Digital Self Distribution: How To Sell Your Movie Online

Having spent the last few years working in film distribution, I can tell you the landscape is changing. Instead of crossing fingers for an awesome distribution deal, entrepreneurial filmmakers now have options for taking ownership over their products and reaching audiences directly.

In response, smart distributors are keen to work with filmmakers who, aside from having a great movie, can also demonstrate an ironclad digital self distribution plan. In other-words, film distributors seek projects that don’t actually need a distributor. Many distributors pay for this privilege.

Distributors have always worked to acquire projects that offered the lowest risk with the highest potential for reward. In the past, a low risk project was one that had a name actor with a ton of international value. And these days, because film distribution is increasingly online, a low risk project is one with a famed YouTuber.

A distributor naturally assumes the YouTuber will promote the movie to his or her audience. And by having a famed YouTuber, a distributor does not have to pay marketing money to build word of mouth. Less money spent for marketing, equals a lower risk for the distributor. And this means a lot more reward for you.


Photo © olly / Dollar Photo Club

Digital Self Distribution: How To Sell Your Movie Online

But what if your movie doesn’t have a famed YouTuber or a movie star? After months and months of hustle, the reality of how you’ll garner ROI (return on investment) might be slightly different than the idealized imaginings of the three-picture studio deal you once had.

The reason for this is simple. Your project is too risky.

So your first order of business is to lower the risk and increase the potential for reward. And that starts by creating your digital self distribution plan. Here are five tips to help:

1. Find your USP: In the world of marketing, USP is short for Unique Selling Proposition. And if you can’t market your move based on celebrity, the next step is to leverage whatever makes your movie unique, interesting and memorable. Do you have a cutting edge horror movie? Ninja movie? Girl with a horse movie? Or a food documentary on why you should quit meat for a plant based diet? Great!

2. Focus on Controversy: What aspect of your story provokes an emotional response? Think of how politicians market during a political campaign. Most folks either hate the message or they love it. Does your movie make a polarizing statement? Is there anything about your movie that makes some people totally dislike it, while other people LOVE it? Great. Use controversy to spark word of mouth.

3. Create a Marketing Plan: Creating a marketing plan is less complex than you think. Just answer these questions: Who is your target audience? How will you reach your target audience? Based on your budget, how many unit sales will it take you to break even? How will you make this happen without losing money?

4. Update Your Marketing: When I evaluate movies for distribution, the ones that grab my attention look professional. I instantly know what the movie is about and where it fits in terms of genre. Branding is the marketing equivalent of matching your belt with your shoes. Look at other movies in a similar genre. Make sure you present your movie like a “real” movie. Hire a graphic designer.

5. Digital Self Distribution Platforms: Even if you are seeking a traditional deal, you should simultaneously plan your release strategy as if you do not have a deal. This means getting to know some DIY platforms. You might do film festivals or use Tugg for your theatrical release. You might then consider some transactional video on demand platforms. This way, if you don’t actually land a favorable distribution deal, you’ll still enter the market.

No longer can you make a movie on spec, cross your fingers and hope a deal finds you. You have to find your own deal. But unlike years past, you are no longer limited. You can leverage technology to market your movie directly to a global audience. And that’s what digital self distribution is all about.

Want to plan your distribution strategy? Check out my digital self distribution system.

Sell Your Movie For Maximum Profit

If you’re already a seasoned feature filmmaker, take a moment and think back: Do you remember when the idea of making movies seemed like a far away dream?

Do you remember when you first got the idea for your movie? Do you remember Your first day of production? Do you remember your first screening and how well everyone loved your work?

That happened to me with my first feature. Like you, I thought our movie would get into Sundance, play well, build buzz and if we were really lucky, we had hoped the movie would garner us a 3 picture deal. But that didn’t happen.

Sure, we got some offers, but they were not “deals.” (A deal actually pays money!)

So instead of exchanging our movie for an empty promise, we decided to try selling our movie on the internet. Little did I know, this one decision has changed the course of my movie making life. That was five years ago…

And since that time, the internet as evolved. If you’re a filmmaker with a movie, you need to get it selling in all the popular internet marketplaces, including Amazon and iTunes.

You don’t need a middle-man to make this profitable. I am going to show you my internet marketing secrets…

You can check out my “How To Sell Your Movie” system by visiting the website here.

Make Shorts First – Filmmaking

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YouTube is great for Filmmakers Image via Wikipedia

Before you make a feature, you should create a whole bunch of short movies. This advice is nothing new for the up-and-coming filmmaker. But what is new are the many options for distribution.

Past Filmmakers. . .

Most short films lived and died at film festivals. But these days, shooting on the Canon EOS 7D, combined with quick Internet uploads have changed filmmaking forever!

Sites like and allow filmmakers to find a global audience at the push of a button. In no previous time in history has it been so easy and inexpensive for filmmakers to get noticed. So before you embark on your feature, make shorts.

If you’ve never made a short film, don’t worry. The process is actually pretty simple and fun.

For your first few movies, don’t spent time worrying about lighting or special effects. Just learn how to utilize your limited resources and make something cool out of nothing.

When you plan your movie, focus on a story you can tell in three minutes or less. In my opinion, comedy works best.

When I was managing a film program, I noticed a lot of first-time filmmakers created dramatic stories that focused on suicide or some guy staring into a mirror and talking or some chick shaving her head while reminiscing about apples and spiders. I even know one guy who made his friend simulate humping a statue in a park while wearing a gimp mask. (Don’t ask.)

But seriously. . . Make Your Movie Now!

