Commentary on Movies and TV by Brian Holcomb

Friday, December 28, 2007


Andrew O'Hehir of has written an article titled,BEYOND THE MULTIPLEX:THE YEAR IN INDIE FILM 2007 which once again asks the question of whether or not theatrical release will be or should be the distribution target for independent filmmakers. This is truly a confusing time for all media producers. The future is unclear as to what is to be made out of all the possible channels of distribution available and how they are to be integrated into or replace the current model.

Not much has changed since the earliest days of the film industry in terms of distribution. Films are still shot predominently on negative film, from which prints are struck and shipped all over the world to generate mass revenue. As new technologies emerged, they were simply integrated into the system through the creation of "windows" where each piece in the pipeline(DVD, pay-per-view, cable, Network TV) gets a certain window of exclusivity.

Experiments in collapsing the windows will be seen more and more in the coming year. But indie filmmakers should've seen the value of this long ago. With the lack of big stars, a huge promotional budget and wide scale release, most indie films vanish into thin air. Even after I read about an interesting film, it becomes an adventure to find the damn thing playing anywhere. It's only on DVD that it really becomes a viable product.

But DVD shouldn't be the only destination format considered. Once you've shot and edited your film, it has no market value unless it can find a market. Why would anyone want to see your movie when they have so many choices to watch now? What sets your film apart? Of course, the film festival route is a great idea to get your movie seen and talked about. And that's what you need, you need to build interest in the film so that you can market it.

There's no reason not to let people know as much about your movie as you can. There's no reason to avoid the possibility of allowing them to watch it in as many formats and venues as possible. With the right kind of film, breaking it down into smaller pieces to play online as a web serial or series may be one way to get people interested. Of course, your trailer should already be online on your clearly designed website as well as on YOUTUBE, REVVER, IFILM, METACAFE , SQUIDOO, MYSPACE and every other SPACE or FACE you can put it online. That said, the trailer is very Web 1.0-you need to give people more of what they will hopefully be interested in paying for-so, some scenes from the film, some interviews with the actors etc.

Remember, you do not have the ability to just let the film sell itself. Even the studios think that's suicide. The argument shouldn't be whether I self-promote/self-distribute or sell it to a distributor-you should do everything at the same time. Get into those festivals, play the movie online, make a version for Ipod download, arrange for screenings wherever you can, get the movie reviewed by sites that relate to your subject matter, try to exploit every market possible from niches like horror and microcinema itself. Those making their own microcinema epics will be curious as to what you did and how you did it, so sell to them as well. While you do all this, try and sell the film to a distributor for an advance, if not, go for a split. If you can see the advantages, burn those discs yourself and sell it on Amazon etc. through Createspace etc. Keep making films and promoting them and yourself. Making more films is always a good idea since a body of work is more valuable than a single film since an audience can be built through it and the rest will become easier.


gmercer said...

Ok, I understand the conept of WEB 2.0 but I don't understand why a distributor would buy a film from someone who is already making it available for free on the internet? I mean if someone has made a viable, releasable film for theatrical or dvd distribution wouldn't distributors be upset that the product is already availabe online...a lot of possible moviegoers and renters might have already seen it?

gmercer said...

I also understand the concept...not just the conept.

Brian said...

Hey Glenn,

Very good point. That was going to be a more in depth discussion for a future blog post as I was just trying to make a broad argument about using all the resources at your command to create a "buzz" about your film. The idea of putting a feature film online is always based on the idea of exclusivity not giving away the whole bag. As in chopping your 90 minute movie into 5 minute episodes to be played as a weekly web "serial" which would end about 45 minutes in on a cliffhanger with the DVD available for sale the whole time that will contain the entire movie plus all those extras that would grab the attention of indie filmmakers interested in how you "pulled it off".

Every episode would end with an ad for your website where more info would hopefully excite the audience to "spread the word" or buy the product. Even if you do not self distribute any DVDs, the idea of presenting larger "bite size" portions is going to get more of an audience interested in what you have to offer than a mere 2 minute trailer.

Another way is to play the film, the whole film at a single exclusive place for a very brief period of time, say a week, and allow people to test the waters and see if they like what they see. "Four Eyed Monsters" has done this to a very profitable degree.

In any case, the idea is always the same, to try and offer the public at large a bigger taste of what you have to offer in the hopes this will interest them into learning more about the project or talking about it online in chat rooms, boards or with their friends at the bar or coffee shop. Since indie filmmakers do not have the resources to put big ads on TV you have to think about smaller, more guerrilla tactics to get people talking about something they would not normally care about.

Of course, you're right about the distributors not being interested in putting out a film available for free, but if you are smart, you have not given away the film at all, only a taste of it and any interest built from that can be used as leverage for a better deal with the buyer. No matter how well your film does being played in any form on the net, you are not a high profile film so the audience you reach will be 1/1,000,000 of the audience you could reach with the right word of mouth. So, lets say you run a series of short segments of your film online as a series of "episodes" or just long form trailers which catches about 1,000 returning viewers who are interested enough to tell their friends about it. These folks are like your own grassroots ad firm, they go out and create the initial information spread which might entice another 500 people to check you out(all roads lead to Rome, as in your website). At this point, you've stopped running the stuff online and everyone who wants to see it either has to wait for DVD or buy it from you directly.

By this time, you should've also sent the thing out to reviewers and maybe even thought about how to pitch an article to various mags like FILMMAKER or INDIE SLATE on how you went about making the thing so that more people can hear about it. This goes hand in hand with a film festival strategy which is cross promoted with the online stuff as people who are interested can come by the website and see if the film is being SCREENED theatrically at a festival near them. At the festivals, there is info on how to see more of the film online or how people who saw it and liked it can interest their friends by catching up with some of it online.

All of this can be done as a way of interesting a DVD or theatrical distributor into paying a REAL advance for the film and not just a split deal that's the current business model. As is there are plenty of distributors that will allow you to sell the film on your own site while they sell it as well on their site, to hard top stores and in foreign markets.

So, whether you are just showing small portions or even the whole movie, you are never really giving the whole bag away since the audience you'll reach will most likely never be a large number anyway. And if it is a large number, like something over a million, just imagine how many people they could tell about the movie and what percent of them may be interested in owning it. There's really no downside, except that the filmmaker like the modern musician has to hustle a bit. Remember, The Dave Matthews Band started in a similar way, selling home made CD's at their concerts and online while they kept seeking a recording contract. Songs from those CD's made their way onto the studio albums later since the original audience was a small but devoted following, not the mainstream the record company knew would see the material as brand new.

The idea is that no path need be exclusive. You don't have to ignore these newer biz ideas to stick to the 90s concept of sending your film to festivals and waiting to hear from distributors. You can still go the traditional route while also keeping a hand in newer ideas that can complement and build on it. There's no need for either/or but rather trying to keep an open mind as to various opportunities to tell as many people as possible why they should check your movie out.