Thursday, August 13, 2009

New York Times on DIY Distribution

I LOVE BLOGGING!!! The article in NY Times was rather simplistic and rang false on the "tipping the concierge" strategy. However, appearing in the NY Times is a great way to elicit a variety of comments and these are more interesting to me than the article itself. I'm commenting on the comments here....Sydney

Mitchell Block
There is still no "there" there. For the most part the small companies don't have the fiscal resources to do PR, advertising, trailers, promotions, viral marketing and the range of digital and film prints needed to cover the US. The theaters still need decent box office to hold over the titles and few independent films can make $2,000 plus a week.Even if the filmmakers and distributors had the capital to make it work, the films can't attract the audiences. They open small and can't build. The NY Times article was a bit short on the numbers....

3 Dave Kliman
Glen Cove, NY
August 13th, 2009
9:29 am
One reason we need to make the internet at least as fast as is because we want independent film makers to be able to widely distribute their work without cost, or possibly censorious middlemen, to anybody who wants to see it, in the world.current internet speed in usa: up to 100mbit downstream / up to 15mbit upstream.current internet2 speed in usa: up to 10gbit down/up. upgrading to 100gbit down/up.If every user had a 100 gigabit upload speed, they could send an entire movie they produced, that might be 1 gigabyte, in a fraction of a second. THEN we'd be talking freedom of expression.

I like this! Technological advances and democratization go hand in hand.

Washington, D.C.
August 13th, 2009
9:29 am
The NY Times is just now discovering this? Even basic film-making magazines like "Film Comment" and "Filmmaker" have been talking about this for more than 10 years!I consider it slipshod reporting when a major news outlet decides to talk about common knowledge like this. An entertainment industry or business reporter should have known about this trend long ago. I expect the "Washington Post" to jump on bandwagons that are already moving and halfway down the hill, not the "New York Times."

It is old news but perhaps to the readership of NY Times this is new and interesting. Based on the comments, it is of great interest.

Jon Braeley
August 13th, 2009
9:42 am
I think it's important for an independent to go after specialty markets, that's what I do as an independent film maker. I specialize in documentaries on Asian genre and distribute my titles mostly on DVD, direct from my website. It is beginning to work. We have released six film releases in the last eight years. The first two films have now recouped their investment ... yes it took a few years to get there, but now all we have to do is hang in and keep creative! See The key is to believe in your product and never stop creating content. If it is good, there is someone out there who will find it and the word spreads. We have never advertised or marketed. It is all word of mouth. I think that marketing budgets for films are out of control and lead to high expectations and disapointment form the audience. As they say "If it is good, they will come" and you don't need to bribe concierge at film festivals to direct people to your gig. Thats absurd!!

Recouping the investment is the most important aspect of filmmaking and distribution! And being creative constantly is the job of the filmmaker. and yes, to bribe the concierge at film festivals is absurd!

Virginia Miracle
Washington, DC
August 13th, 2009
9:43 am
This is a great article, with one very important ethical issue nestled into it - unethical Word of Mouth Marketing practices:"Internet advocates who flood social networks with admiring comments, sometimes for a fee, sometimes not"Paying shills to flood message boards, blogs, or social networks with "buzz" for pay is not ethical by any cut of industry standards. (see for a very robust discussion) A blind eye has long been turned to the fact that the entertainment has kept up this practice while the rest of the marketing world woke up to it as "astroturfing" (fake grassroots marketing). Empowering potential fans to see the movie and inviting them to spread the word - their honest words - if they see fit in their natural venues online is a great practice. Paying people to seed fake comments or use assumed online identities simply serves to further erode the faith that people put in recommendations they read online.

There's always a certain amount of hype, using only good quotes from reviews on ads, etc. Social networking offers a chance for this as well, but in the end, the good will out.

new york, ny
August 13th, 2009
10:12 am
Writers in the literary world are doing very much the same thing, taking the fate of their work into their own hands and bypassing large publishing houses. Sure, there are costs--but you have complete creative control from start to finish.Best of luck,thefictionist

I love this literary model. If writers can do it, then filmmakers can!

Mike W
cleveland, ohio
August 13th, 2009
10:19 am
It's a great and admirable trend. The only problem is that while decrying its benefits, proponents and fans underestimate the parochialism and simple mindedness of the general population who will continue to flock to "mainstream" cinema and the garbage turned out by the studio system. Most people who go to the theatre don't want to think or don't know how to think, they just want flashy fx, naked breasts, clueless beautiful stars, and unmitigated violence. Or something like that.

