By Tom Kerevan
In 2014 Tom Kerevan wrote and produced his first feature Tear Me Apart with director Alex Lightman and DOP Ern Herrmann. Made for £75,000 with no known actors, they eschewed the traditional sales route and made a tactical play for Amazon. Here’s how they did it and what they learnt…
This is a tough blog to write. How did we break into the top 80 movies on Amazon Prime in the UK? Well, I’m afraid I can’t give you the magic formula to the Amazon Video algorithm because I don’t know it!
However, after a lot of trial & error there are a few things I’ve noticed that seem to work, and a few that don’t. So what I’ll do is share the highlights of 2 years worth of research into releasing a film online.
First though, I’m going to be shamelessly un-British and ask for a favour in return up front: if you’ve watched Tear Me Apart, please review it on Amazon.
We have managed to climb the ranks of Amazon Prime, and now we’re competing with the huge studio movies with all their silly marketing $$$ – we’re currently just behind Gravity. Every review gives us the ammo we need to keep battling!
If you haven’t watched Tear Me Apart and you find this blog helpful in some way, then please say thank you by watching and reviewing it! https://www.amazon.co.uk/Tear-Me-Apart-Alfie-Stewart/dp/B01HSX96EW
And while you’re there, jump over to IMDb and give it a quick star rating too: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3562966/
AMAZON vs NETFLIX vs ITUNES
Before I dive into my top tips, I just wanted to cover an oft-asked question: why did we choose Amazon over Netflix and iTunes?
There are three very good reasons behind this decision:
- Amazon is free. That’s right, it costs nothing to put your film on Amazon, and you can do it yourself. To get on Netflix and iTunes you have to submit via 3rd party aggregators, and they charge in the region of £1,500 per platform. With Netflix you’ll never see that money again, and iTunes you need to guarantee a minimum number of views just to break even. That didn’t really appeal to us.
- Many disagree with me on this, but based on all the research I’ve done, I think Amazon is the future of film. One future anyway. They’ve only recently shown their first hand, and they’ve yet to really get out of second gear. Plus their combination of Pay Per View and Subscription is starting to blow Netflix and iTunes out the water (*Article and figures at end of blog.) Therefore, being in the mix now will, we hope, give us longevity as they expand.
- Amazon is only available in 5 countries. Whilst this may seem like a negative, it actually works in our favour as it’s a more focussed platform covering just the US, UK, Germany, Austria and Japan. With iTunes you are able to restrict release, but with Netflix it’s simply ‘Domestic’ or ‘Worldwide’. In terms of maintaining control, this is important to consider – we can still sell the rights to any other territory.
TIME TO GO PRIME
Okay, so here are my top tips for giving it a shot on Amazon Prime…
- Don’t rush into it!
Don’t just finish the film and whack it online. Your film needs to look like a proper film, which means you need to have been to festivals, had professional reviews, all of which is included in the artwork. It needs to be nurtured first.
- Build slowly
As I say, I don’t know how the algorithm works, but it does seem to reward gradual growth rather than a sudden spike. So if all your mates watch it on the same day, that’s not going to do much. We released the film on Amazon Buy/Rent for 6 months first before we released on Prime.
- Critical Mass
Like most things, it’s about critical mass. Once enough people have watched your film, it will start showing up on the ‘what other people watched’ suggestions, and that then feeds into the Most Popular lists. As with point 2, this takes time.
We saw a spike in the UK after about 5 weeks on Prime, so keep plugging it via every avenue available to you. We are now averaging about 600 hours streamed every day.
- Facebook Advertising
Okay, look, on the surface Facebook Advertising looks amazing, but after 6 months I came to one simple conclusion – it’s just a money-making machine for Facebook. Nonetheless, it’s worth figuring out because if you target the right audiences it can certainly get you views, which will then help towards critical mass. Don’t expect to get back whatever you spend, but do consider using it as a loss leader.
Be liberal but not misleading. People often search by genre, so this is the easiest way to make your film discoverable. You can select as many genres and sub-genres as you like… so do it!
Tear Me Apart is currently:
- 27th in Thrillers
- 18th in Action & Adventure
- 10th in Sci-Fi
- 5th in Teen & Young Adult
- 1st in Indie & Arthouse
Note that we didn’t put it in the horror genre. We realised that it was not sitting well with horror fans who were expecting more gore, so it didn’t make sense to try and engage with that demographic. This reiterates why time, research, festivals and reviews are important.
Reviews on Amazon are vital. They appear to feed directly into the algorithm. Just be aware that a ‘Verified Purchase’ seems to weigh more heavily, so it’s a balancing act.
We held a big UK Premiere at the Genesis Cinema and got around 250 people attending. The film was launched online the next day, so we asked everyone to review it. Of course only a small percentage actually did, but it helped get the ball rolling.
We also used this as an opportunity to hire some PR, put a press release out and get as many professional reviews as we could. This helped to create a buzz around the film, meaning that in the first couple of weeks of release we moved into the top 5,000 films on IMDb’s MOVIEmeter.
And on that note, do not forget IMDb – Amazon owns it! Make sure the listing is totally up to date, including artwork. And get your friends to rate the film here too as the IMDb rating shows up on Amazon.
