Archive for January, 2010

A Brave “New World”

January 29, 2010

I finally joined the iPhone horde.

First thing I did was download and watch Terrence Malick’s “The New World

The movie never looked so good. This is, no doubt, the way it was meant to be seen.

Reciprocating

January 22, 2010

I was looking at my stats the other day and noticed that people were finding their way to my blog from a site that I go to often for ideas and information but was unaware that was linking to me.

The site is http://newbreed.workbookproject.com/ and is, essentially, a collection of independent filmmakers blogging about their experiences, ideas and plans for making their way through the independent film world from development, through production, festivals and finally (mostly DIY) distribution. The blogs really cover a wide range of topics that affect independent filmmakers from how to act at and what to expect from film festivals to how to make and sell merchandise for your film. The specific blog that linked back here is one filmmaker’s (Ben Hick’s) blog about “The Idea That Could Revolutionize Independent Film“.

You may initially think that only independent filmmakers will find the site interesting but I assure you that film fans will find a great deal of usable insight as well. It’s no secret that independent films are quickly disappearing from the normal chains of distribution. Distributors aren’t picking them up, theaters aren’t screening them, stores aren’t carrying the DVDs. But this is where film fans can learn how to find independent, self distributed films. Read these blogs and look at them in reverse. You’ll be able to see what filmmakers are doing to get their films out there (whether it’s Todd Sklar’s traveling road show of touring movies or T-shirt distribution to independent stores) and ultimately learn where to look for them. So when you see an ad pop up in your Arts/Alternative Weekly newspaper for an indie film playing for 1 or 2 nights you’ll know where they’re coming from and how desperately they need you to go to their screening.

There’s that old movie cliche where the super-sleuth needs to “think like a thief” to catch the thief, well independent film fans are going to need to start thinking like independent, DIY filmmaker/distributors in order to catch an indie film and The New Breed is a great place to start.

(Another great resource is Ted Hope’s Truly Free Film blog.)

8Days???

January 15, 2010

I find it very, very, very hard to imagine that a worthwhile, feature film script can be written in 8 days.

http://wendago.com/journal/

Serviceable? Yes.

Worthwhile? No.

Interactive Menus? Really?

January 13, 2010

Does anyone really care about interactive menus on a DVD or Blu-Ray? You know the menu page that has a little animation at the beginning before the “Play” “Set up” “Chapters” “Special Features” buttons come up. Sometimes the DVD even has this as “Feature” on the back of the box. If someone released two different DVDs of the same movie, one with interactive, animated menus and one without would the special menu one really sell better? Is that a selling point?

I ask this today because I was holding off from eating my Buffalo Wings (from Buffalo Wild Wings. 60 cent wings on Wednesday, can’t beat it) while I was waiting for the animated menu on the (500) Days of Summer Blu-Ray to start and it was pretty damn annoying. I would have been happy to just put the disc in and press play. I wonder if someday I’ll see a movie and say: “Wow! That movie SUCKED but the animated menus were AWESOME!!” Just wondering is all.

(BTW “(500) Days of Summer” was a pretty good movie that turned into a really good movie by the end. Recommended for fans of “Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist”)

IndieFlix vs CreateSpace Update 6

January 7, 2010

Background: My first film, “Hunting Season was released nationwide on August 1st, 2009 via Cable and Dish Video on Demand (VOD). In conjunction with the VOD release I wanted to capitalize on the added exposure by offering DVDs for sale on-line. The best way to do this without dropping a minimum of $1,000 up front is to distribute through one of the DVD On-Demand sites, www.IndieFlix.com or www.CreateSpace.com (there are others but these seem to be the most popular). Since both sites are non-exclusive I decided to distribute through both of them simultaneously to see which one offers the “better” (in my opinion, for my needs) experience, and document it all here.

I have 2 requirements:

  1. I will ONLY be selling DVDs on Demand. Both of these sites offer numerous digital download options. None of what I write about here will take that into consideration.
  2. I want to price the DVDs as low as possible but still make an acceptable amount of revenue per disc (equivalent to the average that I will receive per VOD purchase).

Please see the previous blog post “IndieFlix vs CreateSpace Day 1″ and IndieFlix vs CreateSpace Day 2 and IndieFlix vs CreateSpace Update 3IndieFlix vs CreateSpace Update 4 and IndieFlix vs CreateSpace Update 5 to catch up.

I’ve pretty much completely written off CreateSpace as an option at this point. It has NOTHING to do with their service. The fact is that, at this point, IndieFlix is offering me everything that CreateSpace is offering, and more.