This is an ongoing discussion. People want to be told where to go and what to see. Too many choices lead to indecision. When I have 100+ cable channels and 100+ dvds around, I can't decide what to see and usually end up seeing nothing. With an ad in the paper, with a word spoken at a party, I am directed to go see something and I tend to go with that. The larger public goes to see the films with the larger ads.

David Redmon
Tokyo, for now ...
August 13th, 2009
10:34 am
Article is lazy and should have dug deeper into the difficulties and ethos of self-distribution, going below directors who have hundreds and thousands of dollars to release their own film (as indicated in the article). I'd much rather that readers read about those who tried diy, yet failed, and those who accomplished their own goals while starting with just a few hundred dollars in their pockets while paying rent and juggling jobs. If you're gonna publish an article about diy, then at least mimic some of the same gutsy efforts instead of writing about those with publicists and create Spielberg's scripts.

It is a rather lazy and cliched article.

Jason Goldstein, Be The Shoe Productions
St. Louis
August 13th, 2009
10:57 am
This is much more involved than most people realize. Theaters won't disappear, but as they install digital projectors they're creating an infrastructure that's friendly towards DIY filmmakers.It's just a matter of time before one of these DIY projects gains a wide audience.If you haven't seen it already, take a look at It's an online distribution platform launching in November.

Theaters won't disappear, it's true. They offer a communal experience. Mulitiplexes were seen as a way to diversify what types of films would be shown but failed. Instead the blockbusters took over all the screening rooms. Perhaps digital projectors will live up to the promise of more diversification. Already theaters are showing operal projected digitally and live and are having great success finding audiences at off hours.

Peter Vesterbacka
Helsinki, Finland
August 13th, 2009
10:57 am
Great to see the NY Times discover this as well;-) And it's not limited to the US either, there's life in the Rest Of the World as well... Star Wreck, was one of the first, if not the first, full feature length films with Hollywood quality special effects that was relased for free on the net in 2005 already. Star Wreck was also a first as it was done by two guys in Tampere, Finland and a few hundred of their friends around the world. I guess today that would be called crowdsourcing by those in the know;-)Another great example of what is going on is a crowdsourced movie called Snowblind in Germany by Kalle Max Hofmann and Co. The trailer looks very cool for a production with next to no budget, shows what can be done when you involve the community for real in the production. Snowblind can be found here: are living in exciting times for filmmakers everywhere!

The rest of the world is at least 50% of the market and for many non-American films, it is even more. To hear such optimism from Helsinki makes me optimistic as well. European budgets are smaller than American budgets, but American indies' budgets are not studio budgets and perhaps digital exhibition will be profitable for those not needed to recoup 8 digit budgets.

relentless Aaron
atlanta, georgia
August 13th, 2009
11:15 am
EXACTLY. We have figured it out. No more high-end toaster programs and monster AVID computers. No more 4000-track soundstage/studios and reels and reels of film. I just shot my first music video with a ZERO budget. Everything from the location, to the actors to the make-up and clothing stylist was free of charge. Everything else, the equipment, the cameraman, the location, props, and postproduction was me. The million-dollar music video can now be shot for less than 25k The short film can now be produced for less than 10kI have a 3-picture option with Hollywood giant BILL DUKE (see Hollywood Reporter 'Bill Duke/Relentless Aaron', however I'm beginning to lean towards Bill's mention of straight to DVD as a better financial decision.. We'll see. Meanwhile, I'll keep shooting, producing and saving money for me and my clients. Eventually my voice and movement will be understood.

I love this comment. If he's a true artist, his voice and movement will be understood! Guaranteed.

Peter Vesterbacka
Helsinki, Finland
August 13th, 2009
11:53 am
There's also 150+ productions going at Anybody reading this can join the party and contribute to any of the movies being made. It's not just about watching all the way too predictable Hollywood produce anymore, it's about participating in the creation. Crowdsourcing is starting to happen in a big way in filmmaking.

Participation in creation and crowdsourcing are the future of filmmaking and exhibition. Digital 'distribution' is a misnomer. By calling it digital exhibition, the broken model of distribution we now know becomes a thing of the past.

Liza Dittoe
True South Studios. Memphis, TN
August 13th, 2009
11:53 am
Straight to DVD is working brilliantly for us. Started by a passionate businessman and creative filmmakers, True South Studios' style may be the wave of the future. Check out trailers of their films here:

I am so glad to hear this. Not every film must have a theatrical run.

August 13th, 2009
11:54 am
now go read Chris Anderson's "The Long Tail"

And over time with enough word of mouth and visibility, a film can find its audience and recoup its costs.

