This article was originally posted on Indiewire on July 6, 2015.
From life rights to fair use, here’s what you need to know about legal issues before you make your documentary.
Over the course of my career, as both the founder of The Film Collaborative and an attorney in private practice at Early Sullivan, I have noticed a lack of understanding by filmmakers regarding the law and documentary film distribution. I hope to provide some clarity in the following blog post. But keep in mind that this post does not replace legal advice tailored to a specific film, filmmaker and distribution options/deals. Feel free to contact me with specific inquiries (contact info at the end of this post).
1. Life rights
Recently at the Edinburgh Pitch / Film Festival a filmmaker asked me a very interesting question about “life rights.” He asked whether he could prevent a media outlet from covering a story about a person or persons in a way that competed with his forthcoming documentary. He wanted to know if his having life rights to a person’s or persons’ story would make a difference. The short answer is “no;” there really is no legal protection of “life rights.”
A life rights agreement obligates the subject selling his/her life rights to cooperate with the buyer. The subject/seller is committing to helping the buyer obtain information about the subject’s life and releasing the buyer from any claims by the subject against the eventual filmmaker, and ideally also to promoting the project. These agreements, however, cannot stop a third-party from taking an interest in the story facts and covering them.
Factual information is not copyrightable. That is not to say there are no copyright theories to protect a documentary from being overtly copied. But there is no legal way to prevent a third-party from using the same true facts and expressing those facts in another work. So, one might want to keep exposure of the story under wraps, if possible, until the documentary is out, and proceed with making an excellent documentary that demands to be seen and won’t be trumped by news segments or other content.
If this issue is coming up for you and you have a concern about being overtly copied beyond the facts, then you may want to discuss with an attorney. Chances are the other party will not copy too much beyond the non-copyrightable facts for there to be legal recourse. And many jurisdictions are not so copyright-friendly to begin with. This would be especially true for documentaries where the content is non-fiction and akin to journalism.
2. Worldwide rights deals
This issue combines legal and business issues I have encountered as both an executive and an attorney. These days, with platforms such as Netflix providing international opportunities to documentary filmmakers, one should be wary of committing to international sales agents to make the “worldwide” deal. An adept U.S. sales agent or lawyer could procure and handle a great worldwide Netflix or CNN deal. A U.S. agent or lawyer might have a better shot at the worldwide deal, hence it makes sense to exhaust that option before committing to an international sales strategy. This may be of interest because often the U.S. agents’ and lawyers’ commissions and recoupable expenses are sometimes lower than an international sales companies’ (and there is often good reason for that given the breadth of territories and markets to cover on the international front).
In my experience, many American documentaries do not do well overseas and, even when they sell, they sell small. Of course there are exceptions. Point being; evaluate the potential of one big U.S. deal with lower commissions versus using international sales agents, who typically charge more. Have an experienced lawyer or producer help you carve out rights based on these possibilities (if applicable) or perhaps to help you know if and when it is appropriate to bring an international sales agent on board. Being realistic about your film’s potential based on market conditions and appropriate comparisons is critical to effective distribution and the avoidance of mistakes.
3. Educational rights vs. digital distribution
At The Film Collaborative we often notice that the more successful a film is via educational distribution and festival/non-theatrical distribution the less successful it is via traditional television and digital distribution. In short, certain less-commercial content is appealing to film festival programmers, universities, museums and other educational/non-theatrical outlets. There are, of course, exceptions to that rule and some documentaries do well across all rights and categories of distribution. These days, educational distribution involves streaming (in addition to digital master exhibition or DVD sales) but for a higher price-point than retail streaming.
Some education institutions are savvy enough not to use commercial retail copies of your film for a classroom or campus exhibition, but some do, without realizing there is a potential legal issue. If your film could do especially well on the festival circuit and through educational distribution, then you might want to delay your regular home entertainment digital and television distribution. It is also true that many film festivals will not show your film if it’s commercially available via consumer-facing platforms such as iTunes and Netflix. Most all-rights distributors do not handle educational rights either at all or as well as certain specializing educational rights distributors. Therefore, you might want to save those rights for a company specializing in “exploiting” them. The key will then be coordinating rights and windows between distributors in any given territory. Note that splitting rights is generally not an option with the majors but it is with many others and I have personally done as many as seven deals in a single territory.
4. Rights for the future
Protecting your rights for the future while satisfying the licensee (buyer/distributor) for the term of an ongoing deal can be challenging. Most deals of the past didn’t anticipate the digital age, including the Internet and streaming. There have been scores of legal battles over contracts that didn’t explicitly address digital distribution, causing parties to a deal to fight over digital rights (for example squabbling over what is included in “all technologies now known or hereinafter invented,” home video or “videogram” rights). Another even more common battle would be over whether digital rights falls into the video (VHS and then DVD) royalty or TV/broadcast.
The reason for the fight was, of course, the fact that the royalty to licensor (producers/filmmakers) or distribution percentages to distributor differ based on rights category (classification of rights). I think the degree to which one raises this as an issue should be based on the overall potential of the film in the present and the degree to which it may be evergreen or experience an uptick based on cast name recognition or genre. I like to do deals that are not only rights class/category-oriented (e.g. broadcast rights, theatrical rights), but that are broken down by revenue, and anticipate the future. You may not always have leverage to do this but if you do, it’s worth analyzing so that you do not risk having a category of rights or type of distribution that you once took for granted all of a sudden emerges as very significant and the terms are simply not in your favor and now you are locked in for 20 years. Also, you would have other protections for such a long license term if it cannot be avoided.
5. Fair use
A quick note to enlighten filmmakers about the doctrine of Fair Use, which affords one an exception to copyright protection for content used that would otherwise be protected by copyright, but only if certain factors are met. Factors include an analysis of how much of the copyrighted content at issue is used in the work; the nature and purpose of the work (for e.g. is it educational); and the effect of the use of the copyrighted work on the marketplace (e.g. will its use likely effect the potential market for the copyrighted work). This comes into play in documentaries all the time. Documentaries use new footage, photography, movie clips, archival content, etc. Fair Use is a copyright principle that allows certain otherwise copyright protected content to be used for commentary, criticism and educational purposes.
Fair Use is a legal theory and an exception to copyright that one can use a defense. It is not a license. This means that the holder of the copyright may still sue you even if you have a fair use letter from the attorney who helped you to obtain E&O insurance. So, for example, you and your attorney may believe that your use of 15-minutes of “Magic Mike XXL” in your documentary about contemporary feminism in the least expected place is “fair use,” but Warner Brothers might think otherwise. Or, maybe they’ll love it and even offer you a distribution deal. But if the copyright owner of the content perceives they lost money because of your work or is offended by how your work portrayed their work, you may be more at risk.
Of course, my example is a tad silly but the point is that when you use someone else’s copyrighted content, the degree to which you can is not always crystal clear at the outset as a matter of law. All this to say, just remember that fair use opinions are just that, opinions. A copyright holder can still sue your distributor and/or the production company entity that made the film if they feel their content has been infringed. [This assumes that you know better than to make a film under your own personal name that could expose you to significant risk of legal liability risk.] Be sure to consult an attorney BEFORE you edit your film to final cut so that you can minimize your risk of including content that might trigger a lawsuit. Lawsuits are costly and can impede distribution.
6. Price lock for licensing rights not actually licensed ahead of premiering
Well before your premiere, resolve the price for any music, footage, etc. that you are not licensing for worldwide rights in perpetuity. For example, your production budget may not allow for worldwide licensing in all rights and you may never have good reason to pay for that. So at first you license more limitedly. But it is best practice to resolve the price for any remaining rights (and for any remaining territories) so you don’t have to worry about the price being higher once the film is finished and distribution is underway. The price most often would only go up based on any success you have, and it’s better to have your licensing details resolved before you show the film and prepare it for distribution, whether DIY or via distributors.
7. Contracts are for honest people
This one is for ALL filmmakers, not just documentaries. I have seen countless disputes between people who verbally agreed to or thought they agreed to something and then argued about the agreement. It is also much more difficult to enforce an agreement not on paper. Contracts help people clarify and establish on paper what they mean (note that I have seen many convoluted contracts seemingly designed to confuse). With proper thinking, planning and good lawyering, contracts can help clarify exactly what people intend and mean by certain terms or phrases.
