Once upon a time, there was a dream. New filmmakers would use the internet to reach audiences, bypassing the usual gatekeepers: studios and distributors. For a while, it seemed that it would become true, but this ideal state of affairs never quite materialized. In time, big streamers and tech companies became a new brand of gatekeepers, melding the identities of producers, studios, distributors, and broadcasters. Vertical integration is back.
For some time, filmmakers could reach audiences directly by loading their movies and shorts on streaming services. There was virtually no wall separating creators from viewers. It is easy to think of that state of affairs as ideal, a paradise of popular art accessible to the masses. Alas, it was not meant to last forever. Servers loaded with movies that too few people watched compromised the balance sheet of streamers. Technology and business models were not aligned to make the system work.
Add to the mix an issue of quality control. A less-than-stellar product, by the halo effect, could tarnish the streamer’s brand perception. Chances are they did not have a budget large enough to hire an army of programmers to view everything that was getting uploaded. The first blow to this open system came in 2021 when Amazon stopped taking unsolicited films on Prime Video.
There is also an added problem that comes with an abundance of choices. How do you get noticed in a crowd, especially when you are an up-and-coming talent who has not been able to build a fan base? You are competing with established pros who already have a foothold in traditional distribution systems. They can claim the attention of the public at large and built-in audiences. Eventually, branded channels and networks took over the wilds of the internet. Now, these streaming solutions are embracing commercials. It’s like we abandoned the traditional TV model only to take it back again, decimating the free spirit of the web in the process - and throwing away the free nature of broadcast TV. You must pay for something you used to get without spending a penny. Now, that is progress!
But not everything is lost. There are ways to position your flicks in streaming services, even if there are hurdles. These are a few of the most popular options.
Vimeo is the closest thing to democratic video commerce. You open your account, upload the video files and support content - like thumbnail images and trailers - set up a price, and wait for the magic to unfurl. VIMEO takes 10% of the revenue after deducting transaction fees from the viewer’s chosen payment method and sales taxes.
The greatest advantage of Vimeo is that you get to set your price point. Furthermore, you can run their engine on your website. This is a godsend if you already have a fan base flocking to your site.
One of the best examples of this model belongs to Long Island's preferred son, Hal Hartley. He is one of the greatest indie directors of the '90s and a pioneer in creating online fan communities - he even has a healthy following in Japan. Once Hollywood lost interest in him, he cultivated his website. There, he sells hard copies of his works in home video formats and streams them at halhartley.com, where he also sells books, CDs, mp3 downloads of his music, and assorted memorabilia. He is currently crowdfunding his next movie, "Decision To Land."
The Vimeo Menu of Doom: good luck getting Grandpa to find your movie / Photo courtesy of Dreamstie.
He is certainly a case study of how an indie filmmaker can survive and thrive in this new state of affairs. The Hartley Way is nominally the best because Vimeo is not very friendly when showcasing materials for wide audiences. For video professionals, the user interface may work by second nature, but you can imagine civilians struggling with it.
If you go for Vimeo, you must consider their reliance on PayPal. For unknown reasons, you need to connect your Vimeo site to a personal account and not a business account. If you don’t like to patronize Peter Thiel, well, you are a duck out of luck and need to seek other choices.
The Amazon offshoot distinguished itself from YouTube by limiting content to feature-length movies and TV series. If you want to post a video of yourself making a killer omelet, that will not happen. The good news is that they focus on feature-length films and series, still making it filmmaker-friendly, up to a point.
Once you dig into the Terms and Conditions, newbie indie filmmakers can find a foreboding description of the type of content they accept: "…professionally produced, feature-length movies and TV shows that have been theatrically released, broadcast on a major TV network, or selected by a major film festival." Oh, well, major film festivals! Not any film festival, mind you. At least they did not ask that you were a prize winner. But let's not be pessimists. Fill up the application and wait for the verdict.
Prime Video Dream: jump through hoops and get your movie to dudes' desktops! / Photo courtesy of Dreamstime.
Even if you get in, nothing is guaranteed. If you don’t meet their desired engagement levels, the movie is unceremoniously dumped. Good luck finding out what those metrics are. Streamers are very skittish when it comes to revealing those numbers, just as they are coy about viewership data - which, incidentally, is a core issue in the ongoing SAG-AFTRA strike.
Back in 2006, the giant known as Google bought YouTube for $1.65 billion. Slowly but surely, it was like an adult controlling an unruly child. If you want to use the platform to distribute your movie, you have to go through the gatekeepers in the mother ship.
First, you must have a Google account. That’s easy. By now, every human being on the planet has one. But then, you have to fill out a Pre-Qualification Form to become a "partner." There, you will discover the system is fashioned for distributors and copyright holders with catalogs of content, theatrical releases, and box-office revenue records. They don’t say your first movie, that low budget marvel that cost you blood, sweat, and tears, is unwelcome. But it does not look too inviting.
How YouTube was tamed: Google plays gatekeeper for indie movies. / Photo courtesy of Dreamstime.
Take a seat while you wait for an answer. A “business development team” reviews requests “monthly” and “may get in touch to discuss next steps if they would like to move forward.” The keywords there are “may” and “would like.” The odds of your first movie passing the gate are slim.
But that video of you cooking that kick-ass omelette? Upload that baby on YouTube NOW!
Aggregators are an important link in the chain that connects you with audiences. Don’t think of them as obstacles, but as a resource that can help you. The trick is to think of them as programmers or curators who know what the big streamers want and take on the work of selecting viable content for them. That is why the Google form seems tailored for them.
The trick is to read carefully their contract terms and choose the one you feel most comfortable with. Some might require money upfront; others request exclusivity. Some don’t limit their outreach; others work exclusively with the big streamers. Check out what markets they work with, too, if you are aiming for a particular geographical region.
If you don’t miss anything, reach out to them! ODMedia is one of the biggest, with direct lines to Netflix, AppleTV, Google Play, Prime Video, and Roku. Also, check out Filmhub, Bitmax and Quiver Digital.
Then again, you can always reach out to your friends at Popflick! We are a movie-mad startup born to help indie filmmakers reach out to audiences with a friendly streaming platform. The application process is streamlined. Just fill this out and get the ball rolling. Our screening process is fast, and you get personalized attention from our team members. Imagine that! A human being that responds to your queries promptly. No waiting a month to see if somebody sends an email - Hi, Google Video! -.
We know indie filmmakers need to recoup the cost of their productions, and our pricing structure reflects that. You get to keep 50% of the revenue your movie generates. Our streaming service is short-film friendly, and we accept production in every genre. Recently, we opened our gates to series! Your work will stand side by side with Aardman Studios’ “Creature Comforts,” Sundance Best Dramatic Picture and Best Director winner “Ballast,” cult classic movies from the Pope of Pop Cinema, Roger Corman himself; European Art House staples like the films of Dutch master Alex van Warmerdam, and modern indie treasures like Chris Charles Scott III’s “Nowhere Man and a Whiskey Girl.”
Regarding streaming platforms where you can submit your flick, we are the prime destination to watch indie films online. Popflick will go the extra mile for you. For us, your film is a piece of life, not just content.
Whiskey and cigarettes, the only ways of keeping her dignity in this city.Stream Now
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