The Great Self Distribution Hoax

Do you want to know what really chaps my ass about self distribution?

I get annoyed when I hear other filmmakers (and industry gurus) drone on and on about self distribution, as if it is a new concept or a last resort. Here’s the deal. Anybody who is still talking about “self distribution” (as if it’s a choice) is old school.

For a little history lesson lets revisit the the old days (like five years ago) when movie distribution survived and thrived as a business to business model.

Back then, in order to get your movie into the hands of the end consumer, you’d have to make a deal with a distributor. The distributor would then license your movie to a retail business like Blockbuster. And because Blockbuster operated on a business to consumer model, it was their business to get your movie into the hands of your audience.

“My distributor made a deal and sold 5000 DVDs to Blockbuster.”

Blockbuster only did business with trusted distributors. For this reason alone, many filmmakers took whatever deal came their way. And if you didn’t make a deal, you had two choices. You could try to sell your movie directly to the consumer (also known as self distribution, which prior to the internet was very expensive) or you would forget about your movie dreams and go back to your day job.

For this reason, the concept of “self distribution” was derogatory.

Filmmakers only did “self distribution” as a last resort. And if you were caught self distributing, you filmmaking was not considered “real.”

But that was then…

The Great Self Distribution Hoax

The Great Self Distribution Hoax

Over the last decade, the DVD market has slowed down. As a result, big box retailers like Blockbuster and Hollywood Video have imploded. And online marketplaces like iTunes and Amazon are the norm.

Without the fixed revenues associated with manufacturing and distributing physical DVDs, many traditional distributors have had to pivot out of a business to business model, into a business to consumer model. Ironically, this means distributors now have to utilize self distribution tactics to reach the end consumer.

As you can imagine, making this shift is incredibly challenging. Most distributors do not have the resources to market directly to the end customer. And for these reasons, many distributors still pretend that uploading a movie to iTunes is the same as selling 5,000 physical units to Blockbuster.

It is not the same.

Just like you, your distributor must now source and grow an audience around each title. And sadly, many distributors have no idea what they are doing. Sure, many claim to market movies. But upon closer inspection, the social reach, email and word of mouth campaigns mostly target other filmmakers. And filmmakers are not your audience.

This is why many distributors work to acquire more than 10 titles per month. They want to throw your movie into the digital marketplaces to see what sticks. This hope and pray digital strategy is a major reason distributors can no longer offer filmmakers substantial advances or minimal guarantees.

Still, even with this knowledge, many filmmakers will take a crappy deal. The truth is, it is validating to get your movie “picked up.” And it is reassuring to believe the distributor knows what’s best.

But I can assure you most do not. They can’t. Not without a comprehensive marketing plan for each title and the advertising money to back it up.

And without a solid marketing plan for your title, most distributors are left uploading your movie to iTunes, proclaiming that they know the guy who can get you special placement for a few weeks.

For them, special placement is the only, remaining remnant of the good old days when relationships reigned supreme.

So yes. While there are still traditional distribution deals out there – unless the deal is great, you should consider a self distribution strategy.

There are now enough case studies to show that it is more than possible to make money with your movies. But like any start up, growing your movie business does not happen by chance. Successful films like Food Matters and Camp Takota are the result of a carefully planned marketing strategy.

In both examples, the producers knew their audiences. They had a plan for reaching their audiences. And when it came time to execute, the filmmakers were ready. If you look closely at the examples, these filmmakers did not stop with merely making a movie. Instead, they continually market related merchandise, products and similar movies directly their audiences.

Even after reading this, many filmmakers will refer to this model as self distribution. But that is limiting.

You are an entrepreneurial filmmaker. And as such, you have always been responsible for developing your product (your movie is your product) and producing your product. So why on earth would you ever rely on someone else to market and sell your product?

I would ask instead that you start thinking of developing, producing and selling as the three essentials of your complete mini-movie business.

To further clarify the self distribution hoax, let me use my frozen yogurt analogy.

I happen to love frozen yogurt. I’m addicted. But anyway, let’s say I someday decide to realize my dream of owning my own frozen yogurt shop. Making my shop a success will involve providing an awesome product and coming up with a marketing and sales strategy. I will need customers. More importantly, I will need repeat customers.

Let me ask you this: Would it make sense to hire some other company to come into my frozen yogurt shop to manage my sales and marketing? In exchange, would I pay their expenses and give them more than 20% of my margins?

And if I decided not to go that idiotic route, would I then describe my activity as Do It Yourself?

Could you imagine explaining this:

“Well, I opened this yogurt shop and decided to do all the sales and marketing myself…

Why would you think about your mini-movie business be any differently?

You created your movie. And as a result of the internet, you can now access the same VOD marketplaces as the BIG distributors (iTunes and Amazon) – so why on earth would you lock up your VOD rights for 7 years or more?

