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June 10 at 8:30am

From Out of the Wreckage, A Future Rights Model

By Ted Hope

by Andrew Einspruch

Filmmaker Andrew Einspruch recently attended the Australian International Documentary Conference and wrote a series of articles for the event, which he’s graciously allowed us to reprint here. These articles originally appeared in Screen Hub, the daily online newspaper for Australian film and television professionals.

Film distribution is broken. Ask any producer who has ever felt that the amount they get for their work seems paltry compared to what others are making. For that matter, Peter Broderick has been saying this for years at SPAA Fringe.

There are lots of online film distribution platforms duking it out in the nascent VoD space. From the behemoths like iTunes and Amazon Instant to YouTube and Vimeo, to any number of small players trying to carve out a spot in the world. Andy Green’s Distrify is one of the ones actually making it work.

Green held an intimate session at this year’s Australian International Documentary Conference called Future Rights Model, and talked about how they built the platform. He’d been a filmmaker and experienced first-hand the frustration of getting stuff out into the world. For example, one distributor, when asked about making DVDs available for one of his titles, told Green, “It’s a small film. I’m busy.”

With that particular project, he wrested the rights back from the distributor, then tried putting the movie up as a BitTorrent, with a link for people to donate or buy the DVD. They had 600,000 downloads, and no more than 50 people who kicked in a few dollars. Plus, someone took the film, chopped off the credits, put their own credits on there, and put out the film as their own work. “I didn’t realise you could steal a film that was out there for free,” said Green. A disaster.

So he built Distrify.

Distrify has some simple, yet powerful ideas behind it:

    1. It uses a player that can be embedded anywhere, from your web site to Facebook to where ever. Green said they were the first company to offer video on demand on Facebook (although only just).
    1. The player is the point of sale. It lets someone watch the film where they are right now. No clicking through to somewhere else.
    1. You can set up a rental price and/or a download to own price.
    1. People can watch the trailer in the player, then choose to watch the film if they want.
    1. It has an affiliate model built in. Anyone who shares your video gets a 10% clip of any sales.
    1. The combination of the above two things helps decrease piracy, turning potential enemies into advocates.
    1. The filmmaker controls everything – the pricing, any geoblocking, all the marketing. Distrify is really just the platform. It is still up to you to make it work.
    1. The filmmaker has access to all data instantly. Information appears more or less like a bank statement. Between GPS and IP information, you can know exactly where in the world your audience is. So if you see that suddenly your are popular in Gibraltar, you can use that to try to create more buzz there.
    1. Central to self-distribution is knowing who your customers are. Distrify gives you access to your customer emails, which lets you responsibly communicate with them.

Here’s an example of what the embedded player looks like. This one is for Terry Gilliam’s film The Wholly Family.

The revenue split is simple: 65% goes to the rights holder (that is, the filmmaker or whoever owns the rights). That compares pretty favourably to the 70% you get from iTunes, for example. Distrify takes 25%. And 10% goes to the person who embedded it (that’s the affiliate part).You can offer the affiliates more, to provide them more incentive, but that is the base starting structure.

Distrify currently has about 2,500 films of all types available. 45% are documentaries, and another 20% are in the lesbian/gay category. They reckon they have more lesbian dramas than any other company in the world – not by design, but they think it is because other platforms, like iTunes, don’t have a lesbian or gay subcategory. The embedded player gave people with that particular interest a chance to post films that were of interest to them.

Nigerian “Nollywood” films, like Uche Jombo’s film Damage, have also done incredibly well on the platform.

Green’s company has been agile enough to respond to consumer demand. For example, they added Mexican’ pesos as a currency simply because they could and because someone asked. Amazon won’t take payments in pesos, but this Scottish company will.

Green says he thinks that the true nature of the Internet is one of a village. He was trying to create a mechanism where people could hang over their back fences, chat to each other, and make recommendations – a mechanism that facilitated discussion. He is confident he has succeeded.

If you choose to use Distrify, perhaps that village will talk about your film, and help you prosper along the way.

Andrew Einspruch is a producer with Wild Pure Heart Productions . His current project is the low budget feature film The Farmer.

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