Online Distribution works best for big Hollywood movies. This, on the other hand, means that it doesn’t really work for us, small independent producers. How come?
It came to me as a surprise when she said it, but, in fact, it all makes perfect logic. Basically, if your film’s title doesn’t begin with the letter A, or is a huge blockbuster, there is very little chance you’ll get much traffic through the big online VOD (Video On Demand) platforms. “You might get lucky if your film’s title begins with the letter B”. Charlotte (Pseudonym), one of Holland’s top film executives spoke to me earlier this week, about how different organizations in Europe are trying to capitalize on the VOD platforms, and find solutions to the platforms’ shortcomings.
“People simply don’t have the energy, or perhaps concentration span, to look through the film library,” she said. iTunes, Hulu, Netflix, and other VOD platforms buy many of their library titles in bulk. This means that they don’t always even know what’s on their servers and available for sale. Why would iTunes or Hulu spend any time or money in trying to promote these films then? Just like when an author of the book gets his book on Amazon, it’s still up to him to get people to hear and want to buy the book. No one will do it for you. Therefore, signing up as an independent on one of these platforms, VoD or otherwise, is quite a hopeless exercise. You’ll end up doing all your own marketing anyway, and the platforms will take their commission with glee.
There are two things these Hollywood giants have that we don’t. The first is obviously the available resources they have to promote their art, or entertainment depending on your inclination. When you spend 100 million dollars on making a movie, you’ll make sure there’s a couple millions set aside for marketing. When done right, you’ll pay back your investor from straight away from the box office, theatre release. By the time the movie is available for online distribution on iTunes or any other VoD platform, everybody’s already heard about it from someone who’d seen it, and from every critic and blogger out there, myself included. Example given: raise your hand if you’ve heard about The Wolf of Wall Street. According to Box Office Mojo this movie has already paid back its investment, and it’s only been out in cinemas for three weeks.
The second thing these filmmakers have is the ‘star system’. Back in the 50’s Levi-Strauss coined the phrase ‘star system’ referring to the promotion and admiration of actors, directors and other persons, or persons of public interest. A filmmakers’ biggest asset is its star player or director, and that’s all it takes for films to get financed, and distributed. So unless we know one of these guys personally, and of course most of us don’t, we will never get anywhere near the same exposure, or the same results, even with online distribution.
As a side note, if you do know someone like that and you really believe in your story, go to them. More and more celebrities enjoy supporting small projects, by lending their name or participating. Some deals are made whereby the big name will put in his expected salary as a larger share of the back-end (or net profit) because they believe in it.
My conversation with Charlotte also revealed that European Union as a whole is trying to tackle the difficulties of online distribution for independent cinema, as well. For the EU, language barriers are the biggest obstacles. While we all thought that the online distribution will make it easier for the small players to get ahead in the game, because the opportunities for distribution are greater, the game has not really changed that much. It is still the big players reaping all the benefits. And so the EU is looking for answers in direct and niche marketing, dedicated to specific audiences, in order to promote specific projects. For me, this is the only way forward, and even the EU understands that producers can’t go it alone. Producers are good at making films, not distributing them.
So here we are, with endless possibilities, but endless obstacles, as well. I’d love to hear from authors on how is it working for you in the literary world, and independent filmmakers out there, have you got any experiences you care to share with us on how your online distribution worked out?