And if you like this stuff, you’ll love my “Sell Your Movie System.” Click here.

Sedona The Movie

Tommy Stovall is an independent filmmaker who has produced two feature films and is gaining notoriety in the indie film scene. His current project Sedona has just entered the marketplace to growing fanfare and buzz. But aside from getting his movie made, what makes Tommy’s story interesting is why he passed on a distribution offer from Warner Brothers.

Instead of going the traditional distribution route for Sedona the movie, Tommy embraced DIY distribution.

Earlier this week, I had the chance to ask Tommy to share some tips on indie filmmaking, film finance and how to navigate the new world of self-distribution.

Jason Brubaker
How did you get started in filmmaking?

Tommy Stovall
I started making movies for fun in the 80s when I was in high school. I would shoot on a clunky VHS camcorder and edit between the camcorder and a VCR. I would get my younger brother and a bunch of friends together and we’d make mostly horror movies, more or less parodies of “Friday the 13th” and “Halloween.”

Jason Brubaker
When did you decide to become a professional filmmaker?

Tommy Stovall
During college I discovered I could actually make money doing videos, so I started my own production company where I did weddings, corporate videos and anything else people would pay me to do. I decided to change my major half-way through college and ended up with a degree in Radio-TV-Film.

Jason Brubaker
What did you do before making Sedona?

Tommy Stovall
I made my first film, “Hate Crime” in 2004 and spent a good 3 solid years on the distribution phase of it, with a year of festivals, then doing our own theatrical release and eventually going to DVD.

Jason Brubaker
What was your budget for Sedona?

Tommy Stovall
For Sedona, it was under $1 Million.

Jason Brubaker
What approach did you take for raising the money?

Tommy Stovall
We formed a Limited Partnership and got private investors, which included ourselves – me and my partner Marc Sterling, who was also a producer.

Jason Brubaker
How long did the fundraising take?

Tommy Stovall
We worked on the fundraising for about two years, but didn’t raise anything significant until we were actually scheduled to start production.

Jason Brubaker
What did you discover in the process?

Tommy Stovall
I discovered that people are much more likely to invest when they’re sure the project is happening, when they know there’s a start date and they see cast and crew officially coming together. So we raised most of the money in the few months leading up to production… Most of it right before.

Jason Brubaker
That sounds like you probably had a few sleepless nights.

Tommy Stovall
Obviously, it’s not the best way to do things, but for us it was necessary [Laugh].

Jason Brubaker
What hurdles did you overcome to get the movie made?

Tommy Stovall
Most of the hurdles were just the typical challenges a low budget presents in limiting your time and resources.

Jason Brubaker
Were you able to find any help in the community?

Tommy Stovall
Because this movie is titled “Sedona,” after the town we actually shot it in, we were able to make the project a community effort and get people excited about it. We relied on help and participation from locals who wanted to be a part of it understood the positive benefits the movie could have for everyone here.

Jason Brubaker
Were you able to get resources in exchange for publicity?

Tommy Stovall
Yes. Local businesses were generous in offering us discounted or donated items and services, so we were able to get more bang for the buck in some aspects.

Jason Brubaker
What camera did you use?

Tommy Stovall
The Canon 5D Mark II

Jason Brubaker
What was your initial distribution strategy?

Tommy Stovall
I had been leaning toward a DIY strategy very early on. But we initially tried the traditional route, which now feels like a big waste of time.

Jason Brubaker
Did you screen at any film festivals?

Tommy Stovall
We entered some of the big marquis festivals, which we didn’t get into. We did a lot of smaller festivals, then we got a producer’s rep for six months.

Jason Brubaker
Was your producer’s rep able to get any traction?

Tommy Stovall
Having a producer’s rep didn’t result in anything. But it wasn’t surprising. I learned some hard lessons with my first film in selling rights and giving up control, so this time around I was much less trusting and more leery and careful with everything.

Jason Brubaker
How did this strategy change after the festivals?

Tommy Stovall
We actually got some distribution offers that I turned down. One was from Warner Brothers for our digital rights.

Jason Brubaker
That sounds exciting.

Tommy Stovall
Of course it sounds exciting when you hear the name of a big studio. But you really have to realize what you’d be giving up.

Jason Brubaker
So you decided to pass the deal and go in a different direction?

Tommy Stovall
I had been doing a lot of research on all the new ways to get movies out into the world and the bottom line was this: Why would I “sell” my movie to WB in order to get it on Cable and Satellite VOD, iTunes, Hulu when I can still get it onto all those platforms with Distribber?

Jason Brubaker
Tommy – I need to remind the readers that I actually get paid to promote Distribber. But the reason I promote them is for the exact reasons you mention.

