Some guidelines before you begin:
Have you been a responsible filmmaker?
Read the blog post by Founder and Co-executive Director Orly Ravid that every filmmaker should read (and periodically re-read).
Get clear on where your film fits into today’s marketplace.
Don’t just compare your film to previous films on its content or tone. Look at its pedigree. Did it play at the same top festivals? Did it win similar awards? Did it have a similar theatrical? Did it get similar press from that theatrical? Does your film have the same name recognition in terms of cast or director? How are your numbers? Rotten Tomatoes score? IMDb rating? Facebook friends? Twitter followers? Are you engaging your fans as well as they did? How well did that film do in the digital arena and is it possible to recreate that in 2013? The answers to these questions will not only inform your distribution strategy but also help gauge your expectations about your film’s impact as well as its profitability.
Do you have a budget for marketing and social media?
Well, frankly, you need one. We can’t think of a better person to help you understand why than our Director of Digital Marketing Strategy, Sheri Candler, who has posted a five-part series on social media: Basics • Myths • Facebook • Twitter • YouTube. It is important to remember that the deals we offer do not really include marketing. And the same can be said for many other deals with distributors out there, regardless of what verbal promises are made when they are courting you. So it’s important for filmmakers to take ownership of that.
What’s the deal with DVD?
These two programs are digital only. They do not included DVD. If you have an offer from another distributor that includes home video rights, and you are wondering whether you should take that or handle your own DVD release and fulfillment, perhaps this blog post will be of use.
Is your film the kind of film that needs to worry about platform windows? TFC recommends a “be everywhere” approach, but many filmmakers do not understand what that really means. For example, Cable VOD traditionally won’t take your film if it has appeared on any other VOD platform. Which means that if you’re hoping to be on iTunes, for example, your Cable VOD window has to happen concurrently with iTunes or before your iTunes release. And without significant buzz on the festival circuit or a successful multi-city theatrial enagement with decent press, your chances for Cable VOD become slimmer. This is because Cable VOD is curated and whoever is making those curatorial decisions is likely to want to see some numbers. And Cable VOD is becoming more and more competititive and marquee-driven. The point is that the less chance you have of getting onto Cable VOD, the less you may need to worry about distribution windows. Of course, there are those who will tell you that if your film exhibits enough popularity, there’s always a way around these kinds of rules.
People won’t buy the cow if they can get the milk for free.
Again, this relates to windows. Anyone who has ever had a Netflix account has experienced the frustration at having to wait a few weeks (or longer) to watch a film on Netflix even through it has already come out on DVD/iTunes etc. This sense of annoyance stems from the fact that you would rather watch the film using the Netflix subscription you have already paid for rather than shell out more cash. But from a filmmakers’s perspective, this initial Transactional VOD window maximizes profits because, unlike a flat-fee deal from Netflix, the filmmaker gets a percentage of every Transactional VOD purchase (or has that percentage go toward accrued expenses). So if you release a film on Netflix or another subscription service right away, you are essentially giving the milk away. And when that happens, you can expect to see transactional purchases (a.k.a. demand for the cow) decrease. Furthermore, Netflix, which is also a curated platform, will likely use numbers from transactional purchases to inform, at least in part, their decision as to whether or not to make an offer on a film in the first place. In other words, showing data, showing you have a real audience behind your film, is a key ingredient to getting on any platform where you need to ask permission to be on it.
Keep in mind that our commission-based deal requires E&O insurance with a minimum coverage of $2,000,000 per occurrence, $3,000,000 in the aggregate, for a term or three years. Cost is approximately $3000-$5000. Also, a Closed Captioning file is required for all U.S. titles that participate in either of these programs. Cost can be upwards of $900. Please see the “E & O Insurance Providers” and “Subtitling & Transcription Services” in ResourcePlace for more information on potential vendors. Additionally, many territories (such as UK, Australia, New Zealand and others) are now requiring official ratings from that territory’s film classifical board, the cost of which can add up. (Note that closed captioning and foreign ratings are recoupable expenses for distributors, so upfront costs are only applicable in our flat-fee deal). The goal is to get as close as possible to being able to account for every penny that an end-user spends to see your film in relation to how much money you receive, with no surprises.