Contracts help force parties to think things through. Unfortunately, people fear entering into a contract or bringing up the idea of a formal agreement because they think it’s insulting or offensive. “What, you don’t think I’m honest?” Yet if one establishes from the outset that contracts are for honest people, then the other party will likely not be offended. A clear and well-drafted contract will help avoid litigation, not create it. I have seen way too many people wronged by trusting things will work out. Friends turn to frenemies over credit, money and vision issues that weren’t explicitly laid out on paper. Someone worth having on your team will not object to having a formal, non-onerous agreement. If they do, you want to analyze why.
8. Lawyer who knows distribution
Do not have your uncle, friend or family attorney who knows nothing about distribution do your legal work for your film. That is irresponsible and will harm you in the long run. Handling distribution and film licensing contracts requires a strong knowledge of the business and supporting law. Even issues around how to enforce rights via international deals and whether or not to have an arbitration provision are specific and require industry knowledge, specifically distribution knowledge. Of course, this is especially true for rights issues.
I have been asked other questions pertaining to chain-of-title, project control, financing, etc. that are beyond the scope of this post. Please feel free to reach out if you would like me to address something specifically.
Disclaimer: This article does not constitute legal advice and you should consult a lawyer about your specific situation. Also note that the images which accompany the story represent examples of films that TFC is handling for festival distribution. They are not involved in the legal concerns mentioned in the article.
Orly Ravid July 9th, 2015
Posted In: Legal
After reading this article from the New York Times regarding a change in their film review policy, TFC staff would like to offer their take on the decision and whether it will affect many independent films.
Bryan Glick (Film Submissions & Theatrical Support):
Last year the New York Times reviewed over 900 movies! While the announcement did not say how many films they will/won’t review, it’s reasonable to assume that this will work to deter some of the gluttony of Oscar Qualifying Docs and what otherwise would be straight to digital genre fare.
These films rarely get positive reviews anyway and I would argue there are better ways for them to generate exposure.
The business most impacted by this are companies like Cinemaflix (Formerly Quadflix) that have been profiting immensely from Oscar Qualifying runs, in part, by guaranteeing a NYT review.
Because of the major advertising $$ the NYT still will review the majority of films opening and certainly just about anything from the top festivals.”
Sheri Candler (Social Network & Digital Marketing Advisor) :
I think this has been in the works for a while, starting with this Manohla Dargis Times article in 2014 There ARE too many films being made with no thought to who is going to know about them or view them.
Does a Times review, on its own, help a film’s financial success all that much? Probably not. A good review probably did help with getting other cinema bookings, though. It is also something the industry read and measured the worth of a film by, even if consumer interest in watching independent films in the cinema is waning.
Newspapers themselves are in a waning industry and staff cuts, especially in arts criticism, are inevitable…so I can understand that is just impossible for every film playing in a New York cinema to get a written review from a dwindling newspaper staff.
Ultimately, I believe people go to see a film based on what their friends and colleagues recommend, so it is time to consider how to reach a passionate audience directly, without having to rely on media entities to reach them for you. Word of mouth has always been stronger than a critic’s voice, so concentrate on making something that excites rather than mourning that a New York Times critic won’t help you.”
David Averbach (Creative Director and Director of Digital Distribution Initiatives):
These reviews have always served a dual purpose. On the one hand, they inform New Yorkers as to what is going on in the city in any given week. On the other hand, they are an arbiter of taste that will, for better or worse, live on in digital archives until the end of time.
It’s hard to imagine, however, that the New York Times would divest its influence in either of these arenas, which is why I think that for films that have something to say, things will probably stay the same.
If we see some attrition in the number of films released theatrically because of this, perhaps the NY Times will still be able to remain completely current while at the same time cutting the corners it needs to cut.
Jeffrey Winter (Co-Executive Director):
“Since last week, I’ve already had an actual experience regarding this.
On Thursday (the day the article was published), I met with members who were raising money for the standard DIY four-wall in NYC/LA and who were counting on a NY Times review to help the digital. Then I got home and found that article and showed it to them. They immediately decided they didn’t want to raise the money if they couldn’t get a NY Times review.
Of course we all know that these NYTimes reviews can’t make enough of a difference to make their digital work, but filmmakers have a hard time hearing that absolutely nothing is going to make their digital work because their film is too mediocre that nothing will make it stand out.
So I think this will discourage the admittedly tired DIY standard, and theaters that have come to rely on that revenue will lose some business.
But I agree with the New York Times’ decision. Most of those film had no business being in the NY Times anyway.”
Orly Ravid (Founder and Co-Executive Director):
“On the one hand, this suggests what we already know, which is that media and information dissemination and influence is increasingly decentralized, giving more voice to non-traditional speakers.
But, on the other hand, this puts a lot of pressure on one’s ability to captivate people without a centralized or very widely consumed platform.
A great New York Times review still makes a difference in ticket sales and digital distribution success (DVD, too, of course, for now). It also helps get financing. It’s a stamp of approval—it’s good for ego, yours and your investors’.
Will that ever change?
Only if the folks not relying on NYT because they cannot actually manage to influence audiences en masse some other way. There’s still the issue of stamp of approval—I think many in the industry and many audiences still want to rely on known critics—but it’s true that many of us see a film because someone we know personally and trust told us to.”
The times they are a-changin’.
Orly Ravid May 27th, 2015
Posted In: Uncategorized
You can read for yourself what the fuss is all about but essentially, the EU Film Commission’s plan is to combine the 28 European territories into a common market for digital goods, which would eliminate “geo-blocking,” which currently bars viewers from accessing content across borders – and yet purportedly, the plan would preserve the territory by territory sales model. Filmmakers, distributors, the guilds, et al argue that this proposal would only help global players / platforms such Netflix, Amazon and Google, which would benefit from a simpler way to distribute content across Europe.
The IFTA (International Film and Television Alliance) expressed concerns that this would enable only a few multinational companies to control film/tv financing. Variety noted that although politicians insist the idea of multi-territory licenses won’t be part of the plan, those in the content industry remain concerned about passive sales and portability and the impact on windows and marketing.
In the US, digital distribution is just hitting its stride and is also finally getting anchored properly in Europe. Now this idea would be one step closer to one-stop-digital shopping, or selling. Though allegedly that’s not in the plan – but it would sure be a step in that direction.
Some are railing against it and warning against eliminating territory sales and windowing, hurting financing, and truncating important local marketing. Well, maybe and maybe not. I think it depends on the type of film or film industry player involved. A blockbuster studio hit or indie wide release sensation with international appeal may very likely be big enough to sell many territories, be big enough to warrant spending significant marketing money in each territory’s release, and be culturally malleable enough to lend itself to new marketing vision, materials, and strategies per market. On a related note, I remember hits such as Clueless being translated into different languages not just literally, but also culturally – modified for local appeal. That’s great, and possible, for some films.
But for most of the films we distribute at TFC and for the great majority on the festival circuit, they’ll be lucky to sell even 10 territories and many won’t sell even half that. Some sales in Europe are no minimum guarantee or a tiny minimum guarantee, just like it is State-side. Some films are financed per EU territory (government funding often) but that’s on the decline too.
The dilemma here about a digital single market in the EU recalls another common dilemma about whether to hold out for a worldwide Netflix sale or try to sell European TV or just EU period, one territory at a time. I’m not forgetting Asia or Africa but focusing on the more regular sales for American art house (not that selling Europe is an easy task for most American indies in any case). Sure, if you can sell the main Western European countries and a few Eastern ones that’s worthwhile taking into account. However, so often one does not sell those territories, or if one does, it’s for a pittance. Some sales can be for less than 5,000 Euros, or half that, or zero up front and not much more later. It’s not like the release then is career building either or a loss leader. It’s just buried or a drop in a big bucket.
In cases such as these, it makes little sense to hold off for a day that never comes or a day that really won’t do much for you. All this to say, I don’t think this proposal is one-size-fits all but I do think it’s worth trying on especially if you are in the petite section of the cinema aisle. If you are not sure how you measure up, ask around, comparison shop – see what films like yours (genre, style, topic, cast, festival premiere, budget, other names involved and other aspects) have done lately. Sometimes a worldwide Netflix deal may be the best thing that ever happened and I reckon that similarly, sometimes a plug and play EU digital deal (if this vision comes into fruition) will give you all that you could get in terms of accessing European audiences, while saving you money (in delivery and fees etc.). And then, get this, you can focus on direct-to-audience marketing – something few agents or distributors do much of anyway.
