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 www.bluehost.com 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 www.aweber.com. 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:

Filmmaking Interview with Carole Lee Dean

As president and CEO of From the Heart Productions, Carole Lee Dean produced over 100 programs, including the popular cable program, HealthStyles, and the historical show, Filmmakers, now housed in the National Archives. As an entrepreneur she created Studio Film & Tape, and sold it to Edgewise in 2001. She created a business supporting independent filmmakers in the 70’s with raw stock and coined the name “short ends.”

In 1992, she created the Roy W. Dean Grant Foundation in honor of her late father. To date, Carole’s grant and mentorship programs have provided filmmakers with millions of dollars in goods and services and have played an instrumental role in creating important documentary films. She is the author of The Art of Film Funding: Alternative Financing Concepts and The Art of Manifesting: Creating your Future.

Carole stopped by Filmmaking Stuff to share some ideas about filmmaking.

Jason Brubaker
Could you tell us a little bit about your work and how you got into the industry?

I was married to a cameraman and went to the set each Friday night and watched them unloading those little pieces of film that I termed “short ends.” I started a business of buying them from the studios and selling to independents, thus supporting the birth of the independent film market. I found that studios even sold new film because cinematographers wanted all one emulsion so I took the 10 or 15K feet of new and sold to people like Cassavetes.

Jason Brubaker
Wow! It is amazing how those “little pieces of film” changed the motion picture industry.

Carole Lee Dean
After a few years of selling “short ends” major video companies came to me to market their stocks and I expanded into tape. I started with $20.00 from the grocery money and sold it when my sales were at $9 million a year to Edgewise.

Jason Brubaker
This is an example of taking action on an idea and bringing it to fruition, much like a movie producer.

Carole Lee Dean
Yes, I believe in manifesting. It’s a process of releasing a potential that was already there. That short ends business was just waiting for me. Thank heavens I did not know how to do a corporate business plan or I would have known that I needed a lot more money. My belief that I could do it overcame the lack of money. I bought it and sold it the same day and most importantly I always saw it as a big business.

Jason Brubaker
It’s important to think big.

Carole Lee Dean
Look at a piece of coal; it’s a black rock, right? Well, if you ignite it you have heat and light, that potential was there you just had to release it. The same applies for filmmakers.

Jason Brubaker
Yeah. I think the key to dreams is internal, not external.

Carole Lee Dean
I tell them to realize their genius. How many people would give their right arm to be a scriptwriter? Most filmmakers are writers, producer’s even actors and editors. You are Pure genius and its important to know that so you have faith in yourself and your ability to make and finish your film. By seeing your film on a daily basis, knowing each shot, You are projecting into the future a vision that you can release with your faith and confidence. Fred Alan Wolf, physicist says that when we are daydreaming and visualizing clearly we are creating that future and that a handshake across time occurs and somewhere in the future it happens just as you saw and felt.

Jason Brubaker
I have experienced what you’re talking about. Sometimes things come into my life when I least expect them.

Carole Lee Dean
My father was responsible for the student discount. I spent every Sunday with him and He began this relentless weekly request for me to give a student discount. I agreed to 3%. He said it was not good enough. Then I went to 5%. Still not good enough so finally to keep peace I agreed to 15% discount.

Jason Brubaker
I’m sure the independent filmmakers were appreciative!

Carole Lee Dean
When Fuji gave me the exclusive national distribution of their 16 & 35mm stocks I set a goal for myself to sell in 9 months and Fuji said, “Oh, that’s too high you will never hit that.” I did hit it and I asked them to give me a larger discount and my priority that I told them was non negotiable was a 15% discount for students. I got this discount and after the first ad was printed, Kodak matched that 15%!!!

Jason Brubaker
And that care for supporting indie filmmakers has stayed with you. The Roy W. Dean Film and Writing Grants have become some of the most well known for independent filmmaker. Could you tell us what criteria you look for when you evaluate potential projects for a grant?

Carole Lee Dean
I want great stories with compelling characters. We fund shorts, indies and docs that are under $500K budgets. The films must be unique and make a contribution to society. Look on the site under grants for prior winners for the type of films we fund. We just started taking features and I want to see one win.

Jason Brubaker
How long does the evaluation process take?

Carole Lee Dean
We have the first cut of finalists on the site in 60 days and your name will stay on for a year, which is very good PR. Next cut is made on the site. We highlight the top 15, then top 10, then top 5 and announce the winner. All this takes about 2 to 3 more months. Filmmakers go through 3 sets of judges.

Jason Brubaker
Let’s say you’re a filmmaker and you’re not selected? Do you offer any sort of consultation or advice to those filmmakers?

Carole Lee Dean
Everyone who applies gets a free 15 minute consultation with me. We can talk about financing your specific film or how to improve your package or marketing or, anything you want. This grant is very dear to me and I like to see you improve from entering it. Our aim is to help you get funded.

Jason Brubaker
In your book The Art of Funding Your Film, you provide a very comprehensive overview of the funding process. Given all the rules and SEC regulations, what advice do you have for filmmakers who have never funded a movie – where do they get started?

Carole Lee Dean
It all starts with a great story. That’s the most important part, work on the store, give me compelling characters that I want to spend 90 minutes with. Write and keep writing and rewriting. Send your work out to really good screenwriters for review and listen to them. Read “Save the Cat,” my favorite book on writing. Take your script to the highest level possible.

Jason Brubaker
And once you have a great script?

Carole Lee Dean
Then go to work on your business plan and find good comparison films that you can easily defend. Be honest with your return on investment, always say hypothetical ROI and show one film in comparisons that did not make a profit. Put yourself in your investor’s shoes. Would you take a million from your parents to make your film? Do you seriously think you can pay it back? Keep investors interest your priority.

Jason Brubaker
You have been very passionate about helping filmmakers manifest their dreams into reality. I read your book long before I had produced my first feature. And I can remember times when everyone in my life seemed to think my movie making goals were pipe dreams. What advice do you have for filmmakers who are working to overcome self doubt?

Carole Lee Dean
If you were making movies 20 years ago it would cost you 10 times more to make a film. So ask yourself, “why was I given so much talent and born during the third most important time in the history of mankind.” Here you are with a great opportunity and all that talent. Do you really believe the universe would put you here at this time and not finance you? Of course not.

Jason Brubaker
That is a good way to think. Especially on those days where self doubt creeps in.

Carole Lee Dean
You need to believe in your talents and know that the money will come. Do all those things on your “to do list” and keep seeing your finished film. You will find doors open where there were no doors before. You are your greatest asset.

Jason Brubaker
I know you have been trying to find ways to bring filmmakers together to share ideas.

Carole Lee Dean
From the Heart is now producing events and I will give all of your members a 15% discount on any of our products and events if your people put GRANT in the coupon code.

To learn more about the Roy W. Dean Grant or some of Carole’s upcoming filmmaking events, check out the website.