Chill Distribution Platform Aims to Provide 'Studio Quality Tools' for Everyone
Could the future of your career as a filmmaker depend on learning to market yourself? That’s what Brian Norgard thinks, founder of Chill, a new platform that aims to be a ‘partner’ for filmmakers through every step of the digital distribution process. At nofilmschool we had an opportunity to chat with Norgard alongside Jason Brubaker, founder of Filmmaking Stuff and the Film Acquisitions Manager at Chill. Hit the jump for our discussion about how their tools can help filmmakers, their philosophy behind digital distribution, and fundamentals behind having a successful self-release:
There are certain things we believe in. Adaption is life. That service is a privilege. And, most importantly, that the creative spirit knows no boundaries. We don’t have a terminal goal as a company. The optimal scenario is we learn and change constantly throughout the process. It’s easy to live on the edge when you know no other way.
NFS: What is Chill and how does it work?
Brian: Think of us as partners in the entire distribution and marketing process. We’ve been up since January, so six months in the market, and it all goes back to the idea of creating studio quality marketing and distribution tools for everyone. We don’t care if you made something for $12,000,000 or $50,000. We want to create a world-class experience for people who create the content and the people who are supporting and transacting around that content.
There used to be this whole idea that filmmakers had to almost ask permission to enter the marketplace. They had to find a sales agent, they had to go to a festival, go through all of these hoops just to get someone to pay attention to their film. Technology has created this whole new concept: when you’re done with your film, you don’t have to ask permission to market and distribute anymore. And there’s all of these amazing channels evolving — Facebook, Twitter, Reddit — we call it the social window, where a talented filmmaker who knows who their audience is can go out and find them at a low cost.
Anyone can sign up for Chill that has created some kind of quality content and has the rights to it. Our business model is very straightforward: We eat literally every cost: hosting, credit card payment, video distribution, you name it, and the split is 70% for the filmmaker, 30% for Chill. The key is we give every filmmaker a real-time dashboard, which is updated to the millisecond and are provided with every data point about their project. Who’s buying? Where the traffic is coming from? What’s converting the most? Is Facebook converting more sales than Twitter?
We’ve built all of this technology end to end, a distribution service with real-time analytics and simple payment methods. A filmmaker who puts up a film can price it however they so choose, they retain full copyright, full rights ownership, they create a beautiful landing page for their project, and then immediately anyone in the world can transact around that film. So what you have is the tools for global distribution immediately.
NFS: How do you see yourself as part of the future of independent film?
Brian: I think the future is bringing the audience along for the ride. There’s a big problem in indie film: so you’ve created something, you’ve shot it, you say you want to do digital distribution, you want to put it on Netflix or Hulu? Well, most filmmakers don’t know how to get to these platforms. They are inherently closed marketplaces. We think of Chill as this first social window where you can come on board, you don’t have to ask permission, and we have great self-serve tools. You can put your film up in a matter of minutes and then go and build a marketing plan around it.
You think about this crowdfunding world that’s emerging, it’s fascinating stuff. What we have here is an incredible opportunity to move off of Kickstarter and onto Chill, and do it without a hiccup. We’re building a lot of tools that integrate with Kickstarter and IndieGoGo and I think what you’re gonna see here is a new superhighway for independent film. It may start on the crowdfunding platforms but then go to Chill right after. We have tons of case studies showing how this is the path. Once you come off of your Kickstarter, you do not want to go cold. You want to transition your audience into yet another experience. So you’ll see a lot of stuff out of us soon that makes that transition more seamless.
This world is in flux, but with that change comes huge opportunity. This really is a world of abundance, it’s no longer a world of scarcity where there are only so many theaters, so many distributors, and only so many slots. Those days are over. So there’s nothing that makes our company happier than partnering with filmmakers and seeing them successful. We do not take ownership or copyright, we literally are a partner, we walk in step with them. If they’re successful, we’re successful, and I think that’s always a basis for a great partnership.
NFS: If you’re a filmmaker who wants to get your film on Netflix, what is that process and how does Chill help?
Brian: Not all digital platforms are the same. And some are much pickier than others. Netflix and Amazon Prime are very selective. Generally they deal with aggregators, companies with access to lots of films. There is no singular path to Netflix, anybody who says there is lying. Netflix is the ultimate arbiter of truth in this equation. However, one of the things that’s important is showing data. Showing a real audience behind your film. Most films that have aspirations of getting to Netflix don’t have a star or a known director, and nothing is more important that showing raw data to support the thesis that your film should be on Netflix. That’s why we always suggest Chill as a great place to collect a ton of actual data about your audience and that increases your opportunity to getting on other platforms.
Jason: We’re talking about going to a transactional model to a subscription model. It’s been my thinking that it’s best to do transactional first, prior to going over to subscription based. I like to run in the transactional windows first. Chill is in line with that path.
Brian: Ever since Netflix launched House of Cards pretty much all you read is about studios using the data from these platforms to make decisions about acquiring properties. And where does data come from? It comes from a film being up on the internet or being on a platform. These are all really important elements for creating a story around why your film matters. So the more selective platforms are going to acquire that kind of information, and that’s the new nature of this business. It used to be very whimsical, someone would say “Hey, that’s very cool, let’s do that.” Well, maybe that still happens, but by and large people are going to want data to support and back up why something is cool.
The quality of films is getting better, the pools are getting better and I think a lot of filmmakers — especially this year — the lightbulb is going to go on and they are going to say “You know what? I just don’t have to ask permission anymore, I’m just gonna do this.” And they’re gonna need a partner, and we’re gonna be there.
NFS: Is there a certain core idea behind Chill? Are you on a mission?
Brian: The first 100 years of Hollywood has been a closed ecosystem, and we’re in Hollywood, we live here, we love this place. If we’re going to stay relevant for the next 100 years, we’re going to need to create these kinds of digital tools, and these tools are not just for Warner Brothers and Disney and Lionsgate, they are going to be for everyone all over the world. We’re well on our way, but we also have a lot of work to do. What we need is more high quality films and more filmmakers thinking about creating around the marketing and distribution for their film.
NFS: I saw Birdemic 2 on there and thought that was awesome. How’s it doing?
Brian: Birdemic is doing great. It’s a social phenomenon. This film has somehow captured the zeitgeist of a consumer internet in a way that we haven’t seen.. It’s a really interesting example of a film that has just got people talking. I mean, you go to Twitter and you look at the mentions for this film, it’s unbelievable. And this is done with no marketing budget. Birdemic is sort of from the future, and we’re really excited to be working with those guys.
NFS: How are you different from other direct-to-consumer outlets?
Brian: We have proof-points from documentary to narrative to comedy specials that are working. Second, we have the best tools. Third, we’re not afraid to experiment. We’re getting a lot of interesting high quality content from creators who are not afraid to take risks. If you look at our data dashboard and how we think about partnerships, I think we have the most complete solution.
Also we’re very well-funded, so we’re not going anywhere. Our toolset is only getting better. Everyone is waiting for that Louis CK moment for independent film, and I think it’s gonna happen on the Chill platform. If you are successful on Chill, our cross-platform distribution is very real. It’s getter better and better, we’re signing more platforms every week. I think that is very appealing. You say, how do you get to Netflix? How do you get to iTunes? How do you get to these other endpoints? We’re going to help the filmmakers do that. But, obviously, only if they’re successful, meaning around $10,000-$20,000 gross sales on Chill. Which many dozens of folks have done on Chill.
NFS: What marketing benefits are there for your users?
Brian: The conventional wisdom is that it’s hard to make your budget back on any film — that it’s a losing proposition. Well, we don’t think so, and in fact we have data to support that is false. The marketing has to happen in the social window. It’s low-cost distribution. Everyone is playing in social networks today. They’re all interacting and living there. This isn’t busses and billboards — we’ve seen incredibly tactical campaigns. I’m not going to tell you that with no money you can be successful, you’ve got to put some money and some elbow grease into it. A filmmaker who is able to gather an audience through the production of a film, release it as a pre-order and then distribute it globally can easily make over $100,000 gross if they are really tactical. And we’ve seen films go much higher than that.
‘The Special Special Special!’ earned for me in the first two weeks three times what I’ve earned in the past doing a special. And not that it’s all about the money. But I think it’s also really nice; it makes it easier for people who are really fans.
NFS: Are you concerned with getting flooded?
Brian: Yeah, it’s a concern, but we call it a ‘high class problem.’ We are the house. We can see the projects that are trending and selling well. The tools we have are pretty powerful and eventually we’ll be able to show our audience what’s doing well, and I think what’s doing well is a proxy for quality, generally. Not always, but in most cases. We’re very serious about the content we bring onto the site, and even though we’re an open platform we’re not necessarily a dumping ground.
NFS: Should a filmmaker be concerned about getting lost in a sea of content?
Brian: The internet is a very vast place, you could be lost in the sea. The answer lies in this incredible new opportunity we have, this beautiful dance with social media.
There’s a misconception in the marketplace that you can put a film on the internet and all of a sudden it will work, it will sell and someone will want to buy it. That’s the fallacy. Filmmakers are gonna have to learn to be great marketers as well as filmmakers.
That might sound like a tall order, but if you look at Tumblr for example, I think they did some kind of analysis that the average readership of a Tumblr blog is 1 person. We would hope that a film have thousands, if not tens of thousands, if not millions of people interested in it, but filmmakers are going to have to use tools that help them build a campaign, integrate into social and then tell the story.
The only thing here that is a commodity is all the video distribution, anyone can do that today. The marketing tools are where the secret sauce lies. We help tell stories in social media for filmmakers, and that is the X factor.
NFS: How important is it for Chill to develop as a brand in today’s competitive direct-to-consumer market?
Jason: I’m a filmmaker myself. The reason I came into Chill was twofold: One, I see it as a future. The marketing tools and rich analytics has been very appealing to me. In the past we’ve had to build that from scratch. So it’s great to see a turnkey system that allows me a rich dashboard that shows not only where my traffic is coming from, but where my sales are coming from. So for example: two websites, one is bringing me 1,000 people but I get no sales, and the other website is bringing me 10 people but 5 of them are buying. So now I know where to put my marketing spend. Regardless of platform that information is vitally important as I scale my movie project into other platforms.
Two, because one of our funding partners is William Morris Endeavor and there are some other big players behind us, we have very ambitious goals. So anybody that joins forces with us right now is getting in with us on the ground floor — and I know every platform you talk to probably says this — but we’re out there to compete with the big boys, and our partners in the background think we’re the place to do it as well.
NFS: How does Chill’s technology help a filmmaker post-crowdfunding?
Brian: There are dozens of issues surrounding the release of a film. We wanted to take the pain completely away. If you’re coming off a Kickstarter campaign and you want to fulfill your video delivery, you can make it really simple. You can go into your Chill dashboard, create a promo code and give that to all your backers. We have Twitter Media Cards, which allows us to put a trailer and a ‘Buy Now’ button inside a tweet. You can’t just create a website. The website needs to work on every mobile device, tablets and televisions, it needs to be fully responsive — all of that is taken care of. Nobody is providing these kind of rich real-time analytics that we are, the technology is built on the same stack that Twitter was built on.
There’s a ton of stuff we do so a filmmaker doesn’t have to pay $6,000 to a kid down the street to make a website and hope it gets delivered. They don’t have to get their own merchant accounts, they don’t have to get gouged. We do everything for them. We want the filmmaker to put their film up and then immediately be able to focus on what matters which is getting out there and telling the story. Doing screenings, being active in social media, doing targeted ad campaigns, getting people involved with the film to create more media in social networks.
We’re proud of all the technology we’ve built, but what we focus on really is making it super simple so the filmmaker doesn’t have to think about it. Nobody else has built even a quarter of the technology we have, and we’re not stopping. And not only is Chill functional, but I personally believe it’s very beautiful.
NFS: Do you get in contact with filmmakers directly and help them learn about marketing?
Brian: Absolutely. We’re absolutely willing to open the channel of communication with a filmmaker, in fact it’s part of our business plan. Honestly, and pardon my French, but I think it’s fucking fundamental. You’ve gotta pick up the phone and say “here’s what we’ve got.” The companies that don’t do that, I don’t even know what decade or millennium they live in. Obviously we can’t talk to everyone and build a marketing plan for every single film, but we’ll help provide what we believe are best practices. We have a marketing playbook that we created internally that we can distribute to them, and we can show examples of things that have worked in the past.
Jason: We have an entertainment team that are out there aggressively looking for great content. So that’s another tier of service, I’m always on the hunt for great movies that we can get behind, beyond just the catalogue services that we offer. So in addition to being an open platform, Chill is seeking tentpole movies. Our team is aggressively seeking entrepreneurial filmmakers with movies that would benefit from a social window release. So don’t be surprised if you see the Chill team at your next film festival, event or film market.
Brian: We’re at that amazing moment in history where a lot of filmmakers and content creators are coming to the same conclusion immediately: I want to retain ownership, I want to do distribution on my own, and I don’t want to ask permission anymore.
Chill also just announced their episodic funding experiment that comes in the form of a series: Vigilante Diaries starring Jason Mewes. The idea is that Chill will be completely transparent about how much the first episode makes in gross revenue, and if it exceeds $50,000 in 30 days, they have agreed to make at least two more episodes.
Along with this, they are rolling out the ‘Patronage’ feature, which allows customers to gift DRM free copies of content to friends by supporting at a higher level. The example they give is supporting Jason and the crew at $19 allows the gifting of 3 copies to friends.
As a creator, you can get in touch with Chill by going here or by emailing Jason Brubaker directly at Jason@Chill.com. What do you guys think about their platform and approach? Do any of you plan on trying Chill for your film? Join the discussion in the comments below.