Wednesday, February 18, 2015

iTunes v. Amazon v. Netflix v. Hulu from an Indie Filmmaker Perspective

I have had my films Take Me Home, Not Since You and The Diary of Preston Plummer on each of the following platforms: iTunes, Amazon, Netflix and Hulu. And I thought I would talk about the pros and cons of each of these high profile Video on Demand sites. Bottomline, I love them all for different reasons. Definitely try to get your films on all four - only stagger the launch dates. I'll explain why.

iTunes should be part of your initial launch on Video on Demand. Pros: iTunes gets a lot of traffic and being on iTunes gives your film status. People are impressed when they hear a film is on iTunes. Impressed people seek out your work. And on iTunes, your audience must pay for each download and rental, which will help your bottomline. You can also get your trailer placed on their trailer site too, which immensely helps with the visibility of your title. Cons: It costs about $1500 to get your film placed on iTunes and you have to go through an aggregator so it's not the easiest or most affordable platform. And once your deal with your aggregator is over, your title will be removed from iTunes and you will have to figure out how to get it back on iTunes or leave it off. But definitely aim to get your film placed on this platform when you launch online.

Amazon is a great platform to include on your initial release on Video on Demand. Pros: It's a popular, trusted site for your audience. You will get a lot of traffic and I found most of my titles performed the best on this platform. Your audience has to pay for each download or rental, which is nice. And you can easily upload your film yourself to Amazon, for free! Bonus! And you can use their CreateSpace site to offer DVDs-on-Demand to your audience. We do that with our title The Diary of Preston Plummer. It's a great way to offer a DVD without having to make a bunch of DVDs and store them in your closet. Cons: I don't really have a con about Amazon other than Amazon takes a nice chunk of change for their cut but it's a popular site so that's to be expected.

Netflix is awesome once your title has been available online for a few months. I say this because as soon as your title is on Netflix, everyone will go there to watch it. So unless you get a hefty licensing offer from Netflix out of the gate, I suggest waiting to put your film on that platform until VOD sales start dropping off (maybe like 6 months after your initial VOD launch). When that happens, a presence on Netflix rejuvenates your title with audiences and you can secure a nice licensing fee (hopefully) to help boost your revenues for the next year or two. Pros: Netflix is extremely popular so you will be opening your film up to a huge audience. It's prestigious to get your film on Netflix. Prestige is great for your film! Since Netflix is subscription-based, more people will take a chance on watching your film since it's included in their monthly subscription, which means more people are checking out your work. Netflix has a wonderful review section for its members. You can rack up a long list of reviews of your film that you can use on social media to promote your movie. Their license fees are a nice addition to your revenue. Cons: As soon as your film is on Netflix, everyone will go there to see it. You will notice a steep drop in VOD sales/rentals on other platforms. For this reason, I suggest staggering a Netflix sale to later in the process. You will need a sales agent to get your film on Netflix. I haven't heard of anyone directly selling their film to Netflix - I'm not saying it's impossible but it's not the norm.

Hulu is a terrific follow up to your Netflix sale. Based on my experience, releasing a film on Hulu is probably best a few months into your Netflix deal so you can promote both properly. Sometimes it can get hard to be pushing your audience to multiple platforms at the same time. But this is an individual choice to be made with your sales agent. Each film's strategy may be a little different. Pros: On basic Hulu (not Hulu Plus), your film is available for free to your audience - which is a pro and a con since you earn from the commercials they play during the film but your film is chopped up with commercials. If a film is free then you will entice an audience who likes getting things for free. Hulu is a well known platform so people are impressed when you say your film is on Hulu. Again, impressed people will speak well of your film and seek it out to watch. Cons: Hulu places commercials throughout your film. This is not a filmmaker's dream. We don't like it when our audience is taken out of our story to watch an ad, but we do love the wider audience Hulu can bring so it works out. 

If you want to check out my films on some of these platforms, here are the links: 

Not Since You is available as a DVD through Netflix!

Take Me Home will be back on Amazon soon!

I even have some titles on Vimeo, IndieReign and VHX and hopefully soon on IndieFlix. I'm always looking to try new platforms but what I've found is that most of the revenue my titles have earned has been on the larger platforms, even with their hefty fees.

The above insights are based on my personal experiences with my own films. I am not endorsing distribution strategies or platforms. Each film is different and so is every distribution strategy. Good luck figuring out yours!

Thursday, February 5, 2015

New Poltergeist Trailer!

Poltergeist was one of my favorite films growing up. When I heard a remake was being made, my first thought was, "oh, goodie!" And now that the trailer for the remake is here, I must share it!

What a great cast! I love Sam Rockwell and Rosemarie DeWitt - two indie faves. I will miss Zelda Rubinstein as the psychic but Jared Harris (of Mad Men) will fill her role quite nicely.

I really hope the remake does the original film justice because the first Poltergeist scared the crap out of me in the best way possible.