R Richardson
August 13th, 2009
11:58 am
Self-distribution has been a viable alternative for filmmakers for quite awhile. I wrote about it for indieWIRE five years ago:

Yes the article was a seminal article.

August 13th, 2009
12:01 pm
The DIY method might get a story told but it doesn't pay the bills. The article implies that people make a film and pursue this distribution route because of a commitment to the material and do it for little or no pay. That's admirable, however, film making is a collaborative process that requires skill to produce a quality product. Professionals need to make a living and people seek distribution deals to pay production costs. These deferred compensation arrangements make it very hard for a project to be more than an amateur effort and will remain stuck there until funding methods catch up with advances in distribution.

It can pay the bills if the filmmaker and collaborators can turn their attention to the promotion with as much gusto as they make the movie itself.

Debbie S.
New York
August 13th, 2009
2:37 pm
Not only do independent filmmakers have to finance their own films, now we're expected to come up with the money to market and distribute them. What a glamorous business. Meanwhile millions of dollars are spent marketing studio films that are so incoherent, I wonder if anyone read the script before they greenlit the film. It's a case of misallocated resources if you ask me.

Yes, the producer's job is to produce the money. The millions spent by studios is another story entirely and is an example of another problem in the system.

August 13th, 2009
2:37 pm
This is a strange article with a very strange focus. I believe in the power of selfpromoting the film by independent filmmakers, but there is a huge difference between cutting out the studio system and distributing the film on the internet or on a limited DVD-release and releasing a film like THE AGE OF STUPID on 400 screens. An independet filmmaker will have huge problems of putting up so much money for making so many DCPs (or transmitting it by satalite - just the costs and coordination of 400 screens costs a lot of money) - so the filmmakers may be out-smarting the Hollywood studio system, but at the same time they are falling into a trap of another system. As the article implies money are being putt up by the films backers - but is there a difference if the backer is a studio or a private investor? They are both in it for the same reason - to make some money.(By the way both the films THE AGE OF STUPID and ANVIL! were sold on the international market by international sales agents - so the DIY idea is not as true at is may seem in this article if the films at least want to make it big in the international market)

International sales are an extremely important component in the whole picture. Anvil has a good sales agent (Jeremy Thomas' The Works International), but I am not sure of what sales it has made. The Age of Stupid has a great sales agent (Celluloid Dreams) who also has devised a way to show the film internationally via downloads. As a partner in The Auteurs they are ahead of the game. Most international sales agents have not ventured down this path (yet)

North Carolina
August 13th, 2009
2:37 pm
Why even bother with a theatrical release? Releasing a film on such a small number of screens seems to be more about vanity than getting the largest number of people to see your film. The mentality that a film is not really a legitimate film unless is runs in theaters is still predominant even among the indy producers. Selling the rights to a cable channel or straight to DVD would be far more profitable and lead to a greater audience than showing your film in 50 theaters. The ever increasing number of cable channels are desperate for product to air.

Theatrical releases give a visibility and a prestige of a film. International sales agents won't take on films which have no U.S. theatrical distribution because the other distributors in the world perceive the film as having no upside potential if it did not get U.S. theatrical release. However, it could be profitable with no theatrical release if it is only being released in the U.S. and can recoup its budget in that one market.

San Francisco, CA
August 13th, 2009
2:37 pm
Here's a whole other angle on DIY: crowdsourcing. Just read and dugg this article from one of the editors of RealScreen ( about a BBC project called "Digital Revolution." It's a documentary series about web that will comprise, in part, of content FROM the web - or rather, web users. It brings up the concept of getting funding not just from filmmakers themselves, like those highlighted in this article, but from the public. "Crowdfunding" - a method of financing in which individuals are solicited to contribute financial donations to the production - does seem to be the new trend. I guess it's the Kiva of the indie film world.But he does make the point that even in "content-saturated marketplace" there are no guarantees. That is, even if that even if you do get the funding from the public, they're not necessarily going to throw their support into it post-production.

Interesting concept. IndieGoGo is trying crowdfunding, but I'm not sure it will take hold. I wouldn't invest in a film because of it's online hype. When I prebought films professionally, I was never really pleased with the final outcome.

