“Throw Out The Baby” – Distribution Model

We’ve all heard the phrase, “Don’t throw out the baby with the bath water” meaning don’ t throw away what’s valuable with what is not valuable. This age old saying has some implicit wisdom in it.

But does it meet the needs or is it even relevant in today’s era of digital media distribution where “The Baby” can be copied, ripped and redistributed at will by millions of people in the time it takes to change the diapers?  More importantly is there some logic we can garner from this case?

ScreenPens has written extensively on methods of monetizing your work. Ways of actually getting paid and making a bit of scratch from the digital media that you create. While mega companies like Apple, Sony, Hulu, YouTube etc. battle over the MultiVerse, trying to control and squeeze pennies from Heaven, we here at ScreenPens have been devising and reporting on ways to beat them at their own game.


Consider the advantage of today’s Indie Filmmaker (or creator of any type of digital content, ie music, editorials, art etc.). We are passionate about our “babies”.  Most of us work long hours, for little or no pay. Many go into deep debt and burn through both our and our families credit cards, all driven by the urge to create something. We work CHEAP. And like China and other formerly third world nations have figured out, THAT is the key to making money.

The Mega Companies rarely if ever create something… but they’re wizards at exploiting something creative (case in point Paramount’s grand exploitation of  Paranormal Activity). How then can we exploit them and their limitless greed?

By throwing them “The Baby” and keeping control of the “Bath Water”.

This is a radical concept but I see it springing up all over the place. And the best part about it, is that the Mega Companies CAN NOT do this, even with their thousands of employees and their billions of dollars, because they are built on and are sustained by the concept of “accelerated revenue recognition”.

Accelerating Revenue Recognition means that they are hell bent improving the ways to bring more revenue into the company faster and cheaper. Public companies MUST DO THIS TO SURVIVE. They can not  abandon this goal.  Since they are unable to produce enough New Content themselves, they must reach out to the great unwashed masses to buy increasingly larger volumes of content, that they can turn around and sell to and ever widening market. To steal a phrase, “How do they do it? They do it on VOLUME”.

This is great news for Indie Filmmakers who understand this principal and know how to exploit it. If  you’re still suffering from “Old School” revenue models, where you expect to get a big fat distribution deal “cause  I  earned it”,  then this angle will make you puke. But if you’re “New School” then you’ll immediately see the genius.  Coke and Pepsi have figured it out a long time ago, “Give away the machine and make your money on the soda pop!”

What this means to indie filmmakers is this, “Make the best film (or digital content) you can, on the budget you can afford”, GIVE AWAY (or sell cheaply) said content to the highest bidder with the greatest market share. Make your money on the ancillary sales which that content generates.

Let’s take an example step by step:

1) Today, with the new digital technologies and some clever deal making with cast, crew, writers etc  an indie filmmaker can plan to produce a reasonably well made digital feature film for less than $200,000. Something that may do well in festivals, have limited distribution in theaters or may go straight to DVD and Cable.

2) If you’ve been following ScreenPens’ advise you’ve put the effort in EVEN BEFORE YOU BEGAN PRINCIPAL SHOOTING, to build your audience via the multitude of Social Media and more traditional Internet venues.

3) When the film is finished, YOU GIVE IT AWAY. That is you allow unrestricted use of the film under a creative commons license but MAINTAIN the ownership of the property. People can view, copy and distribute your film by the millions FOR FREE, for personal viewing usage but NO ONE can use the film for profit, but you! (ie if some Mega Company wants to profit from your work, they still have to pay you!)

4) In the film credits (opening and or closing) you make sure to include the URL for your Movie Site with a blurb about all a the great MERCHANDISE you have for your fans to buy.

5) On your site, you set up a small self running e-Store where your fans can come back to buy, the “special” DVD version,  T-shirts, Sippy cups,  cast stories or contract engagements, limited signed memorabilia etc etc etc.

6) Sit back and collect your cash.

Imagine if Oren Peli (Paranormal Activity) had done this! He and his cast and crew would be ROLLING IN THE DOUGH and he would still have the big boys throwing money at him to make THEIR next big budget pictures.

Will you make millions this way? Probably not, but you’ll certainly make back your money and you’ll STILL own your property to make future deals, only now it will be worth much more.  Does this model actually work? YES.

Check out the video about Nina Paley’s distribution success with her film “SITA SINGS THE BLUES” and how she “Threw the Baby Out and made her money on the bathwater.

(Left side Video column on ScreenPens Blog titled  “New Model in Distribution).

Cheers and tell ’em ScreenPens sent you – MP


One Response

  1. I’ve been contemplating this. Will this approach work for every film?

    Sita’s full of beautiful, colorful characters so making money off merch makes sense. But what if you’re making a documentary on female circumcision or something?

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