WOW! It has been a LONG time since I updated this blog. I would LOVE to say that a lot has happened in the meantime but… I’m getting ahead of myself.

First, an apology: I apologize for leaving everyone hanging for so long. My intentions were to continue to follow-up and post updates whenever there were new developments in the IndieFlix distribution of “Hunting Season” and you will soon read why there haven’t been any updates in awhile (aside from the fact that I’ve been extremely busy co-writing a novel, writing a new screenplay, and working on distribution of Burning Inside (which will be coming out in the spring via James Felix McKenney’s (MonsterPants) new “Channel Midnight” distribution banner)).

This story continues where the previous chapter left off, My contact at IndieFlix, Mike Williams, sent me an e-mail on September 10th with the following information:

Dear Nathan,

This is just a quick notice that your film “Hunting Season” will be released for sale at IndieFlix next Tuesday, September 15th.  A few of points of preparation:

§         I need to pass along to our Marketing department the answer to one key question for their release promotions— “Why does someone need to watch this film?”  In one or two conversational sentences please let me know the answer and I’ll pass it along to them.

§         If you haven’t already, please be sure to add as much information about your work as you have into your ‘Manage Film’ page online (***).

§         If you have a specific preview scene clip (about 1 minute) that you’d like customers be able to watch and haven’t inputted the time code to your Manage Film page yet, please email that time code or give a scene description to me and I’ll pass it along to Production.

Finally, please feel free to let me know soon if you’d prefer that date be postponed (i.e. the date doesn’t fit for your marketing push, if you have custom DVD artwork that you need yet to send, etc.) and we’ll be happy to do that.

That’s great right!!!??? The only problem was that I got this e-mail on the 10th and the movie was being released on the 15th, how am I supposed to get Press releases out for web sites to put this in their “Coming Soon on DVD” sections?? It wasn’t going to work out for marketing purposes, plus there was no mention of an Amazon.com release date.

I responded to Mike the same day at around 8pm Eastern Time (IndieFlix is in California) with the following:

Mike,

This is great news but I do have a few questions:

1) We have previously discussed making Hunting Season available on Amazon.com. Will it be available on September 15th?

2) When do I set a price for the film?

3) I have submitted custom artwork, did you receive it?

4) Do I get a “proof” copy to approve?

Mike got back to me at 3:30pm the following day:

Amazon takes somewhat longer to get the films released so it’ll take a couple more weeks there, I believe.  We can ask them to set up a pre-sale page if you’d like, however.  That wouldn’t take long at all or we can hold the IndieFlix.com release for a coordinated release.  Just let me know what your preference is.

You can set/change your pricing at anytime just let me know what you want and we’ll make the adjustment.  The DVD default minimum for feature length titles is $9.95.

Production has your artwork and it’s all set

Since IndieFlix is primarily a consignment distributor all copies must be purchased but the good news is that you’ll receive 70% net back as a kind of rebate in the form of your quarterly royalties.  Later this year we plan to implement a wholesale purchase option so you can get the discount upfront.

As always, please don’t hesitate to let me know should you have any further questions/concerns.

Totally acceptable answers within an acceptable time frame, my man Mike Williams has always been good.

I replied:

Excellent!

I would like to do a coordinated release with Amazon. I’ll set a higher price point for the Amazon sales but I’m sure I can get more coverage in the genre websites for a DVD release if the DVD is available in multiple places. I just need to know when that release date will be so that I can get press releases out on time.

Thanks for all your help on this. It’s been a real pleasure working with IndieFlix.

And he countered:

Nathan,

Okay great, I’ll let Production on this end know to hold it and will let you know as soon as I learn the date Amazon will have.

So at this point we were all set and had a little bigger window to be able to get the word out, once we knew what that date would be.

13 Days later (on 09/24/09) I received the following from Mike:

Dear Nathan,

This is just a quick notice that your film “Hunting Season” will be released for sale at IndieFlix next Tuesday, September 29th in conjunction with the Amazon.com release.  A few of points of preparation:

§         Our Marketing department needs you to finish the following sentence:

Someone needs to watch this film because …”

§         Using brief casual wording (something like a Twitter post), please let me know how you finish the sentence and I’ll pass it along to them.

§         If you haven’t already, please be sure to add as much information about your work as you have into your ‘Manage Film’ page online (***).

Finally, please feel free to let me know soon if you’d prefer that date be postponed (i.e. the date doesn’t fit for your marketing push, if you have custom DVD artwork that you need yet to send, etc.) and we’ll be happy to do that.

