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Guest Post: Rob Mills “Online Distribution: 10 Lessons from Dynamo Player”

Guest Post: Rob Mills "Online Distribution: 10 Lessons from Dynamo Player"

It used to be that indie filmmakers generally made their films for an audience/market of 6-10; those days their audience was the buyers at the film festivals. Those days made life simple: filmmakers had two responsibilities — make your damn movie and then surrender. The idea then was that distributors would distribute the work we made. Several years ago folks started to realize that this model covered less than 1% of the films made in America (forget about the rest of the world).

Solutions have been developing for the other 99%, both in terms of how to connect and engage with an audience/community, and how to actually earn revenue in the process. One of the most promising of the bunch is the Dynamo Player, and today we have the co-creator of the platform, Rob Millis, to guest post on how to make it work for you and your work.

Hundreds of filmmakers now use Dynamo Player to offer online rentals on their own sites, Facebook pages and across the web, but of course some films are selling much better than others. After a year of working closely with filmmakers, I want to share some distribution lessons that should help you reach your audience and sell your film directly. This is it, live and in action:

We began developing Dynamo Player after years of doing DIY distribution for our own work. We wanted to upload HD videos of any size, set our own price, publish them on any web site, and make it easy for viewers to pay with systems like PayPal and Amazon. Frustrated that nothing of the kind existed, we began designing Dynamo Player, which now includes almost every feature on our initial wish list, including:

  • unlimited file size and video length
  • no setup fees or other up-front costs
  • unlimited bonus content, so you can include all the video extras on your DVDs, or bundle multiple films for sale together
  • set your own price and access period (99¢ – $11.99; 6 hours to 30 days)
  • geoblocking by DVD region, continent or country
  • adjustable streaming quality, including 720p HD
  • immediate and transparent accounting, with payouts upon request
  • filmmakers keep 70% of every purchase with no hidden fees
  • With these features we’ve tried to provide the simplest, easiest way for filmmakers to sell their films directly online. But sales still depend on engaging with your audience and making it easy for them to watch your film. With that in mind, here are the top 10 lessons we’ve learned that should help you get the best online sales possible:

    1. Make it easy and obvious. People come to your site because they want to watch your film, so help them do that. Dynamo offers viewers instant gratification with easy payment, and the best way to take advantage of that is to present the film well. Make it big and beautiful, with a simple page layout and a high quality thumbnail image that fills the player screen. And however tempting it may be, save the poster, t-shirt and DVD sales for another page.

    2. Include a Preview. Dynamo lets you add a preview video to the player, so viewers can watch your trailer before paying. If you already have a preview on your film’s web site, you can simply replace it with the Dynamo Player to give viewers the same preview and add the option to immediately purchase the film itself. A good trailer will always lead to better sales, and there is no good reason not to take advantage of this feature.

    3. Sell it! In order to take advantage of online distribution, you need to take it just as seriously as you do any other distribution. Consider the thousands of hours and dollars spent promoting public screenings and DVD sales, often to keep just a small fraction of the purchase price. You keep 70% of every purchase with Dynamo, so it’s worth your while to drive viewers to your site and make it easy to pay for your film.

    4. Online Sales Require Online Buzz. Find your audience online and engage them! Facebook has great tools to spread the word (see the next item to build an app for your film), Twitter is a great way to engage directly with likely viewers and longtime fans, and Tumblr let’s your film spread rapidly with just a little bit of promotion. Participate in online discussions and join online groups, reach out to influencers and reviewers, and make it very easy for them to watch your film by simply going to your site.

    5. Build a Facebook App! A custom Facebook app lets you promote your film to all of your followers and fans, engage in active discussions with them and encourage social promotion. One of our filmmakers, Mike Busson set up the first movie rental on Facebook (yes, before Warner Brothers!), and he was kind enough to write a detailed guide so you can do it too: http://bit.ly/PPV_FB

    6. Publish Everywhere. Dynamo Player is great for selling your film on your own site, but it’s also great for selling your film elsewhere. Anytime you have an opportunity to write an article or blog post about the film, embed the player in that post. Whenever someone else writes a review, let them know they can include the film right on their site, even in the middle of a review. Potential viewers can immediately pay to watch while they are still excited about doing so, and this is great for reviewers, because it keeps readers on their web site. This article on Kevin Pollak is a perfect example: http://bit.ly/pollak_dynamo

    7. Relationships Beat Affiliates. Everyone gets excited about affiliate deals, and they may work fine for other goods, but they rarely get real results for film. The simple fact is that nobody is going to promote your film effectively unless they truly love it and would promote it anyway. Reaching out to your fans directly and asking them to spread the word is far more likely to engage dedicated evangelists. Your fans will typically appreciate your personal thanks more than any pittance they’ll receive from a few individual sales.

    8. Sales happen on weekends. Every Friday night our sales numbers get a bump that continues until Monday morning. To take advantage of this, reach out to your audience on evenings and weekends when they are deciding what to do that night. Sending emails to your audience at work during the week may result in traffic to your site, but it’s unlikely they’ll settle in with a tub of popcorn at their desk.

    9. Bonus Material. Dynamo lets you include all of the video extras you would normally put on a DVD. Outtakes, behind-the-scenes footage, director commentary and extra trailers all add to the value of your film. You may even want to offer the film on it’s own at one price, and then bundle it with extras at a higher price. And of course if you have several films you want to combine for a single price, this is the way to go.

    10. Pricing Is Key. The best sales results for feature films have been $1.99 to $4.99, with a major drop in sales above and below those prices. 99¢ is great for short films, but at 99¢ your masterpiece feature may appear to be nearly worthless. Meanwhile anything over $4.99 has a hard time competing with the sea of Hollywood blockbusters available for rent at much lower prices.

    When considering all of these points, it’s worth looking at some examples of great web pages that incorporate the video player. Each of the films below uses Dynamo a little bit differently, and may influence how you choose to promote your own film.

    The Ray Kurzweil documentary, “Transcendent Man”:

    Oscar-contender “Gone Fishing” with bonus content:

    Documentary “Cowboys in Paradise” on Facebook:

    I hope these examples and the 10 tips above help you reach your audience and increase sales. If you haven’t tried Dynamo Player, you can easily sign up at http://DynamoPlayer.com with no obligation or exclusive contracts, and we will be happy to help you in any way we can.

    — Rob Millis
    Rob Millis is a co-creator of the online distribution platform Dynamo Player (http://DynamoPlayer.com). He is also a former documentary and web series producer, and longtime champion of independent media.

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