It works quite simply. After downloading a majority of the film's file by clicking on a download URL, any viewer can get the proper license to watch the film (it's a very small bit of code that is easily downloadable in low-bandwidth environments such as airplanes) after paying for it via PayPal. For the filmmakers, the service is accessed with a $30/month subscription. The license that the consumer buys is valid for at least six months after the filmmaker cancels his membership with PUMit.
Like many self-distribution tools, PUMit benefits greatly -- almost depends on -- a robust audience-development strategy. So the PUMit team, working with Crowdstarter, a company devoted to identifying and mobilizing audiences, has worked with a few specific film projects to help launch the service.
One of these is Greg Whiteley's "New York Doll," a documentary about New York Dolls bassist Arthur "Killer" Kane, who converted to Mormonism because of his struggles with alcohol, drugs and suicide. As the band contemplated reuniting, Kane died suddenly of leukemia in 2004. The following year, "New York Doll" premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, where it won the grand jury prize for best U.S. documentary.
A few weeks ago, Whiteley regained the rights to his film and launched an online distribution campaign. He's selling the film through PUMit for $3, and with the help of Crowdstarter he's been tapping into deep networks of New York Dolls fans to help get the word out about the re-release. By using the Facebook pages of the New York Dolls and guitarist Sylvain Sylvain, Whiteley was able to launch a contest where referrals could be tracked and customers with high numbers of referrals could get autographed merchandise and other prizes related to the film.
PUMit's head of business development Olivier Pfeffier notes that by using the service filmmakers are in greater control of their digital goods and consumers have a closer relationship with the product and its maker. "The flexibility of this technology is a total asset," says Pfeffier. "Fans can re-sell their goods, and we have the technology to track that. We can help consumers promote and re-sell what they download. They are able to send the link to a friend, and if their friend buys from their link, they get a cut. The secure distribution technology is a total asset."
Crowdstarter's Paola Freccero says that convincing filmmakers of the effectiveness of the no-frills, low-risk self-distribution option that PUMit offers is one thing but that self-promotion remains a bigger obstacle. "Fillmmakers are very unclear about direct-to-fan marketing," Freccero says. "They wonder if they're allowed to do it in light of other deals they're striking. Filmmakers are trained to see it as a last resort. That's a shame, frankly. No other retailer in the world sees marketing direct to their consumers as something to avoid."
Self-distribution technologies like PUMit have been proliferating over the past few months. Vimeo recently launched various initiatives to allow filmmakers to get paid for their work, and companies such as VHX are helping filmmakers build out marketplaces on their own websites. It remains to be seen to what extent consumers will find these films and just how well filmmakers can monetize their work as these new technologies gain ground.