Hmmm. This e-mail seems a little familiar. (but, hey, I’m not too concerned that they use a form letter to let producers know the release dates. They’re probably pretty damn busy). The only problem is that the letter was, once again, sent FIVE days before the DVD was coming out! This leaves ZERO time to do any marketing. But what the hell, let’s just get it out there.

I sent out press releases to every magazine and web page that was remotely associated with indie film, horror or movies in general (and we got at least one good mention: shocktilyoudrop) with the big news.

And then the BIG DAY arrived: Hunting Season was released for sale at IndieFlix.com and Amazon.com on September 29th, 2009!!

I got an e-mail from Mike on the special day reminding me:

Your film, “Hunting Season,” is now up for sale at IndieFlix (http://www.indieflix.com/Films/HuntingSeason1).  Unfortunately, due to a delay in the roll-out of our new VOD platform, the 30-Day Streaming Rental option isn’t yet available.  We expect it to be up by this weekend or early next week.  If you’re working with IndieFlix for VOD Only your Film Detail page is up so that customers will be able to see the Preview and once our developers are ready we’ll turn on that option.

Also, “Hunting Season” is now available at Amazon.com: http://www.amazon.com/Hunting-Season-Nathan-Wrann/dp/B002Q0WKCS/ref=sr_1_10?ie=UTF8&s=dvd&qid=1254249251&sr=1-10.

Our most successful films are those for which the filmmaker is out spreading the word about their work so please be sure to talk about it, send emails, blog, hold screenings, and do all you can to let people know that your work is available.  You can also update information about your film and track your sales in real-time, anytime online via your Filmmaker Account (**).

As always, don’t hesitate to contact me with any questions or concerns you may have regarding the film.

(NOTE: The VOD platform rollout didn’t affect me because I was not distributing Hunting Season digitally)

(NOTE: Since the very beginning of this process IndieFlix had been mentioning a NEW PLATFORM that they were developing for their site)

Nevertheless…

It was a very exciting day. I tweeted and facebooked and myspaced and e-mailed my ass off telling everyone I knew that the movie was now available for sale on DVD at Amazon (and IndieFlix)! I asked all of those people to tell everyone that they knew. E-mails were forwarded and champaigne was popped. So now all I had to do was watch the Hunting Season “Sales Ranking” at Amazon.com tick downward from its starting point (84,399).

It was a long wait, so to make the time go by and continue my research comparison between IndieFlix and CreateSpace I bought myself 1 DVD from each of the two vendors (NOTE: I believe that the DVDs sold on Amazon are made by the same manufacturers that makes the DVDs for CreateSpace. If they aren’t please let me know.)

Product Comparison:

The DVDs from Amazon and IndieFlix played identically and at the same quality of the master that I sent in. The “special features” (Trailers etc) and menus that I put on the master also found their way onto the Amazon and IndieFlix discs

The differences between the two are apparent in the packaging:

The Amazon DVD package and full color disc printing are mint. The graphics, images and text are all the same high quality that I would expect from a store bought studio DVD. The paper is a high quality heavyweight gloss stock.

The IndieFlix DVD packaging and full color disc printing are of slightly lower quality with and a little off-color with some visible digitization. This is primarily visible in the yellow text of the title, which seems a little greyish and textured. Also the paper is lightweight and clearly perforated around the edges.  Chances are it was printed with a high-end inkjet printer.

Customer Service Comparison:

I ordered the Amazon.com DVD on September 29th with their in-depth order summary, and the auto-confirmation e-mail they sent me on the day that I ordered I can confirm when I placed the order and what credit card I used. Amazon tells me that the order shipped on October 4th and I received it on October 7th.

Unfortunately purchase tracking isn’t as comprehensive with IndieFlix, in fact I am currently unable to find any purchase history when I login to my account and the link at the bottom of the confirmation e-mail sends me to a “page not found”. I did save a PDF of the order confirmation which tells me that I placed the order on October 4th. I do remember it took a considerably longer period of time to receive the order from IndieFlix than it took to receive the order from Amazon.

A few positive things that should be noted:

Amazon.com put a “pre-sale” page up for Hunting Season

On September 30th Amazon.com sent an e-mail to a filmmaker that I know with the following: “Dear Amazon.com Customer,As someone who has purchased or rated “Spoils”, you might like to know that Hunting Season is now available. You can order yours for just $9.95 by following the link below.” Which is great from a marketing standpoint!

IndieFlix included Hunting Season on their “IndieFlix NewFlix Tuesday” mailing that goes out to all of their mailing list subscribers

IndieFlix featured Hunting Season on their main page as a new release for at least a week after its release date.