I kept this blog entry short as I stand by for more information out of Cannes and beyond and also await our TFC resident EU digital distribution guru Wendy Bernfeld (Advisory Board Member and co-author of the Selling Your Film Outside the U.S. case study book) to weigh in. In the meantime, I think it would be swell if one Cannes do digital in the EU all at once.
Please email me your thoughts to contactus [at] thefilmcollaborative.org or post them on our Facebook page so we can update this blog. We turned off comments here only because of the amount of spam we received in the past.
Orly Ravid May 14th, 2015
Tags: Amazon, arthouse films, digital film distribution, Digital Single Market Plan, EU, Film commission, Google, independent film, International Film and Television Alliance, Netflix, Orly Ravid, Selling Your Film Outside the US, The Film Collaborative, Variety, Wendy Bernfeld
As part of TFC’s ongoing mission to help filmmakers find the right audience and the right distribution strategy for their specfic project, this month, we sat down with Scilla Andreen, CEO & Co-Founder of INDIEFLIX to talk about the service, what’s new, and what’s ahead.
1) How does IndieFlix work? Would you consider it a service or a platform?
Variety calls IndieFlix the Netflix of independent film. Based in Seattle and founded by filmmakers, Carlo Scandiuzzi and Scilla Andreen, IndieFlix launched with 36 titles as a DVD on-demand service in October 2005. In 2013 the model evolved into a subscription based streaming service for movie enthusiasts. IndieFlix helps you find great independent films from around the world and makes them available for $5 per month. We like to think that we entertain and enrich people’s lives by connecting them to more than 8,000 films selected from over 2500 film festivals and 85 countries. Our library includes shorts, features, documentaries and web-series. We have worldwide rights to over 85% or our library so members can watch our films from anywhere in the world on a variety of platforms including Amazon’s Fire TV, Kindle Fire, Xbox 360, Sony, Apple’s iPad, iPhone and Roku—basically any internet connected device.
2) Why should filmmakers work with IndieFlix?
If there is anything we have learned it’s that teamwork and transparency are essential to the future of independent film. Distribution costs a lot of money, and studios spare no expense with their blockbusters. But because of this the filmmaker is often the last person to ever get paid and they have no idea who their audience is or where they originate. We have created a model of efficiency, transparency and data that literally turns the old model of distribution on its head with our unique royalty payment system called (RPM) Royalty Pool Minutes model. In this model, filmmakers are paid for every minute their film is watched. We are currently building out the filmmaker dashboard to include analytics, and data on where the audience lives and on what device (such as Roku, Xbox, iOS etc.) they watch the film on. We will also be adding data on the point in the film at which a user exits a film. This is possible of course because technology allows filmmakers to be their own gatekeepers. My job is to grow the subscriber base and curate a library with a user experience that makes finding films to watch not only fun and entertaining but also meaningful. I want our audience to love finding and watching films on IndieFlix because the more they watch the more the filmmaker gets paid.
3) What are some of your favorite creative marketing solutions and/or partnerships that you have high expectations of?
Our most successful campaigns are with our device partners Roku and FireTV. We haven’t yet done a campaign with the others. As far as creative campaigns, we have no shortage, but those are more brand awareness campaigns like the time we had biking billboards ride up and down Main Street in Park city during the Sundance Film Festival. We were giving away cold hard cash to demonstrate to people what IndieFlix does…We pay filmmakers that’s why we created the company.
Another favorite campaign was handing out printed matches that said, “Strike a Revolution: IndieFlix is the perfect match.” I handed those out at the Cannes film Festival and actually met one of my investors there…Talk about a good match.
We also really enjoy marketing campaigns that we do with the filmmakers. When the filmmaker participates and we market together there is always a great return. Like our collaboration with filmmaker Kurt Kuenne. We met Kurt through Oscilloscope. We now offer three of his films on IndieFlix including: Dear Zachary, The Legend of Dear Zachary: A Journey to Change Law and Drive-In Movie Memories. We will also be releasing a rare black and white director’s cut of his film Shuffle in coming months. We will be highlighting his work through an exclusive branded director’s channel and an interview we conducted with him about the process of making Dear Zachary.
Of course Chris Temple and Zach Ingrasci the directors of Living on One Dollar, Lauren Paul and Molly Thompson of Finding Kind and Sarah Moshman and Dana Michele Cook of The Empowerment Project: Ordinary Women Doing Extraordinary Things are all exemplary filmmakers of the new order. They have mastered the art of making great movies and marketing their story globally.
4) Can you share any data? Revenues? Users? Number of films you have?
We are a privately held company and do not typically share numbers. However I am excited to say that we currently have low six figures of total users, and our library has grown to 8000 titles. A large portion of those titles we have worldwide rights.
It is exciting to have a growing user base but it is important to us that these users are watching. We want filmmakers to look at their dashboard and see their films being watched and minutes tallying up.
5) Any success stories? And can you share details?
To be honest our greatest success stories started with the films in the IndieFlix Distribution Lab where we put the entire weight of the company behind these films to market them in schools and communities off-line as well as strategic windows online. Of course IndieFlix is the first window and then we roll out onto iTunes, Comcast and Netflix.
We’ve also found great success with short films. The Indieflix “QuickPick” allows users to sample movies as they would music. You can sort through shorts based on running time, genre and rating. It’s a quick and easy way to sample movies.
Films about zombies, include nudity, tattooing, and music docs also do very well on IndieFlix. Social justice films are equally successful.
I’ll leave you with a quick story about a German filmmaker that had a hard time finding broad distribution due to some of the challenging nature of his film and the title. We picked up the movie changed the title (with his permission) and the film is now thriving.
6) What type of content is and is not a good fit for IndieFlix?
We have learned that our audience is really a lifestyle connoisseur. They enjoy wine, art, books and travel. They like to discover and they care about how they spend their time and money. We have found that content that is entertaining high production value and covers a wide variety of topics here in the US and abroad including fashion, art and music is very popular. In the same breath I will add that zombies, horror, mystery and documentaries are very popular. And just like in Hollywood comedies are always a favorite.
What I have learned is that marketing content gets watched. The best movie can sit in our library but if we don’t bring it to the users attention no one will watch it no matter how good it is. I guess to answer the question the best movies are the ones that start great conversations and people feel compelled to write a review, leave a comment and share it.
7) What are common misconceptions about IndieFlix?
The most common misconception is that Indieflix will take anything. It’s true that when we first started the company back in 2005 our policy was if you had played at a film festival you could submit and be accepted at IndieFlix. We quickly learned that the film festivals are not the most reliable way to curate content. We started our own curation process, which has evolved over time. We now accept 5-10% of all submissions.
8) What are some key selling points?
There are many selling points to being on IndieFlix.com, but here are a few:
- Zero fees
- Quick Turn Around
- Global Reach (with the ability to geo-block)
- Exceptional Customer Service
- A hungry audience
9) What’s the future of IndieFlix?
Part of what makes the entertainment industry so exciting right now is that the future is unknown and everything is moving very fast. The digital landscape is ever-evolving and we are always looking for what works best for our filmmakers to generate meaningful revenue. We balance this with providing our subscribers with an exceptional catalog of films they may not have access to elsewhere. IndieFlix has survived 3 technologies and remained a thriving player in the marketplace. We are bold in that we know who we are and who we want to be, and we are confident in evolving our focus and approach with the changing marketplace. At the end of the day, we want to be a household name, we have an excellent product in our catalog and we want to share our passion for it with the world.
10) Feel free to share any other predictions, analysis, data, and/or case studies or anecdotes. If you want to share about capital you have raised etc.
I’m just now starting a capital raise for IndieFlix. We have boot strapped for years. We have an amazing team of 21 people who are incredibly dedicated to the filmmakers, the audience, the film festivals and the entire industry.
I’m clear on what I want to build and I know exactly how I’m going to spend the money. There has never been a more exciting time to be a filmmaker. I am excited. We are looking forward to being a true change agent in our industry.
Orly Ravid April 8th, 2015
Posted In: Distribution
We thought we’d start off 2015 with a bit about digital platforms that filmmakers can utilize directly, without giving rights to a distributor and without necessarily having to go through an aggregator. When I say “platform,” what I mean is a place on the Internet that film viewers would go to consume cinema. While filmmakers are always encouraged to distribute off their own websites and social media pages, that is not the subject of this blog. To accomplish DIY off the film’s site and social media pages, filmmakers are encouraged to work with Distrify or VHX, for example. For now we cover the following distinct platforms that filmmakers can directly access: MUBI, FANDOR, VIMEO, WOLFE ON DEMAND, and DOCURAMA (just a tad, and more will be discussed in a few weeks).
