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.

Film Distribution: New Rules For Selling Your Movie

If you know a filmmaker seeking film distribution, you’re in luck. We are going to share new rules for selling your movie. Before we talk about modern film distribution, a little context…

Do you remember the old days of film distribution?

I mean do you remember how it was just a few short years ago?

Back then film distribution was controlled by a bunch of companies that safeguarded access the marketplace.  As an independent filmmaker, if you were lucky enough to garner a distribution deal, odds were good the deal was less than satisfying.

This was my experience on my first feature. After receiving phone calls from would-be distributors full of empty promises, I started to dislike the predatory nature of traditional film distribution.

But what could you do?

Back then, the only alternative to this old film distribution model was self-distribution. And if you remember, the term itself was synonymous with loser.

If you couldn’t land a REAL distribution deal, then you weren’t a real filmmaker.

film distribution

For this reason alone, many filmmakers signed away their rights for the mere validation of seeing their movie in the video stores. And every few months these same filmmakers would receive financial statements in the mail. The statement would show movie revenue minus marketing expenses.

And the bottom line? Zero monies paid to the filmmaker. And this was the indie film distribution paradigm accepted as a rite of passage.

At least my movie got on a shelf in the video store…

Thankfully, times have changed. As a result of internet film distribution (and the inevitable demise of DVD retail distribution) you can now reach a global marketplace!

New Rules For Film Distribution

When we released our first feature on Amazon and started making sales, it was hard to believe we could do so without a traditional film distribution deal. At first we did not understand the power of modern self-distribution.

But then our phone started ringing.

As it turned out, a few of the distributors who previously rejected us started calling with better offers. It was at this point, I realized the paradigm was shifting in favor of the filmmaker.

Indie filmmakers now had access to the marketplace. That changed everything for me.

Since then, developments in inexpensive production technology coupled with access to the marketplace means that you can now make, market and sell your movie without permission.

But the problem is, you are not the only filmmaker that knows this. Each year thousands of movies enter the market, making it increasingly challenging to get your movie seen.

You now have the ability to release your movie globally without signing away your rights to an unscrupulous distributor. And even though many distributors would like to pretend otherwise, with a little ingenuity and a strong marketing plan, you can control your own independent movie business.

New rules for film distribution:

  1. My audience is my business.
  2. Without an audience I have no business.
  3. I am responsible for sourcing my own audience.

Let’s be honest…

Sourcing your own audience and executing your own marketing, sales and distribution plan is far less sexy than making a movie or filling your closet with filmmaking equipment.

Gear is tangible.

It’s something you can show your nerdy filmmaker friends.

But having gear is useless if you don’t use it.

Most filmmakers spend at least two years or longer working to get a movie made. But very few filmmakers focus on what to do once the movie is in the can. Making movies is pointless if you don’t create a plan for reaching your audience.

Whenever I give talks, I always ask the audience, what is your plan for marketing and distribution?

This is followed by:

Confused looks. Silence. Someone mutters: “I’ll get into Sundance and sell it.”

Why wouldn’t you dream BIG? Every filmmaker wants recognition – even if you refuse to admit it. But with over 5,000 backyard indies being made each year, I have to ask a tough question:

Why Should Someone Watch Your Movie?

Most people decide which movies to watch based on recommendations from trusted friends. Movie studios spend millions to spark word of mouth. But for some reason, most indie filmmakers pretend marketing is not applicable to us.

I mean, we know that marketing is important.

But between procuring an awesome script, raising money and actually making the movie, we often cross our fingers and hope for a miracle.

And the problem is, marketing miracles rarely happen.

Aside from your mom and kid-sister, nobody knows about your movie. And while I am sure you went to many film festivals and traded post cards with other filmmakers (who in return, provided you their post cards), you probably quickly realized two facts:

  1. Film festivals are full of filmmakers.
  2. And other filmmakers are not your target audience.

The people who make up your movie’s target audience are trying to manage a busy life. These people have kids, jobs, worries, sleepless nights, gym memberships and car payments. So when they sit down to watch a movie, time is limited.

