How will independent filmmakers fully embrace digital distribution for maximum value? It’s a new world, and the old methods cannot be squeezed and twisted to work in it. There will be a new approach to bringing indie films to the audience.
I call it the UNIVERSAL FILM ACCESS POINT.
The old world existed because of the high barriers-to-entry for every function of manufacturing and distribution. High-net-worth persons would invest in manufacturing, then they would invest in distribution. Both functions required huge investments that kept “the common folks” out of the equation.
After those two old world functions were in place, then came the marketing/advertising, always considered a “step child” to the manufacturing and distribution infrastructures.
Filmmakers commonly see that the manufacturing and distribution processes are completely changed and now universally accessible. However, we often are myopic to the fact that marketing and advertising are entirely new, too. No longer is marketing/advertising the step-child of the manufacturing and distribution process, it has now been revealed to be the critical component of getting the now easily-made and distributed product to the consumer. In reality, filmmakers are discovering that marketing/advertising is now as critical to the end product as are the script and camera. What value does a movie have if it cannot be presented to its best potential audiences?
Any filmmaker who does not embrace the reality of marketing/advertising as a critical element of the filmmaking process will not be able to fully reach the best audience for the film.
Because of old world thinking about manufacturing and distribution, many filmmakers still think that marketing/advertising is some kind of nasty, unnecessary function that can be left out of the filmmaking equation. In the worst case, which is much too common, there are filmmakers who cannot see marketing/advertising as anything other than immoral, lying, deceptive manipulation.
No, it isn’t. No, it can’t be left out of the filmmaking equation. Deliberately and effectively identifying and reaching the audience is now a function of independent filmmaking rather than being a hand-off to distributors.
The filmmaker’s film should have its own unique online presence that serves as the access point for every channel — local on-demand theatrical, local regular theatrical schedule, every streaming option available, cable/broadcast airings, optical disc retail outlets, optical disc online outlets, digital download, etc. — presented to the consumer with all location and schedules reflecting the person’s own neighborhood.
The financial transaction for every channel should be one-click on the UNIVERSAL FILM ACCESS POINT, reversing the traditional archaic process of payments and accounting coming from the distributors. Your audience will buy access to your film via your UNIVERSAL FILM ACCESS POINT, both directly from you and also via those other distribution outlets that have access to your film. Each single transaction will be acted upon in real time, rather than waiting for conglomerations of transactions with various time frames (quarterly, monthly, etc.) for reporting and payment.
For your fulfillment of the audiences’ transactions, your digital channel transactions would be processed immediately online. Your transactions for channels requiring physical ticketing, such as for theatrical showings, would be printed out by the consumer or displayed as QR code on a phone/tablet. Your sales of physical product, such as optical discs, would be transacted on your universal film access point, too.
Where does this new world of marketing/advertising begin for today’s filmmakers?
I believe that all marketing efforts for your film should now be tied to your film’s own, unique UNIVERSAL FILM ACCESS POINT. You create and control this universal film access point yourself, and let it feed to every other manner of distribution.
Stand-alone distributors and various integrators would serve as vertical wholesalers, perhaps also offering supplemental marketing as well as access to their various exhibition and retail channels. You would make deals with them and they would access your universal film access point as the source for their distribution tactics. Your own marketing efforts would point your audiences to your universal film access point. Various VOD and SVOD and other digital resources could also pick your movie from your universal film access point and then deliver it to their audiences.
There are several services coming together now that can automatically transcode your primary, pristine digital file of your movie into all the various codecs required for delivery to all types of screens, whether full-blown 4K for projection onto 50′ movie theater screens or highly-compressed 3gp codecs for viewing on 3″ smartphone screens. These transcoding services allow you to build your universal film access point and include all possible options for digital distribution.
The biggest challenge right now for VOD, especially via cable outlets, is the “SEARCH and DISCOVERY” function. With the universal film access point, you would control, via advertising/marketing of your own, the search and discovery process, leading your potential audience to each individual’s own VOD access point. Your potential audience could register on your unique film access point, so that you would know when someone is, for instance, on Comcast in New York City, allowing you to have a simple “Click here to view on cable right now” button. Or, on Hulu Plus, Crackle, Netflix, etc. Your universal film access point would know your potential audience member’s regional window, their neighborhood local carrier, their country’s censored version, etc.
The database behind your universal film access point would be mammoth, but completely within current capabilities, using current vendors.
The marketplace is becoming more vicious, and greenlight criteria more crucial, because of the explosive growth in the number of films being made, plus the massive library of films made long ago that are now being revived and re-distributed.
A downside of this, and, frankly, a downside of the UNIVERSAL FILM ACCESS POINT, is the lack of the financial buffer of any Minimum Guarantees from distributors, pre-sales from foreign markets, and other traditional sources of financial cushion. Of course, that also does away with suspected reporting shenanigans and such waiting periods as the common quarterly payment cycles. With the universal film access point, there is no delay between the film transactions and the payment to you. Further, there is no gap in accounting for those transactions, leaving no room for suspicious manipulation.
The UNIVERSAL FILM ACCESS POINT would put the marketing process on a level as critical to the filmmaker as are the cast and crew. You would be responsible for effectively identifying all of your potential audiences and reaching them with effective, compelling messages about why they should watch your movie. Agencies already exist for this purpose, and are already in place to serve you.
This will be maximum use of the new world of digital distribution and one-on-one connection via the Internet. This new world demands an approach from filmmakers as unique as is digital itself. Rather than trying to bend the old world approach to fit, it’s time to create a new, appropriate way to bring filmmaking into the 21st century.
UNIVERSAL FILM ACCESS POINT will bring you full control of your movie and maximum exposure to your best potential audiences.