Reelhouse Paves the Way for the Future of Self-Distribution
Each new day that passes it seems the world of distribution for filmmakers is being turned on its head. With so many new content destinations popping up all the time, it's hard to know what's what. Reelhouse is a company who seems to be breaking through the mold, as a recent partnership with Sundance would suggest. Reelhouse is planning a big launch on April 22nd -- read on for our interview with Bill Mainguy, CEO and Founder of Reelhouse and get to know the platform:
Okay, first thing's first -- what is Reelhouse?
Reelhouse is an open video sharing community that offers film and video creators a rich toolset to self-distribute their content directly to their viewers via any internet connected device. Creators can choose between a series of monetization models while also leveraging customization, marketing, merchandising and media features that provide an engaging experience for their audience; all within a community specifically for quality entertainment content.
- Free to Distribute
- Unrestricted access and supply
- More intimate relationship (benefits for both)
- Creative and licensing freedom
- Viewer confidence in helping in the creator directly
NFS: How did you guys start? Were you frustrated filmmakers who needed an outlet?
BM: Our designers and coders come from industries of gaming and film. We're all viewers, and on one hand being kinda frustrated hearing from peers about places to distribute their work but also from the view of the masses, we want to improve the overall experience. The transition isn't going to happen overnight, but we're providing an alternative: the self-distribution model.
We've seen great stories that haven't really had a chance to build their fanbase or reap any rewards from their viewers, so we want to help them out. And as we progressed, we found there's potential for what they are missing out on and what the studios are missing out on: What are you getting other than just clicking "play?"
NFS: What motivated you to get into the self-distribution game?
BM: Our home and heart started with the independent community and giving them a means, it just so happens that it's starting to apply to everyone else. Seeing more studio-based content on Kickstarter, like the Veronica Mars project, for example, is a sign of how people are adopting what was founded as an independent solution to the mainstream. The timing is just right.
It's kind of a cliché, but in the new "direct to consumer paradigm," something that Sundance noticed is that we're good at getting films up and running on Reelhouse very quickly. Sundance is a great partner for us because they're really open to latest and greatest ways of doing things to try to support their filmmaker community. We are also talking to a major studio in LA to see how it might match up with some of their properties, so we're looking for ways that we can incorporate the players that have been in the game for a long time and show them and lead them into this world and incorporate both types on our platform.
NFS: I noticed that there looks be your own form of crowdfunding within Reelhouse. Can you talk about this?
BM: We're not a site to come to if you have a concept that you want to make and you're trying to get funding for it. Kickstarter is a great platform for that and we don't want to compete with that. This is one of our more experimental or "far-out" features. Our whole crowdfunding function that you see on our site is for viewers that were inspired by the story could then, right when they're in that moment of the story, could support it.
Self-distribution is all about connecting the content creator directly with the viewers, and once you start to do that, really cool things start to happen. Documentaries, for example, with a real-word component, if there's a cause to contribute to. It's more about different ways that the community can rally around a film post-watching.
For example, we had a series that was on-site journalism covering a pipeline that was being built in Northern Canada by Enbridge, and people were funding them directly on Reelhouse so they could stay up there. So they were funding their own news source in a way. We want people to get creative to harness the platform.
NFS: What about for narrative filmmakers?
BM: It's really about giving the filmmaker the tools. The only thing we filter out are the Kickstarter-type funding videos, that's not what our site's about, but if a guy puts up a narrative film and says "Hey, if you like this piece and want to support me as a filmmaker, here are different rewards in exchange for supporting me." There are very creative ways that filmmakers are leveraging these types of functions.
NFS: What does all this say about the future of the Theater experience?
BM: It's an interesting question, and something that we're not 100% connected to, but I'll give a good plug for another platform called Tugg, which is a great platform that allows viewers to organize screenings in their communities if they can rally enough people. As a passionate person in this space, I feel there's always that desire to have a community rally around the film watching experience, whether it's in the theater or at home.
NFS: Do you think that your platform will help combat piracy? Is that a goal of yours?
BM: Piracy is definitely an issue, what we learned from our gaming background is: you're not gonna be able to stop people from pirating. The reality is, if it's viewable, it's piratable. It's like a new law of physics or something. We want to create an experience that can't be replicated by torrenting, and it also has to be easier and accessible from anywhere, and enjoyable.
What we're doing is allowing people to build value for what viewers are paying for. And I only think it will increase more and more when we offer things like being able to create your own app experience on the site, and opening up channels of interactivity on the site, I think that's the key way to combat piracy.
Even Hollywood itself has enough trouble getting people to convert and pay for the content. If you know you're paying the creator directly it helps. Our whole concept is offering up an entire experience when you land on a page, much more than just the video and trailer. You get the behind the scenes, the photos, there could be a virtual store where there's physical and digital downloads. In the future we will have an embeddable app-layer.
Getting paid to watch content isn't new, it's more about a whole experience.
NFS: I like that when you go to a film's page, it's its own whole website. It's very customizable, it's all about the world of the film. It's much more immersive.
