21 June 2011

You Are Not Ed Burns

I'm no Edward Burns. Neither are you.

As obvious as this sounds, it's something we often miss. Sure, Burns is re-writing all the rules on online self-distribution and it's really exciting and he deserves every tiny bit of accolades he's getting for leading the charge. I respect the hell out of him for it, but listen closely because this is important:

Ed Burns is a movie star. He plays himself on ENTOURAGE. He used to date Heather Graham. He's a big deal. You are not. Neither am I. Very few people beyond our friends and families care about what we're doing. They just don't.

So when someone like Ed Burns is pioneering a new approach to distribution, you should absolutely pay attention. But don't believe that what works for Ed Burns will automatically work for you.

He is famous and you are not.

Practically speaking, what does that mean?

Basically, it means that you have to do things a little differently. The fact that you've made a film for $10,000 isn't newsworthy. The fact that you're putting it on VOD isn't newsworthy. Because you aren't newsworthy. None of us are.

So we have to take Ed Burn's success and run it through a filter--call it the Jon Reiss filter if you want. Audiences aren't going to find us (because they don't know who we are), so we have to go find them. We have to turn our films into events.

But how do you turn an internet video into an event?

Maybe you combine it with an actual, real world event? And if you don't have one? You create one.

One advantage that we do have over Ed Burns is that of lower expectations. We can try things. There's little to no risk in our failures. Because no one cares.

We can experiment. And what better way to experiment than on a film that cost almost nothing, has some level of acclaim, and has already turned a profit for the investors?

So that's why I'm teaming up with my good friends at Film Courage on a VOD experiment, with help from the good people at Distrify.

We'll have more details very soon, but essentially what we're going to do is screen my film BLANC DE BLANC July 3rd in Los Angeles next month at the facilities of Hot Pixel, Inc., the good people who worked on Sean Hackett's HOMECOMING. At the same time, we'll be pushing the VOD through Distrify with a crazy high affiliate rate of 30%. In addition to the live component of the screening, we'll be doing an online event, where people from around the world can interact. We're working on an online Q&A, maybe some panels, some guests, all sorts of fun stuff.

Basically, we want to take the opportunity to put the Distrify player through the paces, to see how it holds up, how the Affiliate stuff pans out. We want to know what works and what doesn't work so that when other films in the community are ready to screen (I'm looking at you TILT, GOODBYE PROMISE, CRAWL, HOW DO YOU WRITE A JOE SCHERMANN SONG, and others), we'll have worked out some of the kinks and made life easier on those films that have a little bit more to play for.

Think of BLANC DE BLANC as your guinea pig.

The big plus of Distrify is their Affiliate model, which not only gives you a cut of the sales that your publicity generates through embedding the player, but also through sales you generate on places like Facebook and Twitter. Or, to quote Peter from Distrify (in response to my email question):

"Yes, we track tweets and sharing from the player, as long as the user is logged in. The affiliate share goes to the last person in the chain who told the buyer about the film. Of course, if the buyer clicks affiliate links from several different users, we give the affiliate share to the first user who attracted the buyer's attention…We are currently doing sales reports manually, while we build an automated system that will allow any user to log in at any time, see their earnings and withdraw when they want."

I'm going to try and coordinate a Skype interview with them if people have more questions.

In the meantime, play around with the Distrify player and it's multitude of embed options. Let's find out what works and what doesn't. None of us can do what Ed Burns does, but together maybe we can get close.

Filmmaker Lucas McNelly is spending a year on the road, volunteering on indie film projects around the country, documenting the process and the exploring the idea of a mobile creative professional. You can see more from A Year Without Rent at the webpage. His feature-length debut is now available to rent on VOD. Follow him on Twitter: @lmcnelly.