The professional reviews also get linked here too, and the more of those the better.
- Artwork & Copy
There’s definitely no exact science here, but remember that you are pitching your film, not explaining what it is. The poster is the first thing they will see – does it stand out? Is it intriguing enough to click on?
And then sell them your product! It’s not just about the logline – use a combination of quotes and the story to tease them into watching the trailer. It’s a 1-2-3 punch with Amazon: Poster, Pitch, Trailer.
WHAT DO YOU GET BACK FROM AMAZON?
As mentioned, it costs nothing to put your film on Amazon. You do have to go through some fairly tedious admin surrounding tax, but nothing a bit of googling can’t solve.
Once you’re on there, for Buy / Rent you get 50% of all revenue, after tax.
For Prime, it instantly becomes available for free to the 66 million and counting subscribers (which is more than Netflix has).
And what do we get in return? Well, something, which is better than nothing:
- In the US, $0.15 per hour streamed.
- In Germany, Austria and Japan, $0.06 per hour streamed.
- In the UK, £0.04 per hour streamed.
We launched the film on Amazon Prime just before Christmas. No glitzy premiere, no press release, no Facebook Advertising (we’d already done that with the Buy/Rent release). We just shouted about it over our own Social Media channels.
AND THE NUMBERS ARE IN
It was a slow start, but somewhere in the middle of January views in the UK suddenly spiked, with US views remaining steady.
From Christmas 2016 to today (15th March 2017), we have had 2.45 million minutes streamed, or just over 40,000 hours, which has brought in around £2,000.
To be clear, we have not spent a single penny on marketing or advertising since the film has been on Prime. And the profit is about 7x higher than when it was on Buy/Rent without any advertising.
Plus, that’s only in a handful of territories.
RETENTION OF RIGHTS
Here’s the kicker – we’re making money and we still own 100% of the rights. Obviously, yes, we’re trying to sell them in other territories around the world, and will do so for the right deal. But we’re also making another film this year, and if that goes well, then the value of Tear Me Apart could go up.
I’m not saying that Prime is the best path for every film, but with a bit of planning and lot of hard work in the build up, it can produce a small but decent revenue stream, and one that we hope to build upon moving forward.
Now we find ourselves competing with big studio movies and Oscar-winners, so we need your help. Reviews on Amazon and IMDb are all we have against their monetary might!
Thank you for reading and hope it’s been helpful.
Now off you go and review Tear Me Apart!
Hi Chris, this is such a great article and I’ve been referring to it a lot as I prepare for my release. I’m planning to release on Amazon on the same day as the screening. My question: is there a standard day of the week for VOD releases (e.g. Mon/Tues) and does this matter? I’m not too keen to have my screening on a Monday or Tues.
That’s a GREAT question Johanna and I will reach out and ask Tom if he knows.
I have currently two films on Amazon Prime. I am not distributing myself but using an external distributor with whom I am very pleased. Bur how do I see how much ny film has grossed and his many times ut has been streamed?
Such a great article. I watch many independent films on Amazon Prime. Then I began to wonder does the film maker get any revenue from me watching (kind of like You Tube and all of it’s policy stuff). So I googled that question. I was glad to see how you broke it down so clearly. It really helps filmmakers consider this as a way to get their product out there. I also didn’t realize how reviews worked for the films, I have only left a few reviews here and there, but I have read a few before I put a film on my watchlist. Some you have to decipher whether they are friends from college reviewing or valid analysis of the film. Whatever the case I will consider reviewing movies more…..especially independent ones.
Well done and continued success!
Great article, I am an independent film maker in Nigeria. I just finished a short film and want to get it on amazon prime. Kindly help with some info, Do they accept short films? How do I respond to the tax administration from here?
Thank you so much for this article. It helps so much. Being involved in many independent films locally and these poor filmmakers are given so much bad information they do waste a lot of time.
I recently saw a friend post a casting for ” amazon Prime Sitcom” this leads me to believe this person is contracted with Amazon Prime to film a sitcom to air. Does Amazon do this?
thank you in advance 🙂
Great article Tom. Could you please recommend a legit 3rd Party Aggregator that you have had experience with please?
I totally loved what I read. I found it very useful as I have just completed my very first feature film and am looking for ways to forge ahead. Your journey is very encouraging for people like me who are taking baby steps in this industry.
Thanks so much!
i just got my movie on Prime too
At least this is another avenue to YouTube, and the exposure may lead to more sales off a filmmakers own site.
Thanks alot for this article but my question is
Can you put a film in another language apart from English on Amazon?
I am sure you can yes, but you will need subs
Prime use to pay you by the second it was watched on prime but now give virtually nothing. On the rent and buy it is hard because most people who pay for prime want their films free. Netflix might cost you money to get on in fees from the pitcher/distributor as unfortunately even if you have the best poster in the world they will charge you a lot of money for a new one which is normally worse. However you can get a big payout if excepted on Netflix and also better payment each time it is watched. It is near on impossible to get hold of a distributor to pitch to Netflix unless you have a big budget film or at least two big names in it which is a shame.