MUBI is a curated video-on-demand subscription service.
MUBI describes its offering as a hand-picked selection of the best cult, classic and award-winning films from around the globe. “Every day MUBI’s in-house film experts select a great new film and you have 30 days to watch it. So there’s always 30 brilliant films to enjoy. We have a huge audience of passionate cinephiles from every corner of the planet who watch, rate, review and share great cinema.” See more at mubi.com/about.
Q: How film viewers can access it?
The service is the only subscription service available worldwide (193 territories). So whether you are in Venezuela or Vancouver you’ll be able to experience a beautiful collection of 30 hand-picked films. MUBI works on the web, mobile devices, internet-connected TVs and games consoles. On MUBI’s mobile apps you can download films and watch offline.
Financial model of platform How audiences pay (if at all) and how do filmmakers make money:
MUBI brings one new film to the platform every single day. Each film plays on the platform for a 30-day window. Revenue is split 50/50 with the filmmaker (or whomever is the rights holder) based on views over the 30-day run. A MUBI membership costs around $4.99 USD in most countries for a month or £2.99 in the UK or €4.99 in the EU.
Deals Offered to Filmmakers:
MUBI typically licenses films for a 2-year period, non-exclusive. They license by territory, but also do global deals or groups of territories.
How Films Get Onto MUBI:
MUBI takes films directly from filmmakers and also from studios, distributors and aggregators.
Q: What does your company do to drive audiences / consumers to this platform?
“Beyond the normal channels (digital, social, offline) we work in partnership with festivals and organisations [organizations] like Cannes, Berlinale, MoMa, AFI, Lomokino, Picturehouse Cinemas, we curate seasons and retrospectives, host screenings, run events… the list goes on! Also, in the UK (one of our focus countries) we have a mutli-level advertising campaign launching in 2015.”
[This question is almost never answered by any businesses so don’t hold it against MUBI for not answering.]
Speaking from experience, however, we at TFC have enjoyed seeing hundred of dollars that eventually added up to some small version of thousands for a film that did not do better business anywhere else. In fact, I would say MUBI was a source of revenue that was particularly useful for a smaller art house film that would not be sought out on the more commercial platforms such as iTunes.]
What MUBI does to market films:
“We have huge communication channels offline and off. When a title is selected as the ‘film of the day’ all these channels are directed towards promoting that film. The difference with MUBI, for the filmmaker, is that instead of your film sitting in a library of a thousand films, your film is one of just thirty. Every day we send out a dedicated ‘Film of the Day’ email to hundreds of thousands of people globally, the email features “Our Take” – the reasons why we selected the film and why it’s worth watching. We build editorial context around films rather than leaving them fighting alone. We run one of the most respected online sources for film criticism, Notebook. So if your film is on MUBI it’s less about creating a long-term revenue stream and more about exposure for the film in a targeted, well-contextualised burst which can be a great complement to (or continuation of) a theatrical or DVD release. A film is on MUBI for 30 days but for those 30 it is the centre of our attention. It works for the audiences and filmmakers alike, great films can find people that want to watch them.”
Special initiatives MUBI has brewing (this is from December 2014):
New from MUBI: iPad and iPhone App
Fandor can be accessed via apps available through iTunes (iPhone, iPad) and Google Play (Android phones and tablets including Kindle Fire), and as a channel on Roku.
Fandor offers an extensive and rich library of over 6000 films, from around the world, in over 500 genres, and of all lengths, handpicked for people who love the transforming experience of great cinema. Fandor fulfills the promise of an online cinematic experience, marrying curation with contextual information for a global community of film lovers and filmmakers.
Fandor Availability / Accessibility:
Fandor is available in the US and Canada, accessible anytime to subscribers.
Financial model of platform—How do audiences pay (if at all) and how do filmmakers make money:
Fandor members subscribe on an annual ($90) or a monthly ($10) basis. Both subscription types offer a 2-week free trial. Subscription revenue is shared, with 50% going to the film rights holders, divided based on availability and audience viewership.
Deals Given to Filmmakers:
Because our model is a revenue share, the amount that filmmakers earn will vary based on viewership. 20% of the shared revenue is split among all films on the platform; the remaining 80% is allocated based on seconds of viewing to individual films.
Fandor Gets Films Direct From Filmmakers And Distributors:
Fandor has partnerships with hundreds of distributors and approximately 125 filmmakers (direct).
What Fandor does to drive audiences / consumers to its platform:
“We have an extensive marketing program that includes advertising, social outreach to over 160K fans, public relations, personalized email and integrated promotional campaigns. We also have a network of 4 blogs that addresses Fandor customers (The Fandorian), film aficionados (Keyframe), the film industry (Hope for Film), and filmmaker-to-filmmaker (Hammer to Nail).”
Fandor’s response to our request to share revenue ranges for films on its platform:
“We’re a private company and typically don’t share our financials and membership data.”
Special initiatives Fandor has brewing:
“We have two initiatives currently targeted to film festivals (Fandor|Festival Alliance) and to filmmakers (FIX). These initiatives are part of a larger effort to build relationships across the film world as part of a larger mission to advance and preserve film art and culture.”
See the release explaining these…
An example of a Fandor marketing campaign:
“Probably the best example is the Shocktober campaign we did for October. We showcased a different horror film each day through the month of October. The campaign was integrated across our ads, our website, our social networks, and email. We also did two video trailers. I’ve attached a .gif we used for social and email, and following are links to the videos. The campaign culminated in a day/date release of the remastered THE CABINET OF DR CALIGARI on Halloween.”
VIMEO ON DEMAND
Vimeo allows one to distribute films, series, and videos with all the power of Vimeo, its community, and its legendary
HD player. Anyone can use Vimeo On Demand – from established and first-time filmmakers to creators of video tutorials or video performances. “Vimeo On Demand helps creators distribute feature films, documentaries, series, episodes, TV shows, instructional videos, and more. It puts all the control in the hands of creators, who can choose to offer buy and rent options at their own prices, sell on Vimeo and their own website, worldwide or in select countries.”
Vimeo On Demand is available worldwide and allows viewers to watch films on pretty much any screen, from computers and tablets to connected TVs, all in full HD (even 4K!). Vimeo On Demand is a global, open platform where any filmmaker can sign up and start selling their videos.
Financial model of platform:
Vimeo On Demand offers creators the ability to sell their movies to rent or own. “Viewers pay by credit card or PayPal. Creators earn 90% of the net revenue from every sale—which is the best deal in the film business!”
Vimeo accepts films first-time filmmakers and distributors.
Q: What does your company do to drive audiences / consumers to Vimeo?:
“Vimeo has 170 million monthly visitors and more than 30 million registered users. We regularly promote curated selections of movies from Vimeo On Demand to this massive audience on-site, via email and on social media. We also have ongoing paid marketing campaigns and publisher partners working to bring viewers to Vimeo On Demand.”
“Vimeo On Demand has been proud to power some of the most successful direct distribution releases ever. We are not allowed to share our users’ revenue data.”
What Vimeo does on marketing front for its films:
“Our Audience Development team is actively working to market films via our own platform as well as through digital advertising, social media marketing, and a growing list of publisher partners. Vimeo On Demand is the only direct distribution platform that brings a built-in audience and markets films on the platform.”
[NOTE: My colleague David Averbach has informed me that there is a way, for filmmakers who are allowed to offer VOD off their film’s website, but not other external sites, to hide Vimeo On Demand videos from vimeo.com.]
WOLFE ON DEMAND
The worldwide LGBT digital movie-watching platform!
Accessibility / Availability:
The platform showcases more than 150 films, more than 100 of which are available worldwide.
TVOD (Transactional Video on Demand via Internet) and Streaming (rental)
$3.99 streaming and $14.99 download for features.
$2.99 streaming and $9.99 download for docs.
Revenue to Filmmakers:
WOD split is 50/50. Wolfe have also entered into a strategic relationship with Vimeo and WOD will soon live on their platform. Wolfe’s site is powered, in part, by Distrify which takes a cut of revenues, as will Vimeo. Wolfe also notes that the partnering with Vimeo will also involve additional marketing opportunities.
Direct with Filmmakers and Distributors:
“We work with all kinds of filmmakers directly as well as distributors.”
