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
A guest post from Lizzie Crouch. Back in December 2012, Writer/Director Dan Clifton sat down with producer Roland Holmes and co-producer Lizzie Crouch to talk about how they might approach a crowdfunding campaign for Dan’s short film, Patient 39. In this article, Lizzie explores the lessons learned from their ultimately successful campaign, raising over $8000 for the film on Indiegogo. Also included are excerpts from the diary Dan kept while fundraising.
Lesson #1 It’s not just about the campaign; it’s about the community
From Dan’s diary:
The first thing is to discuss what to do with the short fundraising appeal film I’ve made… My appeal is under 2 mins and involves me dressing in pyjamas and making a slight fool of myself (a good thing, apparently), although hopefully the tone is appropriately sincere. Thankfully my producers like it.
There’s lot of great advice online about how to build a good crowd funding campaign. Don’t underestimate how long it takes to do thorough research, but don’t be overwhelmed by it either. There is no set way of doing the perfect crowd-funding campaign, each one is unique, so the real trick is working out what’s right for you.
The most important thing is to figure out the target audience for your campaign. For the Patient 39 Indiegogo campaign we identified a number of audiences who might be interested in supporting us, but given the film’s scientific themes, it was a group we called ‘science-y culture-vultures’ – those interested in the crossover between science and art – that we thought had most untapped potential.
Despite this, we knew that other groups would play a part and ultimately become the film’s audience, so we were careful to include a broad range of content about the film to build a larger online community. The content at the heart of the campaign was aimed at short film fans and science culture-vultures, but careful curation of online content allowed a diverse range of audiences to engage with us.
Lesson #2 Building an online community is committing to a long-term relationship
From Dan’s diary:
The evidence from successful campaigns suggests that what people value above all is not material goodies, but a chance to feel involved as part of the team. After much debate we came up with a list of perks that range from Exec Producer credits at the top of the range, to visits to the set and crew T shirts for more modest-level investors.
As Dan identified in his diary, building a community is about making people feel like they are a part of something – and different audiences will respond to different things. Those who want to donate to the campaign may like thoughtful perks while others may simply want to engage with diverse, inspiring content related to the film or to filmmaking.
In recognition of this we set up a website and social media channels to disseminate articles, carefully balancing new content with our call for donations. Spanning science articles on consciousness and the history of medicine, we built our community around themes that would appeal to them; connected with online ‘influencers’ and key contacts; and kept our campaign fresh by updating the video and making announcements about team members that joined us.
But building an online community is like committing to a long-term relationship. Although most people understand who they’re trying to connect with, many don’t realize the amount of work that goes into maintaining it. Never assume a campaign will run itself – sometimes when we weren’t quite as on top of things are we could have been, we saw the consequences.
From Dan’s diary:
What I am learning is that you definitely have to feed the beast. What I mean by that is even though it seems foolish in some ways, like shouting without hearing an echo back, all the content and tweeting etc. does make a difference in reaching potential supporters. I’ve been away for five days on a shoot and consequently not able to be as proactive as I’d have liked, and sure enough we’ve had a noticeable lull in donations.
All this can be hard work, but a well-built community will reward you at every step of the filmmaking process. Don’t assume though that because you’ve finished the film, the community ceases to be – we are still communicating with ours as we build up to an online release in the future!
Lesson #3 Getting to know your community is humbling (and anxiety-inducing)
When you build an online community, you get to know your audience in a whole new way; you learn their names, where they’re from, etc. This is useful not only when it comes to later stages (marketing and distribution), but also for future projects. But it is also a responsibility that you have to carry on your shoulders!
From Dan’s diary:
Four days to go and we have reached our target, a $500 donation late last night lifting us over the line! I feel amazed and humbled by the whole experience. To feel people’s generosity and support in such an immediate way is something I hadn’t expected, but it is wonderful although I feel a great sense of responsibility too. In the last few days we’ve managed to reach out to funders beyond our immediate circle of family and friends, and it’s great to think that our efforts to widen our base of supporter and followers has had some measure of success.
I believe that our campaign was successful to due the hard work of the team to build and maintain an engaged online community, and we are very grateful for the support we received during our campaign.
