The Letter 'D': Distribution, DIY, Dynamo Player

By Orly Ravid

Dynamo Player is one of the many DIY options we've looked at with close interest over the past year, (See Felicia Ptolemy's Review HERE and Rob Millis' Introduction to the Dynamo Player HERE. Is 2012 the year that it takes off for the indie and artist direct communities? It may very well be, and if so, we can have Orly Ravid of the Film Collaborative to thank once again. Today, she sits down with Dynamo's founder and discusses further evidence of it's success and some of the do's and don'ts of the platform.

The Letter “D”

D: Distribution, DIY, Dynamo Player.

I got educated more all about how it works, with owner Rob Millis who I finally met in person at IDFA in Amsterdam. A fine gentleman indeed.

I usually recommend a filmmaker work with at least two DIY options to give customers a choice and just to not have all one’s eggs in one proverb.

Rob explained why Dynamo serves its filmmakers well. He noted its “designed with presentation and high quality” and that the “filmmaker's brand is in front.” It’s not just about the Dynamo brand.

Dynamo can handle any of the popular video standards and offers viewers up to 1080HD quality, a clean crisp presentation and as many extras as one can pack in. Hence it’s a good alternative to DVD, but with the instant gratification of an online rental.

A filmmaker once remarked that the issue with DIY is the “TRUST FACTOR”:

People don’t trust too many places with their credit cards and feel safer with big companies that have built a solid reputation. Well at Dynamo, and some other DIY services, the payment method is secure. Rob Millis explains:

“The key is payment process and protecting information”. Dynamo does not handle any payment information directly. They rely only on PAYPAL and AMAZON. Dynamo does not receive any of that confidential information so as not to risk anything going wrong. They just confirm that one is approved rather than handling payment info.

What about GENRE?

What kind does Dynamo work with and which ones do well with the service:

Most of their success is with DOCUMENTARIES.

“They have the highest value and there are a lot of reasons for that,” noted Millis.

“Entertainment for its own sake is competitive and as soon as it’s online one is competing with mainstream studio product. DOCS have a hook for those interested in the subject matter and hence people are willing to pay for it”.

“Dramas are harder to sell. The marketing for them needs to be more powerful than that for docs. Docs are also EVERGREEN. Dramas die off as soon as the marketing stops and are very competitive. There are hundreds of love stories but only one or a couple docs or at most a few about any given specific topic”. Millis concluded “One can sustain sales for a doc”. However Dynamo still accepts all kinds of films.

In fact the first-ever film rented on Facebook was a Zombie film (“Stag Night of the Dead”) hosted by Dynamo that played on the page for $1.99 and then dropped to $0.99 as a special sale.

DYNAMO DIY RULES | DO’s & DON'TS:

“The most obvious rule is to be in touch with your audience, especially on Twitter & Facebook”. Millis elaborated that in a more vague sense it’s best to put oneself in a viewer's shoes. “Think of them as consumers… Recognize that people have a million options. Film needs to be well-presented and easy to consume, make it easy and possible for them to choose your film instead of all their other options”. I also note this to filmmakers about theatrical releases and suggest they remember how many choices people have for how to spend their time and money.

Millis exclaimed the “BIGGEST MISTAKE FILMMAKERS make is believing that their film is beautiful enough to compel people to watch it just because the trailer reflects that to some extent.” A poorly designed website will not do! "Think about it as a product that is being sold and that you are competing for really valuable time when your audience has a million other really good options available".

$$$ TALK:

Right now iTunes current releases are $6.99 RENTAL for 2 days New Releases for OLDER TITLES it goes down as low to $1.99 or $2.99. Millis thinks iTunes is pricing things correctly. The Dynamo mean average sale price for all sales is approximately $4.00, including shorts and music videos, that amount to approximately 1% of all sales are below $1.99.

Millis told an anecdote that taught the moral of not making content seem too cheap. There’s so much for free online and people judge what is priced like a discount bin, hence the $0.99 rule, which is, most of the time, $0.99 makes your film look cheap!

PRICE RANGES:

$9.99 seems at the top of what works and sells well. Dramas do well $1.99 - $4.99 (“they see a strong drop off on either side of that,” Millis noted). Documentaries can be priced higher – he sees solid sales all the way up to $9.99The best range is $2.99 - $6.99 for most films, except for big films or those with a serious marketing team behind them.

Of course it’s always hard to predict what will work or not. For long tail, mid tail, smaller filmmakers the difference between sales of $5.00 and sales of $10,000 in a month is based on the work done with the audience and a good looking player.

Great films with A-list talent sit idle all over the internet because nobody knows they exist, while independent titles that strike a chord with the audience can catch on fire overnight with just a little bit of communication and an appealing web page.

TIMING IS EVERYTHING

The timing varies, as one would expect because strategies and distribution needs vary. People sometimes do a first release with Dynamo and then stop to do theatrical and DVD and then start again, or others do it later on in the process and get on Dynamo only at the tail end of the sales.

A film that has been heavily pirated can still do good business because the film looks good this way and one can add compelling extra features. One can read about an example of this: UNTIL THE LIGHT TAKES US (see her Guest Post on Ted Hope's blog.

What’s the MOST $$$ made for any one DIY film on Dynamo Player?

This information is regarding Independents, DIY only:

$20,000 per film MAX if it’s an independent and with small marketing team. It won’t be bigger unless you have serious marketing experience. But Rob Millis encourages: “don't give up even if you have no traction in beginning, you just may have not hit critical mass yet”.

“I can tell you that sales typically taper off slowly for documentaries, continuing at a rate of perhaps 10-20% of the original month. If a doc did $10,000 in online rentals its first month, with some dedicated online promotion, then you might expect sales of $1,000-$2,000 per month several months later.

Dramatic features are a different animal, and you can expect major sales drops after promotion stops. A lot of residual interest depends on star power and search results, but dramas get stale faster.

Regarding dollar values, I can’t really give a solid estimate in any way that wouldn’t be misleading. No matter what number I give, every filmmaker then expects to reach that number. My biggest hesitation is attributing an estimate to Dynamo specifically, which always makes people really excited or really disappointed about Dynamo. In reality, it’s about the marketplace, and the online rental market can certainly support revenues of 7-figures for independent films. There really is no limit, practically speaking.

For instance, Louis C.K. just produced his own comedy special and did over a $1mm in sales using PayPal and direct downloads in about a week. He’s a well-known comedian, but this was a mid-budget shoot completely financed and marketed by Louis, totally independent. I certainly think his sales numbers would be at least as good if he had used Dynamo, but the success or failure would still lie mostly with his ability to convert the audience.

Beyond that we’re talking about differences of probably 10-50% between different platforms, depending on the customer experience.”

Dynamo is proud to note that its sales are growing overall, significantly. To find out more about Dynamo email info@dynamoplayer.com or visit DynamoPlayer.com to see an introductory video and sign up.

Orly Ravid has worked in film acquisitions / sales / direct distribution and festival programming for the last twelve years since moving to Los Angeles from home town Manhattan. In January 2010, Orly founded The Film Collaborative (TFC), the first non-profit devoted to film distribution of independent cinema. Orly runs TFC w/ her business partner, co-exec director Jeffrey Winter.

Guest Post: Felicia Ptolemy "Tool Review: Transcendent Man on The Dynamo Player"

A while back we had Dynamo Player's founder Rob Millis introduce us to this useful tool for DIY Distribution. But how do the filmmakers using it, feel about the Dynamo Player? Today, Felicia Ptolemy, one of the producers behind one very successful film, Transcendent Man, shares their thoughts on the Dynamo Player. I look forward to sharing more direct reviews of the tools we use to get our work made and seen. If you are filmmaker using some of the innovative tools and methods that both necessity and opportunity has offered Indie / Truly Free Film recently, let us know your experiences. Write to me and we can run a post for the community, okay?

Transcendent Man is a film about the democratization of technology. Basically, exponentially growing information technologies are allowing for an explosion of new applications that are disrupting entire industries and offering powerful tools to people everywhere. Dynamo is one such tool, affording the filmmaker, directly, the opportunity to offer our audience immediate access to our film and ease of payment, which together create an instantaneous and seamless viewing experience.

With today’s audiences expecting and demanding to watch movies the way they want to watch them, Dynamo introduces the unique convenience of an embeddable video player that can be hosted on any relevant destination. We started by putting the film on our own website – the first place our potential viewers go to learn about Transcendent Man and find out where they can watch it. As a filmmaker, once you capture the interest of a viewer, you want to close the deal. There is so much content out there to distract people and by eliminating the need to go to another site to watch the film, we’ve captured the audience interest at its height. We also simultaneously put up the Dynamo player on our Facebook fan page, where many new and existing fans of the film go daily to share information and debate the ideas – it was a perfect spot to again access a passionate and interested audience (who can also easily share the film with their network) and offer the film for rent right there on the spot. By creating this flexibility and allowing us to embed a player right at the source, Dynamo gave us a tool to combat a primary challenge facing filmmakers today: content over-proliferation.

Also, with exhibitors still demanding a 90-120 day holdback to DVD release, Dynamo offers a more timely opportunity for our fans, which are demanding that a film like Transcendent Man should be available via many portals using any and all new technologies. This is the primary reason we wanted to use Dynamo, who was the first video player application that could accept safe, reliable forms of payment via trusted sites like PayPal. Couple that with the capability of embedding the video player on any website or portal where Transcendent Man is relevant to that site’s content and we have an exponentially growing audience who is not being blindly marketed to, but rather who have found the film naturally through their own likes and interests. Highly democratizing!

For these reasons and many more that we are still learning, Dynamo is a powerful tool for filmmakers and self-distributors. We’ve even had filmmaker friends learn about Dynamo through us and thank us for making them aware of a tool with so much potential. It’s a portal that offers access and convenience to a targeted audience and expands on your existing fan base organically across the web. It transcends the limitations previously put on filmmakers whose goal has always been to just get more people to enjoy their films.

-- Felicia Ptolemy

Felicia Ptolemy is an independent producer working in television and film for the past 10 years. She produces under the Ptolemaic Productions banner with her husband, Barry Ptolemy. Her most recent project, Transcendent Man, the documentary about Ray Kurzweil’s life and ideas, is available on DVD and iTunes.

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”: http://transcendentman.com/watch-now/

    Oscar-contender “Gone Fishing” with bonus content: http://bit.ly/gonefishingPPV

    Documentary “Cowboys in Paradise” on Facebook: http://on.fb.me/CowboysFB

    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.