Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Commune - a Netflix Success Story... sort of

Welcome to the exciting new world of indie film distribution - where everything is possible but nothing is real.  Where millions of people worldwide can view your cinematic vision, but very few will actually pay for it.  You can get lots of attention, your name splattered all over google search results, your efforts discussed on multiple websites - a sort of psuedo-celebrity, while you continually struggle to pay your bills and figure out how you can possibly justify the expense of making your next movie.

And that's if you're lucky...

The Commune, a fearless, original, and thought-provoking film made by my friend, Elisabeth Fies, and one that I edited and helped to produce was recently fortunate to be picked up by Netflix.  This, in and of itself is a huge accomplishment.  Most indie movies will never get this far. It took over a year of herculean effort by Lis and many others to get this done.  We first had to sign on with IndieFlix to act as our digital distributor.  They posted a page on their website that offers our movie as a DVD or a digital stream.  They also act as a liaison between us and Netflix, iTunes, Amazon and others.  If you submit your award-winning indie film to Netflix directly, too bad, they will just ignore it.  You have to go through a distributor - Netflix doesn't want to have to deal with hoards of indie filmmakers and their (mostly unmarketable) pet projects.  I can't say that I blame them.

So, IndieFlix makes their pitch to Netflix on your behalf and hopefully, if you're lucky, Netflix will say yes - well... sort of.  What happens is, if you're lucky enough to get chosen, Netflix sets up a dummy page on their site for your movie.  It lists the name, director, artwork, synopsis, etc - just like any other movie.  The only difference is that is will say "Availability Date Unknown".  You'll see this a lot on Netflix.

This is a kind of distribution purgatory.  You're in - but you're not.   You see, Netflix wants you to prove that there are enough interested folks out there just dying to see your movie before they will actually buy it from you.  You have to write-up your marketing strategy.  You have to show all your great reviews and how many people have "liked" you on your facebook page.  Most importantly you have to urge, plead and beg everyone you know (and everyone they know) to go to that Netflix page and put your movie in their queue.  And it would also be really cool if they could rate it (at least 3 stars - 4 is better).  And oh yeah, could you post a review as well.  And while you're there, please mark other people's reviews as "helpful".  Sounds like a lot of hoops to jump through?  It is.

And how many people must put your film in their queue before Netflix will buy it?

Beats me...

I never actually knew.  They would never give us a clear figure.  I can tell you that we were in the hundreds for months and nothing happened.  Until about a month ago when we hit some milestone, or we just came up on their list of available movies to purchase - I don't know, but we got that magic email that WE WERE IN!!!  They were going to buy from us, not their usual request of 50 DVDs, but an almost unheard of (for a little-known indie flick) 200 DVDs!  This was incredible.  This meant that all of our friends and fans had done a tremendous job of mercilessly banging on that Netflix page like a raving mob of fans rushing the gates at a Led Zeppelin concert.  A huge win for all of us.  This meant that anyone who wanted to see our film could now easily bop on over to Netflix, put that baby in their queue, and wait for the mailman to deliver our little bundle of cult-thriller joy right into their mailbox.

What a world we live in!

What is that you say?  How much money did we actually make in our Netflix deal?  Well...  that's where reality kinda smacks you in the face.  Let's just say that after IndieFlix gets their cut (they are acting as our distributor, so of course they get their take), Elisabeth was paid back just about enough to cover the costs of her original order of 1000 DVDs that she had replicated, printed and shrink-wrapped -  200 of which eventually found their way to Netflix.  So you could say that she got 800 DVDs for free.

As for return on investment of her production costs of actually making the movie...  Uh...

Here's where you can actually help.  Yes, you can go over to Netflix and put The Commune in your queue.  Eventually we will get some money from the amount of people who actually rent or stream it.  If you are even more interested in the movie however, an even better way to support indie filmmaking would be to go to our site and buy a DVD from Lis directly. That s%@! is pure profit for her at this point and would start to make a dent in her considerable debt.

And that would mean that she could actually go out and make her next movie, providing even more though-provoking entertainment for us all.

And what a world that would be!


  1. Wow Todd, I didn't realize all the hoops that had to be jumped through to get this movie into Netflix. Especially considering that I've seen tons of really terrible indie horror films via Netflix that don't even half the support that I've seen for The Commune.

    Keep fighting the good fight. I know I'll do all I can to help support.

    1. On this weekend I had a plan to start a pay to take class online from home by doing this end of the month I have to do give the online test. It's my choice to select the courses.

  2. Planet,

    It didn't use to be this way but things have really tightened up in the last year or so.
    Netflix in general is trying to free themselves from DVDs and go totally VOD.

  3. You're rad. Thanks Todd. Totally appreciate the post.

    I've been pulling out my hair trying to get our new flashy Flash site together in the middle of all this mayhem and moving...REally hoping to learn how to program this weekend and have it up by Monday. Pray for me to Cthulla.

    Cortez, you've been amazing. Thanks for all the help you've providing introducing us to great viewers!

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