Streaming off your website?
Your website, facebook page, etc. should be global in their reach. Unless you give them worldwide rights, your North American distributor should not necessarily run them or dicate how you run them. They may insist on re-doing your key art and having your website reflect the new design. But remember to pick your battles. Our agreement with Cinedigm allows filmmakers to sell the film off their website(s) without geolocking. If you are negotiating deals with other distributors, the right to do this can be extremely beneficial to carve out. And there are quite a few non-exclusive DIY options listed in this section of the TFC site that will help you to stream from and sell your film off your website, even if you choose not to go either of these two programs. Moreover, we suggest you always try to maintain control of your film’s mailing list. We suggest using an “HTML email Service” (see our listing in ResourcePlace for more information) in addition to Facebook to keep in touch with your fans.
Educate yourself about digital distribution, part 1.
Read TFC’s case study book, Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul: Case Studies in Hybrid, HIY & P2P Independent Distribution. Available in paperback and ebook format.
Educate yourself about digital distribution, part 2.
TFC members also have access to the Digital Distribution Guide, a continuously-updated wiki containing an overview of the digital distribution landscape.
Premiere Digital Services has come out with its own DIY digital distribution platform that is identical to our flat-fee program. You are welcome to go through Quiver instead of going through us.
However, as we have released over 40 films through Premiere, so many filmmakers appreciate our guidance and advice seeing them through a process that has a bit of a steep learning curve and are willing to pay a slight premium for that support.
We are also exploring ways we can expand our digital distribution offerings for our flat-fee filmmakers. Additionally, we often put flat-fee filmmakers in touch with third-party (mostly international) distributors who are looking to bolster their library titles on a non-exclusive basis.
The most important thing to know about this is that distributors are usually the ones making decisions on whether to handle your film. And that aggregators are the ones that have direct relationships with platforms. Often, distributors also have direct relationships with platforms, and so they themselves can also serve as an aggregator of sorts. Sometimes, however, it is necessarily that distributors work with outside aggregators to assist them in doing this. But the key to understanding this is that aggregators get to recoup their fees and expenses from the grosses first because they are the closest to dealing with the platform. Then distributors will recoup, then comes sales agents, and finally, the filmmaker will get his or her share.
For these two programs, whether our partners are distributors or aggregators is not so important. The bottom line is that we’ve taken out DVD, so there are no retailers, and there are no sales agents to pay or marketing expenses to recoup. We’ve made the fee structure much clearer (a one-time fee for the flat-fee program, and a $2000 expense cap for the commission-based program with set commission percentages that we think are extremely filmmaker friendly). The only money TFC receives in the flat-fee program is built into the flat fee itself. For the commission-based program, one must join the film collaborative at the Collaborator level (must be separate from the six-hour consultation option). TFC does provide distribution-related consultation with either program. TFC does not retain any percentage of revenue from either partner.
The flat-fee program is 100% non-exclusive. The commission-based program is fairly exclusive for major platforms because it is very comprehensive in its scope, but it has some non-exclusivity built in, and if there are additional platforms that the filmmaker wishes to be on that are not part of the deal, we can certainly request that those rights be carved out.
They are excellent at what they do, and they have great people working there. They work with big budget Hollywood studios and were also the trusted parter of the Sundance Artists Services program, although Sundance has now switched that program to work with Premiere Digital (and its subsidiary Quiver Digital). And, most importantly, when you talk to other filmmakers about their experiences with Cinedigm, they have very positive things to say.
We have also worked with Gravitas in the past. Grativas is an aggregator that specializes in Cable VOD.
Currently, their emphasis is slightly more marquee-driven than it has been in recent years, but for the right film, we would not hesitate to work with them.
It should be noted that Gravitas, unlike Cinedigm, usually asks for an all digital rights deal.
These deals do not include marketing. You may, however, purchase additional consultation hours (usually by joining The Film Collaborative at the Conspirator level, which will enable you to receive two hours of digital marketing strategy consultation with a member of the TFC team.