Movie Making Manual/Distributing Direct
This Module is part of the Movie Making Manual
DVDs have been with us for some time now yet the impact of the new format is just beginning to be felt and its potential just beginning to be explored.
The DVD player has entered the Guinness Book as the "fastest growing paid-for consumer electronics format of all time". There are now 15 million DVD capable devices in the UK and this year for the first time more films will be watched on DVD than in all the other mediums combined.
"Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism" a direct to DVD documentary about Fox News is currently ranked 3rd on Amazon's DVD sales chart, just behind "The Complete Star Wars Trilogy" boxed set. So far it has sold over 250 000 copies on DVD - its budget was just USD300 000.
In the UK Luke Morris found no takers for the great short film he produced, "J'Taime John Wayne" and so packaged it with 15 other UK shorts to create the excellent Cinema16 UK directors DVD. This proved a such a success it was followed this year by a collection of 16 shorts by European directors on DVD.
Most independent films lose money in the cinema. Prints cost USD5000 each, advertising with only a website, posters and postcards will cost tens of thousands and Exhibitors take a large chunk of revenues. When I say "lose money" I'm even not talking about losing money relative to the film's budget but actually losing money on the release. DVDs have much higher margins and this is where distributors look to recoup their payments.
The current justification for cinema release is that a high profile cinema release is essential if the film is going to do well on DVD. Yet most independent movies get anything but a high profile release, going out on a handful of screens with a marketing campaign consisting of postcards in pubs and posters on a few buses...if you're lucky.
The DVD success of "Memento" and "Donnie Darko" following their lacklustre cinema showings contradict the view that cinema success is crucial to DVD success. If the purpose is marketing the money spent on the theatrical release could probably be spent in a more focused way on selling/promoting the DVD. The problem is no one in the industry really knows how to sell DVDs yet.
For most of us Shooters the viability of a cinema release is a moot point as the budgets we are currently able to raise probably dictate a straight to DVD release anyway. If that is successful we might just be able to raise the capital for something which will go first to the cinema. In order for it to be successful the film needs to be good (of course!) but the DVD release also needs to be handled properly.
This is where the industry is pretty immature.
What is still needed 
Realistically speaking there should be far more direct to DVD distributors than there are. The costs and infrastructure required for a company distributing DVDs directly are probably similar to those of a small book or music publisher yet there are far fewer small DVD distributors than small music or book publishers. In fact small book and music publishers might be just the people to push the next wave of films going out via direct DVD distribution.
In order to truly take advantage of this shift the industry still needs a number of things:
Accurate DVD sales figures 
Knowing how many copies of a particular movie are being sold would be invaluable, far more useful than the box office figures. Yet box office figures are readily available while DVD sales figures are not.
Having the sales figures will make it easier to know what kind of budgets are realistic for different films and help immensely with funding plans for ultra-indie features.
Distributors/Publishers with accessibility to the retail channels 
Sure we can sell from our website and via eBay and Amazon. But people don't often buy products on a first viewing. Often we see something and think "That's interesting maybe..." and the actual purchase happens after a few encounters.
Being able to partner with companies who know how to get our films on the racks at HMV, Virgin, and Waterstones would be very useful.
Reviews and feedback 
I touched on this last week. The more films are out there the more people are going to rely on trusted reviewers to find out what is worth buying/renting. Support of critics and online reviewers will be crucial in selling our films.
Innovative Marketing Companies 
Are there any small marketing companies using creative means to sell DVDs? I've not seen any evidence of their work. Is there a company who could actually make something happen on a marketing budget of say GBP30 000? From what I've heard most of the independent firms marketing firms in the UK seem to be tied to the concept of cinema marketing and fairly formulaic in their approaches.
We need companies who can help a direct to DVD film get the attention of its audience. Again independent music promoters (Why have I seen no fly postings for indie DVDs?) and book publishers may have the skills in reaching a niche audience that film marketers have yet to develop.
I think there are still a lot of blanks to be filled in in the DVD distribution ecosystem and a lot of opportunity here. The sooner companies start taking advantage of these opportunities the better it'll be for us.
This is currently seen as a niche, but companies like wikipedia:Filmbay are already addressing this.