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.

digital-self-distribution

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.

The Secrets of Successful Online Movie Advertising

If you want to be a successful filmmaker, you better learn a thing or two about online movie advertising.

The reason I emphasize online movie advertising is because most movies end up in some sort of video on demand platform. And because many of the most popular platforms exist online, selling movies on the internet is very similar to selling anything online

This means you now have the ability to create online movie advertising campaigns to drive people to your point of sale.

If you’ve been reading my filmmaking stuff for any length of time, you know I’ve been sharing similar advice with filmmakers for years. I first published my thoughts back in 2010 – Here’s the article called Financing Movies With VOD Sales Projections. As you’ll read in the comments, most people thought I was crazy.

Fast forward to a recent job interview with a well known distribution company. I kid you not, the whole conversation revolved around this thing called conversion science.

“Jason, WTF is conversion science? I’m a filmmaker. I failed science!”

Look. I am trying to help you. You’re obviously reading this because you want to know the secrets of online movie advertising. And I’m telling you, the big secret is this thing called conversion science.

Online_Movie_Advertising

The Secrets of Online Movie Advertising

Here’s the thing about business (that most filmmakers ignore). Everything in business is measured in profit and loss. So if you spend money for online movie advertising, you better get that money back, plus a profit on top.

So here’s the question: How do you know if your online movie advertising is working?

This one is simple. You track your advertising campaigns. If you make more money then you spend, you’re doing OK. But if you start throwing money into an online movie advertising black hole, you have a BIG problem.

And before we get too crazy, there is something you need to know.

The whole reason you want to do your homework is so you don’t end up depending on the glaringly flawed and totally outdated distribution strategy:

“Gee, I sure hope we get into a film festival and garner a great deal.” 

Hope is not a sustainable business strategy. It is a lottery. And it’s outdated.

Online Movie Advertising Formula

Whenever you think about your movie advertising strategy, it helps to think about some real world scenarios. And because we are talking numbers, I am going to share a basic direct marketing ROI (return on investment) formula.

Here are the MAJOR Filmmaking Challenges:

  1. With no promise of pre-sales, or minimum guarantees in a traditional distribution deal, how do filmmakers justify a budget large enough to pay freelance day rates, while at the same time project enough direct DVD and VOD sales to recoup the initial investment?
  2. And assuming only 1% of your website visitors buy your movie, then how many people must visit your website so that 1% recoups your initial investment? (Don’t forget to include marketplace costs.)
  3. How much will this cost in advertising?

Here is a formula you can test and tweak. Plug in numbers and play around with assumptions.

U = Unit Sales Goal.
A = Amount you pay advertiser per website visit.
C = Projected conversion percentage rate.
X = Number of Visitors Needed.

(X)C = U
EQUATES TO: X= ?
THEN:  X(A) = ?

If all of that seems like a bunch of gobbledygook, you’re not alone. In the real world, most marketers utilize software, an online calculator and spreadsheets to help clarify assumptions.

But here’s the rub.

When you actually crunch the numbers on a One-Million dollar budget by selling $20 dollar DVD’s in Amazon (which is a totally high price), and you rely solely on Pay Per Visit advertising at $.05 cents a visit – Even if you’re lucky enough to garner a 1% conversion, you would need to sell 100,000 units (which allows for a 50% marketplace fee).

Or to put it another way, to get these results, you would need 10,000,000 targeted visitors, visiting your website.

Yes, ten Million people! Which is outlandish… 

This means you will have to think very carefully about your movie budget, marketing budget, your distribution strategy and obviously, you’ll need to make sure your movie actually has a market large enough to support the budget.

If you would like to start planning your distribution, you might want to check out my “How To Sell Your Movie” program.

Filmmaker Jason Brubaker Gets Punched Out By LA Producers Over Video On Demand Sales Projections

When I published my article on leveraging VOD sales to finance your movie, I had no idea that a simple internet marketing formula for filmmakers would be such a polarizing issue. I can’t tell you how many Los Angeles based movie producers responded negatively through email.

One guy even told me my grammar sucked.

So to clarify, I was not trying to ruffle any feathers. I was simply applying a standard internet marketing ROI formula to a product available through video on demand. Nothing more.

All of this was based on the premise that selling movies on the internet is no different than selling any other downloadable product (where you are lucky if you convert 1%)

This is based on experience. I learned how to market and sell movies on the internet when our first feature did not garner a traditional distribution deal and we ended up selling on Amazon. Back then I personally knew a bunch of filmmakers in a similar situation – all had titles but no deal. Since that time, even more filmmakers have flooded the market with titles. Couple this with the decline of various DVD sales channels, and suddenly a crappy $25 backyard indie can now share virtual self space with $25M movies.

For those of us who produce features without any sort of pre-sales, instead of telling prospective investors “If we are lucky, we might get into festivals and garner a distribution deal.” We can finally reach our audience without asking permission. And to me, this makes the indie movie business like any other small business… Produce a product and then market, sell and distribute your product.

This said, I totally agree with one of the readers who said my equation for returning a 1M dollar budget was preposterous. He was right. Anybody who thinks you can magically generate the mass amount of sales needed to recoup even a 1M dollar investment without a substantial outlay of cash towards advertising is mis-guided. Which is what those formulas reveal.

I wasn’t trying to present an indie movie panacea. We are all trying to find profit in business competing with (what I think is the indie movie equivalent) of sweat shop labor produced goods. So in terms of the person who said I’m trying to seduce “starry eyed producers,” I would say that finally having non-discriminatory VOD sales channels like Amazon, and especially iTunes finally gives us producers something to get excited about.

