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Prescreen is Suspending Operations, but Plenty of Options Still Exist for Indie Filmmakers

It seems like only yesterday (8 months, actually) that the curated rental website Prescreen appeared as one of the many new startups competing for eyeballs in the growing digital distribution world for independent films. Prescreen (technically still in beta) sent a message to users that it would be suspending operations for the foreseeable future and would notify members of future plans with the site. Just because Prescreen is shutting down, however, does not mean all hope is lost for independent film. There are plenty of other services still going strong.

Here is the original launch video for Prescreen:

Back in February, Prescreen relaunched with Facebook integration, a sign that the website was heading in the right direction. It seems things were not going well under the surface, however, as they have now officially closed their doors. Here is a portion of the message to users:

Please be advised that on Thursday, May 31, 2012, Prescreen will be suspending our initial beta test until further notice. We very much appreciate your interest in our service and hope that you enjoyed your experience with Prescreen.


In early 2011, we started Prescreen because we believed the future of film discovery and distribution is digital. Last September, we launched the beta version of our site to test this premise. In just 8 months, we proved that this is likely to be the case. In total, Prescreen featured 168 films, rented more than 10,000 movies, and saw more than 115,000 subscribers opt in to receive Prescreen movies. That said, we’re perfectionists and we still don’t believe we’ve seized the opportunity. For now, we’re going back to the drawing board. When we come out on the other side, we’ll be sure to let you know.

So while Prescreen could relaunch at some point in the future, it’s likely this is the end of the road for the promising site. Does this mean that independent film distribution is a losing battle? Not necessarily, as online distribution for independent films is still a wild west frontier. While Apple’s iTunes has been very successful with digital distribution, independent films have a harder time getting their work onto that platform. Even though Prescreen is shutting down, independent-oriented startups like Distrify, FilmDIY, and Dynamo are still active. If you’re an independent filmmaker, you’ve also got a service like Distribber, which acts as a cheap middle-man in order to get your film on various platforms, including iTunes. Since Apple doesn’t directly deal with filmmakers, using a distribution company is the only way to actually get your film on that service.

If you’re into doing things yourself, you also have the option of building your own VOD portal. Either way, it’s likely we will see plenty more startups in the coming years for filmmakers who want to sell their films directly to fans, but one thing is still clear: building an audience is the first step towards successfully releasing a film on any platform.

[via TechCrunch]


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Description image 36 COMMENTS

  • As expected, these eager startups will all eventually choke and run out of investor cash. And then we’ll be back where we started – indy’s will find it excruciatingly difficult to succeed financially, and a handful of big studios will run the show for both mainstream theatrical and VOD. C’est la vie, I suppose.

    • Nothing stays static, and nothing overcomes the momentum of technology. Power shifts, but there’s always a centre of power. Film has always been a social thing; word of mouth is one of the most powerful drivers of box office. It’s inevitable that someone will capitalise on this and combine it with streaming.

  • john jeffreys on 06.1.12 @ 8:18PM

    I smell studio activity

  • My film was 30 days into a 60 day run on prescreen when it shut down …. Views of our trailer were REALLY high, but for some reason they had a hard time converting those views into actual purchases. I’m not sure if that’s because of the price ($4 to watch the movie the first week, then it goes to $8), or because people didn’t want to link their facebook account … or because my trailer sucked … hopefully it was one of the first two reasons. I never really could get much of an answer out of them about how our conversion rate compared to other films ….

    • Thanks for sharing, Luke! Am definitely curious to see how this plays out.

    • It’s probably just the price. People just don’t like paying for things. And I wouldn’t even trust those “view counts” they gave you anyway.

    • It’s more than that. For digital distribution to function we need a marketing campaign to rival traditional distribution. A way to achieve that is through engaging and empowering genre fan bases during the development process. If they participate in development, they will acquire an emotional investment in the outcome. This represents a viral and rival marketing campaign to match traditional distribution.

      • I agree with David and am every excited to see what 2013 brings with new and innovative ways to include the audience/public in the development!

  • Apple thought they have it by distributing films via iTunes, but a lot of people hate it for one of these reasons:

    1) It’s cheaper to get a physical copy down town
    2) iTunes is so annoying it isn’t funny
    3) Data caps – people don’t have unlimited internet everywhere!

    When I heard about this I thought – great! A platform to sell my films on, but no. You only rent them. It’s still money but I would like the person to be able to keep my film. Sure, if they don’t it’s more money but imagine if they show it to their friends who couldn’t afford to rent it? That’s really what I want.

    And also I like the whole 60 days thing, but then again it’s only 60 days. That’s two months for you to hopefully make a return and at $8 a person that ain’t really gonna get you far.

    The way I see it is film is art, and I want as many people to see my art as possible. If I need to get money out of them then sure, but I don’t /really/ care about piracy because hey – now people will know your name.

  • Well I think it was too expensive, Itunes is expensive as well, you pay more than your rental store and you don’t get to see making ofs, commentary and all the extras I enjoy. I’m sure there’s a more successful business model yet to be explored regarding online rentals and purchase. I’d love to see something like Netflix with the Itunes library, for sure it won’t be as cheap as Netflix but Im positive they could do it for something reasonable.

    • Some mentions of price being an issue. Is $4 really too much to pay if a film is good? $6? $8? If you went to a movie theater, you’d be charged at least $8 for EACH person. And then there are the added costs of concessions if one goes for that (and also the time spent getting to and from the movie and the transportation costs).

      Economists have found that putting a price on something makes people value it more. Perhaps we’re doing a disservice having an all-you-can-consume-for-one-monthly fee model. We’re getting the film equivalent of fat, lazy consumers who are consuming poor quality content just because it’s there.

      I wonder what the average usage of Netflix is — what is the real cost of the physical rentals. How long are those dvds sitting around before they get viewed? And how much are people actually streaming?
      What percent of the population even has access to a rental store any more?

      • People dont’ want an all you can eat garage junk food.
        They want quality..they something that blows them away.
        And for this they will pay. Anything less…might be well done
        and all…but people won’t want to pay for it. If bored they
        MIGHT watch it for free. Enter youtube and 2-5min. clips.
        That is why all these companies will go bankrupt.

  • As Brett stated here below. Something else will come. At least for independent documentaries. It’s called fairpie.

    At fairpie we have worked hard to pinpoint how to optimise independent online distribution of independent niche content so that the filmmakers can start to make some money and efficiently cultivate a core fanbase to have an ongoing relationship with.

    We believe that in order to create a more fair and level playing field on the distribution side the problem has to be tackled on three fronts.

    - The first is to make as easy to create an online microsite for your film as it is to set up a youtube page. Filmmakers aren’t web developers so why should they have to build and maintain a website, that let’s be honest, only a fraction of their potential audience will ever find.

    - The second is to make it as easy to browse and pay for content as it is to buy a dvd online. And here we’re actually going one step further, showing the customer exactly how much of what they’re paying ends up with the filmmakers. We’ve also worked hard to make it easy and intuitive to share content you like with your friends and on social networks

    - The third is to amass and aggregate independent documentaries in one place. Just as you would go to the farmer’s market for fresh organic produce, you will be able to finally know where to find amazing independent documentaries.

    We’re obviously keeping our ear to the ground to ensure that we’re developing tools and features the filmmaking community actually wants, so I would hereby like to invite all filmmakers and documentary lovers to our site which will start alpha testing very soon, and I promise that we will take on board all suggestions and criticism you might have. We’re building fairpie for you guys, so if we’ve got it wrong, be sure to let us know!

    Andreas Pousette

    • Lol.

      If I hear one more startup company using the line “we’re doing it for you guys,” I’m going to vomit.

      • I understand your skepticism Mr Hummer, but in our case it happens to be true.
        I’m an independent filmmaker myself so when I’m talking about the independent filmmaking community I obviously mean me as well.
        Many other DIY distribution services charge the filmmakers money up front. We don’t. Our business model is based on commissions on transactions which means that if the filmmaker doesn’t make money, we don’t make money. This will ensure that we are always developing the tools and services filmmakers want to use, simply because if we don’t noone will want to use our service.
        Finally I want to let you know that we are entirely self-funded. We’re building this organically hoping to scale it up and develop it further as we go along.
        Maybe you’re right though, maybe we will be back where we started with a handful players running everything, we’ll find out in 5-10 years. Until then, we’re gonna focus on building the best platform for independent documentaries and filmmakers that we can.


        • I’ve got some harsh news for you: as you’ve said, if the filmmakers don’t make money, you won’t make money.

          Given that the former is a forgone conclusion, you won’t make money. I imagine it’ll be challenging to run a company that makes no money.

      • john jeffreys on 06.4.12 @ 7:02PM

        Dear Hummer,
        There can only be one contrarian character on this board, and that space is currently taken by me.


  • Guys, enough already, just deal with it, there is no Indie film Fans! This a retro term from the 90s, for people who waited months to see a Quentin Tarantino film, and the only possible way to saw it was at the theatre. Back than you could count the number of indie films made each year. Today every dude with a Canon 5 and FCP who saw miss little sunshine, thinks his an “indie filmmaker” so there are millions of crappy movies. Crappy “indie” Movies no one wants to see for free. Trying to sell them another indie crap for $4 just won’t do it. And Prescreen is the living proof for that.

    • As much as most of us would hate to admit it, this is the truth.

      • There is no distribution problem…there is simply a lack of quality indie films being produced…in the rare event that one is made…it has zero problem getting distribution or an audience…the rest of it is garbage and deserves to remain unseen and bankrupt anyone stupid enough to fund it.

        • How would you know that the unseen indie movies are garbage? You haven’t seen them. Because they’re unseen. Yeah.

          • Post a trailer of an indie film which failed to get distribution that you think deserves to be seen…if you can.

          • Like I said, how would I know if the movies deserved to be seen without seeing them myself? You’re the one making the extraordinary claim; why don’t you provide your own evidence?

          • It’s nice that you have faith that somewhere out there are solid indie films that never received distribution…I’ll leave you to cherish that hope…enjoy.

          • I’m not sure if you’re being patronizing or just cynical.

        • Correct most of the films don’t deserve to be seen.
          Some years even the Sundance winners and finalists
          don’t deserve distribution.

          But I did see a movie The Guitar which I had not heard
          of and thought it well done. Only reason I saw it
          cause it was on The Sundance Channel and it was
          directed by Robert Redford’s daughter. If Joe Schmoo’s
          daughter did same movie with no name actors it wouldn’t ever
          have surfaced anywhere most likely.

    • Plus most of the 90′s Indies other than the strict genre
      pics like Pi and El Mariachi had known NAME actors.
      It’s a whole ‘nother ball game to get someone to watch
      a movie with no-name actors. Even all the Sci-Fi channel
      TV movies use former celebrity TV actors from the 80′s-90′s.

  • I think the challenge for indie filmmakers is not a distribution challenge, there a plenty of options available today. It’s marketing… ‘Just because you build it, doesn’t mean they’ll come’. One needs to create demand for the supply… study what Kevin Hart did for Think Like A Man Budgeting for Effective Social Media (PMD) and PR (Public Relations expert) campaigns, word of mouth, savvy marketing strategies, street teams, and festivals are tools to organically build an audeince and buzz to put people in the seats, and eyeballs to to watch your movie… Also if you can attach a name director, executive producer, and cast this helps. Even Ryan Koo, built NoFilmSchool before launching his film project Man-Child.

  • yeahwhatever on 06.11.12 @ 10:00PM

    Word. Nofilmschool is perpetuating the idea that the only thing separating indie films from success is equipment, distribution and marketing costs. Hell, even hollywood has succumbed to a torrent of terrible movies over the years, so much that nothing has any charm anymore, nor is remotely unique in its style. We might see maybe 1 movie every 5 years or so that is worthy of classic status but this flies in the face of 1000′s of movies that are variations of the same old tired concepts.

    Simple fact is a great movie could be displayed unannounced on a 10″ screen on some streetcorner it would still draw an audience and eventually end in an academy award. Shit is shit no matter how much hype or production value goes into it.

    • I’m not sure how you’ve ever gotten that idea. We’ve never once said anywhere that you will succeed if you do certain things. There are only best case scenarios that we can point out from our experiences and from the experiences of other independent filmmakers. Our goal has always been to be positive about options for filmmakers because we believe in independent film. It’s not easy, none of this is, but the inspiration behind this site is that you don’t necessarily need to go to film school to learn a lot about filmmaking – the internet contains a wealth of information.

    • An academy award, are you serious? I don’t even know where to start with that one.

  • The glut of “indie” films can only be a good thing. Removing barriers to entry – by offering cheap cameras, editing software, etc – has allowed more people to explore their ability (or lack of) to tell a good story via moving pictures. It is no longer restricted to big studios and film makers with lots of money behind them. I’ve got about 8 family members who are now “film makers” because they own a dslr and a computer. The stuff they make is unwatchable crap, but that’s okay because they can only get better…in theory.

    And that’s what is happening all over the globe, crappy homemade (absolute indie) films are getting better. Some have stories and acting that is good. Not yet great, but I have definitely seen improvement. Technique is improving, picture quality, sound and lighting, it’s all getting better. Derivative? For sure. But every film maker has started out by making something only his family will applaud. But real story tellers will emerge in the near future and they’ll have to be original to stand out.

    That’s why we need to encourage young film makers. We need to watch 1000 crappy films to find the gem, because in amongst the rubbish is a future Bergman (or whoever). But what a waste of time, you say, no doubt you have lots of better things to do (like reading posts on nofilmschool). Holy crap, but I really have waffled on long enough…