Q: What does your company do to drive audiences / consumers to this platform?:
“Wolfe has been in the business of releasing LGBT films since 1985. With 30 years in the business we have the experience, relationships community good will and connections to help connect films with the audiences who want to see them. We utilize our mailing lists, social media, advertising, PR, community outreach and creative marketing as well as a wide array of other marketing tools and strategies. Wolfe’s strength is in consumer marketing. We dedicate considerable resources to unique programs domestically and abroad to drive traffic to WolfeOnDemand.com.”
[Like the others, Wolfe did not disclose.]
Special initiatives Wolfe has brewing:
Yes, stay tuned for some exciting news to be announced in late January 2015.
We’ll be covering this one in a few weeks as information is being updated…
As the name suggests, this platform focuses on documentaries.
The channel is available on iOS, Roku, XBox, Amazon Fire, Western Digital, Opera, to name a few.
We will send proper information about Docurama in a few weeks. For now, TFC recommends working directly with these platforms when they are a fit for your film. We will update about other platforms as we learn of them, if we think they are worthy of focus.
Happy direct digital distribution,
The Film Collaborative
Orly Ravid January 14th, 2015
As 2014 draws to a close TFC reflects on five (5) film distribution lessons from 2014 in anticipation of our 5th Anniversary at Sundance 2015.
1) DIGITAL TECHNOLOGY POSITIVELY IMPACTING FESTIVAL & OTHER PUBLIC EXHIBITION DISTRIBUTION BY REDUCING COST AND HEADACHE:
As we have seen every year for several years now, we are experiencing additional technological revolution that will change our business forever. In 2014, we said adieu to the preview DVD (for festivals, distributors, exhibitors, press etc.) in favor of the online screener link. We said goodbye to the HDCAM and the final nail in the coffin of the Digibeta. We struggled with the problems of the DCP and all its imperfections and inevitability (at least for a few more years). And we are RIGHT ON THE VERGE of the greatest evolution we will experience in recent years, which will be full delivery of films for exhibition via the Internet…whether it turns out to be Vimeo or Drop Box or iCloud or other. If we can remove the SHIPPING part of the independent film business, filmmaker (and distributor) profits may greatly increase without that part of the equation. We are almost there now…
2) THE HARD-TO-ACCEPT REALITY OF MARKETING SMALL FILMS:
As much as all of us at TFC have talked about the need to identify and target niche audiences, the ones who would be the most interested and excited to see a project because it speaks to a belief or lifestyle or cause, most indie filmmakers still aren’t heeding this advice. Of the consultations I had this year, most were with filmmakers who made micro-budget dramas with no notable names and were without prestigious festival accolades. They still believed a distributor would be willing to take on their project and give it a full release. Even those who realized this wasn’t going to happen found the financial burden associated with the kind of release they envisioned too difficult to bear, especially because they were likely to never see that money again (hence why distributors weren’t willing to take on the burden).
If you’re going to work small, you need to think small, but deep. You NEED a small, but highly passionate audience that you can reach given the resources and assets you have. Their enthusiasm will help you if you can harness their attention early on. I won’t say this is easy, but before you embark on a project that could take thousands of dollars and years of your life, first think about how you will approach the audience for your work and how you will maintain it on a consistent basis. If you think someone else is going to take care of that for you, you haven’t been paying attention to the shifts in the indie film marketplace.
If you think someone else is going to [attract and maintain a niche audience] for you, you haven’t been paying attention to the shifts in the indie film marketplace.
3) WHEN BROADCASTERS WANT STREAMING RIGHTS – WHAT TO DO?:
Increasingly, broadcasters are seeking streaming rights along with traditional TV broadcast rights and they have holdbacks on streaming and SVOD at a minimum, and often on transactional digital (DTO/DTR) too. For sure they limit / prohibit cable VOD. As a filmmaker, you only have leverage to demand a higher licensing fee if your film is a hot commodity. Otherwise, while online (or in-app) streaming will possibly gut your transactional VOD sales, you can’t beat the reach a broadcaster can give to your film. Think very hard about turning down a broadcast deal that includes online streaming. Will your iTunes/Amazon/Google Play sales really be so much if very few people have heard of your film? iTunes and Amazon are not going to promote your film like a broadcaster would.
Then again, which broadcaster is it? How big is its reach? How much publicity and marketing will you get? How much digital distribution are you barred from and for how long? Not all types of films make the same money on all types of platforms so does your film demand-to-be-owned? or is a renter, at best. Not all platforms will even accept all films (e.g. all Cable VOD, Sony Playstation, Netflix). Is yours one that will digitally succeed broadly or narrowly, or at all? Will Netflix pay 6-figures like in the good ole days or a lot less, or anything? Do you have a direct-to-fan distribution strategy that you can employ in tandem so as to not need to rely on other digital platforms in the first place?
Or if you want to try it all, still, your strategy would privilege the direct sales anyway. Which is better for your goals, a film that gets national broadcast airings or a film that turns down that opportunity only to be buried in the iTunes store? Or would it not be buried? Only you can answer this as not everyone’s goals are the same and not everyone’s opportunities / potentials are the same. As we have always said, knowing your film’s ACTUAL potential and combining that with your HIERARCHY OF GOALS will help you answer these questions and decide your distribution strategy.
And while it may feel like you are giving up revenue by allowing your film to be streamed (hopefully for a limited time!) through a broadcaster’s portal, you may find this is a good career move for your next feature because people will be familiar with your work having had the opportunity to see it.
4) THE HEAVY BURDEN OF THE NARRATIVE WITH NO NAMES:
Several of us opined about the challenges facing narratives with no names.
The emerging mega strength of incredible television series available everywhere threatens narrative film even more than before, and of course, especially the smaller indie fare.
We have seen time and again how narrative dramas or comedies almost always fall flat in sales unless they have very strong names and not just C-list or B-list names. Of course there are exceptions to this rule and Sundance can be part of that, or a hot director, or simply just an exceptional break out film. But too many filmmakers look to those as the model when they are the anomaly. The pattern we, at TFC, see repeated too often is the making of a decent or good but not exceptional narrative with names that are okay but not great and then wasting time trying to make a big or even medium sale. It just does not happen. Money and time are lost and careers often not made. Again, there are exceptions, and of course certain niches such as LGBT may be one of them, but we advise discerning between passionate optimism and sheer folly.
5) TRANSPARENCY—The Kale of Film Distribution:
The big takeaway from 2014 about TRANSPARENCY is that, on the one hand, it has become a sort of new, hip standard—something cool and good, like eating kale—that more honest distributors practice and/or shadier ones pretend to because it’s more expected. On the other hand, however, we were surprised at how many filmmakers still resist it—resist sharing their data, even anonymously. And to that, all we can ask is, what are you afraid of? It’s meant to be good for the filmmaking community as a whole but maybe individually folks are scared about what the truth will bring. And some folks just want to eat bacon. We get it. Still, we encourage sharing the real data for the greater good and we will keep on working to inspire and facilitate more TRANSPARENCY.
We at TFC wish you and yours a delightful new year and we are looking forward to being even more of service to filmmakers in 2015!
Orly Ravid December 29th, 2014
Tags: audience building for films, broadcasters, DCP, direct-to-fan film distribution, distribution strategy, DVD, film distribution, film exhibition, Film Festivals, independent film distribution, independent film with no names, The Film Collaborative, Vimeo
I’m back to blogging after a long (2 years!) hiatus in law school and the first thing I want to discuss is something that frustrates us about the filmmaker consultations we give. At The Film Collaborative (TFC), it is shocking how much of what we said 5 years ago when we first started the company and what we continue to say over and over again has not trickled down and stuck to filmmakers.
While we like to think that we are changing minds and getting filmmakers to be more proactive about making their own decisions regarding distribution of their films, sadly, this doesn’t seem to be the case in the majority. The same issues keep coming up (no you probably won’t be getting a 7 figure deal for distribution…no your film is not a fit for Sundance…no you shouldn’t just sign any deal that slides across the table).
Maybe you’re afraid of letting go of the notion that your job is only to make a good film and someone will buy it for big sums and you can move on fast to your next film.
Maybe you’re worried that if you cannot look an investor in the eye and say that the odds of selling and making all the film’s money back within a year or two are good, you won’t be able to make films.
Maybe you aren’t actually following any of the information currently coming out of every festival panel and industry publication about how the distribution world stands today.
But that doesn’t mean new information isn’t available and the independent film world still works like it did in 2008.
