There are many ways to self-distribute a feature film online and in this blog post we're going to discuss some of the main strategies to consider.
Pick The Right Project
If you haven't thought about marketing and distribution until after your film is finished then you might already be fighting a losing battle. Before you set out on this journey you want to make sure that your film is marketable and will be possible to distribute. The key is to do one or both of the following two things:
Firstly find a film with a pre-existing audience or fanbase. For example if you create an indie horror film there is a big fan base that already exists and loves to watch low-budget horror films. Another example would be a documentary about Donald Trump. There are many people who are super passionate about and interested in the topic and will definitely watch the film if they see it on Amazon Prime.
Secondly you can create a film with a controversial subject that will spark a debate - for example a drama film about assisted suicide. When people watch a film with a controversial topic or plot they will be very likely to discuss the topic (and therefore the film) with their friends which will create word-of-mouth marketing for your film. The great thing about this kind of marketing? It's free!
The next step is to research your audience and the best way to start is to put together a list of all the different themes, topics and essentially reasons why someone might be interested in your film. The chart below shows that an indie film about mental health will right away have three key audiences: drama film lovers, mental health supporters, indie film lovers. But there will also be a huge amount of sub topics (in white) which the film will feature. These sub topic will therefore bring in a much wider audience.
Next go online (Facebook, Twitter, Reddit etc.) and interact with your audience. For example find Facebook groups where your audience spends time and consumes content and observe how they speak/write. What kind of phrases do they use when talking about their favourite films? What do they love and hate about films similar to yours? Noting down key phrases and words will really help you when you write any descriptions of your film online. SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) is crucial when it comes to self-distribution and this will massively help with that.
Distributors vs Digital Distributors vs. Aggregators
Let's discuss the differences between these three types of companies.
Distributors will help you distribute your film both online and offline from start to finish. They will usually help put together your whole marketing strategy and marketing assets. They will help you decide where you should release your films and whether a cinema release, straight to DVD or straight online kind of release will be the best route for you. Although distributors are usually your best bet at having a successful release be careful when signing any contracts and agreements. They can also be quite sneaky and lock you in to contracts that you will regret. Make sure you have an experienced producer or lawyer take a look at any agreement before you sign.
Digital Distributors will help you release your film online. They will help put together your strategy, sometimes will help you put together your marketing assets and will help get your film up on online platforms such as Amazon , Tubi, iTunes etc. Although they can be very helpful, you have to be aware of the fact that in most cases, you will still need to do 90% of your own marketing.
Aggregators will help you put your film on certain platforms for a flat fee. Certain platforms such as Tubi, iTunes and Google Play do not deal with individual producers and you will have to go through an aggregator or distributor to get your films on those platforms.
AVOD vs SVOD vs TVOD
Next, let's discuss the differences between these three kind of monetisation models.
AVOD - Advertising-based Video on Demand
It's free to watch your film and both you and the platform will make money from people watching ads while your film plays. The best known example of this kind of platform is Youtube.
SVOD - Subscription-based Video on Demand
Audiences will pay a monthly subscription to watch films "for free" on the platform. The most known example of this is Netflix.
TVOD - Transactional Video on Demand
Audiences will pay to watch an individual film by buying or renting it. As an example you can do this on Amazon when films are not included in Prime.
We would normally recommend going for SVOD and AVOD platforms unless you have a very topical subject or notable cast members in your film. Unfortunately people these days expect to be able to watch films for free even when they are Hollywood blockbusters so TVOD is a very hard sell!
Learn to play to algorithms! Most platforms will pay you 1 cent per every hour that your film is viewed. That essentially means you get 1 cent for every time someone watches your entire film. If you create a paid marketing campaign where you pay 1 cent per every time someone click on your link that would be an incredible result and of course not every person who clicks on your link will watch your entire film. This means you will never run profitable ads where you can see a direct return on your investment (ROI). Instead of promoting your own film you have to find a way for the online platforms to promote the film for you and to do that you have to get to know their algorithms.
Each platform has their own unique algorithm which will determine which films are shown on the top of the page when audiences enter the website. Learn what these algorithms are for the platforms that you will be using and that will be your best shot at success. These algorithms usually take into account:
The amount of traffic that goes to your title
The view-rates and the average percentage that your film is watched
Reviews (both on the website and external)
And many other factors!
If you are interested in learning more about reviews and how to find critics and bloggers to help promote your film then take a look at this blog: How To Find Film Critics And Bloggers To Review Your Indie Film
We hope you enjoyed this blog. Feel free to leave a comment if you have any questions or suggestions - we'd love to hear from you!
If you are looking for my guidance and advice on film distribution and funding we have a series of courses on funding and distributing your film online which you can browse using the links below:
Feature Film Funding & Distribution Course - 14+ hour of video tutorials will guide you through the entire process of funding and distributing your film. It will go through a variety of methods and strategies including crowdfunding, private investors, product placement, online distribution, cinema released and much much more!
Feature Film Producing Course - 4+ hours of video tutorials teaching you how to fund and distribute a feature film with a budget between 50-500k.
Film Crowdfunding Course - 4+ hour of video tutorial teaching you how to prepare for, launch and market a film crowdfunding campaign.
Online Film Distribution Course - 4+ hours of video tutorials teaching you how to self-distribute a feature film online.
Finally you can also take a look at our upcoming online and in-person London-based events here.