Sheri Candler November 27th, 2013
We have been slowly communicating about our GLOBAL SHORTS INITIATIVE. There are companies such as Ouat Media and Shorts International and consultants whose business it is to focus on short films. When shorts filmmakers approach us we do the best we can to educate them about any deals they’ve been presented with and otherwise we refer them onward to shorts specialists. We at The Film Collaborative focus on shorts to the extent that certain niches that fulfill our mission but leave much of the more commercial work to the shorts experts. We are fulfilling our mission of serving under-served audiences and of helping filmmakers not get screwed. We also encourage filmmakers to organize and aggregate themselves and follow our example if one wishes.
We do have a GLOBAL SHORTS INITIATIVE and it starts with an LGBT program. Here is how it works:
1. It’s non-exclusive and we do not take rights, as you all know by now.
We’re also the most transparent distributor I know of. Wait till we start publishing numbers and posting a graph on our site about revenues and allocations, with filmmakers permission only though of course.
2. First window of the Global Shorts Initiative is a 6-month exclusive window with our mobile / IFOD partner BABELGUM
Babelgum. The revenue is via an ad-supported model (ad and sponsor driven). Babelgum has been a great platform for some of the films we have worked with. They pay 50% of net revenues (very modest expenses and capped) and we will take a 15% fee for marketing and putting this together. Festivals are not a factor in the exclusivity and we are timing everything to accord with each filmmaker’s overall distribution strategy. Lastly, Geo-Filtering is possible if necessary except for in US. This will start end of this year / beginning of next (we are just coordinating festival windows for our filmmakers)
3. Then we are doing a few other components all at once (May 2011):
An iPhone App. It will be worldwide to the extent that iTunes is. If a short film needs to be geo-filtered it can be. The App will be free. Each short can be priced at say $1.99 (less or more if a filmmaker wants that). We receive 55% of the gross revenues (after Apple and the developer take their fees). We are taking a maximum of 10% of this revenue and that is to cover our time in servicing this and marketing too (5% Fee & 5% max for marketing).
We will also have an HD-Rental Channel on YOUTUBE and the details of that will be resolved soon but filmmakers can select their own pricing.
4. DVD release in US & Canada through our esteemed home video (till its dead) partner First Run Features . As is quite typical, they will remit 25% of the Gross revenues to the filmmakers on a pro-rated basis, no deductions. The DVD would be made available on Netflix and Amazon etc.
5. We do not compete with Ouat Media or Shorts International or anyone else for that matter, meaning other companies license shorts to television stations in Europe and to airlines and we do not do any of that and do not intend to. We do recommend one get several references before signing with any shorts distributor.
The initiative however is meant to be a supplement to anything one may doing with your short yourself or via another company. There are fewer buyers buying shorts (though we also for free connect shorts filmmakers to our buyers who do buy shorts) and for the ones that are, the revenues seem to be fewer than once was the case. We are doing the best we can to offer a supplementary solution at least for some.
We are doing what we can to support shorts filmmakers and enhance their opportunities to connect with audiences and of course to recoup their investments. We’ll keep everyone posted on the success of this initiative. Our newsletter has showcased most of the films that will be part of the initial initiative launch.
We are thrilled to have added Kim Adelman to our our Advisory Board so we can be sure to be doing this rights, and of course we invite feedback from all.
Kim Adelman is the author of Making it Big in Shorts: The Ultimate Filmmaker’s Guide to Short Films, the 2nd edition of was published July 2009. She also reports on short films for indieWIRE and co-programs the American Cinematheque’s Focus on Female Directors screening series. Ms. Adelman currently teaches Making and Marketing the Short Film and Low Budget Filmmaking at UCLA Extension and has conducted short filmmaking workshops throughout the United States, Canada, New Zealand. She also produced 14 DVD compilations of short films released by Warner Home Video under the series titles Short 1 – 11 and International Release 1 -3. Previously, Ms. Adelman launched the Fox Movie Channel’s short film program. The 19 short films she produced for Fox won 30+ awards and played over 150 film festivals worldwide, including the Sundance Film Festival four years in a row.
Stay tuned folks!
Orly Ravid September 27th, 2010