BM: I like that you said that because that's exactly what we say internally, we want to ensure that a filmmaker's page will always be theirs. Whereas sites like YouTube are designed to distract you from what you're watching -- they'll have other ads appear on your page, other people's content that distract you away. There's no way to create your own immersive world.
We really hold to the fact that your page is yours. We'll never allow intrusive elements onto your page that you don't have a say in. So in a way, it's like you creating your own micro-site.
NFS: So there are no Ads at all?
BM: For now there are no ads. In the future we may look at some ways to have brand sponsorship and add revenue potentially, but we haven't dived into that yet -- we're focussing on our first two business models: The first being that we take a 6% transaction fee, and we feel that's fair for providing the platform. So if you sell merchandise, digital downloads, etc., we take a 6% cut. And then what we're rolling out soon are the Pro Accounts, you'll get metrics reporting and analytics on your page, more customization options, more memory. Also coming is an Enterprise account where various collectives and brands can stage their brand in a way that's more robust for people who have a lot of content.
NFS: For the tech-heads, what's under the hood of your web-player?
BM: We offer two different players so it's viewable everywhere: a Flash player, and a default HTML5 player, encoding in H.264. HD throttles from 720 to 1080. We want to be on the cutting edge in the overall experience and strive to have the best encoding. We have plans to accommodate 4K as well. We've already had a couple time-lapses that offer the original 4K download in their virtual store.
Our embeddable player, when you share a project it will have breadcrumbs to your project. More than half of the traffic that projects get are from being embedded on different blogs. Whereas on YouTube or Vimeo there's no real need for viewers to ever visit the page that the video originated from -- just because there's nothing there -- but on Reelhouse there is tons more, the embeddable player will have elements of your store visible, or more videos, or about the artist. Also on comments, when viewers ask the same question over and over, so we made the ability for the creator to post a FAQ to answer these questions as to not muddy up the comments.
I don't want to commit to this being a feature, but one of our investors Gener8 does 2D to 3D conversions for theatrical releases in Hollywood, so we get a lot of 3D expertise around us and we've talked about being one of the first 3D viewable platforms as well.
NFS: How do you curate the content? Can anyone upload, is there a submission process, how does it work?
BM: At the moment, we're approving batches of content at a time as people sign up. That's another way we're different, we don't only take feature films. We take web series, shorts, clips that are 3-5 minutes long -- as long as it has some quality story element in it. We believe viewers have a wide appetite for what they want to watch. Since we're in our Beta phase, we're approving content because we just don't want to get overwhelmed early on and want to maintain quality of content on our site. This community is solely for stories that are intended for mass distribution to an audience. This isn't just a tool for filmmakers to use, we want them to associate themselves with it and have an affinity for what Reelhouse is beyond being just a website.
We have the ability to rent or sell your content, for us that's not the be-all-end-all. That's not the key, it's about packaging more in the experience and offering new experiences as we progress.
NFS: Is there an aesthetic through-line with your platform? What about films with very explicit content?
BM: Our long-term goal for the platform is to provide an alternative where people can take control of their own distribution and be very democratic vs. the high gates of Hollywood. What we don't like about that is a handful of people in the industry deciding whether something is a worthy story or not for distribution. So we don't then want to go around and become those people and say 'our team didn't like it' so therefore we're not going to play it on our site. That's the complete opposite of what we're about. There's tons of content that we've seen that didn't really have a nice aesthetic, or didn't really entertain us, but have become hugely successful.
NFS: Are you supporting international content? Subtitles?
BM: Yes, eventually. We're toying with the idea of partnering with various crowd-sourcing subtitle solutions to allow the many people who have already offered a means to translate the films they love.
NFS: If I put my content on Reelhouse, is it exclusive? What are the benefits of being exclusive, if any?
At the moment it's completely up to the creator whether they want to make it exclusive or not. We have yet to roll out benefits for making it exclusive here, but we believe there are implicit benefits for having your content in one place.
People have this notion that if you put it on more platforms it will get more coverage. If it's online, it already has as much potential as you could want. It's not like Vimeo will reach more people than YouTube can. We like to focus on giving users one consistent experience. You can always put a teaser on YouTube that will direct people to Reelhouse.
We will constantly be rolling out tools that help filmmakers market their stories to their audience. Whether it be an incentive to share the page to unlock store items or to set up a coming soon page to drum up hype and take pre-orders (coming shortly), it's an important element of our platform. As we continue to grow as a platform, we expect that due to Reelhouse being a place only for stories and quality, that there will be more of an attentive eye on the content debuting here. Eventually, much like how Kickstarter transitioned, we will become a very active destination site.
NFS: What's happening on the 22nd?
Our launch on the 22nd will be a significant update, the site will look different with tons of additional features. We're still in Beta, but Beta doesn't mean it's this weird micro-version of what we're going to be. It's just a disclaimer that we're iterating constantly.
It's an exciting time for filmmakers, the technology finding its way into our hands, and now the power to self-distribute. A special thanks to Bill Mainguy at Reelhouse for speaking with No Film School. Discuss below your thoughts on these new direct-to-consumer methods in the comments below.
Link: Reelhouse -- Website