[Editor's Note: No Film School invited Amir Shahzeidi to contribute this post due to his area expertise from working at Uscreen. The views herein belong to the author.]
Even as recently as a decade ago, if you were a filmmaker that wanted to get your work out to the widest possible audience, you essentially had one option available to you: Hollywood. You had an idea for a movie. You had the script, the talent, the passion and the resources necessary to get it done. Maybe you even had the money. But the actual mechanism required to get your work to audiences was something you had absolutely no control over. You essentially had to wait for a big corporation to buy your film (or hire you to make one of theirs), which ultimately meant that you also had to concede control over the vision you had in the first place.
Then, Netflix came along and everything changed—both for the better and for the indefinite future. Originally just a "DVD rental by mail" service, Netflix launched its online streaming subscription package in 2007. What began as a library of easily available films with a small selection quickly turned into the dominant film distribution model on the planet. That statement isn't hyperbole, by the way; it's cold, hard fact. According to one recent study, OTT (over the top) services like Netflix are now available in 64% of American homes. The average person now uses one of these sites for at least 100 minutes per day—something that has caused the entire industry to explode in value to a massive $46.5 billion.
Netflix broke down a door that can never be closed again, but it didn't put up another one of its own.
The Netflix effect
Netflix alone added 7.5 million new customers in the first quarter of 2018. The company cleared $8.83 billion in sales revenue in 2016 alone. Right now, the service has about 15,400 titles across all of its regional libraries and the company will even spend more than $8 billion this year to create 700 of its own original TV shows and movies.
All of this was possible because Netflix saw what nobody else could. They saw that by cutting out the middleman and connecting the content directly with the audience, both the filmmakers and the audiences would benefit—and be willing to pay handsomely for the privilege. Based on that, filmmakers everywhere are now asking themselves "How do I get Netflix to distribute my movie?" But the reality of the situation is that you don't have to. Netflix broke down a door that can never be closed again, but it didn't put up another one of its own.
In truth, you don't need Netflix to get your work into the open arms of the people. You can just build an OTT service yourself.
KweliTV, a video streaming service celebrating the global black culture via indie film.
The tools to create your own VOD platform are already here
Once you come to grips with the fact that video on demand is truly the best way to get your films out to the masses in the modern era, the next step involves investigating which tools can actually help you achieve that goal. Luckily, there are platforms like Uscreen that allow you to accomplish all of this and more in the most cost-effective ways possible.
These platforms are called video on demand platforms, or VOD platforms, and they allow anyone with video content to sell their videos online. On the surface, services like Uscreen are designed to literally allow you to build your Netflix solution from scratch.
Let's say that you've spent months working on a short film and you're eager to "premiere" it on the Internet. Not only does a VOD platform offer a complete content management solution that allows you to organize your videos (and other materials like documents or images in one place), but it also gives you access to a library of pre-made themes that make it easy to customize your VOD site in whatever way you need. Not only that, but it also comes with a complete, secure and state-of-the-art billing system that enables you to accept all payment types. Do you want people to be able to rent your film like they might on iTunes? They can. Do you want to let people keep the video file on their computer forever by way of one fixed price? You can. Do you want to set up a subscription service where people pay a fee and automatically get access to new content immediately as you create it? It isn't just possible—it's something you can set up in a few short seconds.
Not only are you able to charge what you want, but most video on demand platforms can also support an unlimited number of users, meaning that you won't be subject to limits or fees as your audience grows over time. You can also get instant payments to your bank account, making sure that every sale finds its way right into your pocket as fast as it can - no exceptions. VOD platforms also let you see complete sales analytics and other reports, allowing you to see what types of content your audience is responding to so you can create even more of it in the future.
If Netflix has proven anything, it's that if you make it as easy as possible for people to pay for and consume media, they're absolutely willing to do so.
