The world of indie filmmaking is abuzz with folks wanting to sell a movie to Netflix. And this is for good reason. With over 30 million subscribers, getting your movie into the platform would represent exposure. As a result, many filmmakers have been leaving messages at my office like this:
I want to sell a movie to Netflix! I just want you to know that I don’t care about money. In fact, if I can’t sell a movie to Netflix, I’d be happy to put my movie on Netflix for free.
If you’re having similar thoughts, you may want to rethink a few things. While the opportunity for exposure feels enticing, accepting a silly deal doesn’t pay the bills or pay back your investors.
Sell A Movie To Netflix: 3 Steps
There are two popular ways to attract Netflix. You can go old school, whereby you get into major festivals and markets (like AFM, Sundance, SXSW, Toronto, et al) and garner the attention of the NetFlix acquisitions team directly. Or you can choose to work with a distributor or aggregator with a Netflix relationship. Since getting noticed by Netflix directly is super rare, I suggest you focus on attracting a reputable distributor or aggregator.
Step 1 – Refine Your Pitch For Netflix
Because nearly every filmmaker dreams of getting a Netflix deal, there is an abundant supply of content. This means you will have to find creative ways to make your film rise above the noise and get noticed. Think of Netflix the same way you think about HBO or Showtime. What’s in it for Netflix to pick up your film?
Here are some questions to help refine your pitch:
- Do you have any “names” or “influencers” in your film?
- Does your film focus on a popular subject?
- Does your film have a strong social media following or press?
Step 2 – Find An Aggregator or Distributor
Once you have a strong pitch that showcases the value of your film, your next step is to partner with a distributor or aggregator capable of making the pitch. These entities will first evaluate your film to determine if your film (and your pitch) has a good shot at getting picked up.
Step 3 – Get A Response
If your film gets pitched to Netflix, it will take a few weeks to get a response. If Netflix is interested, they will negotiate directly with your distributor or aggregator. Most deals typically pay a licensing fee for one or two years. If the deal is accepted, you will need to provide your distributor or aggregator with all the necessary video files and artwork. And your distributor will then work with various vendors and encoding houses to deliver your film.
(Note: If Netflix chooses to license worldwide rights, you will need to deliver subtitles and localized artwork for each territory. Money to cover these deliverables is usually taken directly from your licensing fee.)
If Netflix is passes on your film, you usually won’t get a lot of feedback. Do not take this personally. Perhaps Netflix picked up a similar film last week. Or perhaps the acquisition team is focused on other genres.
Alternatives To Netflix Distribution
When it comes to Netflix, many filmmakers argue that the exposure is more valuable than profit. If that’s true, then let me remind you that piracy is also good for exposure and involves less work.
If you are truly looking for exposure, the subscription service offered by Amazon Prime is a great alternative to Netflix. Amazon Prime has millions of subscribers and offers a great platform for “discovery.” And unlike Netflix, Amazon Prime actually pays you every time someone streams your film (although, it’s not a whole lot). This makes Amazon Prime very filmmaker friendly.
You can distribute to Amazon Prime on your own via Amazon Video Direct. But it’s complicated. You’ll need to meet all the specs and submit closed captions. To save time, you may want to work with an aggregator and encoding house to make the delivery. (For a solution, feel free to check out the Amazon service offered by my current employer Distribber.)
Once you are live on Amazon Prime, one simple promotional tactic involves asking cast and crew to reach out to family and friends. Searches and comments on Amazon can raise engagement, which can further help get content featured in Amazon’s recommendation engine.