Behind the scenes from top selling indie documentary and DIY
15 August 2010
MacHEADS documentary director Kobi Shely is joining DocMovies to share his experience with DIY and digital distribution strategies he applied for his film. DocMovies aim is to to aid filmmakers in a host of areas related to DIY and digital distribution. We'll go behind the scenes to understand how the business of DIY really works. If you are documentary filmmaker, and wondering whether investing years in self promotion of your doc can generate profits from iTunes, hulu, snagfilms Amazon VOD and your DVDs, than you need to read the next series of articles dedicated to help filmmakers avoid mistakes, gain their rightful earnings and protect their documentaries.
MacHEADS Comprised of interviews with Apple's most ardent followers and fanboys, Kobi Shely's feature-length documentary offers a detailed examination of the cult of Mac while exploring the possibility that the company previously defined by its unwaveringly supportive community is fast becoming just another trendy brand.
MacHEADS went to become hulu and Snagfilms #1 most popular movies, and was the #1 documentary rental and purchase on iTunes and Amazon VOD, it was #7 top selling documentary of 2009 on iTunes. Following was distribution deal for CNBC and television deals all over the world.
Applying your film to digital distribution
The landscape for independent filmmakers has changed vastly since the days when agents, film festivals, government support, and TV execs determined whether or not your film would see the light of day. Today the Internet offers filmmakers direct access to a worldwide audience through digital marketing and distribution providing exciting opportunities for creative and financial self-sufficiency. Applying your film to the digital platform is now a viable choice for independent filmmakers to obtain revenues, while still taking advantage of the classic system of distribution that includes commercial screenings, festivals, television and DVDs. The challenge is how to maximize the potential of digital distribution services like iTunes, Amazon VOD, hulu, Snagfilms, and at the same time bolster your DVD, television and screening revenues. Keep in mind that who calls the shots, you or your distributors, will depend on the contracts you’ve signed with distributors. It’s a common misconception to think that all films can get on iTunes or Hulu. You will need to find a distribution company who manage contracts with the leading platforms. That also means that what ever profit you make splits twice, once with the digital service (iTunes, Hulu and so on) and again with your distributor.
"Keep in mind that who calls the shots, you or your distributors, will depend on the contracts you’ve signed your distributor"
iTunes, Amazon VOD, Hulu and Snagfilms Revenues in the U.S and Outside
The iTunes store is available worldwide, however, its market is primarily in the US. In Europe it's nothing to rely on.Canada is the second largest iTunes store, though the numbers there are slightly better, but still not really a factor for indie producers. There is also a major drawback, because each country has different distribution arrangements, you will need to find a distribution company that can sign contracts with iTunes UK, and iTunes Canada. Bubblegum is also a good revenue option outside the US. From what I know European distribution companies have no experience selling movies to iTunes and platforms alike. Double check when promised international distribution. The more distribution outlets your movie have, the more likely to gain profits. The iTunes U.S store is truly a revenue option. Selling a documentary on iTunes can earn a filmmaker around the high five figures number and for exceptional documentaries (Gary Hustwit's Helvetica) it can max to high six figure number. All depends on how much you reserved when signing a digital rights contract with distribution companies.
"The iTunes store is available worldwide, however, its market is primarily in the US. In Europe it's nothing to rely on"
Amazon VOD compared to iTunes is limited when it comes down to profits, still revenues are fairly reasonable, and can max to a 4 figures number, depended on the length of the buzz for your film. If your only outlet is Amazon VOD when it comes to digital distribution, it will be wise to spread your movie to all possible platforms you can. Paid Ad Distribution platforms like hulu and Snagfilms are starting to play a significant role generating revenues for indie filmmakers. Don't expect huge income, but it's great solution when your movie maxed its buzz and all possible revenues from paid digital services.
"Today I wouldn't sign any distribution contract until I maximized my profits from selling MacHEADS DVDs on my website."
Window system - Sell it first from your website
I can honestly say that we did a huge mistake thinking that the DVD market is dead. Sure Hollywood sales are taking a blow, but for an indie filmmaker DVD sales are major.Your audience would love to get a physical copy of your doc, or pay for a download copy from your site. Today I wouldn't sign any distribution contract until I maximized my options from selling MacHEADS DVDs on my website. I started off by selling the movie on the iTunes store, and although the documentary did extremely well there, as a result the first wave of targeted audience purchased the doc for 19.99, remember that sum is split three times - iTunes/Distributor/Filmmaker. The first wave heard about the film from our marketing efforts, it's safe to say that instead of purchasing the movie on iTunes they would have bought the DVD straight from our website. At least I hope that filmmakers reading this will avoid that mistake. Only when sales had declined should I have entered contracts with iTunes. MacHEADS sold thousand of DVDs from our own website, we produced the DVD and managed shipping and handling. A very simple process, one that many filmmakers get lazy for no reason. You can also sell your movie through Filmbaby.com they have a fair deal taking $4 from each sell. Filmbaby handle production and costumer support. Still I would recommend producing your own DVD and selling it independently, and not split your profits.
Release Windows for DIY distribution
Yes, much like the traditional distribution release window, I would encourage you to do the same with digital. Don't be tempted to distribute your doc simultaneously on all digital stores. I would recommend applying the following process,
1. Sell your DVD, Digital file for download, from your website
2. When DVD sales slow down, sign a digital distribution contract and sell your movie on iTunes US, UK, Canada + Amazon VOD + your DVD on Amazon + Retail stores DVD distribution
3. Sell your movie to Netflix streaming
4. Offer your movie for "free" on Hulu, Snagfilms and any possible digital platforms
The obvious reason for selling your DVD and digital downloads first, is to target your first wave of fans who have specific interest in your movie, you will be able to profit max revenues without splitting your profits with third parties. The Second wave will come from the general public who will find your doc on more popular digital carriers like iTunes, Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, and for that you will need distributors. We signed with FilmBuff who did a great job also marketing wise.
In the next articles I will dive into the world of DIY marketing, promotion and distributors.