And for some nostalgia, here's the original trailer:

Friday, January 23, 2015

Plain Clothes - A Short Film by Sam Jaeger and Produced by Jane Kelly Kosek Premieres on YouTube

Plain Clothes is a short film written and directed by and starring the talented Sam Jaeger (he has also recently starred in Parenthood, American Sniper, and Inherent Vice). Sam and I have made a few projects together, including the romantic film Take Me Home, we came together on this film to honor all of the police officers out there struggling with PTSD (Post-traumatic Stress Disorder).

I'm really proud of the film and the work by the entire cast and crew who donated their time to help make this happen. PTSD is real and it's afflicting so many of our first-responders and veterans of war. We hope this film helps bring more awareness to the issue.

And now you can watch the entire film on YouTube! I hope you check it out.

A Documentary I Worked on "Best of Enemies" Premieres at Sundance Now! Go see it!

Best of Enemies Poster

I handled the research on a really wonderful documentary last year about the debates between Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley during the 1968 political conventions. These debates were important because it is thought that they sparked the often-outrageous political punditry we see on television today.

The boiling point in their debates:

Morgan Neville (20 Feet from Stardom) and Robert Gordon (Muddy Waters Can't Be Satisfied) both produced and directed the documentary. No stone was left unturned on the search for archival materials to support the story. Morgan and Robert did an amazing job distilling the story down into a feature-length documentary.

Here's the synopsis from the Best of Enemies Web siteBest of Enemies is a behind-the-scenes account of the explosive 1968 televised debates between liberal Gore Vidal and conservative William F. Buckley Jr., and their rancorous disagreements about politics, God and sex.

The film is on Rolling Stone's Must See list for Sundance 2015. That's awesome!

It premieres this morning in Sundance (right now, in fact!). I wish I could be there but I'm not attending Sundance this year - alas! But I hope you check it out for me. Here are the other screening times:

Friday, January 23, 11:45 am @ Library Center Theatre, Park City, UT

Saturday, January 24, 12:00 pm @ The Grand Theatre, Salt Lake City, UT

Sunday, January 25, 7:00 pm @ Redstone Cinema 2, Park City, UT

Wednesday, January 28, 8:30 pm @ Prospector Square Theatre, Park City, UT

Saturday, January 31, 2:30 pm @ The MARC, Park City, UT

Go Team Tremolo!

Here is a scene from the film:

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Indie Film Distribution Strategy to the Rescue for The Interview

It's always interesting to me when the indie world and the studio worlds collide. They usually hum along on very different planes. The indie world is scrappy, using guerrilla, grassroots, and word-of-mouth tactics to distribute, market and sell their films. Whereas, the studios have their marketing and sales machines with budgets in the millions of dollars for pumping out ads across multiple platforms.

However, everything changed when Sony's computer system was hacked, confidential documents and emails were leaked to the world, and theaters were threatened if they screened the film. Suddenly Sony had to call on the very arthouse theaters that we indie filmmakers count on for theatrical releases of our small films and essentially push their big, studio comedy through a traditional independent film release. Intriguing, right? Oh yeah.

Arthouse theaters are the saving grace for indie filmmakers. They're typically more open to taking on risky films that may or may not do well. And we indie filmmakers often do not know how successful we will be on filling a theater or multiple theaters. We do our best to book across the country and try to push our indie films in each town that the film plays but it's really hard to know how the film will perform, especially if you're screening in a town with which the film has no personal connection. Studio films seem to be able to play wherever and still draw an audience, often due to the cast or director or tentpole story, but indie films can easily struggle to find their audience.

Therefore, the relationship between an indie filmmaker and an arthouse booking agent (often the theater owner) can be rather personal and be built on a mutual love for film and begging on the filmmakers' part. Lots of begging! So when I heard the arthouse theaters would be playing The Interview I was thinking of all my connections at these theaters and wondering how they might be feeling to be the theaters in the limelight for this release. My hope was that these indie theaters would draw new filmgoers to their venues. I think that happened.

And to top off showing the film in these smaller venues, the studio did a day-and-date release strategy whereby they released the film simultaneously in theaters and on Video-on-Demand (VOD). Huge theater chains hate this strategy. They don't want to be competing for their patrons' attention with VOD. They want an exclusive window for a certain period that helps ensure viewers will get off their couches and actually go to the theater to see a movie. And since they are huge theaters and essential to a studio's bottomline during a theatrical release, studios will often forego the day-and-date strategy.

But in the case of The Interview, Sony decided to implement the relatively new and more and more popular day-and-date strategy of simultaneously showing the film on VOD and in the theater. And it's looking like the strategy is paying off. According to recent news, The Interview made a couple of million at the theaters and about $15 million through video-on-demand during its first weekend. If that doesn't show that viewers are getting used to watching films at home then I don't know what does. This excites me because indie films see most of their revenue through VOD.

I know it's hard to compare The Interview to any other film - indie or studio - due to the patriotic push to see the film. Nevertheless, I've been intrigued to watch a studio film get pushed through the typical indie film release. I'm hoping it actually helps audiences get even more used to VOD and it opens indie films and theaters up to a wider audience. I'll be continuing to track this release to see how it affects distribution strategies going forward. I have a feeling it will be very influential on all future film distribution strategies. We'll see!