So the question you have to answer is why. . .

Why should someone watch YOUR movie?

Only you can answer that question. But my suggestion is to do your homework before you take the next steps. If you want more info on how to sell your movie, check out my film distribution system.

Film Distribution System

Independent filmmaking is often considered one of the riskiest businesses in the world. This is due, in large part to the inefficient nature of our business. Think about it. Indie film is one of few vocations where people create a product without any idea how they are going to market or sell it.

Despite this reality, most indie filmmakers still make movies, subscribing to the belief that it’s impossible to enter the marketplace without finding some 3rd party movie distributor to “pick up” a movie. But thanks to modern Video On Demand distribution, this belief is eroding.

As an independent filmmaker, you now have options. You can choose to take the conventional route, go it alone or combine a little of both models to create a hybrid distribution strategy.

While these options allow independent filmmakers to enter mainstream marketplaces, this paradigm shift creates new challenges. Namely, if you chose to become your own distributor, you will need to become comfortable with internet marketing tactics, social media and audience list building.

For most indie filmmakers, what I’m describing is a huge learning curve!

 

Film Distribution System

My Film Distribution System

I frequently share marketing and distribution tactics. As a consequence, many filmmakers think of me as the “self-distribution guy.” If you share this opinion, you might assume that I no longer value traditional distribution. But here is the irony.

The reason I am able to share marketing and distribution tactics is because I actually spent the last half-decade working professionally in film distribution. For over a year I was the director of operations at Distribber. And after that, I served as the manager of film acquisitions at Chill.

And recently I was hired by a producer to help sell a movie at the American Film Market.

During the market, we were able to schedule over 20 meetings. The reason we had so much interest from distributors is because we DID NOT actually need a distributor. This is because (aside from having an awesome movie) we also had a plan for marketing and selling our movie, ourselves.

Taking time to do our homework and create our own marketing and distribution plan eliminated all desperation and provided us with confidence. Because we didn’t actually need a distributor, we were able to go into each meeting with the patience to work towards a balanced win-win.

Regardless of the route you choose, the first step of the process is to sit down with a pen and paper and answer the following questions:

1. Who is Your Target Audience?
2. How Large is Your Target Audience?
3. How Will You Reach Your Target Audience?
4. What is Your Marketing Strategy?
5. How Many VOD Sales to Break Even?

While this may seem like an overly simple task, taking time to answer these questions is an exercise most filmmakers ignore. And by not having a marketing strategy (that you control) prospective distributors will have no choice but to present you with their standard offer. And because you will have no leveraging power, odds or good you’ll take it.

Creating Film Distribution Leverage

My clients took a different route. The producers did their homework. And as a result, we knew what we had and how we were going to market and self-distribute. By having a plan, we were able to minimize the risk for a prospective distributor and emphasize the potential upside.

In response to our plan, prospective distributors correctly perceived our movie as less risky than most. As a result, we received close to a half-dozen solid offers for the movie. (Some even included a substantial minimum guarantee and advertising spend.)

From there, we narrowed down the selection into final negotiations. While I’m not yet at liberty to talk about the actual deal, I can tell you that things are going well.

If you’re just learning about distribution, here is what the process looks like:

1. You pitch the movie.
2. Distributor expresses interest.
3. Distributor sends proposal / term sheet.
4. You negotiate terms to (hopefully) find a win-win.
5. From there, a long-form agreement is drafted.

It’s Never Too Early To Learn Film Distribution

The truth is, this blog would be a lot more popular if all I wrote about was cameras and gear. That stuff is sexy. Distribution is not. I get that. But here’s the thing… The reason you can’t close your prospective investor or land a dream distribution deal is because your movie project is too RISKY.

You think you’re ready for the pitch, but you’re not.

In fact, you shouldn’t be talking to anybody about your movie project until you have a clear marketing, sales and distribution strategy. This may seem extreme, but knowing this stuff is essential. And I’m not saying you need to become a world class social media marketer.

You need to know a little about a lot.

