Peter Kaufman in Indiewire writes that DIY distribution will be a viable option for independent producers in 2014. My question is: Why wait for the year 2014? The scenario described is here now... but with an unexpected twist.
I agree that the days of traditional distribution are coming to an end as
distributors face decreasing box ticket returns from theatrical releases and
DVD sales and the promised pot of gold at the end of the proverbial digital
rainbow remains a mirage. Sundance, and top tier and some emerging niche
festivals, will remain key to generating recognition for independent films.
But the days of large advances from an independent distributor who relies on
DVD sales to recoup the theatrical cost from big box names, brick and mortar
outlets and online sales are waning. DIY distribution is already here and
is being successfully implemented… by a distributor.
Lorber HT Digital, founded by Richard Lorber in 2007, has been quietly
honing its distribution strategy using guerilla DIY distribution strategies
for its new Alive Mind label. “Our mission is to deliver smart and
stimulating work with the “aha” factor of a transformative experience”
explains CEO & President Richard Lorber. We releases a high quality
selection of documentary programming in the areas of enlightened
consciousness, secular spirituality, women’s issues and cultural change.”
The acquisition team at Lorber HT Digital looks for docs with built-in niche
audiences which the filmmaker has already built, from non-profit
organizations who might have contributed to the funding to political groups
who support the film’s message. The Lorber team then partners with the
filmmaker to take the film beyond the initial core group through a
semi-theatrical release to independent film theaters, such as Film Forum and
the Roxie, to cultural centers and college and university theaters as well
as grass roots outreach to community groups, who can easily be found online
with new social networking sites such as BraveNewTheaters.
At the same time, Alive Mind has built a network of review sources from
online reviewers to traditional print to independent bloggers to generate
general awareness of their films. Alive Mind’s online strategy embraces
niche audiences and organic cross-promtional opportunities. Alive Mind hosts
their own communities in their four primary content areas, where the
filmmakers and recognized writers publish content that attracts readers
interested in the general themes of reason, spirituality, sex and women.
Simultaneous to the semi-theatrical release, if appropriate the film is made
available with public performance rights for several hundred dollars to
colleges, universities and libraries. A current example is Glass: A Portrait
of Philip in Twelve Parts that has been short-listed for an Academy Award.
When it is broadcast later in the year on PBS, it will then be made
available direct-to-consumer via Alive Mind and its affiliate network. And
finally, the film will be released into retail through Koch Entertainment
Distribution, whose customer network includes Netflix, iTunes, Amazon and
traditional brick and mortar outlets.
The key is the continued involvement of the filmmaker, who is a partner in
the entire process. What Lorber brings to the table is the marketing
knowledge and tools, a dedicated team that will take care of everything from
building websites, servicing screenings to manufacturing DVDs and
fulfillment, allowing the filmmaker to do what filmmakers do best: make
their next film… while earning money from the distribution of their last
Vice President, Acquisitions & Business Development
Lorber HT Digital
Great article by Lance Weiler in the Winter 2008 Filmmaker's mag about digital distribution and generating online revenue for independent filmmakers. I think the most important point of the article, besides the benefits of working with a content aggregator/distributor, is that filmmakers need to be very technically savvy when it comes to self-distribution.
A lot of times filmmakers are advised to avoid working with traditional distributors, who are essentially described as greedy vultures, and to strike out on their own. The main challenge of doing so is creating awareness of your one, lone film and connecting it to your audience. There are a gazillion websites out there, two dominant social networking sites, and an undefined marketplace. Unless your potential customer can find you, no matter how good your film is they aren't going to buy it. This is not an original idea and a book that expresses this idea very eloquently is Ambient Findability by Peter Morville.
As a buyer of documentaries, factual series and digital content, I have gotten to know many filmmakers, producers and distributors over the last ten years. I have watched friends and colleagues go from a simple idea to a a completed film, wading through the muddy waters of fund raising, securing a broadcaster, international distribution, DVD licensing -- sorting out non-theatric vs. home video -- and then on to the next project, starting the whole process over again.
Every stage poses its challenges. Producing is a solitary process that requires four components: passion, patience, perseverance, and promotion. If you lack patience, your project will never be completed; even the best timelines mysteriously morph as raising production funds can, and usually does, take more time and energy than making the actual film. Without perseverance, each rejection letter, no matter how politely worded, will be like the fatal gun shot wound rather than the spaghetti stain on the wall it really is. Perhaps patience and perseverance are manifestations of passion but passion without promotion will mean that even a great idea will remain just that: an idea.