldisc.com – Another fulfillment company to check out.
- www.Neoflix.com – Sadly, these guys are going out of business and are unfortunately keeping a lot of outgoing payments to filmmakers. DO NOT CONTACT OR DO BUSINESS WITH THEM. What’s really sad is that these guys had a lot of promise and it really looked like they were out to provide a top to bottom fulfillment solution that was designed specifically for indie filmmakers.
- www.pivotshare.com – These guys offer a really simple, streamlined way to sell a subscription, or pay-per-view purchase for your videos.
- www.breakthroughdistribution.com – Another fulfillment company similar to Neoflix. Both come recommended through Reiss’ book.
- www.discmakers.com – Probably the best and most affordable way to get a large run of DVD’s made of your movie or soundtrack. Plan on, when everything is said and done, for it to cost you about $1.50/disc on a run of 1000 discs when you factor in cases, packaging and shipping.
- www.pacificdisc.com – NOTE: WORK WITH THESE GUYS AT YOUR OWN RISK. A FRIEND OF OURS HAS HAD SOME SERIOUS ISSUES RECENTLY WITH THEM.
- www.distribber.com – Being an indie and actually be able to get up on itunes used to be impossible… it’s getting easier. Get your movie up on Itunes and actually keep all the money (yes, it’s possible)… only problem… they charge about $1300 bucks to get up on there, with an $80/year fee. This is only worth it if you can really sell some downloads. THE GOOD NEWS: you keep every cent you make from Itunes through these guys! No splitting with a distributor! Be aware, though, there is an application process, and be prepared to go through a lot of hassle in getting all of your media prepared properly to get this up and running.
- site.dynamoplayer.com – Dynamo allows you to self distribute your movie online, and makes it easy for you to get paid. There is a 70/30 split for it, though… which seems large to me, considering that all they’re really doing for you is encoding your video livepage.apple.comand then allowing you to sell it yourself.
- IndieReign.com – A very clever new site for indie film fans where they can peruse, buy, rent, promote and share indie films. Uses a fun badge system to reward users for activity, sharing & promotion. Their share rate is 70/30 with the filmmakers’ getting the 70 and there are no other usage fees or subscription fees to use their tools.
- www.eggup.com – Aside from maybe the lamest marketing concept in the history of… history (they call filmmakers chickens, and the videos eggs… and have a program called fried rice)…. this is a fairly intriguing concept. If anyone has used it, let us know, and we’ll gladly post a review, but basically what this is, is a way to upload your film, and then sell it easily from a multitude of online platforms. Only problem is that, of course, users have to download yet another “media player” onto thies system. However, there do seem to be some very cool things about these guys.
- www.distrify.com – similar to eggup, although I’m not crazy about their monetary split (they keep 30%).
- www.youreeeka.com – Do you wonder how to sell a download of your movie from your website? Here’s a company that can make this happen for you, whether it’s streaming or download. There’s a 60/40 split and a $99 setup fee (you get the 60 percent), but this also covers credit card fees and all bandwidth costs. They are also a fulfillment company, so you can set up an e-store through them as well.
- www.babelgum.com – The Hulu for indies. They offer an ad supported streaming service for your content. No idea how much money you can make from these guys, or what the per view will end up being. You’ll know more when I know as I’m looking into it… but, you can check out their publishing FAQ’s here.
- www.indieflix.com – the cool thing about these guys is you don’t have to make your own discs to hook on with them. They’re made to order. Bad news… rumor has it the quality of the actual disc they sell is not great, and they take a larger chunk of your sales. However, I like their spirit, and I’m dying to hear from some filmmakers who have used their service, and whether they’ve gotten a lot of hits through them/made any money. Also, they’re non-exclusive, which means you can be up on indieflix and still be able to pursue some other options as well. Rumor has it also that they may be able to get you on to itunes if you hook on with them. No idea what the split they ask for will be, though.
- www.hungryflix.com – Good news: they sell a really high quality download of your movie (appletv quality). Bad news, the site is definitely Beta and pretty disorganized. I’d recommend them for people who have shorts and other lower budget, low risk fare, and want to experiment.
- www.vimeo.com – A higher quality youtube… Your movie/short/webisode will look a LOT better streaming it through these guys. What’s really cool about them is that their stuff is encoded in both HTML5 and Flash so that no matter how someone is viewing your content, it will play fine.
Shopping Carts, Ads, Email Marketing, Social Media
- www.topspinmedia.com – These guys are the leaders in the music industry, and I have a feeling they’ll be the leaders soon in film. Here’s a writeup about it from Sheri Candler.
- www.1shoppingcart.com – These guys will handle the back end of your online commerce needs. They do customized email lists, shopping carts for your website, process credit cards, do fulfillment… basically an all-in-one ecommerce store. Somewhat expensive, though, unless you plan on being able to sell a lot (then it’s actually a really good deal).
- www.topspinmedia.com – a more artist friendly version of 1shoppingcart. These guys are intriguing.
- www.jivox.com – a platform that allows you to sell ads in your videos.
- www.icontact.com – This is the Email marketing service WMM uses to distribute to do our newsletters. They’re cool, and it works.
- www.mailchimp.com – Similar to icontact, but it’s free to start, although a bit hard to use, and more expensive down the line.
- www.aweber.com – supposedly the best for email marketing, although I’ve never used them so I can’t say.
- Facebook Developers – introduction to facebook plugins.
- Simply Measured – FREE social media tools.
- www.socialmention.com – receive free daily alerts about your company, film, etc.
- www.sproutsocial.com – A TON of social media monitoring tools for $39 a month.
- www.radian6.com – Software that let’s monitor what’s being said about you in social media and the interwebs… plus some other stuff.