You need know who to hire and why.

And you need to start planning this TODAY.

If you’re interested in becoming your own distributor (so you can raise money and or sell your movie) you’re in luck. Based on my experience marketing and distributing movies, I have created a system to help you understand the marketing and distribution process.

My system is called The Independent Producer’s Guide To Digital Self-distribution. In it, you will be provided with a step-by-step roadmap to help you get your movies seen and selling in popular marketplaces. I wanted my film distribution system to provide you with a plan you can control. Once you know this stuff, you’ll probably never consider a crappy distribution deal again.

If you would like to find out more about the Independent Producer’s Guide To Digital Self Distribution, check out www.HowToSellYourMovie.com

 

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.

Get Your Movie To Market Fast

I’m pretty sure we lost over to $20,000 (probably more) by not taking action and getting our movie to market. Seriously, there is this concept in business called opportunity cost.

It simply means that if you choose one direction, it’s impossible to take the other direction at the same time. Or in the case of film distribution – If you spend all year doing NOTHING with your movie, then you’ve lost potential opportunity to market directly to your audience.

After working with well-over 100 filmmakers on their film distribution strategies, I am now of the opinion that rather than waiting all year for a dream distribution deal (that probably will not materialize) it may be much better to get your movie to market fast.

To understand my reasoning, consider that two things are going to happen:

1. You’re going to wait at least seven months before you get your movie to market.

2. In those seven months, people will forget about your movie.

Speaking from experience, when news of our first feature went viral, thousands of raving fans flooded our website. At the time we were Ill-equipped to handle the influx. We had no lead capture system in place and our social media strategy was non-existent.

Because we were so focused on landing a dream distribution deal, we had no idea we were missing opportunity.

Get_Your_Movie_To_Market

Get Your Movie To Market Fast

Like many filmmakers, we were stuck in the old distribution paradigm.

We thought we had to wait for permission to sell our movie. We thought self-distribution was too challenging. And in all this debate, we wasted valuable time and lost hundreds of sales.

We learned some tough lessons in the process. And thankfully, times have changed.

Video on demand has created a gazillion ways to sell your movie. And as an entrepreneurial filmmaker, you know the importance of sourcing your own audience. You also know that social media engagement is essential. And if you have done a good job, thousands of people are eagerly awaiting the release of your movie.

Encoding And Delivery Burns Valuable Time

For all the technological advancements, modern film distribution is strangely still inefficient.

For example, in order to get your movie onto iTunes, you will need to go through an iTunes approved aggregator. At this point, you have two options. You can either work with an aggregtor directly. Or you will need to work with a sales agent, distributor or a distribution service who has a relationship with the iTunes approved aggregator.

The aggregator will then compile and deliver your movie source file and assets (artwork, closed captions, metadata, et al) to an iTunes approved encoding house. Once there, your movie will then undergo a process whereby each frame of your movie is carefully scrutinized to make sure it passes quality control.

If there are technical hiccups, the encoding team will evaluate and determine the likelihood of a repair in-house.

If the encoders determine your movie can be repaired in-house, they will place your movie in a queue. A technician will then work to repair the source file. And assuming the repair is successful, your movie will once again reenter the encoding process.

If all goes well, your movie will be audited for an eventual delivery to iTunes. And once your movie gets to iTunes, Apple will conduct their own quality control and review. This can take an additional three to six weeks depending on their capacity.

How To Get Your Movie To Market Fast

The truth is, nobody cares about your movie more than you. Even your most enthusiastic fans are dealing with a gazillion other life distractions. And the longer you wait to get your movie seen and selling, the more you run the risk of  losing touch with your audience. So the real question is, how will you get your movie to market fast?

One easy solution is to put your movie into one of the many players available, set a price and then drive targeted traffic to your Buy Now button.

Of course, only you can determine if now is the time to get your movie to market. And this will come after debating with the other producers, taking endless meetings with the acquisitions folks who keep telling you that they have the best solution. But in the end, no matter what, the one thing that matters most is YOUR audience. Because without an audience, you really have no business!