Tommy Stovall
Plus I get to keep my rights AND make a higher percentage of the sales. It was really a no-brainer.

Jason Brubaker
What advice do you have for filmmakers who want to make, market and sell movies?

Tommy Stovall
In a perfect world, filmmakers could make a movie and recoup their money by just turning it over to someone else to market and sell. But that’s just not reality for most of us.

Jason Brubaker
There is something exciting about the prospect of our movies being distributed by Hollywood.

Tommy Stovall
But even if you find distribution, chances are you won’t see much in the way of a return, and you will probably get screwed. This is sad, but true.

Jason Brubaker
Heartbreaking… so many filmmakers sign away their rights, in exchange for the validation of saying, “our movie got picked up!” The problem is, getting picked up doesn’t always pay the bills.

Tommy Stovall
The good news is, it’s a different world now, with countless opportunities to get our films out there on our own, directly to our audience.

Jason Brubaker
Having access to the popular marketplace is liberating. Yet there are a lot of old school distributors who are just looking to grab any movie, throw it against a wall and see what sticks. Where is the value in that?

Tommy Stovall
The fact is, nobody is going to care about, understand, or know how to market your movie better than you. And no distributor is going to work harder than you. Period. The new world of DIY distribution is constantly changing and evolving, so it takes a lot of trial and error and just figuring out what works and what doesn’t. It it not easy, but at the end of the day, you will still be in control regardless of what happens.

Jason Brubaker
Thank you for stopping by Filmmaking Stuff.

Tommy Stovall
Thanks for having me.

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President of Pasidg Productions, Tommy Stovall has a degree in Radio-TV-Film from the University of Texas and started out in the early 1990’s with his own video production company. His longtime goal of becoming an independent filmmaker began with his first film, the award-winning Hate Crime, released in 2005. His second feature film, called Sedona, has just been released on DVD, Blu-ray and several video-on-demand platforms. For more information, please visit

Movie Marketing

As a filmmaker, you must realize that movie marketing is essential to your success. And while I’m sure you “know” this, you probably aren’t doing anything about it.

In an effort to provide you with bite sized steps you can take to accelerate your filmmaking success, I have listed the top ten things that all filmmakers must include in their movie marketing:

  1. Definable hook.
  2. Great screenplay.
  3. Clearly definable target audience.
  4. Cost effective way to reach the target audience.
  5. Consistent branding (logos, fonts and colors) on movie marketing collateral.
  6. Awesome poster.
  7. Great Movie website that helps you “sell” your movie.
  8. Marketing plan included in your business plan.
  9. Team of people consisting of at least one internet nerd.
  10. The willingness to implement your own sales and marketing strategy.

At speaking events, people always ask me questions about DIY or Self-Distribution – usually wondering if these methods are better than handing over all rights for some middle-man to get them into the many VOD outlets.

My response is always the same.

If the deal makes sense (meaning, you are happy with the deal), only you can decide if you should outsource your sales, marketing and distribution to some other middle-man.

But if the deal doesn’t make sense, wouldn’t it make sense for you to do what most traditional business owners do – add a movie marketing division to your production company! Then figure out how to create some movie marketing magic!

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If you liked this article on modern movie marketing, you might also enjoy more info on how to market and sell your movie.

Facebook Streaming Movie Distribution

The old model of independent filmmaking has made many traditional filmmakers into a bunch of wimps. As a result, wimpy filmmakers talk about DIY as if it’s a new concept or a bad word. But step out of the indie world for a bit, and you realize that other (more traditional) businesses do it themselves.

There are many reasons for our wimpy attitudes. As filmmakers, we have been conditioned that there is only one “correct way” to make, market and sell our  independent movies. Much of this mindset can be directly attributed to our never ending addiction for outsourcing distribution.

In other words, the old model of independent filmmaking was predicated on the idea that filmmakers served as research and development specialists, creating expensive prototypes at will – without any discernible idea of what to do if the movie product was not accepted by some (malevolent?) middle-man. The old model dictated that  filmmakers needed to ask permission to make, market and sell movies. And in those dark days, filmmakers were forced to travel the festivals and sales markets, seeking out greedy gatekeepers who held the keys to distribution and, subsequently, an audience.

But things have changed.

With access to non-discriminatory distribution, anybody can make a movie. And anybody can potentially reach a global audience.

As a result, it’s time to wise up. VOD is not the same as DVD. And filmmakers no longer need sales agents or traditional distributors unless these middle-men already have access to a receptive, sourced target audience. This is the ONLY way these folks add value. Otherwise, you’re just dealing with another bottom feeder. And Modern Moviemakers no longer need bottom-feeders.

Think I’m kidding? Facebook just started streaming movies. Now it’s even easier for filmmakers to source an audience without adding another middle man! Welcome to modern moviemaking!

