indie film distribution

Indie film distribution is a hot topic. I got an email from a guy at on the subject and I thought I'd share our conversation.

His Email--------------

Hi Lucas,

My name is xxxxx and I own the website

It's basically a 100% free place to stream documentaries online. Right now I just find content that's been made available on youtube, vimeo, snagfilms, etc.

You being a filmmaker, I wanted to get your opinion on something. Do you think there's any incentive for filmmakers, such as yourself, to give me non-exclusive digital content licenses so that we could host the films in our own player (with our own ads)? I'd be offering an audience of documentary enthusiasts and links back to wherever the content owner asks (for example, buying the DVD version at Amazon or just a link back to their website).

I'm not at all trying to pitch you here. I'm just looking for feedback from independent filmmakers such as yourself.

During my research I bumped into your blog post:

That's why I'm reaching out to you.

Hope you have a minute to let me know your thoughts!

My response------------

Great question David. At first glance I would say that if you are making money from ad space sold on your site, then the filmmaker should get a cut of that.  From my perspective. Being on another web site that is smaller than youtube or vimeo doesn't have much of a marketing incentive unless you can prove that you have a market share. Even at that, artist get asked to give things away free all the time. I think there are filmmakers who would be fine with it but I feel that the filmmaker should be getting a cut of the profits.

I know youtube gets money for their ad space, but they offer a partner program for those that want to pursue it. You might consider this as an option. Lets face it, we don't make documentaries to make money, but we do spend a lot of filmmaking. I don't just want to hand all my hard work off to someone else who then will profit off of it. This is especially true when you consider the VOD options that vimeo now offers.

Now with all that being said I think you have a workable business model. I've wanted for a while to have an easy place to put my films that pull ad revenue for me but don't take an aggregator to get in.

I got banned from the youtube partner program so I can't make money on youtube anymore. I get some revenue from HULU but it was hard to get into Hulu because I had to use an aggregator. I can sell on Vimeo Video on demand, but without advertising no one will pay a buck to watch something when there are millions of other videos available for free.

So if you had a platform that was basically like HULU in that it (1) plays commercials, (2) I get a cut from those commercials possibly half, (3) is easy to upload and sign up for without an aggregator, then I'd be interested. I'd even be interested in being involved in a company like that because as far as I see, most of the big video sites block their creators from having easy access to their ad revenue. The irony is that for years and years, the creators of content got paid for their investments. We are now in an age where free content is so ubiquitous that it has become the norm that people don't get paid, or at least it's not easy to get paid, for your work.

Now mind you, I had a google adsense account and got some revenue from that, but I got banned from google adsense for life. So maybe some of my frustration is coming from the fact that I can't use the most common channel to get this done.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on the subject.

Also, I looked at your site. I'm not sure if I totally understand. I notice that most of the videos are just embeds from youtube. What is the incentive to come to your site when people can just watch it on youtube?

Eager to hear your future plans as well. I'm interested in sites like yours because it can be a boon to filmmakers.

His Response -------

Hi Lucas,

My ideal scenario would be to offer some sort of partner program, the same way that YouTube does. I've been looking into it but the infrastructure to manage the revenue sharing is the tricky part. It can become a logistical nightmare if I were to try and do it manually. That's why, for now, I'm wondering if filmmakers would be interested even without the direct financial incentive.

Yes, simply curates the best documentaries that are already available online for free. The reason why we get almost 10,000 visitors a day is because unlike YouTube, we have an organized library of curated films. If you were in the mood to watch a documentary and didn't know what exactly was available on YouTube/Vimeo/etc, you could come to a site like mine and browse the new arrivals, best rated, most popular, or even just choose a random documentaries. All these things are not really easy or possible on YouTube.

That brings me to the other 'selling point' for documentary filmmakers. It's one thing to produce a film and another to have people see it. You're right, you could simply upload it to YouTube and then hope for the best. Maybe people will find you, maybe they won't. There's actually a good chance you won't even be noticed if you don't have a marketing machine behind you. That's where comes in. For free, you can be featured on our homepage and pretty much be guaranteed thousands of people viewing your work. Again, I'm from the other side of the lens, I don't know how attractive of a trade off this is to people producing the films, but I'm thinking that for some it may be attractive.

While my website is in business for profit, I am on a mission to make things better for filmmakers and viewers alike. Just trying to figure out how I can take things to the next level.

For your issues with AdSense, it is possible to appeal. Depending on the reason of your suspension, you may be able to provide them with a logical explanation, and they may re-enable your account. I've done it before.

Let me know your thoughts, I really appreciate it. You're the first person I've got in touch with and your insight is helpful.

My Response --------

I like the model idea. I think that you might attract some documentaries but it would be the ones that filmmakers have already decided will not make them any money. I realize that you are posting content that is already available for free to watch. It'd be no problem to post those in the model you described if the filmmaker has decided that he or she is ok with it just being seen. I think, however, if a documentary is still doing relatively well on the market, and the filmmaker is still making some money on it, they wouldn't have an incentive to post with you.

It's worth a shot through. What are you thinking of using for your player and ad injector? I've looked into it a little and have wondered what the best options are.

I have a few documentaries that are available for free watch. I'd love to see how they do on your site, if you're interested.

Indifferent Worlds
Indifferent Worlds Trailer

Meaning Of Life
MOL content/trailer

Remembering The Forgotten
Remembering the Forgotten Trailer



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