Lately I've been high on the fact that for very little effort and no money, any movie we make can be seen by literally millions of people. It's a very exciting prospect and while the trick is still to make money, global exposure is a good first step to realizing this goal. The idea is to drop your entire film on the web, available to anyone who wants it.
This thought totally flies in the face of the old model that's been in place for years, but for us microbudgeters, that old model doesn't even apply. If you are a small studio or an expensive indie, the old "find a distributor to buy your film" might work, but is still a crap shoot. Movies with big name talent frequently get into prestigious festivals, then never get purchased. Even if you do get picked up, there are so many shady dealers out there, that you often get no money or the money promised is soaked up in fees and you've lost the rights to your project for 25 years.
A better idea is simply this: give your film away, let lots and lots of people watch it for free (which is trackable) and use those numbers as leverage to fund your next film. You can also develop an audience this way, an audience that will want to support you (like any artist) if they like your work. This can be through merchandising or making your film available in different "containers" (like a DVD) which provide a better picture and bonuses like extra content.
I don't know if you can make a living this way, but others are proving this is doable. Stick to your microbudget roots (say $5,000-10,000 raised on Kickstarter) and you could turn a nice profit. Take the aforementioned viewer numbers and get sponsors and product placement in your next film. It could be a nice, healthy, profitable cycle. Add some grass-roots marketing and you could go into the stratosphere.
If you have your film done, then what? There are several places you can start to deposit your movie that will start getting you an audience. Some are easy, others take some work. Vodo is a new site that will place your film in peer-to-peer networks often used for pirating mainstream material. It costs nothing. Since your film is owned by you, you may even get featured! YouTube allows feature-length product (20GB file size and no time limit) if you are a partner. Create a channel and get busy building your audience and views. Apply for a partnership, get it, and post your film. Submit to Netflix. They offer streaming content now and your film could get seen that way as well.
Another exciting prospect is that TVs are now becoming conduits for internet content. "Apps" that play YouTube and Netflix streams are being introduced on modern televisions, video game system and set-top boxes. Now you can reach people who want to be entertained while nestled on their couch instead of at their computer (a better viewing experience anyway). Your potential audience is growing exponentially on a daily basis.
This is a very exciting time. Your film could be seen all over the globe. Computers, TVs and mobile devices are more plentiful than all movie screens combined. That should be our target. No one other than your family will pay to see your microbudget feature. They might pay something afterward, however. Getting your film in front of people is becoming very easy. Just let go of old myths and embrace the now. I truly believe it's our best shot at success.