  1. Now, go watch a movie on facebook. Here is the link   >>

Feel free to comment   >>

Movie Distribution (Without Asking Permission)

Over the past year, I have been invited to various filmmaking workshops and panel discussions to share my internet movie distribution system. My goal in doing these events is to show indie filmmakers how to leverage the internet, build an audience and get paid for their work. My other purpose is to help you (and other filmmakers) avoid my marketing mistakes.

Let me explain. . .

A few years back, my first feature failed to garner a tradition distribution deal. Admittedly the movie was a silly zombie flick with a very controversial story and a totally rough production value (understatement!). Upon completion, (like you), we cut the movie, rented a theater, held a premiere, got the feedback, refined the movie and then entered the festival circuit.

How our marketing mistakes cost us $100K in lost profits. . .

Movie Maker Marketing Mistake #1 – Our Movie Website
On our last day of production, a photographer for (the now defunct) Premier Magazine came to set and snapped a few pictures. One of the photos appeared in the magazine – And on the day of publication, we had about 10,000 unique visitors to our website. We were not ready. The traffic crashed the servers. Oops.

What we learned about movie websites:
We should have spent the money and got a Hosting Company with a solid track record. These days I prefer because for very little money, you can get a domain name and year’s worth of hosting. Since utilizing Bluehost, I have experienced very little downtime – And they have great indie film friendly customer service.

Movie Maker Marketing Mistake #2 – Our Initial Trailer
Once we fixed the website, we added a trailer that we self hosted. This was a mistake. Firstly, the load time sucked. Secondly, the trailer burnt bandwidth. And third, there was no option for zombie movie enthusiasts to re-embed the trailer on their fan sites (which is very inexpensive advertising). Oops.

What we learned about hosting a movie trailer:
Don’t host your movie trailer yourself. Upload it to one of the many video sites, like YouTube. Aside from saving you the bandwidth and providing re-embedding opportunities, each video hosting site allows your fanbase to build community around your movie. This in-turn spreads word of mouth and offers you the opportunity to keep your finger on the pulse of your marketing. The more views, the more your movie gains popularity.

Movie Maker Marketing Mistake #3 – Capture Visitor Information:
Despite our mistakes, the one thing we had going for us was a very controversial hook. Word of mouth spread quickly. And our website had thousands of visitors each week. This was great right? Sort of. . .

Why we should have captured visitor information:
Garnering high organic (unpaid) traffic on your movie website is euphoric. However if you allow people to visit and leave your website without attempting to build a long term relationship, then you just lost a fan. To prevent this, set up an automatic newsletter opt in on your website. For this job, I prefer For a minimal amount of money, the service provides you with a opt-in form and also manages your email list.

This goes almost without saying, but you should immediatly set up a facebook fan page. You can find ours by clicking here:

The Filmmaking Stuff Fan Page

Movie Maker Marketing Mistake #4 – Marketing VS Sales:
Your initial website will allow you to spread word about your movie and provide contact information for anybody who wants it. Additionally, your initial website will probably include production photos, silly stuff and a press kit. All of this is fine if you are seeking a traditional distribution deal. BUT. . .

The difference between Movie Marketing and Movie Sales:
When you’re marketing your movie, it is OK to have all the extra web pages. But when you make the shift from movie marketer to movie seller, you will need to change a few things. Firstly, you need to remove anything that doesn’t progress the sale of your movie. For example, if your intention is to sell a DVD, and your prospective fan gets distracted by your behind the scenes photos – and leaves your site – you have accomplished nothing.

Movie Maker Marketing Mistake #5 – Getting Bootlegged:
When it happens, it is both disheartening and validating at the same time. At first we went all over the internet and found a bunch of weird, cryptic streaming websites. We sent threatening, attorney drafted emails to the violators. Surprisingly, many complied and our movie was removed. . .

What we learned:
Within a week of removing the bootleggers both our web traffic and subsequent movie sales flat-lined. While I don’t have the evidence to prove correlation between bootlegs and sales – I have since come to the conclusion that people will buy your movie or not. Those that want to steal, will.

As a result, I have stopped policing the internet for bootleg providers. Let’s face it, paid advertising is expensive. Independent movie bootlegging is just another form of advertising.
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If you are already a member of my newsletter, you know how passionate I am about helping you make movies without asking permission. You also know that I’m passionate about sharing the “how to aspects” of making movies and making money. In no other area can this be achieved than the distribution of your movie.

As a result of my digital self distribution experience, I was hired to coach a rather well known indie filmmaker through his own digital self distribution campaign. Additionally, I have put all of this knowledge into a product called The Indie Producer’s Guide To Digital Self Distribution.

Comments and questions related to digital self movie distribution are welcome below: