Amazon Prime Could Be the Best Way to Release Your Indie Film

Did you know that Amazon has opened up a new distribution path? It’s called Prime Video Direct and, strangely, its existence has been an unintentional secret – even from TVWriter™. Here’s the scoop:

by Noam Kroll

It wasn’t long ago that self-distribution was an extremely difficult avenue to pursue, and was simply a last resort for filmmakers who couldn’t secure traditional distribution… But in the last few years, that’s all changed.

For many filmmakers, self-distribution has not only become a viable option, but the single best option out there. As I outlined in this blog post last year, many traditional distributors simply don’t offer enough value to independent filmmakers, especially those working in the micro-budget realm. So more filmmakers every year are making the choice to self-distribute to retain control over the sales, marketing, and exposure of their work.

For a small fee (or in some cases for nothing at all), you can upload your movie to your choice of TVOD, SVOD, or AVOD platforms and make it immediately available to millions of people. Add to the mix a creative PR campaign and some social media ads, and an ultra-low budget movie can compete with a multi-million dollar blockbuster.

I don’t mean to oversimplify the process – just like the craft of filmmaking itself, distributing and marketing your movie is complex and requires a lot of specialized knowledge. But if you can learn the skills to make a movie, you can learn the skills to market one. You just have to be willing to take that path.

When I decided to self-distribute my feature film Shadows On The Road, I knew there would be a steep learning curve… I had never distributed a movie before, but I was willing to learn and willing to fail, and that mentality gave me the freedom to take some risks.

Throughout the process I worked with two different aggregators, ran multiple paid and organic campaigns, and released the film on half a dozen platforms – my favorite of which has been Amazon (more on that later).

For a bit of context, Shadows On The Road was released exclusively on iTunes upon launch. This was intentional, as I wanted to create an “iTunes window”, where it would not be available on any other platform for at least 2 months. This way, all initial sales would be directed to iTunes, helping the movie climb the charts faster than it would if it were also available on other VOD services.

I promoted the iTunes release through my blog, social media, newsletter and podcast, but didn’t spend any more on paid ads during this time.

This strategy worked fairly well – within 2 days of launching on iTunes we broke way into the top 100 pre-orders for all of iTunes, and stayed there for weeks. To my surprise, we were beating out some major films (at least in terms of pre-orders), and that was pretty exciting.

By the time the film was available to stream, I had already started shooting my next feature (White Crow), so I put my organic marketing efforts on hold. I thought I would sit back and see what happened over the next couple of months, and then re-assess once I was wrapped on production.

As the months passed, sales began to plateau as I was no longer actively promoting the film… So the next logical step was to experiment with paid ads.

I started by running multiple Facebook ad campaigns targeted at several different demographics. Some of these ads were purely text and image based, and other ads used videos, such as our theatrical trailer or this 15 second social media teaser.

Around this same time, I also released the film on Vimeo On Demand so it would be available for international audiences too (currently the feature is only on the US and Canadian iTunes stores).

The ads I ran promoted both the iTunes and Vimeo On Demand links, and were most effective when directing users to this very basic landing page.

As more people bought the movie, I would re-invest that revenue into more advertising on social media. So in a way, the ads were really paying for themselves. I wasn’t making gigantic profits (my margins were pretty slim), but it was working. People who didn’t know me in any way (personally or through my website) were being exposed to the movie and choosing to buy it. That was pretty cool.

Because the film was made for such a low budget, it didn’t take long before I was able to recoup costs. And at that point, my primary goal shifted. It was no longer about profit, but rather exposure.

With that in mind, I decided to release the film on several more platforms.

I had previously used Distribber to release the film on iTunes, but this time around I used FilmHub to release it on several other platforms. FilmHub is interesting in that they don’t charge you anything to distribute your film to any platform, but they take 20% of your profits. In comparison, Distribber (like most aggregators) takes none of your profits, but charges a fee (about $1500) to list your movie.

Filmhub was the natural choice to distribute to platforms where I was unlikely to make a ton of revenue, but could still get some added exposure (like TubiTV, for instance). That said, I specifically requested that they did not provide any services for delivering the film to Amazon.

Amazon is unlike most other VOD platforms in that they allow you to upload your movie directly to Prime without using an aggregator. This is something that is just not possible on iTunes, and for micro-budget filmmakers who are squeezing every last dollar, saving that $1500 is pretty amazing. Anyone can upload their movie through Prime Video Direct. And that’s exactly what I did….

Read it all at NOAMKROLL.COM

Stareable Fest 2019 now open for submissions!

by TVWriter™ Press Service

“I’m inspired by how Stareable continues to find new ways to support and nurture the next generation of indie storytellers. I look forward to supporting their movement in building their community on both their platform and their festival“ – Bernie Su, 2-time Emmy-award winning web series creator and the keynote speaker from Stareable Fest 2018.

After the enormous success of the inaugural event, Stareable, the largest community of web series creators, is proud to announce its second annual Stareable Fest, now officially open for submissions.

The 2019 festival will take place July 19th-21st, 2019, in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, recognizing Brooklyn’s growing role as the heart of New York City’s creative community, and is seeking short and long form indie TV and web series in the genres of comedy, drama, and unscripted/ reality/documentary.

Additionally, creators can once again submit a 90 second pitch video for an opportunity to present their show concept live to a panel of judges composed of industry executives, which in 2018 included executives from Comedy Central and PBS.

All Official Selections in 2019 will be considered for meetings with industry executives as part of the Stareable Fest Marketplace, which last year included Warner Bros, PBS, Comedy Central, and Bustle.

Stareable Fest is half industry marketplace, creating face-to-face connections between independent filmmakers and decision makers at major networks and platforms and half creator convention, with workshops and panels about how to be a more effective filmmaker.

Filmmakers can submit at FilmFreeway.com/StareableFest, with the early bird deadline ending January 31st, 2019.

Inside the Creative Process:

This is so funny, it’s not funny.

What are we talking about?

The writers among you will know, after you watch this:

From Neptuneblt

Matt Wilson’s new film, ‘The Pastor and the Pro’ is now on Amazon Prime Video

Hmm, which one do you suppose is the pastor? And which…you know…?

Matt Wilson is one of our favorite people, and only because he’s been part of the TVWriter™ family since way back in 2001 “when,” as he puts it, “I was writing animation spec scripts and submitting them to TVwriter.Com’s contests (which led to my first big break – writing for animated shows on Cartoon Network and Disney Channel).”

He’s also headquartered just across Puget Sound from TVWriter™ Central, eschewing the blandishments of Hollywood because, well, because obviously he’s a hell of a guy.

We’re giving you this background because we want to set the right tone for the following article about Matt’s latest decidedly un-Hollywoodish (or maybe way-too Hollywoodish?) feature film, which, yes, it’s true, all of us at TVWriter™ hope you’ll see. Take it away Matthew:


by Matt Wilson

The Pastor and the Pro, a new comedy from one-man studio Matthew Wilson Productions, will have its world premiere Nov. 9th on Prime Video.

The story follows a young, single pastor who needs a date quick for a big church dinner so he hires a prostitute to accompany him. But as she becomes more entangled in his life, her demands become more outrageous. Now he must navigate a moral mine field as he uses the unholy alliance to advance his ministry career. And things get more complicated when he starts to fall in love with her.

A truly independent filmmaker, Matthew Wilson wrote, directed, produced, and edited the movie entirely himself, hiring a small cast and skeleton crew for the shoot days with money he made writing for Cartoon Network’s Transformers: Robots in Disguise. Now, through Amazon’s Prime Video Direct program, audiences throughout the U.S. and U.K. will be able to watch the film on all their favorite devices.

Amazon’s courtship of filmmakers has long been important to Wilson. He credits winning their $100,000 prize for his movie The Umpire in 2011 for helping him transition from struggling screenwriter to struggling filmmaker.

He further honed his filmmaking skills in 2014 with The Virgins, a comedy about a Christian couple who have a wild adventure on their wedding night as one surprise after another thwarts them from consummating the marriage. The film has had a successful run on Prime Video and garnered praise for its humorous handling of Christian characters and themes.

Portraying Christian characters honestly has become a passion for Wilson, as he sees a deep lack of it in both mainstream and faith-based movies.

The Pastor and the Pro stars Travis Lincoln Cox as Pastor Jacob and Kelly Cunningham as love-interest Rachel. Supporting players include Monika HolmJeffrey ArringtonPhillip Keiman and Andrew Tribolini, a local legend in Seattle where the movie was filmed.

The comedy is available to watch on Prime Video in the U.S. and U.K. Subscribers can watch for free and others can rent for $2.99 or purchase for $9.99.

Prime Video link – https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07JZGBFXK

Trailer –  https://youtu.be/bX-ksUkEDc0

More about Matt Wilson – http://matthew-wilson-writer.firebaseapp.com

Bri Castellini: How to Kill Your Darlings – @stareable

 by Bri Castellini

I don’t care how talented a writer you are, how witty your dialog, how ingenious your story weaving- it’s almost guaranteed your scripts are several pages too long. But especially when your story is good and your dialog competent, it can be easy to convince yourself you’ve done enough and you’re ready to shoot. Think again- today we’re talking about killing your darlings.

