Distribution in the digital age

Screenshot of Rufus Tower by Billy Browne.
Based on her presentation at the Big Screen Symposium, Anna Jackson explores what the Transmedia concept of ‘Doing It With Others’ has to offer filmmakers.

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Based on her presentation at the Big Screen Symposium, Anna Jackson explores what the Transmedia concept of ‘Doing It With Others’ has to offer filmmakers.

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The digital age has brought about many significant changes in film production, but new technologies have had the greatest impact when it comes to film distribution. While it’s amazing that today I can make a movie on my iPhone & edit it on my notebook, what’s truly transformative is how easily (in theory) I can get that movie from my phone to a global audience. In the age of celluloid my movie would have to be carted around from place to place and physically projected to a limited, localised audience. Now I can just upload to YouTube and say ‘hello world’.

But course, it’s not that simple, because there are an awful lot of other people running around making movies (mostly of cats) and uploading them. There’s a whole lot of content, on a lot of platforms competing for a finite amount of audience attention. And if I'm not just making a movie on my phone, but using professional equipment and a professional crew then a lot more than my ego is at stake if I can’t get an audience to see my film.

New technologies have made film distribution easier in some ways, and infinitely more complex in others. Delivery options were limited to exhibition in public places (like cinemas) then came broadcast, cable, satellite and home video and DVD. Fast forward to the present and (though our options in NZ are a little more limited), there’s a myriad of options (and acronyms to consider): VOD (video on demand), EST (electronic sell through) / DTO (download to own) / DTR (download to rent), for starters. And there are rights to be negotiated not just across territories but across platforms. 

With all of that complexity, forget DIY (Do It Yourself). But forget TDI as well (They Do It; the old system of handing distribution and marketing over to someone else). The acronym I propose to be most important for filmmakers when it comes to digital distribution is DIWO (Do It With Others).   Others may take the form of expert advisors (scroll down to the bottom of this post for most on these). Others also include people on your team, which (in a perfect world) would include what Jon Reiss calls a PMD (Producer of Marketing of Distribution). But the Others that you need to work with the most are The Audience.

Film has moved a long way from the linear chain of production/distribution/consumption. The relationship between the filmmaker and audience has necessarily become a lot more intimate and more immediate. Like it or not, it's essential now for filmmakers to engage with audiences; not just at the end point (at delivery), but throughout the filmmaking process. You need to start gathering that audience before you've even got a film. There are many ways to do this, so I’m going to focus now on just one; crowdfunding.

Crowdfunding is an excellent example of how the old distribution model been turned on its head. One way or another, you need audiences to pay for your film. Traditionally they do that by purchasing movie tickets or buying videos or DVDS.  With crowdfunding, audiences aren't just paying to see the film, they're paying to help make it. Crowdfunding isn’t entirely about funds though; it’s part of a marketing and distribution strategy that gets audiences to invest more than money. 

When I give money to a film project through a crowdfunding platform (like Indiegogo, PledgeMe or Pozible), I get updates from the filmmaker letting me know how things are going. I'll probably also follow on Facebook or Twitter, or both.  It's the start of a relationship. Even if the reward I've been given for my investment is a copy of the film on DVD, I'll probably still pay to go see it at the cinema. I'll tell people about it. I'll Facebook it, Tweet it, maybe even blog it. And my personal recommendation is more likely to be valued by my friends than any other form of advertising.

Filmmakers don't have to crowdfund. But they need to embrace that idea of the audience as investor and in turn they need to invest in the audience, thinking of the audience not just as customers but as partners.

I mentioned the value of consulting a team of experts earlier in this post.

Here’s my list of recommended ‘experts’:

Ted Hope

Peter Broderick

Sheri Candler

Jon Reiss

Other useful resources for independent filmmakers:

Assemble

VHX

The Workbook Project

Gathr and Tugg (currently US only)

Written by

Transmedia NZ

18 Sep 2012

Interests Transmedia NZ supports the ongoing development of New Zealand’s Transmedia production community, creating opportunities for collaboration and innovation, and the sharing of knowledge and ideas.

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