Distribute Your Movies Online, While Cutting Out the Middleman
On Friday, Variety's Anne Thompson published a piece (thank you, CinemaTech) about indies getting their work out there via Amazon's Unbox download service. I first reported this was going to happen back in February, when Amazon announced a deal they struck with TiVo to allow their downloaded content to be viewed on the popular DVR. This is a great step in the right direction, as no one wants to watch movies on their computer, but from the couch, and these two powers teaming up is a good thing.
The Variety article highlights CustomFlix, a service allowing anyone to make their movie available for rental and/or purchase, splitting the profits with the filmmaker. Shifted is the first movie doing this and is making money, even if the total cut is only around $1,000. Not nearly enough to quit a day job. Especially since the budget of Shifted is stated as being $100,000 (which they apparently didn't spend on audio).
I think for this to really work for anyone two things have to be in place: a very small budget, and a lot of PR. I realize how hard it is to make a movie with little money, but it can be done if you're resourceful. Roger Corman made a career out of fast filmmaking (he often only had one take per shot, and often reused footage and locations), which he quickly turned over in the drive-in circuit, and later direct-to-video outlets. He always made money.
Good reviews will get you good word of mouth, which will get you more downloads and purchases. Bad word of mouth will kill you. I realize this is common sense, but the lure of "easy" money can cloud a filmmaker's judgement, so they crank out crap just to get it online. In this respect, don't emulate Corman. Make quality because reviews will matter to you and your bottom line. Either type of press can spread like wildfire on the web, so let this work for you and not against you.
Secondly, people are going to have to know about your movie, and you have to create a desire in them to WANT to see it. CustomFlix gives you a page to promote your movie, and Shifted gets this right. There is a trailer, pull quotes from good reviews, links to good reviews, and a list of festivals it has been to. Get the word out (send screeners to every website/blog that fits your genre) and create buzz for your movie. This topic in itself could be a series of articles, but it must be done if you want to succeed.
Thompson points out that the "magic moment" of successful indie distribution is very close, and I agree. While my model is a bit different, I can see the potential of Unbox and CustomFlix. People just have to know about it to want to see it, and make sure what they see is worth seeing again.