Defined: a “darling” is an element of your story (usually at a script level, but occasionally is a particular prop or piece of wardrobe) that is disproportionately important to you than the story itself.

An example is a three-page witty dialog sequence that you love because it’s funny and clever but doesn’t actually move the story or the characters forward in any way, or a particular poster on a character’s wall that would be expensive or difficult to attain but is an inside joke amongst the cast and crew.

Defining and deciding to kill your darlings is an exercise in understanding the purpose of every moment, every character, every word, and every beat in your story, but that can be difficult. Let’s make it simple.

Do A Table Read

Because screenplays are mostly dialog, it can be easy to write off long conversations as too long because the individual lines seem short and “it’ll be faster when the actors talk.” It’s hard to actually make that call without hearing those lines aloud, though- there’s a reason even veteran showrunners still do table reads on major network shows. Even if you don’t have all the parts cast yet, get a group of actors and friends together and hear your work, and pay attention to the moments of waning interest. In theory, a table read is engaging to everyone the whole way through the same way watching a new movie is. But if you look up from the page and pay attention to the readers who aren’t speaking, you’ll notice at which points they start to zone out. The sections with the most glassed-over eyes are the ones you should reconsider.

Furthermore, if your script is comedic and you haven’t heard a chuckle in over a minute, something’s wrong.

Cut transitions, intros, and outros

What is the absolute shortest version of your story where it can still make sense and be impactful? Arthur Vincie, the creator of Three Trembling Cities 1, suggests you “cut the first 10 pages out and see if the story still makes sense. About 60% of the time it does; the other 40% usually just require some tweaks.” Obviously not every web series has 10 pages to spare (or 10 pages in an episode), but the point stands- introductions are worthy exercises in figuring out your narrative, but they aren’t always the actual best place to start the story.

In a similar sentiment, Tim Manley, writer and co-creator of The Feels 1, talked about cutting his scripts on our podcast Forget The Box as a reaction to his other co-creator Naje Lataillade explaining the various shots a particular episode will require. Tim recalls that “my brain will trigger- ‘that sounds like a long day.’ And I’ll be like, you know what? The whole scene takes place in one room. And actually I cut the beginning and I cut the end…. But what that actually does is boil it down to the most interesting part anyway. So the constraint, from my point of view, forces us to only do the parts that you really need, and in the end honors viewers time and honors everyone’s time.” And isn’t that how it should be?

Ask yourself: do you need a page of a character leaving one location and arriving at another? Are we learning anything from that, or are you worried people will get confused about where she is? Sometimes, it’s actually better to tell instead of show, if telling takes a single line of dialog and showing is two minutes of screentime.

Combine or cut characters

Alicia Carroll of Fishing explains that her “personal vice is characters. I always have too many. The challenge becomes deciphering which ones are necessary, which ones can composite together, and which ones have to cut.” Especially on a web series, more characters means more people to coordinate schedules with, more pages of dialog leading to longer shoot dates, more bodies to feed and keep comfortable on set, and just generally more variables to account for. And often, that many people aren’t necessary.

Ask yourself- is the purpose of this character to have a world and path of their own, or to move the plot forward in a few key scenes? If it’s the former- great! If it’s the latter- give those key scenes to another character who is fully fleshed out and who is not just a prop in service of your plot- it’ll give more gravity to those moments because the characters are more integrated with the story by nature of the fact that there’s more to them than their main plot significance.

Have someone else do it

Presumably, the reason you’ve been made aware of a “darling” is because you showed your script to a friend or colleague. If you trust them, or have another person you trust, why not give them a go? Give them a new document to cut what they wish, then read over the new version yourself. If you don’t notice something’s gone or it only takes a small rewrite to connect the dots between sections previously separated by darlings, it might be easier to let them go. (shout out to Dana Luery Shaw for suggesting you let someone else do the dirty work)

Save stuff for later

In The Good Place podcast, which I highly recommend, the writers of the show talk about how when a joke gets cut or changed in an episode, it doesn’t get purged from the Earth. Instead, jokes that don’t make it to air end up in the “candy jar,” a document of funnies pitched to dip into when in need of a laugh or some inspiration.

When we talk about “darlings,” we call them that because they’re good, they just might not be good for this particular project or moment. So don’t reject them entirely- protect them and put them in a list of things you want to revisit eventually. That can often help with the sting of killing them- maybe we should rephrase to “gently guiding your darlings to a waiting room because they aren’t needed quite yet.”

Do you have an example of a darling you’ve killed? Or do you have another method for identifying and trimming them? Let me know in the comments!