Last year, Louis CK used the Internet to self-distribute an hour of his stand-up online and make over $1 million in less than two weeks. Many saw his success as revolutionary for the film industry. But we now live in a post-Louis age, where it seems like every week a new independent artist announces plans to go direct to the fans with their work, to the point where new projects struggle to break out.
One of the latest creators to explore film distribution online is comedian Doug Benson, who first hit national attention in 2007 with the Morgan Spurlock parody/experiment in stoner-ism “Super High Me.”
The documentary is only one part of Benson’s media empire, which includes the Doug Loves Movies podcast, over 520,000 followers on Twitter — and, beginning next week, Benson’s first foray into the direct-to-fan distribution model.
“The Greatest Movie Ever Rolled,” directed by Ryan Polito, captures the comedian on tour: Performing live, heckling passersby from an SUV and just like “Super High Me,” consuming large quantities of weed.
But unlike “Super High Me,” which had a more traditional release strategy, “Greatest Movie Ever Rolled” will be rolled out through Chill.com’s Chill Direct platform — starting March 11, fans will be able to download digital copies of the film for $7.99. (Pre-orders are available now for $6.40.)
The reason Benson and his team decided to work with Chill, according to Marc Hustvedt, head of entertainment at Chill, saw the value of social distribution. “We knew Doug’s reach was so strong — he had fans around the world asking where [“Greatest Movie Ever Rolled”] was,” Hustvedt said in a phone interview.
Treating Louis CK’s success as a benchmark for online film distribution is unfair to every project that’s come since, as it’s unlikely to be repeated anytime soon.
But if you ignore the high expectations set by “Live at the Beacon Theater,” the model still has obvious and tangible payoffs, especially for the right filmmaker willing to invest effort in the right kind of film. Most important of which is this: Your film gets seen by people who actually want to see it — and you get the satisfaction of engaging directly with them.
According to Hustvedt, the key ingredients to succeeding with a direct-to-fan project are as follows:
Premium content. The difference, essentially, between setting up a camera at the back of the theater and professionally filming a performance. “There’s too much out there that’s not differentiated enough from what you can get on YouTube for free,” Hustvedt said.
Freshness. Hustvedt described a “social window,” during which the film would seem new and exciting to its audience, that would be key to capitalize on. That social window, it turns out, might be as short as 60 days but can last up to six months, as word-of-mouth spreads about the project.
Promotion. Unlike a traditional marketing campaign, which works to build awareness of a film until its release date, going direct-to-fan means “building awareness on top of awareness — and making it a two-way conversation with your audience. Momentum is key,” Hustvedt said.