A few negative things that should be noted:

IndieFlix had serious platform issues leading up to and following the launch of their new site. Hunting Season was originally available on DVD at the OLD site, I had entered a description, bio and all of the other necessary info. When the new site went live all of the info that I entered disappeared. Also Hunting Season was available on DVD and WAS available as a digital download! This was a major problem because of my VOD contract. I contacted Mike Williams and he got the tech team on it right away. Apparently this wasn’t an isolated incident and affected other films across the site. However when the tech team did their fix they removed the DVD and left the download. Another e-mail to Mike got the issue elevated and fixed 3 days later.

Other issues with the site upgrade: The sales tracking feature was missing. To this day, sales prior to October 12th (the day of the upgrade) are not available to filmmakers.

No sales tracking for DVDs sold through Amazon. I can get the number from Mike whenever I need it though.


Now is the moment of truth.

The primary reason for starting this blog report was because it is nearly impossible to find out what kind of sales other films, similar to mine were having by self-distributing through Amazon.com. There’s probably a reason for that.

I previously mentioned that “Hunting Season” debuted on Amazon with a sales ranking at 84,399. This means that there were 84,000 other DVD products that were selling better than “Hunting Season”. By the 8pm Eastern time the sales ranking had jumped (or would it be dropped?) to 24,590. I must have sold A TON OF DISCS to jump ahead of 60,000 other products! The next morning I woke up to find that the ranking had moved to 17,484! The ranking stabilized and a few days later was at 15,899 on 10/02. After that the ranking steadily climbed until it ended right around where it currently rests: 114,830 (I think we may have actually been as high as around 150,000).

After watching Hunting Season’s sales ranking jump ahead of almost 70,000 other products I was itching to know what our sales report actually was so I contacted Mike Williams to get a report from him:

On October 21st Hunting Season had been on sale for 3 weeks and sold:

A GRAND TOTAL OF 9 DVDs on AMAZON

and

A GRAND TOTAL OF 1 DVD on INDIEFLIX

wow. really? yes.

Let’s not forget that I ordered 1 DVD from each of the vendors which means that in reality I sold 8 DVDs on Amazon and 0 DVDs on IndieFlix. And I bet that at least half of those 8 DVDs were sold to family members or friends that were excited to support me.

So that’s it.

What can we glean from this?

We can determine that selling 1 DVD will move you thousands of places up the sales ranking at Amazon.com.

We can determine that Amazon.com is DEFINITELY not a Field of Dreams (Just because you build it doesn’t mean they’ll come). It still takes, at the very least, a marketing and advertising presence. Strong press presence (reviews, write ups, interviews etc). A pre-existing fan base probably helps too.

I think the bottom line is that for what I used IndieFlix/Amazon for it was not beneficial, but it wasn’t bad. I got a 2 year old movie out there, available for DVD, that is still making the rounds on VOD. It would have never been available otherwise. My VOD contract prohibited me from taking advantage of IndieFlix’s digital download distribution network (which is probably, truly the strength of their business model). The fact that I made Hunting Season for about $5,000 in 2006 and have already recouped that just from sales at conventions made it possible for me to do this experiment. I twittered, facebooked, myspaced, message boarded, networked and newslettered non-stop. I got a few on-line write-ups. If I had put HS up on Amazon when it was first made/released and had the Fangoria, twitch, dread central write ups (it’s a horror movie so targeting the genre isn’t hard) I may have sold more, but truthfully, I doubt it.

Am I “down” on Self-distribution, IndieFlix or Createspace (Amazon)? Hell no! I always say, if I’m gonna bet, I’m gonna bet on myself. These companies do a great service to filmmakers with a lack of resources and given a similar situation in the future I would use IndieFlix again. they are a young company and will continue to improve. This is only one aspect of Self-distribution, if you’re considering making it the only aspect it might be time to go back to the drawing board.

So now I turn it over to the readers of this blog:

Tell me your self-distribution stories.

Tell me your self-distribution successes and failures.

Tell me what to do to do it better next time.

Tell me your experiences dealing with any and all distribution, aggregators, or self-distribution services. There are a ton out there and I’m not finding a lot of success stories (and nobody is willing to discuss their shortcomings)

Tell me how self distribution will work without marketing and advertising.

Ask me what I think about the most recent self distribution fantasy that you heard.

The only way we can be successful is if we get these experiences out in the open and share them so that others may learn and improve upon them.

This concludes my IndieFlix vs CreateSpace blog report.

If you are a representative of either CreateSpace or IndieFlix and have stumbled across this blog I openly welcome your input (especially if any of my statements or “facts” need fixing).