If you think you have something like that and you just HAVE to get it out…By all means, do so. But if you can be funny and get Internet viewers to share your movie with other people who will then share your movie with other people, you will have achieved a great thing.

All you need to get started is a camera, some friends and the ability to edit the footage on your computer.

Then just write out a list of funny story ideas. Once you have a list, pick one that interests you the most. When you have it, call up some friends. Enlist them as actors and get to work.

If you’re in a small town, you’ll find most friends will love having something to do outside of the norm. If you find most of your friends are preoccupied with marriage, a family and pregnancy, that’s cool too. Just start making movies—starring you.

After a couple of these types of films, you may find yourself getting bored. This is actually a good sign, because it shows you’re growing. When this happens, begin to create write more complex stories and then write a well crafted screenplay.

If you’ve been doing shorts with your friends, you now know who works well and who doesn’t. Invite the best of your actor friends to your next movie. Theoretically, if you make one or two three-minute movies like this every weekend for six months, you will have the equivalent experience of making a feature.

Here are your action steps:

  1. Get a cheap camera, a computer with video editing software and an Internet connection.
  2. Make funny videos with friends.
  3. Upload your videos to the Internet.
  4. Gauge audience response. Read the viewer feedback.
  5. Take feedback and improve your work. Repeat the process.

The short movie marathon exercise described above will provide you with a fundamental understanding of how to shoot scenes for minimal cost and still make them interesting.

This experience will help you save time and money when you create your feature, while providing you with endurance, experience and the confidence to make movies with greater efficiency.

When you upload your work for the world to watch, audience feedback will reveal areas needing improvement. Even though you’re working with non-professional equipment and talent, if you can learn to make great movies with a small camera, you can make them with a big camera.

Then later, when the feature filmmaker in you is ready, the feature will reveal itself.

If you are looking for short film ideas, this resource may help you: 101 Short Film Ideas

Amazon Film Distribution

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Image via CrunchBase

Amazon Film Distribution is easy to access. Over the last ten years, there have been a gazillion changes in the ways movies are made. But the one area I’m most excited about is Video On Demand. I frankly don’t remember how I lived without the technology.

As a filmmaker, this technology offers us enormous opportunity to not only make our movie – but with a couple clicks of a mouse, we can now reach a global audience — well, sort of.

Unfortunately there are still a few limitations to our global reach. I’ve mentioned CreateSpace quite a bit in the past. In fact, their advertisements seem to pop up frequently on this site. I love it that you can upload a VOD movie into the Amazon marketplace. But I think a few things still need improvement. Let me explain.

1. Lag time – For one of our projects, it took CS around six months to get our movie into the Amazon marketplace.
2. Marketing – Once in, there was tremendous lag time in getting our information correctly placed on the Amazon detail page. (I’m still getting this worked out.)
3. Trailer- And instead of presenting your movie trailer, the Amazon preview plays the first 2 minutes of your movie. So you better hope you hook em’ fast.
4. Audience – With CS/Amazon VOD, you are limited to a US only audience.
5. Reporting Sales – The sales reporting is not even close to real time – There is at least a 30 day wait to find out if your movie is selling.

Still, all of this aside, the tremendous upside to CreateSpace is having your movie featured in the Amazon Marketplace while carrying NO inventory. When people buy or rent your movie, all you gotta do is collect the cash.

In a more-perfect world of Independent Film Distribution, iTunes would open the flood gates and allow all feature filmmakers to upload their work. However, at the time of writing, getting your finished feature film into iTunes is still a pain in the butt. With few exceptions, the company seems to favor traditional distributors over the indie producer. So if you one day dream of having your movie viewed on someone’s iPhone, you’ll still have to find a middle-man and ask permission…

If you want more information on Independent Film Distribution, check out The Indie Guide to Digital Self Distribution written by me.

Movie Self Distribution DIY

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Image via CrunchBase

A few years ago, I got myself involved in a Zombie movie. It was my first feature. And right out of the can, the movie garnered a lot of buzz and attention. In fact, it even made it’s way into one of the popular movie magazines. Agents, producers and distributors called. For awhile, it seemed like everyone in town had heard of our movie. But then… nothing. The Hollywood buzz had fizzled. There was no deal.

Yet, because the movie was specifically targeted to a zombie loving audience, demand for the movie increased. Eventually the demand grew so great that the producers decided they would self distribute. To many of you new filmmakers, you probably don’t know this. But long before the internet and Amazon Video on Demand, self distribution was for losers. Of course, if you have to travel the route of self distribution – these days, reaching a global audience is as easy as the click of a mouse.

My suggestions (based on profitable experience):
1. Put your trailer on Youtube, with a link to your movie website.
2. Also, post your trailer on your movie website. How is your traffic? If it’s good —
3. Upload your movie to CreateSpace (which opens you up to the Amazon marketplace.)
4. Then take everything off your movie website that could potentially distract your customer from buying the movie. (Pictures, behind the scenes stuff, stupid IMDB links that nobody cares about, etc…)
5. Replace that old stuff with “BUY NOW” links to your site. These links should re-direct your site visitor to Amazon.

The good part about VOD through CreateSpace is, you don’t have to keep any inventory. It’s like iTunes for indie movies. But the bad part is, they take a huge chunk of your profits. And you have to wait 60 days for your sales reports. You can sort of tell if you’re selling or not based on your movie’s popularity. For example, if you’re in the top 100, you’re probably doing pretty well. If your movie is not selling, consider re-working your poster, art and website to emphasize the best selling points.