Distribution is the end goal of every moviemaker, yet for many the slog of getting a film onto a screen—any screen—can be wearing. Could you ever fall in love with the distribution process?

Nick Soares, a former filmmaker and current CEO of online distribution company GoDigital, argues yes.

GoDigital merged with self-distribution service Distribber in early 2016 to become a full-service aggregator for Video on Demand platforms such as iTunes, Amazon and Netflix. An aggregator encodes, packages and delivers films for VOD, and pays filmmakers revenue from VOD platforms. Until a few years ago, the platforms worked directly with filmmakers, but as the landscape changed and On Demand expanded, they began working with aggregators to vet the content, technically and creatively. Distribber is one of the two preferred aggregators for Netflix and delivered the 2016 Oscar-nominated shorts to the streaming giant.

Soares produced five feature films—“titles for which we did traditional distribution,” he says. “The films made it to major video retailers, but we never saw a penny. I built Distribber to be the tool I wish I had.” Taking an active role in your film’s digital distribution is a key success factor in your work. Soares has some advice to get you informed and keep you motivated in the long haul:

Start Planning Early

“Filmmakers should think about distribution on day one, in pre-production,” says Soares. “Build a dedicated fanbase from the beginning—let them see your blood, sweat and tears—because it will get them ready to buy. You want those initial sales in order to rank better on platforms like iTunes, and you need to have a decent chunk of sales on the first day in order to rank better. The higher the ranking, the more potential for people whom you don’t know to buy. That’s the goal: people who don’t know you watching your film and leaving great reviews.”

Windowing is Essential

“Before you get going, understand windowing—i.e. what platforms to release on and when,” says Soares. “For instance, you don’t want to release on a Subscription Video on Demand (SVOD) platform like Netflix, where users pay a monthly fee to stream video, at the same time as Transactional Video on Demand (TVOD) like iTunes, where users pay per single video download, because they will cannibalize each other. Our data shows that first releasing on TVOD and then waiting a 90-day window before releasing on SVOD provides enough time to monetize your title on the transactional platforms. The initial sales from TVOD typically plateau within 90 days.”

Tap into the Data to Fine-tune a Campaign

Soares: “The only way to understand the behavior of your users is through data. We provide day-to-day reporting on iTunes for moviemakers to track their sales, which is especially important if you are spending money on a marketing or social media campaign, because you can adjust your strategy based on sales. Moviemakers can also track their conversion rates (the percentage of users who visit your page and buy your film) on Distribber. We also track where the user came from with a referral link which reveals how users are finding their film.”

Decide Between a Flat Fee or a Revenue Percentage

Typically, an aggregator charges moviemakers either a percent of their revenue (generally 10-15 percent) or a flat fee. “Distribber charges a flat fee,” says Soares, “so if the film does well, the filmmaker keeps 100 percent of the revenue. Our goal is to foster moviemaking as a lifestyle and empower moviemakers to continue to work: With successful movies, money flows back to them, so they can be out there making more.”

Of course, the cost difference for the moviemaker depends on a film’s online success—if a film is on VOD and makes zero, the moviemaker is out the flat fee. Distribber’s yearly fee is set based on the platforms selected and parameters about the film itself. Soares cites a success story: “Range 15, a 2016 movie by Ross Patterson, used us to get onto iTunes. It got up to the number-two spot in iTunes, and made over $300,000 in the first month. Patterson kept 100 percent of the revenue. Now he has generated over seven figures.”

Director Ross Patterson on the set of Range 15 (about a group of veterans fighting off the zombie apocalypse), which was placed on iTunes by Distribber. Courtesy of Street Justice Films

Collect Your Best Assets

“Moviemakers need five crucial assets: video and audio files, the trailer, artwork, closed captions files and metadata,” says Soares. “Once you have all of those, uploading to Distribber is easy: They select the platforms that they want, upload their assets, and select a release date.”

Moviemakers need to stop seeing digital distribution prep as a necessary evil and start thinking of it as an extension of their work. Fundraising, marketing, and finding an audience are the keys to a successful release—and digital distribution touches upon each of those steps. MM

This article appears in MovieMaker‘s Spring 2017 issue.