Whether or not we can find the marketing formula to justify our budgets remains the ongoing challenge. I for one am working my butt off to find the balance between budget and the amount of marketing needed to recoup the money – and hopefully create an ongoing stream of revenue.

My model of moviemaking isn’t for everyone. In fact, many of you have great relationships with distributors and are still making money in DVD and theatrical. Awesome! But if you are a filmmaker still relying on the “Sundance Dream” to recoup your budget – or if you are a filmmaker with a title collecting dust in your bedroom closet, I hope my article offered a little optimism.

At the same time, feel free to share your own thoughts on VOD distribution.

And spelling an grammatical tips are welcome from filmmakers too.

Movie Distribution Company

For those of you who have completed your feature film, one of the biggest challenges you have is finding a movie distribution company and a great deal.

I am currently working on the release of our first feature documentary called Toxic Soup and I can tell you that things are changing daily out there. The world of distribution as we once knew it – well, it’s gone. Fortuantly, I know a thing or two about getting some ROI on movies via internet self distribution.

I am working with some folks to create a one-stop-shop for those of you who wish to market and sell your movie so you don’t have to settle for a crappy deal. There is enormous need for it. I forget some times that most filmmakers would rather focus on making movies and let someone else handle the marketing and sales. Anyway, stay tuned – I’ll have a solution in a few short weeks.

And for those of you who can’t wait, my article on digital self distribution will hit the stands in an issue of Movie Maker Magazine. Hopefully this will be a good starting point for you.

If you are in a situation where you have a movie, but no deal – please feel free to leave a comment on this site, or email me directly. It will help me address your concerns.

And as always, if you want to stay up to date with the ever changing climate of filmmaking stuff, please feel free to sign up for my newsletter and also get a free copy of my book. Go here: www.FreeFilmmakingBook.com

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Related articles (things are changing in movie distribution):

Sell Your Movie

Lasky's original studio, aka: "The Barn&q...
Lasky’s Original Studio, AKA The Barn —  Image via Wikipedia

If you’ve made a movie or you’re working to make your movie (and I hope you are), you might also be thinking about how you’re going to sell the sucker.

I mean, despite the fact that filmmaking is fun there is a business component to it. If you fail to think in terms of Return On Investment (ROI), then getting money for your next movie is going to be even more difficult than the first, for two reasons:

  1. You’ll need to worry about money to put food on the table.
  2. Your prospective investors will want to see your track record.

As a filmmaker, the other factor we have to consider is our initial budget. Go too high and the chance of return could diminish. Let me explain.

I’ve chatted with a few heavy-hitting friends in the industry (that I hope to interview soon) and there is talk about what I’m going to call the “no-man’s-land” of indie movie production. That is, there is a budget range from roughly 2.5M-10M that is becoming increasingly difficult to finance.

Tax credits and other deals aside – What I’m suggesting is due, in large part to changes in movie distribution and the subsequent challenge of generating enough revenue to recoup the initial investment.

Indie film financing was always a crap shoot – but take away potential sales channels and add the fact that technology now permits virtually anyone to make a decent looking movie and you can begin to understand why this is happening.

While I’m on the subject, I’m not just talking about the indie movies. I’m including studios as well. Thanks to the success of Paranormal Activity,  there is now word that Paramount is going to launch a micro budget division and begin to churn out movies under 100K.

From a business standpoint this makes sense. You invest 100K and you get 100M – That’s pretty good! (Understatement).  But from holy crap perspective, the ripple effect of a studio churning out no-to-low budget movies could potentially rip a hole in the ways Hollywood traditionally operates. (BTW, Paramount is not the first studio to attempt this. But thanks to VOD outlets and more digital projectors in theaters, what didn’t work at this budget level in the past could very well work now.)

Lets talk some numbers…

Traditionally, when movies are financed most people including grips, gaffers, craft services and other crew – they get paid on the front end as part of the movie’s budget. We can also include some agents, managers, lawyers, Teamsters, writers, actors – and mostly everyone else too.

On the micro budget level however, there isn’t enough money up-front to pay these folks what they were formally worth. So there are a few options. Hire less people. Hire non-union folks. And offer to pay Teamsters deferred pay with the added bonus of copy and credit. (I’m adding some humor here – but can you imagine Paramount trying to offer a Teamster deferred pay?)

Ok, so what does this mean for you and your movies? Well just look at the music industry. Recording studios and record companies took a nose dive. But that hasn’t stopped people from making music or making money making music.

Instead of asking some idiot in a suit for permission to make music, musicians can now find their audiences, build a following and sell their music… Without a middle man – globally. That’s pretty amazing.

The same wide open world applies to your movie. Do good work and people will notice. Do bad work, and well, you still have the opportunity to find the 20 people in the world who think you’re brilliant. And in terms of pay structure – I made a joke earlier about deferred pay. But I am not totally opposed to some well structured back end deals. I mean, 1/4th of 1% of 100M is – it’s nothing to sneeze at.

Of course, as we all know there is no guarantee that any movie project will make money. So for you and me and most indies, it will take roughly two years of hustle to churn out a movie that we can be proud of. For the studios, they are going to churn out micro-budget movies like widgets in a factory.  The odds of success, for both of us  – the indie filmmakers and the studio are getting closer equal.

And I think that is something worth celebrating.

Is anyone else excited about this? Please feel free to comment.