Your brand, your way
Part of the reason why the Netflix model is so successful has to do with the quality of Netflix itself. At this point, it's available practically everywhere in the form of one branded app after another. You can get it on your smart TV set. It's on set-top boxes like the Roku, the Apple TV, and probably your cable box, too. You can get Netflix apps for any smartphone, tablet or other mobile devices that you may have.
The right video on demand platform allows you to implement the same structure for your own service, creating elegant (and branded) OTT apps with your own unique look and feel, all with just a few quick clicks of your mouse. You can upload your films directly to the service, make sure that content goes live as fast as possible, allow people to place individual orders (or view content based on the terms of their membership/subscription) and so much more.
If Netflix has proven anything, it's that if you make it as easy as possible for people to pay for and consume media, they're absolutely willing to do so. People who pirate films online don't necessarily do so because they're against the idea of paying for content; they do so because at a certain point it's just easier than obtaining content through more traditional means.
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Putting the personality back in filmmaking
In a lot of ways, services like these VOD platforms actually improve upon the more traditional filmmaking distribution model. Everyone loves going to the local movie theater on a Friday night, but at the same time, it is very much a passive experience. You pay for your ticket, maybe you get some snacks, you sit quietly in the dark for a few hours and then...you go home.
With a VOD platform, however, you have access to features that allow you to take your relationship with your audience one step further. You can create a true community around your work and your ideas, inspiring your viewers (read: customers) to become active participants in the journey you're taking them on. You can allow people to create individual profiles and choose their own specific avatars. You can give them what they need to begin discussion groups to dive deeper into your work and its themes than a short car ride home after a movie would allow.
But really, you can feed into and empower your audience both with your films and via your interactions as a filmmaker, thus allowing them to reach out and influence you in the future, too. Everything is personal, intimate and organic in a way that a lot of filmmakers who need to create content for massive global audiences just don't have access to. You, however, do - and it's an opportunity that is absolutely worth taking advantage of.
You no longer have to worry about watering down your vision to appeal to the widest possible audiences.
It's about your vision
Ultimately, we're living in an incredibly exciting time from a technology perspective, especially if you're a filmmaker. Gone are the days where you had to not only worry about shooting your movie—you also had to worry about distributing it. Would you be able to find a company that shared the same vision you did? One that could see what you were trying to accomplish and who wanted to support it? A person (or a team of people) who had the resources necessary from the distribution side of the equation to actually get that work out to the widest possible audience?
These are questions that you don't have to worry about any longer, because the tools are already available to allow you to build a profitable video business right from the comfort of your own home. Services are now available that offer everything you need to handle video distribution in the 21st century in a single platform built with ease-of-use in mind. Finally, you can quickly build your own profit-generating subscription VOD service, deliver your content via all of the most popular OTT apps on all of the most popular devices, and keep 100% of your sales—all at the same time.
The end result is an important one, particularly in the age-old struggle between art and commerce. Even major Hollywood filmmakers often need to walk a delicate tightrope between pure artistry and commercial accessibility. If someone is going to be paying X amount of dollars for the distribution of a film, that film needs to be engineered in a way to guarantee Y amount of dollars in return, thus making the whole enterprise worth it.
But that, too, is a relic of a forgotten era. In a time when you can build your Netflix (or Netflix-like service) from your laptop computer over a weekend, you don't have to worry about watering down your vision to appeal to the widest possible audiences. You can instead devote the maximum amount of your attention towards the actual film itself. Filmmaking is now about creating your vision in its truest form, getting it out there, and seeing who thinks and feels the same way you do. Thanks to the very concept of video on demand, it is finally less about the audiences and more about your creativity.
Which, of course, is exactly the way it should have been all along.
Amir Shahzeidi is a social media marketer at Uscreen who's abnormally intrigued by all things marketing. He's also a composer and pianist who's rarely loved by his neighbors because all he ever plays is atonal music. But cats love him so it's fine
Featured image from 'House of Saints' by Gerry Melendez and featured on kweliTV.