This is information we analyze daily at TFC. Clinging to the old mythology just makes it easier for distributors to cling to non-transparency in how money is made in distribution and it’s all a vicious and unsustainable cycle. You need to know the real story on how deals are structured now, what kinds of revenue is being recouped and why, and what role audience data plays in the continuation of your filmmaking career. This is not some 90’s pipe dream of make a film, reap immediate millions.
In law, they call that “willful blindness” where a person seeks to avoid liability for a wrongful act by intentionally putting his or herself in a position where he or she will be unaware of facts that would render him or her liable. It’s not pretty to see, especially after all this time of talking about properly laying ground-work for self financed distribution. It has to stop and it will eventually because someone who is willfully blind won’t be working as a filmmaker for much longer.
Of course it’s not all about money, it’s also about building your audience and having your film seen and developing your career. These are actually all quite connected, much more often than not.
Here’s a list of things we have been saying for years and keep saying. Please let this stuff stick, it’s good for you! And the more people practice it, the healthier this will be for artists and for the business in general.
Top 15 mistakes made by filmmakers that shouldn’t keep happening are:
Making a horror film and only start thinking in August about how to release it by October of the same year. If you are planning a digital release, you need about a 4-6 month lead time.
Not building community around your film until after you premiered it at a festival (or worse, completed the circuit) such that then you squandered opportunities to build buzz, demonstrate and test audience appeal, and build awareness and marketing or organizational partnerships for future release before your buzz is gone.
Not clearing music rights believing that your distributor will be happy to pay for clearance. Profit margins are already slim for distributors, so they aren’t going to outlay for this expense. Plus, it makes you look unprofessional and extremely misinformed if you don’t have all of your clearances. Plan to work with a music supervisor.
Stealing money from your marketing and distribution budget to feed your production budget even though both are needed. In fact, if you can’t market and distribute your film, you probably shouldn’t even make it. Stop with assuming you won’t need to market and distribute your film. You will at least need to build up some kind of audience awareness and it will be smart for you to start getting immediate revenue from direct distribution.
Making your first documentary largely out of stock footage, which is probably the most expensive kind of documentary you can make. Stock footage is expensive to clear and if you have no track record of success in filmmaking, it is better to steer clear of making an expensive film as your first attempt.
Making a film with no notable names, no clearly identifiable audience, and no plan for how to distribute or market the title. This is an especially bad idea if you were planning to have someone else buy it and distribute it because it has virtually no market value.
Relying on box office gross as an indicator of the commercial success of a film, and using those numbers for the business plan of your film. Box office revenue is only top line revenue, not net revenue and certainly not an indicator of profit.
Believing that MGs in the 6-7 figure range are common for films without A-list talent. Read the trades after a major festival or film market and see what MGs are paid and for what level of talent in the film. If you don’t have this level, you aren’t getting that MG.
Skipping taking good photography on set and thinking frame grabs of the cast and crew will cut it when formulating key art and meeting deliverable requirements from buyers. Here is our post on what is needed for making key art. Still images are absolutely imperative to film sales and film promotion, but also to populate social media channels. Don’t skimp on photography.
Having a 4-minute trailer. Really? Please don’t. Also related, letting your intern or the editor of your film cut your trailer. Please hire a professional trailer editor because it is that important to gaining audience interest in seeing your film.
Forgetting that artwork on digital platforms is small, not theatrical poster size. It demands clear imagery with no extra text (laurels, URLs, credit block, rating etc).
Conflating “distributor” with “aggregator” and even with “platform” – they are different, the deals will be different, your expectations should be different, etc. This leads filmmakers to make bad or incomplete decisions. See our post on distribution terms.
Many filmmakers drastically “overthink” their festival strategy, and hold back from festival invitations for fear that actions taken now will overexpose the film and hurt its chances with press and distributors later. The truth is that INACTION is the far greater danger. By all means, you should obsess about the right world and international premieres …after that, just identify the best festival opportunities in each local market and let it fly, making sure to also address the festivals that cater to your niche along the way.
Hiring a lawyer who does not know the film business to handle your film deals. Okay, that’s a shameless plug since I’m an attorney now. But truly, as much as knowing the law matters, knowledge of what can be negotiated in a film distribution deal matters so much when it comes to monetizing rights and protecting your work.
Conducting screenings of your film (test screening as well as festivals) and not having a system for collecting email contact details so you can keep in touch about the progression of the release. When will you have another chance to contact these people again? Maximize your ability to keep in contact. There are now some text to subscribe services you can use rather than pass the clipboard.
A lot of film consultants, industry bloggers, film festival panelists, and others all saying the same thing so it’s time to realize what they are telling you is true. Can you hear me? Is this mic still on? It’s time not just to hear, but to listen and follow the advice people are freely telling you. You should no longer continue to make these mistakes.
Wishing you all the good things in your filmmaking career.
Orly Ravid September 24th, 2014
By Orly Ravid and Sheri Candler
This month’s series will cover the practicalities behind successfully marketing and distributing a film with limited resources. In this series, we will cover knowing the current distribution situation before developing a new project, the rewards and perils of the festival circuit, become familiar with the different players in film distribution and how to work with them effectively and wrap up with deliverables that will expected once you sign a deal.
Part 1-Understand the market
Independent film means risk.
A report published this year by Cultural Weekly cited fewer than 2% of the fully-finished, feature-length films submitted to the Sundance Film Festival (arguably the biggest festival for the best of independent film) will get any kind of distribution whatsoever. Of the more than $3 billion invested annually, less than 2% will ever be recouped. This is a reality of independent filmmaking and anyone who engages in it must understand the financial risk of doing so. It is best to evaluate your goals in making a film before starting out. It’s okay to have goals other than recouping a production budget. This is especially true of first or second films from those involved. In our opinion, films can be and should be about art, cultural connection, gaining experience and giving voice to the unheard. All are valid goals right up there with money. Patrons throughout the ages have supported the arts for many emotional reasons beyond making profit.
But if the ultimate goal is to fully recoup and be profitable, a realistic plan from the start describing how that is going to happen, and what it will realistically take to make that happen, needs to be in place before anyone sets foot on a set. The distribution marketplace is so fluid and challenging, even the best planning can result in a loss. Be prepared for the risk, with no complaining or blaming.
It’s natural for filmmakers and film investors to have high expectations for the release of their films, including a theatrical release, TV sales, international sales, a Netflix fee, a cable VOD/digital release and maybe DVD for shops that still carry them. At the same time, it’s important to understand how a release like this might be achieved and how many intermediaries are inserted into the money chain before the production will see any revenue to pay back financing. There are legitimate benefits in partnering with strong companies who have the relationships and expertise to achieve a release that the production envisions, but agreements with them may not be forthcoming if the film isn’t perceived to have breakout or mass audience potential. Or you may fall prey to the distributor who annually needs new product to fill the catalog and isn’t willing to give much market support to your film. Distribution companies profit on volume, but your film does not share in their volume profits.
Before starting a new project that has aspirations for a big market release, it is the responsibility of the producer/filmmaker to survey the market. Talk to sales agents who have recently returned from the major film markets (Berlin, Cannes, AFM etc) and find out what they are seeing as far as emerging demand or trends that have finished. Check sites like The Film Catalogue to see what is already in the market or will be soon. You can check by budget level, by genre, by release year or production stage and even dig deeper by seeing who is handling these films and what cast is attached. While this won’t be a comprehensive list because not every film being made has a sales agent attached, it will give a better idea of the competitive landscape for the kind of film you are seeking to make.
Keep up your knowledge of the industry by reading both the trade press and various organizational blogs. There is a lot of free and valuable information online from those working in the industry and from other filmmakers on sites including IndieWire, Filmmaker Magazine and MovieMaker Magazine, as well as blogs from Sundance, IFP, Film Independent and our own blog. You just have to subscribe to them, read religiously and analyze how that information benefits what you are trying to do. Alternatively, you can save yourself time by working with a distribution consultant knowledgeable about current distribution options and revenues. Caution: Always learn about ownership stakes and fees of intermediaries such as sales agents, aggregators and distributors because their fees and associated marketing costs reduce the amount of revenue that flows back to your production.
It is a good idea to confer with other filmmakers. It is our experience that the filmmaking community can be very giving when asked about how they accomplished something, and not just about production, but all aspects of getting their films to market. This is a useful way to learn from others’ experiences (and mistakes). Sharing stories helps you understand the reputations of companies you may be dealing with and especially key contact names within those companies. Many experienced filmmakers are mentors and are willing to make introductions if they can see a fit between your talent and a decision maker who can help.
