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DIY is the new catchphrase in indie film distribution. DIY means different things to different people. This post will run through some of the tools used in DIY distribution and introduce you to some filmmakers who are already doing it.

DIY doesn’t inherently mean to turn your back on more traditional methods of distribution and go it alone. Generally when the term is used it means to be smart about who you sell which rights to, which rights you retain and what you do with those rights – to maximize audience reach and sales. It also means as a filmmaker you’ll probably be doing a lot more grunt work than you did in the ‘old days’.

The windows you have for putting your film in front of audiences are

  • Cinema
  • DVD
  • VOD
  • Mobile
  • In-flight
  • Cable television, and
  • Free to air television

Please let me know in the Comments section if there are more windows you’ve used. Some of these markets appear to be out of reach for the average filmmaker, but some of them are readily exploitable. The first step to accessing any of these avenues for distribution is in knowing your audience.

To book your film for a theatrical release you need to have access to exhibitors and generally you’re going to need an intermediary to secure this. It will probably cost a lot of money for prints and promotion. If you chose to show your film on e-cinema, the costs are considerably reduced and you might opt to release it regionally or at event screenings in locations where your primary audience can be found. John L Simpson is currently compiling a map of regional cinemas in Australia which will be available online soon.

To make your film available on DVD you will potentially also need an intermediary and money for promotion, or you can go a different route and make DVDs available on your website and in outlets frequented by your intended audience. You might sell DVDs at the regional or event cinema screenings you organise. When I worked on Time To Go John, we sold copies of the DVD at screenings and on the website.

VOD is not a common method of distribution in Australia, primarily because our bandwidth is delivered measured by gigabytes. In other parts of the world where bandwidth plans are based on speed not gigabytes, VOD is fast replacing DVD as the preferred method for receiving home entertainment.

There are several VOD distributors who offer streaming rental or purchase through large online storefronts including Amazon and Netflix, and there’s always the option to set up a link on your own website to the page on these storefronts where your film can be downloaded – which reduces cost of bandwidth to you, and takes care of the checkout facility. Recently, hardware manufacturers have worked with VOD distributors to ensure ease of delivery. Most of the larger VOD distributors can manage territory specific rights, and share revenue with the rights holder. See Boxee, Apple TV and Roku.

Similarly, mobile entertainment is not huge in Australia yet, particularly in big film size chunks. In other countries though, more and more video content is being consumed via mobile device (stats from mid 2009) and the mass marketing of tablet devices like iPad and Courier will no doubt see mobile content consumption become more and more prevalent.

In-Flight entertainment isn’t a market we filmmakers automatically think of, but interestingly it’s a great way to ensure you have a captive audience, provided the tone and style of your content fits the airline’s charter. Australian web series creator Nick Carlton secured distribution for his project Oz Girl with Virgin’s V Australia, proving in-flight entertainment is not restricted to feature or TV episode length content.

Television sales, both cable and free to air are probably best handled through your sales agent, who can capitalize on their network of contacts and reputation, but I’m sure that door is not entirely closed to independents. Again, I suspect you need to be really honest about your product and strategic in who you approach. I imagine it would be pretty annoying being pitched a bloodthirsty horror when you program a lifestyle channel.

So where can we see DIY in action? Several filmmakers have already achieved pretty decent returns using a combination of pathways. One of the earliest ones I remember seeing (and was involved with) was Time To Go John – a political compilation feature doc, released prior to the 2004 Australian election; then there was Helvetica, a film about typography released via DVD sales online. The Age Of Stupid has a very impressive crowd-funded model and interesting distribution strategy involving audience-orchestrated screenings and DVD sales via the website. There are many more.

As well as distributing your film on any or all of these platforms, you’re going to need to promote it, which comes back to that old catch cry ‘Know your audience’. It’s hard work standing out in a crowded, noisy space and to give your film any chance of doing so, you need to carefully target who will love it. See my previous post for more information.

Some pioneers in indie DIY distribution have been generous sharing their experience-gained wisdom. Some of my favorites are Jon Reiss and Lance Weiler. Jon’s Think Outside The Box Office is the best book I’ve read on the topic so far, and Lance’s The Workbook Project is regularly updated with great tips and interviews with filmmakers. Be sure to check out Power To The Pixel‘s branded channel on Babelgum too.

If you know of other great examples, please share them in the Comments section.

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3 Comments

    • Enzo
    • Posted March 13, 2010 at 11:55 pm
    • Permalink

    We had a lot of success (and it’s ongoing, in fact) using http://www.bravenewtheaters.com with
    Food Matters. Brilliant way to generate som fantastic word-of-mouth on a global scale, and in places we could not have dreamed of reaching on the way were planning to do it.

    Food Matters is probably a good example of DIY overall – we’ve sold DVD, TV, VOD, inflight… And it just keeps giving :)

    http://www.foodnatters.tv

    • Enzo Tedeschi
    • Posted March 13, 2010 at 11:57 pm
    • Permalink

    Typo in the previous comment URL, should be:

    http://www.foodmatters.tv

    :P

  1. Thanks Kelly for the mention of Jon’s book. He will be updating chapters online, so if you bought from his site directly, be on the lookout. http://www.thinkoutsidetheboxoffice.com. In addition, he is working on a companion tools site called http://www.ultimatefilmguides.com which will be open sourced and we invite filmmakers and companies servicing them to input their tips, advice, personal journeys and information.


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