Two conflicting things keep happening: On the one hand, video on demand – whether online or through a cable or other provider – is held up as the next great emerging distribution platform for movies, particularly smaller movies that have had a hard time or outright failed in the quest to secure a theatrical distribution contract. On the other, filmmakers who have gone the VOD route complain that the dollars they see are a pittance of what they were shooting for, often blaming the marketing which never reaches the fever pitch it would have if their movie had gone into theaters.
Each side has its facts correct, unfortunately, but it doesn’t have to be this way.
Filmmakers who find VOD in whatever form as the only viable option being presented to them need to immediately get to work on their own promotional efforts for their movie. It’s alright to take a day, be depressed and lament the massive theatrical success that might have been. But after that it’s go time. Get to work getting to know exactly what the distribution plan will be and create a word-of-mouth campaign to support that. Find people who have reviewed the movie and let them know what the situation is. Offer yourself as an interview subject to anyone you can get ahold of, particularly anyone who has already seen the movie at a festival or wherever. Setup coordinated viewing times and create a live chat where people can talk with you – and each other – about the movie in real time as they’re watching it.
In other words, beat the pavement and work hard to make sure that you take what might be seen as a half win and turn it to your advantage. You can be more agile than the big distributors, who are only interested in opening weekend. Because the movie will live on through VOD platforms for what will likely be a longer period of time, meaning you have opportunities to engage in some trial and error. Come up with a plan, execute, measure and iterate. That’s what social media is all about so embrace it.
I’ll admit right off the bat that there may be a ton of filmmakers who are doing just that, but if so I’m not hearing about them.
Now all that I’ve stated above should be taken in the light that the best advice is to start engaging in a word-of-mouth campaign before the movie even hits the festival circuit or distribution deals are being pondered, meaning when the movie is still in production. But the phrase “better late than never” very much applies here. If you held off starting such an effort because you didn’t want to jinx the chance of a major theatrical push then it’s time to get up and running.