Not only should you connect with the community online, but make it a point to attend offline events in person where you will pick up timely information, and form ongoing relationships that could help you later in your career. Labs, conferences, festivals and workshops are all regularly offered not just in Los Angeles, New York City, Toronto or London, but in many communities across the world. If you are serious about filmmaking as an occupation, you need to invest financially in your education and network building.
In the next post, we will talk about what can be gained from the festival circuit, how long to stay on the circuit with your film and why staying on it too long can be detrimental.
Orly Ravid July 2nd, 2014
For the next volume of Selling Your Film, which comes out later this month, I recently had a virtual sit-down with Tilman Eberle, Head of Marketing and Communications at , a global provider of on-demand Internet streaming media headquartered in Zurich, Switzerland.
Approximately how many art house / independent films does Viewster handle annually?
Tilman Eberle: Currently none, except for the festival. The platform specializes on serialized content (TV series, miniseries, prime web series). In the past, we had around 75% independent films in our portfolio, a vast majority of it arthouse.
Where do you acquire the rights from? Only sales agents? Only distributors? filmmakers? All three?
Eberle: Producers directly, sales agents, aggregators, TV networks–whoever holds the AVOD rights.
What types of films work well via Viewster?
Eberle: We prefer newer production with a high production value, a known/recognizable cast or director and content that has social media relevance, which means that it’s talked about in blogs and social media outlets and has followers/fans.
Genres: Comedy, Drama (including Korean Drama), Crime, Documentaries (series and films) and Japanese Anime. We can promote these titles best–they have a large and active niche audience that we can target very specifically. Besides that, there can be very diverse titles that get surfaced by the community. We are surprised day by day…
Please explain your business model and how widely films you handle are distributed (discuss platforms etc).
Eberle: Viewster offers ad-based free VOD, granting the content owner a fair revenue share. Distribution can be from worldwide to country-specific. However, Viewster’s focus is to get distribution rights for its European core markets.
Please describe any initiatives you have with regard to independent / art house cinema?
Eberle: Viewster just launched the first edition of its online film festival to which both aggregators and individual creators are invited. The high total prize money of US$100,000 is meant to give the creative community something back from the revenues that are earned with online distribution of professional content.
Other than that, Viewster is the ideal platform to distribute independent films because of its low entry barrier and fair sharing model. A separate track for commercial content licensing is in preparation and will be launched soon.
Can you please give some ranges of revenues and explain which types of films perform well vs. not as well?
Eberle: An individual title can generate significant monthly revenue. Our community-driven exploration platform ensures that titles that are deeper in the library also get surfaced. That’s why, besides catchy artwork and title, the relevance of the film for a certain niche makes the success via social activation.
Please explain any marketing you do and also what you recommend filmmakers do.
Eberle: Viewster’s marketing focuses on brand-building, advertising and social media promotion, mainly on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. PR is also used for brand-building. For individual filmmakers, community-building and social media marketing are very efficient ways to promote their film because you can reach out to a certain niche in a very targeted way.
What are some best practices that you think filmmakers should follow?
Eberle: Be your own marketing manager and do not rely on anyone else to do this for you. Create a catchy story around your oeuvre and pitch this to the right people at events, festivals and online on social media platforms. Be sure that you have good imagery when doing so. This sounds trivial but it’s shocking how bad these basics can be sometimes. If you want to reach out to younger audiences that turn themselves away from TV and cinema, and you still want to earn money, consider online distribution: there is more than YouTube and Netflix!
How is your service similar to other services, and how is it different?
Eberle: Viewster specializes in AVOD and focuses on the European market. This makes it distinct from Netflix and Hulu, respectively. In contrast to YouTube, Viewster has no piracy and only professional, curated content.
Let’s move on to your quarterly film festival. It’s called the , and you finished the first edition earlier this spring. Submissions with the theme of “When Life Gives You Lemons…” were juried by Ted Hope and two other jury members and narrowed down to 83 films. Those 83 were then put up online for people to vote for them, and they competed for a total of $100K in prize money with a first, second and third prize. Very exciting.
The first thing that stuck me is the mix of shorts and features…this is not unusual for a film festival in general, but since we are talking about a prize and ranking, I found it interesting that you didn’t list the running times on the main page…is this because you didn’t want to give away which ones would take longer to watch, as that might create an unfair advantage to the shorter films?
Eberle: The winners of our first edition were a series, a feature and a short, despite the fact that 2/3 of the entries were short format. The variety of formats played absolutely fine and we’ll keep this concept also for the second edition.
And you have your second set for this June. Are you going to have a prize for each quarterly installment, or is this just for the first one?
Eberle: Yes, there will be the same prize for each quarterly edition.
Do you have a permanent jury or do you plan to rotate inguest curators?
How else will each edition differ?
Eberle: The editions will differ both in terms of format and theme. The formats for subsequent editions will be: shorts and series pilots. And the theme for this next edition is “Relationship Status: It’s Complicated.”
Will this festival always be free or are you considering implementing a payment model in the future? Or an ad-based one?
Eberle: It will always be free for the candidates and the audience.
How do you come up with your themes, and what are some themes you are considering for future installments? What themes would not be appropriate here?
Eberle: The themes need to fit with our overall program and are selected based on the activation potential of creators and community.
How do you think these quarterly film festivals will play out as a potential distribution strategy in the EU? For example, what happens to the films after the festival is over—will they go up somewhere where people can still rent/purchase? What kind of films will persevere? And do you think it could be monetarily advantageous for the filmmakers?
Eberle: With the first edition, we have already established many great connections with creators and will offer the participants the option to distribute their content commercially on Viewster. This looks very promising, as AVOD is becoming a truly lucrative distribution form.
What could the windows look like for other online platforms if a film makes its launch on Viewster? Would you so something like Vimeo On Demand, where there is an exclusivity window?
Eberle: Our festival is not exclusive and AVOD.
Lastly, please provide information filmmakers should have in order to get their films on to Viewster.
Eberle: If your film matches the theme of “Relationship Status: It’s Complicated!” then submit it to the second edition of the Viewster Online Film Fest (#VOFF) by May 22, 2014. You get your film exposed to an audience of one million people and to independent producer Ted Hope in the Jury. And you have the chance to win a lot of money. Also be sure to check in for future editions of the .
Those filmmaker who wish to enter the Viewster library and commercial distribution for individual titles should stay tuned—we’ll have a separate track open for submissions in the near future.
Orly Ravid May 12th, 2014
Last month, we gave you the first sneak peak at the next edition of our EU-focused Case Study Book, set to launch in the spring.
Our second teaser looks at digital aggregator UNDER THE MILKY WAY, which specializes in digital aggregation to some of the largest TVOD (transactional video on demand) platforms such as iTunes, GooglePlay/YouTube, Amazon, Sony Entertainment Network and VUDU. Unlike New Video and Gravitas in the U.S., they do not really deal with telecoms, pay TV or the cable sector in Europe. Advertising Video on Demand (AVOD) and Subscription Video on Demand (SVOD) in Europe will be addressed in a forthcoming preview blog and in the next version of the book.
While UTMW does not exclusively work with EU territories, our interview with co-Founder Pierre-Alexandre Labelle concentrated on some of the ways filmmakers (and other rights-holders) are getting their films onto digital platforms in the EU.
1) What are the services you provide?
Under The Milky Way is a company providing VOD distribution services on a global basis.
With offices in 13 countries, including the US, we provide services to rights-holders of audiovisual content to get their films distributed on the most prominent VOD Platforms in the world. We provide a legal, commercial, editorial and financial interface between rights-holders and platforms.
2) Do you work directly with filmmakers? Or just sales agents and distributors? Or just distributors?
Most of our clients are distributors who choose to use our services to get their films out in VOD. Our commission-based model allows them to outsource part of the work necessary to take full advantage of VOD distribution for a limited investment. Through our ongoing agreements, we currently distribute more than 1600 films. We also sometimes work directly with sales agents who have not sold rights to a film in a particular country, and sometimes with producers looking to release their films internationally directly to VOD.
3) What are the key digital distribution platforms in Europe?
As you know, Europe is very broad and each country has its own set of “local players.” Normally, only one or two of these local players have an important VOD market share in their respective country (and the rest is very marginal). However, none of them operate on a European level. They are also mostly IPTV operators (comparable to cable operators in the US), and usually propose a limited selection of films (limited to films theatrically released in their country).