Zoe Golightly
Los Angeles
August 13th, 2009
2:37 pm
I can relate with what this article is bringing forward, and with many of the comments. This evolving model of film distribution is certainly not well pathed or established currently, and incredibly challenging. I'm currently working with producers of an independent film - privately screening and DVD distribution all completely independently.We have found Amazon works really well - our sales have been incredible via Amazon solely. And working the social media marketing strategies is key.Happy to help or share our story with others looking for guidance. You can contact me via the website.Oh and of course anyone looking for an incredible indie film to watch this weekend - get 'Spiritual Warriors' on :)

I'm thrilled with this commentary. Especially as I recently sold my company FilmFinders to IMDb which is owned by Amazon. I agree they have a really smart model. If they can beat YouTube and iTunes or hold their own, then they will be the leaders in the field. What a great company!

Los Angeles, CA
August 13th, 2009
2:37 pm
It is such a struggle when filmmakers have great work to show but have a hard time distributing it. Having worked for a non-profit documentary company for over a year, I understand the motivation necessary to get viewers and support for newly released films. I think people would like our work ( if anyone is interested) - but the only way to find out is by using different forms of online distribution.

It's so very hard for filmmakers! And making the film is only half of it. Finding distribution is when the hard work really begins.

Jim Latham
Los Angeles
August 13th, 2009
2:42 pm
I'm glad to see there's so much going on that gives filmmakers more and better options for producing and distributing their work. There are a lot of interesting ideas and issues in this article as well as the responses to it. My own blog focuses on indie film marketing and distribution ( and this article has inspired me to look more closely at some of those ideas. One thing that hasn't been discussed much here is the often poor quality of so many independently produced films today. Whether because of limited material resources or talent or other factors, there are a lot of films today seeking distribution that frankly don't deserve it, at least not traditional theatrical distribution. Still, I'm glad that even the lamest amateur film can potentially be seen online, and, who knows, maybe even find its own audience niche.

Well poor quality, lame and amateur films are everywhere. Even the majors make them. Maybe 10% of any craft reaches the level of art. Popular art is not easy to make either. But if the subject matter is of interest, there is always some sement of an audience to be found online at least.

Los Angeles, CA
August 13th, 2009
8:00 pm
I've seen a great number of documentary films that have premiered at Sundance, Toronto & SXSW lately via streaming video on Netflix, and SnagFilms. If they weren't available online, I would rent the DVDs. A lot of them have not been picked up yet or else their theatrical presence has been too limited. If you take a look, there are actually more feature-length documentaries available to watch online (Hulu gave it its own featured menu button) than any other genre...Surfwise, Frontrunners, Summercamp!, Stagedoor, We Are Wizards, Parrots of Telegraph Hill, Helvetica, Super Size Me, Confessions of a Superhero, The Future of Food...the list goes on and on. There IS an audience out there for these films - and believe it or not - they're not just "doc people", just people interested in simple, instant entertainment. It's the reality TV generation. But the trend to a successful commercial documentary is the subject matter. Social issue and political documentaries are definitely important, but would you really pay $10 on a Friday night to watch talking heads, war footage and or a depressing exposé on the state of our economy? We have PBS, NPR and CNN on a weeknight for that. Movies - no matter if they're indies, blockbusters or even the dreaded doc, were originally made for escapism and entertainment. I think more film festivals and distributors should think about that.

This comment is so relevent to docs today. For such comments I repeat: I love blogging. The intelligent thinking that goes on in response to news and opinions (except on some political blogs where the comments are so venomous and hateful) delights me.

The above comments far outstrip the article itself for their interesting insights. The article itself is, as one commenter says, quite simplistic and old news. But appearing in NY Times for readers outside of the film business is a good thing.

Don't forget the U.S. market is roughly 50% of the world market. The international sales agents are also scouring Toronto and other festivals looking to represent films to distributors in the rest of the world (which, as I said, accounts for around 50% of the revenues at this point). They are also facing such hard and slim returns that they cannot offer filmmakers advances or minimum guarantees on films because they are not getting them from the rest of the world's distributors. The films cannot recoup their budgets from the advances or minimum guarantees anymore.

Just as so many filmmakers are now paying for their own marketing in U.S. distribution with DIY, (albeit these costs are much less than traditional costs to buy national TV and huge newspaper ads and billboards like the majors do), now I have heard an international sales agent seriously suggest that the filmmakers pay the marketing costs to the sales agents rather than expect the sales agents to pay them!

Producers are having tough times raising production budgets and now must consider adding marketing and distribution costs as well not only for the U.S. but perhaps even for the rest of the world. However, if they hold onto the distribution rights they can recoup much more than when they relied on distributors. But this only works in their own territory (U.S. here) because they don't know the ins and outs of 60 other international territories where their films optimally will be distributed....Sydney

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