It’s no secret that the current distribution model is broken, but I believe that a whole new model is about to evolve. And I woke this morning in something of a frenzy, needing to brain dump my thoughts… so here they are…
Here are the distribution problems right now…
1. The high impact life of your film is 14 days, max. Any buzz you create, any momentum you build, is now created on a global scale. Social media does not know boundaries – posters, trailers, interviews, articles – all go global in a moment, and ideally viral. I believe that you can only get REAL buzz for your project for a few weeks, something Morgan Spurlock discussed at NAB last week. After those two weeks, internet dies back considerably.
2. It follows then that you need to get your movie out as quickly as possible, and in as many territories as you can, and finally on all devices (TV, web, phone etc.). Ideally this would happen on the same day too.
3. If we create buzz and then fail to deliver an easy way for people to legally watch our films, we are simply begging people to rip and upload our films to share. I don’t believe these people think of themselves as pirates. This isn’t about money, it’s about us promising something amazing and then failing to deliver a way to watch the film legally and easily.
4. No single platform, aside from iTunes, seems to work well as yet. And iTunes being Apple owned, is housed a ridiculous walled garden.
5. Forget theatres, they are operating in a different century.
As a film maker, all this means that I will get very little back from current distribution methods and my film will get seen mostly via illegal downloads.
So the problem really comes down to an archaic distribution infrastructure run by largely backward thinking business people. Like all empires, this one will topple, and topple very soon. I genuinely wonder what the Cannes Film Market will look like in five years as I can’t see how things can carry on as they are.
Three Structures we need in place
Here’s what needs to happen for your film, and my film, to have a better chance of success today…
1. We need to release globally on the same day.
2. We need to release on every platform available to us (phone, online, VOD, theatre etc) on that same day. People should be able watch your film in their chosen environment and on the platform or device that suits them.
3. We need to remove as many barriers to purchase as possible (no staggered release, no geolocking, must be value for money, must be easy to purchase).
Without these three structures in place, the future is extremely challenging for filmmakers.
We need to own it
So, we as filmmakers need to own this problem. We need to own the destiny of our films and not just pass it on to third parties and cross our fingers. We need to find bold new collaborators who think like we do. The distributor of tomorrow is more likely a technology company with great marketing, transparent accounting and strong media partners than what we have today.
- Filmmakers and sales agents need to start to think truly globally.
- Sales agents and distributors need to wake up to the fact that filmmakers are now powerful marketers in the life cycle of the film, not just the creators.
- The audience is no longer just a passive consumer, through social media and transmedia the audience are active participants.
- If the audience wants a film right now, because we have created demand – they will find it. You either supply it to them, in the way they want it, at a price point that they accept, or they will find it illegally.
- Distributors need to start thinking collaboratively – they MUST embrace new technology, transparency and partnerships.
- Theatre owners need to enter the digital age – movies should be uploaded and downloaded online, not transported on 35mm or hard drives as is the current and ridiculous state of affairs.
- Theatre owners (especially independents) should open themselves up to deals where film makers can use tools like ‘Demand It!’ in order to build a small, local audience for a film – the filmmaker can then upload remotely – the theatre would screen their film, maybe for one day, or even just one screening, after the film maker having driven traffic there.
- And while we are on it, let’s see large plasma screen that are hooked to the web replacing paper posters inside theatres. Really, why on earth is this not happening now?
- Artwork should be centralized so that all distributors can share and benefit from each others hard work. Yes I know they will bitch about who pays for what, but we need to move past this and start to really collaborate.
- Rewards MUST be shared honestly – what if a centralized third party, money-service held all cash, releasing it to parties in accordance with deals made between all parties? Before we all say, ‘that will never happen’, remember, PayPal stole the internet market from Visa and Mastercard (at least at the low end of the market). It is possible and there is money to be made with an online collection agency. This would also make investment easier due to confidence and transparency.
- And it’s a global release on one day people, on ALL platforms. This is why we need sales agents and distributors with vision, who can work collaboratively. We the filmmaker cannot do this alone, it’s too much work and we don’t have the connections or relationships. We need reliable and honest partners.
- Let’s ditch DVD and BluRay. Mastering and carrying stock makes no sense when we live in an online world. There is no stock to warehouse or ship when your film is delivered via non-physical digital files.
- Can we make moves toward a genuine ‘universal master’? So we make ONE file, from which all other files and formats are derived? Maybe uncompressed 1920×1080 HD in 4:4:4 with six discrete audio channels? In order to future proof your movie, there may be a higher quality master that you create before making this Universal Master. But when your film hits sales and distribution, why is there not one single format we can all work toward?
Final thoughts… over the years, I have seen filmmakers struggle with film technology that was expensive and a genuinely high barrier to entry. MiniDV removed that barrier, and cameras like the 5D MkII and now the Black Magic camera have crystalised that entry point. Desktop editing, proliferation of knowledge on the web, books and training courses have brought tools, knowledge and experience to everyone. Social media has connected us all in a way that we can genuinely help each other and collaborate… We are now in the final furlong… and distribution is the final fence to jump. Make no mistake, distribution that genuinely works for filmmakers and investors is the highest, most challenging barrier to overcome… but it will happen.
I have said it many times, but it needs to be said again. There’s never been a more exciting time to be a filmmaker.
Onwards and upwards!