The main opportunities on a European level lie with the “global platforms,” i.e. iTunes, Google, Sony, etc., who also have a long tail approach and are willing to host a wide variety of films. Given their wide geographical coverage, one delivery/process can lead to wide exposure, ensuring much needed economies of scale.
4) To what other continents, if any, do you distribute?
In addition to the whole of Europe, and North America, we have offices in Japan, and Australia. We also handle Latin America from our New York office.
5) Which kinds of films perform best?
Huge blockbuster hits that are locally released in theatres… such as The Hunger Games, Twilight, Intouchables, etc, which we distribute in some territories. But I presume that’s not the kind of answer you are looking for…
Filmmakers who want to release their films globally on VOD first need to understand the implications of doing so. We will share this information with whoever contacts us in order to manage expectations to the best of our abilities. We can guarantee for all films a regular flow of information and data, which can then be useful for future releases. From a financial point of view, royalties are paid in a regular and transparent manner. We normally calculate a 2€ average revenue share for rights holders per unit sold (mix VOD/EST) meaning that 350 to 400 units are required to pay for their initial encoding expenses. No other costs are opposed, and any sale above that is direct revenue for the rights-holder.
6) What does performing well mean in Europe? In terms of money, prestige, placement on platforms, etc.?
Again, putting aside theatrically-released films in Europe, direct to VOD numbers can in theory vary from a few units sold to a few thousand. But we should look beyond the monetary aspect. UNDER THE MILKY WAY developed communication tools and workflows to ensure that all films are properly presented to the programming teams at the platforms. We do this on a per-territory basis, thanks to our local teams in all major markets. We always make sure to provide the best pitch possible for the film, but placement is still the decision of the merchandising teams at the platforms. They have the final say, but we feel that they value our recommendations and the work we put in to make their job easier. This is of course true for the release of the film, but also to ensure that the film is properly presented in promotional opportunities (which also proves to be a determining factor in the financial performance of a film on a particular platform).
7) Which kinds if films are the hardest to get platforms to take? And the hardest to get consumers to watch or buy?
Most global platforms will take any film that has had at least one theatrical release in their home country.
This being said, we sometimes still have a hard time understanding why a particular documentary does really well, while another does not. There are probably many reasons (Subject, Artwork, Trailer, Placement, and a myriad of other reasons). But I find this to be tremendously exciting. Distribution and marketing of cultural content has always been a very interesting subject, and quite a challenge. For the first time, the “Distribution” aspect is less of a problem; we now need to concentrate on the “Marketing.” How do you convince people to watch your film? Trade Marketing (placement on platforms) is currently a very important factor of monetization, but we are constantly working on experiments to find the right marketing levers to pull to maximize returns for our rights-holders.
We believe Digital Marketing will be key, and that a customized strategy could be applied to each film. We still experiment in that sense and are very careful to do so in a way that we can learn from our experimentations without wasting anyone’s resources. I wish we could be more efficient in terms of marketing at this point in time, but I believe that the market has not reached that point yet. I have yet to meet anyone who has found the proper mechanisms of VoD marketing (although a lot of people claim that they have —the good old “fake it till you make it” approach!).
8) Do filmmakers in Europe do DIY distribution? If so, to what extent?
The European Film industry is very complex and structured. I won’t go into all of the details, but most films in Europe are pre-financed through the involvement of distributors/sales agents/TV’s etc. at an early stage in the project. Even though truly independent filmmakers in the American sense exist, they tend to be marginalized by the fact that many films fall within the “system. ”
This being said, we are seeing an increasing amount of independent producers seeking the route of DIY for reaching international markets (especially the US). Indeed, international distribution in the traditional sense is still very limited. In any given year, only about 10% of European productions find their way to the US “traditionally.”
As a result, producers are starting to prefer an international VOD release of their film to 1) ensure commercial distribution (not always the case through a sales agent); 2) have shorter financial cycles (royalties flow rapidly in VOD and no recoupable expenses; and, finally, 3) directly connect with their audience (having access to data—actual number of units sold, etc.).
Of course Sales Agents provide many services that VoD distributors are not in a position to offer (festival selection, potential all-rights deals, etc.), and often do a great job at adding commercial value for a film, which will not be the same for a straight to VoD deal. Then again, not all films are fit for sales agents…It all boils down to having a very lucid picture of the film, its potential, and its best route to audiences.
9) Do you know about or know of filmmakers in EU using Distrify or VHX?
We recently initiated a partnership with Distrify within the TIDE Experiment (TIDE stands for Transversal Independent Distribution in Europe). It is a project made possible through the support of the European Commission. The goal of the action is to experiment with international Day and Date releases (Theatres/VOD). Distrify is taking part in the experiment on the third film entitled For Those in Peril. We’ll let you know how it goes, but I’m sure results will be very interesting.
10) What role do Film Festivals play in the success of a film digitally (in EU)? Which festivals matter? Do prizes matter (other than presumably winning at Cannes).
It is obvious that festivals play a very important role in the “professional” life of a film. A lot of initiatives were recently started in order to bridge the gap between the B2B marketing surrounding a film’s presence in a festival, and the general public.
Of course, no festival in the world actually has more of an impact on the success of a film digitally than Cannes, but more can definitely be done, which is why we partnered with the Rotterdam Film Festival last year and launched an initiative called IFFR in the Cloud. It provides filmmakers a way to show a film on iTunes Benelux within the itunes.com/iffr collection. [Note: the previous link will only work on computers with iTunes installed and logged in to one of the iTunes stores in the Benelux territories.]
11) What advice can you give to American filmmakers with regard to digital distribution in EU of their films. For American films, do only the bigger films with cast work, or is there a market for small indies? What about documentaries?
There are no set of pre-defined rules at this stage. I would suggest starting slowly and experimenting. The process is fairly straightforward. We sign agreements for a two-year term, and fees are payable directly to encoding houses (so there are no hidden costs of any sort), and you start getting your reports, and payments soon thereafter. Again, it is always valuable to have a discussion beforehand in order to manage expectations.
12) How are LANGUAGES handled in digital distribution in the EU?
You need to have localized versions of your films for each territory. Some platforms produce multilingual assets, meaning that with only one encoding you can add many subtitle tracks, thus making it cost effective to distribute a film over many territories. English is still accepted in many territories (I believe that, to this date, with an English version of a film, we can distribute it on 47 territories…)
[Note: By “multilingual asset,” he is referring to a textless version of your feature. If your film, for example, has a few non-English lines of dialogue, instead of burning-in English subtitles to your film, you would create an external English-language subtitle file in .itt format [Note: in the U.S., we are often asked for a different format: .srt or .stl] and submit with your master. This is the most flexible way to submit films, as many (but not all) platforms, such as Apple, will not allow external subtitles on any films that already have burn-ins. They will ask you for a new master, and you will have to once again pay encoding fees.]
Clearly, there are a few takeaways here that we have heard before:
- that every film is different, and there is no one thing that determines films perform well and which do not. The best way to manage expectations is to understand how your film fits into today’s market. Having said that, it’s encouraging that a company such as UNDER MILKY WAY is taking steps toward transparency in terms of the process and reporting of earnings.
- that IPTV operators in EU, like cable operators in the U.S., are quite localized and normally take only films that have been release theatrically in their country. Having said that, perhaps there was a slightly higher emphasis here on the curatorial aspects of getting one’s film onto platforms— perhaps they are stricter than those in the U.S.?
- that the importance of proper presentation to programming teams at the platforms. Moreover, proper placement/positioning on those platforms was repeatedly brought up as an important provided service.
- that for global platforms with wide geographical reach, UMW’s “one delivery” process simplifies the process and reduces costs.
- that there is quite a bit of experimentation going on, such as their day and date partnership with Distrify and their film festival partnership with Rotterdam.
- that marketing still is the missing piece of the puzzle here. As it gets easier and easier to get onto platforms, so too does it get more difficult for audiences to find the films that are perfectly suited to their interests. This is especially true when talking about marketing one’s film outside one’s home territory.
- and lastly, we should remind our readers that one of the major obstacles to releasing a film in another territory can be the cost of translating and producing a subtitle file— it’s a tough hurdle to overcome on one’s own. One piece of advice for filmmakers, no matter how they are handling their global strategy is this: if your film is showing at an international film festival, ask if they are producing subtitles, and negotiate that produced file as part of your festival fee. It may need to be proofed again or adjusted at a subtitling and transcription lab later on, but as a first pass it could prove very valuable down the road.
Orly Ravid March 14th, 2014